Cover image for The liberal ideal and the demons of empire : theories of imperialism from Adam Smith to Lenin
The liberal ideal and the demons of empire : theories of imperialism from Adam Smith to Lenin
Semmel, Bernard.
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Publication Information:
Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press, c1993.
Physical Description:
xii, 223 p. ; 24 cm.


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Book BILKUTUP0139323 JC359 .S5734 1993 Central Campus Library

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As Great Britain and other Western nations built empires--both formal and informal--writers on economic and social questions developed theories to explain why and how advanced industrial states exercised control over colonial regions. Different schools of thought emerged: some anticipated the growth of a cosmopolitaneconomic order, others believed in a brutal imperialism necessary for an expanding capitalism, still others saw evil precapitalist forces at work. In The Liberal Ideal and the Demons of Empire, noted historian Bernard Semmel traces the evolution of the ideas about imperialism and discusses four major schools of thought: the classical economists, the social theorists, the national economists, and the Marxists. From Adam Smith to Lenin, the subject of colonialism--and then imperialism--remained controversial. Although classical economists offered visions of a prosperous world economy based on free trade, and liberal idealists argued that rational self-interest would eliminate aggressive mercantilism and wars of conquest, such "utopian" ideals proved elusive. Even defenders of capitalism noted contradictions between the harsh realities of the emerging industrial system and the optimistic economic theories that attempted to describe it. In the end the critics--including liberal sociologists, national economists, and Marxists--would win the day by defining imperialism in terms of historic demons: feudal aristocrats, medieval usurers, and evil empires. These ideas, Semmel concludes, became props of the liberal, socialist, and fascist ideologies of our time. "A generation ago, Richard Koebner traced the changing meanings of the word imperialism from its rather surprising Napoleonic beginnings. Now, building on a succession of books with which he has enriched the literature, Bernard Semmel addresses the wider question of the evolution in thought to which the evolution of the word was, so to speak, an index. Semmel's book will beunquestionably useful to historians--particularly those outside the confines of European expansion--and will be valuable as supplemental reading in college courses. One wonders if it will have the effect one would most like to see--on politicians, publicists, and praters who continue to use the word imperialism so inappropriately."--Robert K. Webb, University of Maryland, Baltimore County Bernard Semmel is Distinguished Professor of History at the Graduate School of the City University of New York. His studies of imperialism include Imperialism and Social Reform, Jamaican Blood and Victorian Conscience, and The Rise of Free Trade Imperialism. He has also written on Methodism, John Stuart Mill, and naval strategy.