There is no doubt that we live in a time of extreme economic disparity. A global framework of nation states exists that are systematically aligned on the basis of political, technological and economic power. As a result, we tend to see discrepancies in several aspects of life. However, the actual question then remains: How did we arrive here? What happened that triggered a cascade of problems, including and not limited to economic inconsistency, division of land into nation-states, ethnic and linguistic divides and cultural inferiority complex?
These issues are not isolated but are globally consistent in areas that were colonised by European nations. While it would be ignorant and superficial to consider colonialism as the sole perpetrator of all contemporary problems that we see in the developing world, however, one must understand and realise the magnitude of colonialism and the impact it has had on our current understanding of the world. In order to better understand this and discuss it, the following essay discusses the possibility of whether there is a global post-colony which encompasses Asian, African and Latin American post-colonies.
In this article, I reminisce on a Global Post-Colony course I attended, which prompted me to actively consider post-colonial philosophy. I will argue that uniting all post-colonies as a global post-colony is a notion that diminishes the historical, historiographical and cultural differences present in each post-colony around the world. Therefore, unifying colonial legacies and treating them as a homogenised unit disregards their experiences, which damages their diverse yet relative historical progress. Lastly, I propose an alternative perception towards understanding a global post-colony as the idea is not completely unworkable but provides a strong epistemological foundation to combat Western hegemonic discourses.
Colonialism and Inequality
According to Acemoglu et al., (2005), colonialism has affected contemporary inequality in numerous basic but varied ways. The encounter with the American continent and the establishment of a broad colonial endeavour in Europe, primarily in the American continent and later in South Asia and Africa, aided in the economic and institutional growth of Europe, developing the foundation for what we would now call the Industrial Revolution. But, the manner this functioned was dependent on European institutional requirements.
In areas like Britain, where a long struggle against the autocracy had provided the House of Commons and society with tremendous benefit, the subjugation of the American continent increased the authority of merchant and manufacturing groups, which were able to take benefit of the new economic benefits that the American continent, and eventually Asia, offered while also pushing for better political and economic institutions. As a result, the economy grew. Where the underlying political systems and power balance were different, such as in Spain, the result was dissimilar. It was during the empire’s reign that political institutions were weakened and economic possibilities were reduced.
The post-colonial experience in different continents was relative to their cultural setting. However, what remains constant is the colonial experience all three continents had during their interaction with their colonial masters. Chakrabarty (2000) states this clearly in his work ‘Provincializing Europe’, where he talks about the different perspectives there are to view Europe as a colonising power. He states,
‘Postcolonial scholars, speaking from their different geographies of colonialism, have spoken of different Europes. (…) Yet, however multiple the loci of Europe and however varied colonialisms are, the problem of getting beyond Eurocentric histories remains a shared problem across geographical boundaries’ (p.16-17).
We can clearly understand through Chakrabarty’s analysis that there exist different geographies of colonialism which also means that there are varied forms of colonialism. However, the problem which he points out is the way these colonial experiences are captured, which are often through a historicist narrative established by Western imperial powers.
It was not just the communities that were colonised that were affected by colonialism. Clearly, colonisation had an impact on the inhabitants who were colonised. Acemoglu et al. (2005) found that this produced a wide range of impacts. As a result of colonialism, there were many different kinds of societies in various parts of the world. Colonialism, for example, left distinct institutional legacies over the globe, resulting in vastly diverse outcomes for economic growth.
Contrary to popular belief, North America’s success was not owing to the many European powers transplanting distinct institutional structures, while Latin America’s failure was due to the Spanish-style structures that had been left in place. In reality, the data shows that the colonist authorities’ objectives and methods were extremely similar. There was a wide range of outcomes due to a wide range of underlying circumstances in the colonies. There are several examples of colonial societies founded on the exploitation of indigenous populations, such as in Latin America. It was clear that British immigrants wanted to develop a strong trading community in North America. However, it was very difficult to do so. Virginia Company is one example of a first-time colonist project which recruited Europeans and incentivised them by sending them to the Americas. They were incentivised so they could not leave and escape to America. When it came to issues like political rights and property ownership, the systems in place were not even somewhat similar to those in the colonising nation (Robinson & Acemoglu, 2012).
Colonial Britain was fully competent and eager to introduce ‘extractive institutions,’ grounded on the regulation and payment of taxes from indigenous communities, when it faced Latin American-like conditions, for example, in South Africa, Kenya, or Zimbabwe. As we explain in Acemoglu and Robinson (2012), institutions that deprive the great majority of society’s resources are accompanying poverty. It should be noted that African nations are as unequal as their Latin American counterparts, this is something which is not a coincidence.
Since colonialism had a variety of consequences on European growth, encouraging it in areas like the United Kingdom but slowing it down in Spain, the same was true for the colonial possessions. When it came to North America in particular, colonial rule paved the way for a society with considerably more inclusive institutions than those in the colonising nation. In other regions, like Latin America, Africa, or South Asia, it produced institutions that resulted in bad long-term consequences.
Also, note that empirical results have significant implications for various explanations of relative progression. Some suggest that long-term patterns of growth are best explained by regional variances. In contrast, studies have found no connection between geographic determinants and development results after institutions were taken into consideration.
The association across geography and territory, for example, does not imply a causal connection. European colonisation developed a system of institutions connected with latitude, which is why this is the case. When this is taken into account, regional factors have no effect on the outcome. Some people believe that cultural differences are the most important factors influencing progress.
We were unable to find any correlation between cultural differences and our findings. First and foremost, the religious makeup of distinct communities is an important consideration. The identity of the colonial authority is also important, as we have already said. A country’s European-descent population is the third factor. Although there is truth in stating that the US and Canada were responsible for attracting a large number of Europeans, it can be stated that this was due to their well-functioning institutions. Today’s progress is not fuelled by the vast majority of people being of European ancestry.
