British Paternalism Compared To French Assimilationby Rit Nosotro
Compare Colonialism of the British and French.
Almost every European nation engaged in colonial or imperial pursuits at some point. Two of them, Britain and France, had quite different philosophies, and became significant rivals throughout the world. Britain was generally content to leave their acquisitions with their own traditions, and to take a more paternal relationship with them. France on the other hand intended to teach the natives to be French, and to assimilate them into French superior culture.
The thirteen British colonies in America were given a great deal of autonomy, but for important matters they were expected to look to their ‘father’ in Britain. They were also expected to depend upon Britain to defend them. The French and Indian War taught them they didn’t need to depend on Britain, and was a significant step in their growing idea of independence.
In Asia, the British had initially given the commercial enterprise of the East India Company control in India. The fact that a commercial enterprise was in a position to influence the lot of millions of people was troublesome to the British Parliament which felt that Britain’s roll was to protect and guide, rather than to simply exploit.1 As a result they passed acts granting them power over the company, and establishing dual rule in 1784, which lasted until 1858. In many areas of the Indian subcontinent, the native dynasties were left intact, with British supervision.1
France also attempted to gain control in India, but were forced out. Their
desire to rival Britain continued, despite having lost most of their empire
by the end of the 18th century.1 They also felt they had a right and duty to
colonize the ‘lower races.’ Jules Ferry, twice prime minister of
France, said “Gentlemen, we must speak more loudly and more honestly!
We must say openly that indeed the higher races have a right over the lower
races.... I repeat, that the superior races have a right because they have a
duty. They have the duty to civilize the inferior races.”2
And that is how the French acted. They invaded much of Indochina in response to anti-catholic feelings and actions. The French invaded Vietnam as part of their protection of Catholics, and when the government refused to accept the French demands, they occupied the capital. They divided Vietnam into sections and governed each section differently. At least one section was allowed a representative in the French Parliament.3
Some of the French desire to spread their civilization had to do with their need for export markets. If they could spread their culture then there would be more people desiring the products that France made, and they would be able to export as much as they wanted. Jules Ferry said, “In the area of economics, I am placing before you, with the support of some statistics, the considerations that justify the policy of colonial expansion, as seen from the perspective of a need, felt more and more urgently by the industrialized population of Europe and especially the people of our rich and hardworking country of France: the need for outlets.”2 The French colonial attitude was primarily economic, but this was followed by their belief in their own superiority and everyone else’s inferiority.
In Africa the British continued to govern with their philosophy that the Africans were very different than the British and had their own way of doing things, which was right for the Africans. This was called indirect rule, but in many cases the paternal attention of Britain was offended by cultural activities, as it had been by Sati (widow burning) in India, and they redefined the role of African government in those instances.4 The British had two approaches to the Africans. They either treated the African rulers as dependent on them, or they let them be independent, but in both cases, African freedom of government was only on the condition that the British economic and political goals were helped and not hindered.4 This process is similar to how the Romans managed their empire. After an initial conquest, the natives would be allowed to rule themselves as long as they behaved themselves, but once they messed up, retribution was swift and a foreign governor would be installed, as a guide to the remaining native government.
The Brazzaville Conference of 1944 stated, “The aims of France's civilizing mission accomplished in the colonies rules out any idea of autonomy, any possibility of evolution outside the French empire bloc; the eventual constitution, however remote, of self-government in the colonies is out of the question.”5 This was also true in Africa. They had no intention of allowing any of their colonies to become independent. As can be seen today, they failed to hold their colonies, but they did not attempt to ready them for independence either.
Britain and France had two very different approaches to colonization. Both were driven by economic reasons, but one intended to give the colony a chance at self government, and the other intended to assimilate and integrate the colony into their empire indefinitely. This difference in approach affected each colony, and these effects can still be seen today.
1. Which European colonial power believed in allowing natives some self-government
with only fatherly help?
2. Which country believed they had a right and a duty to colonize the world?
3. Who said “indeed the higher races have a right over the lower races?”
c) Jules Verne
d) Jules Ferry
4. What country did France invade in response to anti-catholic sentiments and
answers: 1(a) 2(b) 3(d) 4(b)
1 “Imperialism in Asia” World Wide Web Find, 2004 <http://www.worldwidewebfind.com/encyclopedia/en/wikipedia/i/im/imperialism_in_asia.html> November 1, 2004
2 Jules Ferry 1832-1893, “On French Colonial Expansion.” Paul Halsall, 1998. Modern History Source Book, <http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1884ferry.html> November 1, 2004
3 “The Anti-Colonial Struggle” <http://www.vwam.com/vets/anticolonial.html> November 1, 2004
4 Mathieu Deflem, “Law Enforcement In British Colonial Africa” 1994 <http://www.cla.sc.edu/socy/faculty/deflem/zcolpol.html> November 1, 2004
5 Donald Stark, “Urbanization and Cultural Assimilation in British and French West Africa.” <http://www.donaldstark.co.uk/baguette.html> November 1, 2004
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