Alex Von Tunzelmann

Imperialism is far from over, but gathering force in disguise

And those nations who pride themselves most on throwing off the imperial yoke are arguably the greatest imperialists today, says Samir Puri

Mundari tribe women with a Chinese flag celebrate a wedding in South Sudan. Credit: Getty Images

From ancient times, empires have risen and fallen, driven by war, territorial acquisition, trade, plunder, religion, ideology, technology, culture and information. In this ambitious book, Samir Puri — formerly at the Foreign Office, now a lecturer on war and international studies — attempts to analyse how all this has affected the world today.

Over eight chapters, he recounts the histories of empires around the globe, omitting only South America and Oceania. He looks at how their very different narratives linger in modern geopolitics. If we are living, as he says, through a ‘great imperial hangover’ it must have been one almighty booze-up.

In the United States he considers the paradox of a nation that has invested heavily in a story of freeing itself from empire but has pursued imperial actions itself, from ‘manifest destiny’ to modern interventions supposedly spreading freedom and democracy. Closer to home, he discusses how ‘the absent-minded reappearance of assumptions about the wider world’ in Tony Blair’s administration led to the invasion of Iraq: ‘Britain appears to have retained only a sketchy and selective understanding of the modern implications of its old imperial roles, and little sense of their resulting legacies.’

In Europe as a whole he observes that the EEC was an explicitly post-imperial venture, after the shocks of the second world war and decolonisation:

In short, the EEC was not a replacement of the various European nation states but a route to revitalising them — as long as they were willing to pool some of their national sovereignty in Europe’s new cooperative ventures.

If we are still living through a great imperial hangover it must have been one almighty booze-up

In Russia, he considers a new wave of technological disinformation against the backdrop of Soviet and imperial Russian history.

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