Friday, January 18, 2013

Hypocrisy

I like to put in a good word for hypocrisy. It's always fashionable to deplore it, and it can be annoying, especially on Fox News, but let's look at the other side of the coin.

Niall Ferguson, in his book Empire, juxtaposes Queen Victoria worrying about extending her reign to yet more of the world as the least Britain could do for the poor wretches not yet incorporated into the empire even while Britain was busy using it's imperial muscle to become the great drug dealer of the world. Empty words, no doubt, but even empty words have their weight.

If you invest a lot of intellectual effort in persuading yourself of your righteousness, it can be harder to ignore the ways your words fail to match your actions. After the Indian rebellion of 1857, the British East India Company was disbanded, and the Brits made two promises to the Indians: no more meddling in Indian religion, and no discrimination against the "natives." Well, they sort of kept the first.

Gandhi, after he recovered from his cotton spinning years, discovered the nearly ideal way to exploit Britain's weaknesses: their commercial interests, and their professed love for liberty and justice. Both of these tools were probably essential for dislodging the British from India, but I suspect the latter was even more important. British hypocrisies of the past rose up to bite them.