Blog post

Richard Gott vs Kwasi Kwarteng on BBC 3's Night Waves

Kishani Widyaratna30 September 2011

On BBC Radio 3's "Night Waves", Richard Gott, author of the forthcoming book, Britain's Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt again met with Kwasi Kwarteng, author of Ghost of Empire. They examined their conflicting views on the character of the British Empire, in a discussion chaired by presenter Philip Dodd.

In his book Gott surveyed the resistance to British rule from mid-18th century to mid-19th century, across the world from the Caribbean to Ireland. On the show, Gott explained that he had endeavoured to write a global history of the subject peoples from their point of view, resulting in a survey of resistance on a scale never attempted before. Kwarteng questioned the novelty of such as perspective by highlighting the parallels with subaltern studies and Marxist historiography but agreed that the book is very comprehensive and that its "originality comes in the scale of the rebellions at which it looks".

Kwarteng argued that while the perspective of the oppressed is important and often overlooked in histories of the British Empire, ultimately there was a greater degree of cooperation and mutual economic beneficence unaccounted for in Gott's book. Kwarteng continued, that after rule was established, imperial power was often benign and denied that the crimes of the British Empire could be likened to the systematic genocides and famines of the 20th century. Gott agreed that there were rare cases of reasonably peaceful reign but that this was by no means the rule across the Empire, and that the establishment of British rule was often by violent methods. Gott questioned Kwarteng's image of a benign rule also, raising other examples of British violence against subjected peoples such as, allowed famines in India and extermination of peoples in America and Australia.

Dodd praised the account Gott gives in the book of the degree to which the British Empire overran Islamic countries and the light that sheds on Britain's complex relation with Islam today.

Visit the BBC website to listen to the debate in full (available until 4th October).  

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