Friday, 18 May 2012

Saving civilization from empire: Belligerency, pacifism and the two faces of civilization during the Second Opium War

an article by Andrew Phillips (University of Queensland, Australia) published in European Journal of International Relations Volume 18 Number 1 (March 2012)


Conventional accounts of international society’s expansion have traditionally emphasized the role played by ‘civilizing missions’ in facilitating and legitimating European aggression and imperial expansion.

Conversely, in this article, I demonstrate that the relationship between imperial violence and the rhetoric of ‘civilizing missions’ was far more contested and contingent than International Relations scholars have generally assumed.

Using the parliamentary debate surrounding Britain’s involvement in the Second Opium War as a case study, I reveal that civilizational rhetoric in the 1857 ‘China debate’ was equally implicated in both anti-imperialist and imperialist agendas. Richard Cobden’s victory in the debate over Palmerston’s pro-war ministry further illustrates the political potency of appeals to civilization as a brake – however temporary – on Britain’s imperial expansion.

An appreciation of civilization’s janus-faced character – as a rhetorical commonplace that at different times abetted and inhibited imperial aggression – is therefore critical if we are to comprehend the halting and arrhythmic pattern of international society’s progressive expansion under British leadership in the mid-Victorian period.

Hazel’s comment:
I can almost hear you asking what on earth this article has to do with careers information. My justification, should one be required by the discerning reader, is that China is an increasingly important player in the global economy and Britain’s involvement in that country appears to play a part in political attitudes today.
Not, of course, that ethics or politics is allowed to get in the way of making money!

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