Why Colonialism Doesn't Work

Dr Philip Holden, University Scholars Programme, National University of Singapore


Colonialism, for Chatterjee, is fundamentally flawed not just because it is a cruel and unjust system but because it is inherently contradictory. Colonialism's claim as a modern regime of power is that it can incite colonial subjects to self-improvement and development, so that they become more rational and leave "primitive superstition" behind. However, the whole basis of colonialism is based on an irrational racist distinction between colonizer and colonized, between ruler and ruled. This distinction Chatterjee calls the rule of colonial difference.

As some members of the colonized community become educated and "improved" in the colonizer's eyes, they threaten the very foundations of colonialism. If colonialism as governmentality works, these people should become as "rational" and as "modern" as Europeans, deserving equality with the colonizers. However, granting them such a status would threaten the very foundations of colonialism itself, the rule of colonial difference. Colonialism thus despises the very products it has created, people of mixed cultural heritage who form the middle class elites of colonized communities. Colonial rulers are much happier with "traditional" or "primitive" colonized populations because they do not challenge the inherent contradictions of colonialism. The longer colonialism exists, however, the greater the number of middle class people of mixed cultural heritage who call into question the rule of colonial difference.

[Postcolonial Web Overview] [Postcolonial Discourse Overview] Partha Chatterjee Overview

Last Modified: 19 April, 2002