I cannot let Amartya Sen's otherwise enjoyable piece ("Imperial
Illusions", December 31) pass without a protest at his misuse of me as
a straw man. Professor Sen may find Empire "rather didactic". He may
even be justified in calling it "a guarded but enthusiastic celebration of
British imperialism." But it is a complete misrepresentation to imply, as
he does, that I have argued anywhere that "Americans [should] be inspired
by ... early British rule in
I make it clear that I am on the side of Adam Smith, not Robert Clive. The
British Empire (as opposed to "imperialism", a term of abuse) was
only benign in so far as it promoted free trade, free migration and free
capital mobility. It did not do those things until the mid-nineteenth century.
Only then is it possible to speak of a "liberal empire." Only that
empire offers any lessons for present-day
I quite agree, and have said myself, that any assessment of the costs and benefits of British rule in
Professor Sen is an exceedingly distinguished economist. But if there were such a thing as a Nobel Prize for history, I am afraid he would not win it.
Read Amartya Sen's response here.
Niall Ferguson is the is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University and is author, most recently, of The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West.
By Niall Ferguson