The Imperialism of Anti-Imperialists


The controversy over the statue of Cecil Rhodes in Oriel College, Oxford, suggests that the modern world is opposed to imperialism. I believe the opposite is the case. It shows that Oxford dons are at least as imperialistic as Rhodes ever was, though in a more sly and dishonest way.

In fact, the most dangerous imperialism that has descended on the civilised world since the term was coined in the 1880s is political correctness. Whereas Cecil Rhodes and his ilk tried to colonise the LAND of the world, the modern politically correct movement is trying to colonise the MIND of the world.

It is easy to criticise territorial imperialism and, especially, such a high-profile imperialist as Cecil Rhodes. It is also easy for the better-informed historian of Africa to defend his policies. I am not going to do either because my point is not about Cecil Rhodes but about those who want to use his popular image as a villain in a frock coat to promote their own control over the rest of us.

These modern Oxford mental-imperialists are trying to prevent us all reaching our own conclusion on Rhodes, on imperialism or even on the war on the Matabele waged by the British, after which Lobengula, the legendary chief of the Matabele, had fled in disgrace. The fact is that Rhodes went to see Lobengula’s successor and sat waiting for days before the new Chief emerged to talk to him is rarely mentioned.

This was the era of the “unequal treaties” in China, and Rhodes’s treaty with the Matabele was pretty unequal too. But it was not imposed by force, at least not beyond the fact that the Matabele had recently been comprehensively defeated in war. However, it was a lot less unequal than the settlement imposed on Germany at Versailles 25 years later, and it was heaven by the standards of the German treatment (massacre) of the Herero tribe in nearby South-West Africa.

Rhodes could easily have ignored the Chief and simply moved into Matabeleland to start prospecting for gold and other minerals. But he preferred to rely on at least a form of contract, which implied a moral equality between him and the great Chief. This is what his secretary, Philip Jourdan wrote about this incident (he was there) in his book CECIL RHODES – His Private Life by His Private Secretary (1911):

 “And so it came about that [the Chief], after having partaken freely of Mr Rhodes’s hospitality for about a fortnight and after having satisfied himself that he had nothing to fear readily consented to send a messenger to his indunas advising them to come out of their fastness to see the white men… After many weeks they had all been so see Mr Rhodes. Each chief usually stayed for a few days, then returned to talk over matter with his people. When in Mr Rhodes’s view the time was ripe a big Indaba [i.e. conference] was arranged at which all the chiefs were present. Several heads of cattle and sheep were killed for the occasions. Two or three meetings were held, and eventually peace was concluded. These meetings were intensely interesting…. [Rhodes] sat day after day throughout the heat of the day talking to the chiefs and cracking jokes with them, until we were tired to death of the sight of them. But his patience and perseverance gained him the day… Mr Rhodes’s physical strength and powers of endurance were phenomenal at this time.”

My point is not that this makes Rhodes a great man—and certainly not that he was a bad one—but that preventing the world from knowing about him is imperialistic. Statue or no statue, the point now is that the Oxford lecturers’ strike threat is a form of imperialism at least as sinister as anything Cecil Rhodes got up to. We are seeing today a new imperialism of the mind, and it must be opposed as resolutely as any other form of imperialism if the rule of law is to survive.

Ian Mitchell is the author of “The Justice Factory: Can the Rule of Law Survive in 21st Century Scotland?” (2020) The Foreword was written by Lord Hope of Craighead, ex-Deputy President of the UK Supreme Court and the Professor of Public Law who is author “Constitutional Law of Scotland” wrote the Introduction to Part II. Details here on Amazon (UK).