While colonial legacies had varying results in different parts of the world, the persistent impact of these legacies was profound. Based on the authors covered in the aforementioned Global Post-Colony course, one should realise that there are certain factors that are similar across the board, and then there are certain factors that tend to be relative to geographic location and colonising power.
For instance, Eduardo Galeano, in his book ‘Open Veins of Latin America’ explains the historical progression which describes the centuries-long struggle against the imperial powers of Europe. The extent of the European conquest in the Americas, followed by the immediate skirmish for gold and silver, outlines the extent to which the colonisers went to obtain wealth. Galeano further elucidates on his premise that the Spanish siphoned off all the resources (Galeano, 1971).
The roots of colonial action and genocide can be found in the European tendency to observe the survival of the fittest. In his book ‘Exterminate All the Brutes’, Sven Lindqvist proposes that colonisation of the so-called New World insinuated a deeper meaning of genocide of Native Americans, enslavement on a large scale of Africans in the Americas and strong imperial control of what Europeans saw as an inferior race (Lindqvist, 2021).
Apart from the historiographical constructions made by European historians regarding their colonial adventures around the world, it is difficult to truly understand the story of colonisation through the eyes of Europe. Therefore, the idea of a global post-colony can be an essential step in formulating an epistemological foundation where post-colonisation is thoroughly studied, critiqued and evaluated.
Hamid Dabashi, in his book ‘Can non-Europeans think?’ reiterates the same argument that Euro-centrism has hindered post-colonial perspectives and always influenced historiographical constructions of colonisation and periodisations of European conquest – in which the Age of Discovery is conveniently glorified as a progressive movement for all mankind – that result in skewed versions of history often leading to cultural inferiority complex in post-colonies (Dabashi, 2015).
During the course, the main element which allowed us to critically evaluate the condition of post-colonial academic work was the presence of an instructor who himself hails from an area rich in post-colonial experience. As a result, the instructor provides an in-depth understanding of colonial experiences and, at the same time, provides an insight into diverse post-colonial experiences different from our sub-continental colonial memory.
When there is a clear difference in language, religion and ethnicity, one tends to diverge in opinion and perspective. However, our interaction with our instructor during the course brought forth a completely new notion.
Not only did we find similarities in the Latin American colonial experience, which also spoke about resource exploitation, genocide and epistemological influences on the natives, but we also concluded that the colonial conquest was always heavily dependent upon capitalistic gains often manoeuvred by imperial forces in Europe. Therefore, when an instructor who comes from another geographic post-colony establishes several relatable discussions and broadens one’s horizon on the global impact of European colonisation, it establishes evidence that a global post-colony can be instrumentalised as an approach to understanding post-colonial literature, progression and combat Eurocentric historiographies aimed at conveniently disregarding colonial atrocities, exploitations and rebranding European nationalistic accounts as apologetic.
Western European colonists have left a trail of interminable wars in Africa, the Balkans, and South Asia, among other places. Disputes like those in Kashmir, Chechnya, and Cyprus, which entail a wide range of concerns pertaining to human rights to effective governance, are common in these regions.
Challenges remain because of imperial behaviours and rules, principally those comprising nation-states, national competition and the imbalanced dissemination of resources, human-rights cruelties, and poor legislation. This is why acknowledging the past and taking into consideration the impact of imperialist actions on today’s modern post-colonial nations is essential for people who want to change or settle a long-term conflict.
It is established that there are multiple forms, experiences and historiographical constructions of European colonisation around the world. While these varied colonisations are relative and culturally unique, one cannot ignore the similar impacts and results post-colonies have had to suffer. Therefore, the notion of a global post-colony should be envisioned not as a singular idea which homogenizes different geographical colonial experiences but unifies epistemological efforts from all over the world to better understand, evaluate and critique strong systems and paradigms of Eurocentric hegemonic discourses. This way, it would be easier for us to historically understand the events that continue to cascade into bigger conflicts to this day.
Uniting all post-colonies as a global post-colony is a notion that diminishes the historical, historiographical and cultural differences present in each post-colony around the world. Therefore, unifying colonial legacies and treating them as a homogenised unit disregards their experiences, which damages their diverse yet relative historical progress.
Sources Acemoglu, D., Johnson, S. and Robinson, J., 2005. The rise of Europe: Atlantic trade, institutional change, and economic growth. American economic review, 95(3), pp.546-579. Acemoglu, D., Johnson, S. and Robinson, J.A., 2012. An african success story: Botswana (pp. 80-120). Princeton University Press. Chakrabarty, D., 2000. Provincializing Europe. Princeton University Press. Dabashi, H., 2015. Can non-Europeans think?. Zed Books Ltd. Galeano, E., 1997. Open veins of Latin America: Five centuries of the pillage of a continent. NYU Press. Vancouver Lindqvist, S., 2021. Exterminate all the Brutes. Granta books.
Acemoglu, D., Johnson, S. and Robinson, J., 2005. The rise of Europe: Atlantic trade, institutional change, and economic growth. American economic review, 95(3), pp.546-579.
Acemoglu, D., Johnson, S. and Robinson, J.A., 2012. An african success story: Botswana (pp. 80-120). Princeton University Press.
Chakrabarty, D., 2000. Provincializing Europe. Princeton University Press.
Dabashi, H., 2015. Can non-Europeans think?. Zed Books Ltd.
Galeano, E., 1997. Open veins of Latin America: Five centuries of the pillage of a continent. NYU Press. Vancouver
Lindqvist, S., 2021. Exterminate all the Brutes. Granta books.