[From "A Kinder, Gentler Colonialism," The Wall Street Journal, January 15, 1993.]
The best British administrators grasped the contradiction that is the central problem of colonialism, then and now. One of the major imperialists of the later period, the Earl of Cromer, expressed it this way: 'The Englishman as imperialist is always striving to attain to ideals which are apt to be mutually destructive--the ideal of good government, which connotes the continuance of his supremacy, and the ideal of self-government, which connotes the whole or partial abdication of his supreme position.'
The British tried to resolve the problem by setting up a collaboration between themselves and the local elite whereby the British would establish sufficient order to allow the natives to govern themselves. 'All the government can do,' said the governor of Bombay, John Malcolm, in 1826, 'is, by maintaining the internal peace of the country, and by adapting its principles to the various feelings, habits and character of its inhabitants, to give time for the slow and silent operation of the desired improvement.' This sentiment was occasionally written into law, for example in 1833 by the East India Company, which declared that local laws would have precedence over European ones.
Last Modified: 18 March, 2002