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Reordering the WorldEssays on Liberalism and Empire$
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Duncan Bell

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780691138787

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691138787.001.0001

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Escape Velocity

Escape Velocity

Ancient History and the Empire of Time

(p.119) Chapter 5 Escape Velocity
Reordering the World

Duncan Bell

Princeton University Press

This chapter examines how historical time was conceptualized in imperial debate. It explores two broad variations that were articulated across the human sciences and in public debate, focusing in particular on the writings of historians. In the first, the modern British empire was figured as uniquely progressive, as capable—either in actuality or in potentia—of avoiding the social, economic, and political dynamics that had annihilated all previous specimens. This argument was most frequently employed in relation to India. The other strategy was to insist that the empire (or a part of it) was not really an empire at all, but rather a new form of political order that could circumvent the entropic degeneration of traditional imperial forms. To think otherwise was to make a category mistake. This argument was often applied to Britain and its settler colonies from the 1870s onwards. “Greater Britain,” as the settler colonial assemblage was often termed, could attain permanence, a kind of historical grace.

Keywords:   British empire, historical time, imperialism, India, political order

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