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Empires of the Mind
The Colonial Past and the Politics of the Present

Part of The Wiles Lectures

  • Date Published: April 2021
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781316612330


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About the Authors
  • 'The empires of the future would be the empires of the mind' declared Churchill in 1943, envisaging universal empires living in peaceful harmony. Robert Gildea exposes instead the brutal realities of decolonisation and neo-colonialism which have shaped the postwar world. Even after the rush of French and British decolonisation in the 1960s, the strings of economic and military power too often remained in the hands of the former colonial powers. The more empire appears to have declined and fallen, the more a fantasy of empire has been conjured up as a model for projecting power onto the world stage and legitimised colonialist intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. This aggression, along with the imposition of colonial hierarchies in metropolitan society, has excluded, alienated and even radicalised immigrant populations. Meanwhile, nostalgia for empire has bedevilled relations with Europe and played a large part in explaining Brexit.

    • The issues and conflicts of the contemporary world are viewed through the lens of colonialism
    • This book is a comparative study of France and Britain, but also references Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal and the United States
    • Reveals the 'colonial' dimension of immigration, metropolitan reactions to it, and its effect on contemporary feelings towards migrants
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Empires of the Mind is a uniquely valuable account of the fate of the French and British empires.' William Roger Louis, University of Texas

    'Accessibly written and genuinely comparative, Robert Gildea's new analysis of the lingering effects and bitter aftershocks of British and French colonialism is essential reading for anyone keen to understand where legacies of empire register in contemporary politics. A terrific read.' Martin Thomas, author of Fight or Flight: Britain, France and their Roads from Empire

    'Empires of the Mind is an exhilarating comparative survey of British and French self-regard from competitive collaboration in the hecatombs of slavery, through Suez in 1956, to responses to immigrants from ex-colonies, Islamic fundamentalism and Brexit. Among many startling quotes we read Nigel Farage claiming Brits are different from Europeans. Robert Gildea shows that we are too alike.' Anthony Barnett, founder of openDemocracy

    'The past never remains in the past, Robert Gildea skilfully reminds us as he recounts the brutal histories of both British and French colonial and neo-colonial ventures. This is a book that insists on the connections between what happens/ed 'out there' and what happens/ed 'in here' and helps us to think through that complex and dangerous entanglement, which continues to inform our contemporary politics today.' Catherine Hall, author of Civilising Subjects: Metropole and Colony in the English Imagination 1830–1867

    'Gildea uses a comparative approach to examine the legacy of empire in France and Britain … both countries desperately hoped to preserve their empires, fiercely resisted decolonization, and frequently intervened to keep former colonies as dependencies. … In France, the long shadow of the Algerian conflict, racism, and an emphasis on secular republican values led to a reassertion of colonial rule in the banlieues. Despite Britain's avowed multiculturalism, its formerly colonized subjects faced segregation, exclusion, and violence at the hands of former colonizers. Alienated from both their adopted nation and their country of origin and enraged by the US's neo-imperialist 'war on terror', many in Europe's immigrant community embraced Islam. A radicalized minority turned to jihad and terrorist violence. … the dubious but apparently widespread belief that Brexit would enable Britain to restore its free-trade empire supports Gildea's thesis that the past remains disturbingly present. Highly recommended.' P. C. Kennedy, Choice

    'A valuable and shaming book.' Lucy Beckett, The Tablet

    '… [Empires of the Mind] can … be profitably read for its extensive comparative account of the British and French empires and their afterlives … highly accessible.' Richard Toye, Journal of British Studies

    'A grand narrative that tracks the resurgence of imperial and neo-colonial thinking since the end of the Cold War, which has provoked increased military interventions in the global South, the growing stigmatization of immigrant populations in the West, and the delusions of grandeur that have accompanied our own debates around Brexit.' Sudhir Hazareesingh, Times Literary Supplement

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    Product details

    • Date Published: April 2021
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781316612330
    • length: 366 pages
    • dimensions: 227 x 153 x 21 mm
    • weight: 0.54kg
    • contains: 20 b/w illus.
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    List of illustrations
    1. Empires constructed and contested
    2. Empires in crisis: two world wars
    3. The imperialism of decolonisation
    4. Neo-colonialism, new global empire
    5. Colonising in reverse and colonialist backlash
    6. Europe: in or out?
    7. Islamism and the retreat to monocultural nationalism
    8. Hubris and nemesis: Iraq, the colonial fracture and global economic crisis
    9. The empire strikes back
    10. Fantasy, anguish and working through

  • Author

    Robert Gildea, University of Oxford
    Robert Gildea is Professor of Modern History at the University of Oxford. He has written extensively on French and European history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Among the many awards his publications have garnered, Fighters in the Shadows: A New History of the French Resistance (2015) was longlisted for the Samuel Johnson prize and Marianne in Chains: In Search of the German Occupation (2003) won the 2003 Wolfson History Prize.

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