Blog post

Richard Gott debates the British empire with Kwasi Kwarteng on BBC Radio 4's Today

Tamar Shlaim 8 August 2011

Richard Gott was on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Friday to discuss his forthcoming book, Britain's Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt with Kwasi Kwarteng, Conservative MP and author of Ghosts of Empire

Kwarteng's book argues that the operation of the British empire was not systematic or centrally run, but haphazard, random and guided much more by local conditions and individual administrators idiosyncrasies than by Whitehall. 

Gott agrees with this to an extent, but highlights that the British empire was gained by conquest - territories were fought and killed for and violence was integral to the empire's formation and continuation. Kwarteng takes issue with this, painting the incorporation of many territories as more of a collaboration between British administrators and local rulers. Whilst accepting that violence often occurred, Kwarteng argues that this was always as a product of the particular circumstances.

It's also worth a listen for James Naughtie's horror at the idea of being called a Marxist when he suggests that one of the systematic functions of the empire was to extract as much wealth as possible from the colonies. 

Listen to the full programme here (available until Friday 12th August). The item begins about 2 hours, 53 minutes in. 

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