Bring Back Imperialism!

This is another effective way to deal with a Non-STEM Smart Guy:

Before [WWI] you were either a gentleman or not a gentleman, and if you were a gentleman you struggled to behave as such, whatever your income might be…. People in this class owned no land, but they felt that they were landowners in the sight of God and kept up a semi-aristocratic outlook by going into the professions and the fighting services rather than into trade. Small boys used to count the plum stones on their plates and foretell their destiny by chanting, ‘Army, Navy, Church, Medicine, Law’…. To belong to this class when you were at the L400 a year level was a queer business, for it meant that your gentility was almost purely theoretical. You lived, so to speak, at two levels simultaneously. Theoretically you knew all about servants and how to tip them, although in practice you had one, at most, two resident servants. Theoretically you knew how to wear your clothes and how to order a dinner, although in practice you could never afford to go to a decent tailor or a decent restaurant. Theoretically you knew how to shoot and ride, although in practice you had no horses to ride and not an inch of ground to shoot over. It was this that explained the attraction of India (more recently Kenya, Nigeria, etc.) for the lower-upper-middle class. The people who went there as soldiers and officials did not go there to make money… they went there because in India, with cheap horses, free shooting, and hordes of black servants, it was so easy to play at being a gentleman.*

You can read every academic study written on the British Empire in the last 60 years, but all of them together don’t contain as much wisdom as this.  Guys whose blood wasn’t blue enough to be aristocrats, but who weren’t vulgar enough (in their own eyes) to buy their way in through success in business, went out to the Empire to live in the style to which they were sure they were entitled.

Every nasty thing everyone, Orwell included, ever said about the Empire and the men who ran it, is true.  The whole thing was a racket, and those who thought it wasn’t were either too stupid, too jingoistic, or both — if there’s really a difference — to see it.  (The smart, cynical ones would admit as much, and frequently did, off the record and with a few gin and tonics under their hoods).  But these are the men who created the richest, freest, most prosperous society anyone had ever known — especially the people over whom they ruled.

Worth thinking about.


*Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier

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5 thoughts on “Bring Back Imperialism!

  1. Stan Erickson

    One thing which amazed me is how long the imitation of English upper class behavior lasted over here in America, mostly on the East Coast. People would copy the accent, the etiquette, the preferences, postures, facial expressions and more; for what reason I don’t know except they learned it at their mother’s knee.

  2. P_ang

    That sum of L400 interestingly enough comes very close to about a modern milestone of $100,000. (106,112 to be precise). That is of course assuming my calculations to be accurate. I’m sure someone can find some logical fallacies. I used the original “pound” value as a pound of silver, then calculated the modern price per ounce x 16 x 400. I’m sure being a programmer Morgan Freeman knows if and where I went wrong, but it sounds great to us English majors!

  3. Recusant


    It’s not a pound of silver; it’s a pound sterling, £. Multiply by c.55to get the modern figure. Therefore £22,000 or $28,700

    1. P_ang

      Well, that makes me even more confused, as sterling is 92.5% silver, therefore it should be $98,153.60, provided you account for pure silver value.

      “The pound was a unit of account in Anglo-Saxon England, equal to 240 silver pennies and equivalent to one pound weight of silver. It evolved into the modern British currency, the pound sterling.”
      “Sterling silver is an alloy of silver containing 92.5% by weight of silver and 7.5% by weight of other metals, usually copper. The sterling silver standard has a minimum millesimal fineness of 925.”

      1. Severian

        The modern pound sterling does not contain a pound of silver. It’s a coin, about the size of an American silver dollar (with however much silver that would contain). I don’t know what it weighs exactly, but considerably less than a pound.

        That’s a fun part of “hard money” that the Luap Nor types don’t think about much — back in the days when coins really had gold and silver in them, people frequently took money out of circulation when then $$ value of the metal in the coin exceeded the coin’s face value. It also encouraged hoarding, etc., not to mention various government shenanigans (e.g. the Romans debasing the “silver” denarius so much that you can still get them — in decent condition — on Ebay, 1800 years later, for cheap).

        The “multiply by 55” calculation is adjusting for inflation, pre-WWI to present.


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