Imperialism and the Corruption of Democracies

Imperialism and the Corruption of Democracies

Book Pages: 192 Illustrations: 14 b&w photos Published: February 2006

Author: Herman Lebovics

History > World History, Politics > Political Theory, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

In this important volume, Herman Lebovics, a preeminent cultural historian of France, develops a historical argument with striking contemporary relevance: empire abroad inevitably undermines democracy at home. These essays, which Lebovics wrote over the past decade, demonstrate the impressive intellectual range of his work. Focusing primarily on France and to a lesser extent on the United Kingdom, he shows how empire and its repercussions have pervaded—and corroded—Western cultural, intellectual, and social life from the mid-nineteenth century to the present.

Some essays explore why modern Western democratic societies needed colonialism. Among these is an examination of the seventeenth-century philosopher John Locke’s prescient conclusion that liberalism could only control democratic forces with the promise of greater wealth enabled by empire. In other essays Lebovics considers the relation between overseas rule and domestic life. Discussing George Orwell’s tale “Shooting an Elephant” and the careers of two colonial officers (one British and one French), he contemplates the ruinous authoritarianism that develops among the administrators of empire. Lebovics considers Pierre Bourdieu’s thinking about how colonialism affected metropolitan French life, and he reflects on the split between sociology and ethnology, which was partly based on a desire among intellectuals to think one way about metropolitan populations and another about colonial subjects. Turning to the arts, Lebovics traces how modernists used the colonial “exotic” to escape the politicized and contested modernity of the urban West. Imperialism and the Corruption of Democracies is a compelling case for cultural history as a key tool for understanding the injurious effects of imperialism and its present-day manifestations within globalization.


“[A] sophisticated set of six essays. . . . [I]nteresting and informative.” — Jeremy Black, Journal of World History

“Rewarding, particularly for those unfamiliar with recent trends in the study of colonialism and post-colonial cultures.” — Martin Thomas, History

“[T]his volume is an important collection from a prominent historian that contributes to the critical history of imperialism. . . . [I]t is a useful and significant book. Lebovics provides several sophisticated ways in which we can see the inter-related history of the colonies and the metropole. His approach is wide ranging, linking cultural developments to specific political moments and economic processes.” — Michael G. Vann, Journal of Colonialism & Colonial History

“Lebovics’ latest is a valuable book. . . . Lebovics has written a book that is not only a work of scholarship, but also a statement of political conviction. Cultural historians interested in exploring and discussing the lessons that ‘Old’ Europe’s colonial past holds for the political conflicts of our own era will find Imperialism and the Corruption of Democracies a worthwhile read.” — J. P. Daughton, H-France, H-Net Reviews

“The scope of these chapters clearly illustrates the impressive range of Lebovics’s intellectual interests. . . . For those unfamiliar with Lebovics’s work, it will act as a useful ‘primer’, while those who know his major works will be grateful that some of his key essays and unpublished papers have been drawn together in one volume.” — David Murphy, French Studies

"Herman Lebovics is among the most innovative cultural historians working on modern France." — Mary Dewhurst Lewis, Journal of Modern History

“Herman Lebovics is one of the leading American cultural historians of France and a rare native of our shores whose work has been translated into French. People on both sides of the Atlantic will want to read these extremely interesting essays.” — Edward Berenson, Director of the Institute of French Studies, New York University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Herman Lebovics is Professor of History at Stony Brook University. He is the author of Bringing the Empire Back Home: France in the Global Age, also published by Duke University Press; Mona Lisa’s Escort: André Malraux and the Reinvention of French Culture; and True France: The Wars Over Cultural Identity, 1900–1945.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

Acknowledgments xix

1. Not the Right Stuff: Shrinking Colonial Administrators 1

2. Pierre Bourdieu’s Own Cultural Revolution 22

3. Jean Renoir’s Voyage of Discovery: From the Shores of the Mediterranean to the Banks of the Ganges 34

4. France’s Black Venus 60

5. John Locke, Imperialism, and the First Stage of Capitalism 87

6. Why, Suddenly, are the Americans Doing Cultural History 100

Afterword 113

Notes 121

Selected Works of American Cultural History Writing 155

Index 159
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3697-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3661-7
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