What is the thesis of the book King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa?
Adam Hochschild’s book King Leopold’s Ghost is subtitled “A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa.” Focusing on the Belgian colonization of the Congo, Hochschild exposes the atrocities—including murder and torture—which both soldiers and civilians committed in order to subjugate the indigenous black African people. The author shows the ways in which Belgium’s King Leopold II was both unique and a typical European monarch of his time. He argues that Belgian policies and practices can be seen as an outlier compared to those of other colonizing powers but that in many respects Belgium only imposed a more exaggerated version of colonial repression than the rest of Europe did. The author’s support for these arguments depends not only on the economic and political basis of colonial expansion but on the religious justifications that the European powers offered.
Hochschild sees Belgium’s concerted campaign of subjugation and the resulting loss of countless lives as a holocaust comparable to the one that Nazi Germany caused in the twentieth century. Rationalizing the ruthless devastation of entire populations on the basis of race reveals genocidal intent, which the perpetrators often tried to cover with a veil of rhetoric that appealed to religion. The nineteenth-century distortions of Social Darwinism also used science to establish a racial hierarchy that denounced “savagery,” further justifying the “civilized” Europeans’ imposition of their lifeways and beliefs.
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