Professor Bruce Gilley is a political science professor at Portland State University, focusing on comparative and international politics.

He gained attention for his article, The Case for Colonialism, which ignited a firestorm of typically woke pushback within the academic community.

Two separate petitions, signed by thousands of people, demanded not only the retraction of the article but also an apology from the journal Third World Quarterly. Additionally, they called for the dismissal of the editor.

As a result, 15 out of the 34 members of the journal’s editorial board resigned.

Here’s his article:

Quick overview

During November 2023, Gilley published a namesake book.

He argues that the benefits and positive impacts of colonialism have been overlooked due to an anti-colonial mainstream narrative.

It’s a tricky case to make, especially considering what has been happening in Palestine since 1948. However, as Ilan Pappé explained in his conversation with me, there are different kinds of colonialism, and what is happening there is, for example, quite different from what happened in South Africa.

Bruce suggests that colonialism led to improvements in living conditions, governance, and infrastructure in many developing countries.

As a white person who was born and lives in South Africa, I certainly agree. One would have to do a lot of mental gymnastics to deny the huge improvements brought about by the European settlers.

Cape Town, South Africa, is my home

Bruce proposes three methods to ‘reclaim’ colonialism.

  • First, developing countries should replicate the colonial governance of their pasts, citing examples like Singapore, Belize, and Botswana.
  • Second, there should be a recolonisation of certain regions, where ‘colonisers’ would take control of specific areas of (weaker) governance.
  • Third, some colonies should be rebuilt from scratch, with the consent of the colonised.

Challenging anti-colonialism

Bruce challenges the main criticisms of (Western) colonialism, including its alleged objective harm, subjective illegitimacy, and offense to contemporary societal sensibilities.

He emphasises the need for a balanced assessment of colonialism’s impact on human flourishing, considering various factors like development, security, governance, and rights.

Which isn’t unreasonable.

Here in South Africa, it’s impossible to return to a pre-colonial era without destroying everything and forcing mass emigration of various groups of (millions of) people.

When the enemy is united, divide them.

Sun Tzu

Ironically, there are multiple (internationally funded) movements, disguised as well-intentioned ideas, with this goal in mind.

What does decolonised education look like?

In my opinion, ‘decolonisation’ (in the South African sense) is little more than an attempt to destabilise the country.

Remember, when European settlers first arrived at the Cape of Good Hope a few centuries ago, there were no towns, and only a handful of nomads were sparsely scattered around the bush.

Unlike Israel, which had a flourishing society before its establishment, the southern tip of Africa was largely uninhabited.

I think it’s important to note that Bruce argues that many critiques of colonialism fail to consider the counterfactuals.

I do not admit… that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America, or the black people of Australia… by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, has come in and taken its place.

Winston Churchill

In other words, what would have happened in the absence of colonial rule?

Well, Cape Town would probably not exist, and neither would I.

Bruce’s arguments aim to provoke debate on what has become an established narrative.

This is a good thing.

The point is that colonialism can indeed be viewed in a nuanced way, including its net benefits.

  • Modern infrastructure was introduced into many regions, including roads, railways, ports, and public buildings.
  • New institutions were established, including legal systems, educational institutions, and administrative structures.
  • New technologies and scientific knowledge have often been a consequence of colonialism.

It’s fashionable to be ‘anti-colonialist’ while enjoying its fruits.

We must find new lands from which we can easily obtain raw materials and at the same time exploit the cheap slave labour that is available from the natives of the colonies.

Cecil Rhodes

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