Before Anti-Imperialism: The Genealogy and Limits of a Humanitarian Tradition
Antes del antiimperialismo
The slave trade, and slavery itself—the subjugation of societies with long, solid histories and institutions—has received criticism since the second half of the 18th century. These challenges were born from the egalitarian ideals of the French Revolution and the radical religious currents in the Protestant world. Despite its roots and the great economic interests it upheld, slavery was ultimately abolished in Great Britain’s colonies in 1833, in France’s in 1848, and in the United States in 1865, which represented a moral triumph for humanitarians and was decisive when it came to the transformation of the great empires of European origin.
The relationship between the liberal metropolises and their colonies was hailed as proof of reform and the betterment of the human condition. Despite this, the persistence of forms of compulsory labor, the mistreatment of aboriginal societies threatened with extinction, and the rise of racism and white supremacism throughout the world promoted the continuation of humanitarian and reformist currents. The brutality of land distribution and colonization in Africa were the greatest challenges for the heirs of those old traditions. And yet, at the time neither the dissenting voices originating in the metropolises nor the ones that emerged from the colonies themselves were projecting an alternative ideological horizon to empires: only national and inter-imperial conflicts at the turn of the century—world wars (with participation from recruits from colonial territories)—changed that picture. With the rigor and thoroughness that have earned him the international acclaim he possesses as a historian, Josep M. Fradera proposes Before Anti-Imperialism, an illuminating genealogy of criticism that precedes anti-imperialism that was labeled as such.
According to the jury:
“Fradera has managed to combine the intellectual sophistication of a professional historian with a close look at a clueless and often ill-informed audience: the heroic anti-imperialism of the 20th century has little to do with the historic change humanity went through after eliminating human objectification, and is only comparable in the 20th century to the emancipation of women, who are the surprising co-stars of this addictive essay.” —Jordi Gracia
“Some books have the potential to change the tone of the political conversation about thorny issues. Fradera’s essay is one of those books. Relying on a myriad of sources, as well as on his sharp ability to weave together different political traditions, Fradera creates a genealogy of anti-imperialism that discredits some preconceived ideas. What if anti-imperialism was also a product of imperialism?” —Pau Luque
“With the rigor and thoroughness that have given him international authority he possesses as a historian, Josep M. Fradera explores the roots that anti-imperialism in the 20th century has in the humanitarian currents that emerged within the colonial European systems built in the 19th century in this essay about history that is furiously current. A complex and brilliant book that explains why the first large wave of rejection and condemnation of empires did not end their expansive vocation and their mechanisms of oppression and exploitation, but rather had the opposite effect.” —Daniel Rico
“An erudite and solid work, built on a detailed study of the colonial and imperialist conflicts of the last few centuries. Essential when it comes to placing the intellectual and political discourses that laid the foundations of anti-imperialism while imperialism continued to spread through a globalized capitalism focused on the ‘here and now.’ The contrast of Fradera’s careful and profuse historical investigation is almost subversive, both because of its depth and because of the detail with which he addresses layers of the past that will help us understand current and emerging conflicts.” —Remedios Zafra
Josep M. Fradera (Mataró, 1952) is a professor emeritus of Contemporary History at the University of Pompeu Fabra. He has been an invited and visiting professor at universities such as Princeton, University of Chicago, Harvard, and EHESS in Paris. He is the author of Indústria i mercat (1987), Cultura nacional en una societat dividida (1992), Jaume Balmes: els fonaments racionals d’una politica catòlica (1996), Gobernar colonias (1999), Colonias para después de un imperio (2005), La pàtria dels catalans (2009), and La nación imperial (1750-1918) (2015, translated into English as The Imperial Nation in 2018). He is the co-editor of Slavery and Antislavery in Spain’s Atlantic Empire alongside Christopher Schmidt-Nowara (2013) and Unexpected Voices in Imperial Parliaments (2021).