Burke had been at least a tacit supporter of Clive, and opposed the Regulating Act of on the basis that it impinged upon commercial autonomy, and yet he evolved into a vociferous critic of Hastings a decade later.
The charges levelled against Hastings ranged from illegally receiving presents to improperly conducting war, extorting the begums of Awadh, and prompting the rebellion of the allied state of Benares by making upon it unreasonable and unsupportable demands. Dirks notes that Hastings at first did not take the impeachment charges very seriously, but once the gravity of the situation dawned upon him, his hurriedly constructed defence strategy had to be thoroughly amended.
And so while Hastings first argued not unlike Clive that charges of arbitrariness against him could not be supported because so much of the Indian political context was itself dominated by arbitrariness and despotism and as such the Company was simply working within Indian political norms , he later took pains to emphasize his own substantial record of legal reform in Bengal and, in particular, the legal codification project begun after which was based ostensibly upon Indian cultural-legal norms.
Dirks notes, with not a little justification, that the pre-eminent concern for Burke in the prosecution of Hastings was not necessarily the ill-effects of colonial rule upon the colonized, but the very possibility that colonialism with its practical disdain for the universality of the norms of law , and also the character of India itself, would end up utterly corrupting Britain and its institutions.
Thus the concerns Burke may very well have held for Indians were inevitably couched in the language of the potential for destabilizing the burgeoning empire and undermining British imperial sovereignty. One might cite the political and ideological challenge presented by France, for example, or the politics of Pitt the Younger as reflected in the changes borne by the India Act to argue that such a transformation was already well under way by the time of the trial.
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In this regard, Dirks questions at the very beginning of the book whether he in fact has anything new to contribute to a subject so thoroughly analysed. Indeed, the sources used for the book are not particularly innovatory: Dirks has primarily drawn on the published writings and speeches of Burke, and also made heavy use of secondary literature.
The reflexivity with the present in the book can certainly be viewed as a strength, for it ultimately serves to provide a deeper contextualization for contemporary forms of empire, and infuses the eighteenth-century historical narrative with a sense of vitality and relevance. Macaulay, and J. Seeley to contemporary historians such as Peter Marshall, C. Bayly, W.
In other words, any potential complexity within imperialism, as a political and cultural phenomenon, is drained from it in order to emphasize the deleteriousness of empire. Rather, it would now appear that the understanding of empire and imperialism explicated by Said, Cohn, Dirks, and others, is the new orthodoxy of South-Asian historiography. These scholars, however, are equally committed to producing work which does not reproduce an essentially Saidian, straightforward understanding of how empires function.
This body of historical scholarship ultimately leaves Scandal of Empire looking somewhat thin. Perhaps we have become blinded to this possibility by the now-commonplace imperial rhetoric of the US administration and its allied neoconservative intellectuals.
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But if this is really so, then being less attuned to the complexities of empire risks ultimately obscuring our understanding of how they come about, how they flourish, and, indeed, how they are undone. He has clearly summarized the major arguments of the book, as well as the thematic structure I used to highlight these arguments. Beginning with my central point, that empire in India as elsewhere was born in scandal—both for the colonized and the colonizers—I used the extraordinary drama of the impeachment trial of Warren Hastings — as the narrative fulcrum for a larger story about the transformation of empire.
Dodson succinctly captures my principal concerns, especially for the early chapters. But he does not make it sufficiently clear that in some ways the trial of Warren Hastings was a pretext for a larger concern with figures as various as Robert Orme, George Patterson, and Paul Benfield.
Nicholas Dirks | Department of History
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Includes bibliographical references p. Hastings, Warren, -- Trials, litigation, etc. Burke, Edmund, East India Company -- History -- 18th century. In this fascinating, and devastating, account of the scandal that laid the foundation of the British Empire, Nicholas Dirks explains how this substitution of imperial authority for Company rule helped erase the dirty origins of empire and justify the British presence in India.
The Scandal of Empire reveals that the conquests and exploitations of the East India Company were critical to Englands development in the eighteenth century and beyond. We see how mercantile trade was inextricably linked with imperial venture and scandalous excess and how these three things provided the ideological basis for far-flung British expansion. In this powerfully written and trenchant critique, Dirks shows how the empire projected its own scandalous behavior onto India itself.
By returning to the moment when the scandal of empire became acceptable we gain a new understanding of the modern culture of the colonizer and the colonized and the manifold implications for Britain, India, and the world. Additional Product Features Dewey Edition. Scandal 2. Corruption 3. Spectacle 4. Economy 5. Sovereignty 6.
State 7. History 8. Tradition 9. Empire Notes Illustration Credits Index. Dirks, dean of the faculty and a professor of anthropology and history at Columbia, sets out to dismantle the traditional explanation that Britain's empire in India was, in the famous words of Victorian historian J. Seeley, acquired 'in a fit of absence of mind.
He argues that public exposure of the East India Company's scandalous corruption by the philosopher and politician Edmund Burke during the Warren Hastings impeachment trial in persuaded the government to step in and administer what the British regarded as a vulnerable, backward territory. This intrusive, imperialist behavior, claims the author, helped cover up the 'corruption, venality, and duplicity' of Britain's presence in India, which was recast as a civilizing mission that also happened to benefit the British economy.
In examining the Hastings case, Dirks scores many points, vaporizing comforting visions of a benevolent empire, and he expertly unravels the complexities of Burke, too often caricatured as a reactionary. Dirks shows that, contrary to the imperialist ideologues then as now, the scandals of conquest, violence, and oppression were at its center, not its incidental sideshow. Civilizing the "native" necessarily entailed the practice of barbarism, the assertion of imperial sovereignty required the exercise of despotism.
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We will never be able to look at either British history or imperialism without the record of repression and double-speak at their very heart. Scandal, conquest, and empire, he argues, were central to the making of modern Britain. This is a seminal contribution to current debates on empires--their rise, decline and fall.
Dirks's own extensive research and writing as a historian of India provide him with a perspective that enriches his rereading of the Empire's origins in scandal and elucidates them for scholars and lay readers alike.