Sunday, January 27, 2013

Empire as Entertainment

Niall Ferguson argues that the average stay-at-home, working class Brit did not get a whole lot of economic benefit out of the empire. Of course the plunderer's made their fortunes, and trade brought jobs, but emigration to Australia or Canada had a higher payoff and lower taxes. Supporting Army, Navy, and Empire was not free.

One popular product they did get was vicarious adventure. There was an endless appetite for books and magazine stories of plucky/lucky Brit's triumphing over beast and foe in exotic locales. Wars were a kind of amplified adventure fiction, especially when the hapless foes couldn't inflict many casualties with spear and musket vs. machine gun.

Britain averaged more than a war per year during Victoria's long reign. The favorite crackpot science of the day, eugenics, held that by eliminating the weak, such wars actually improved the human race - a theme later taken up by A. Hitler.