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What is the importance of 'Britain's Imperial Destiny' by Wilfred Blunt?

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Wilfrid Scawen Blunt was a Roman Catholic poet, writer, traveler, and horse breeder who served in the English diplomatic service for a decade before marriage to the wealthy Lady Anne King enabled him to retire. He was famous for his extra-marital affairs, scandalous and contentious divorce, and success in breeding Arabian horses as well as his writing and political activism. Both Wilfrid and his wife traveled extensively in Egypt and other parts of North Africa and wrote several important works about Islam and Bedouin culture. He was a strong anti-imperialist voice, advocating for Egyptian independence and Irish home rule.

The actual text, "Britain's Imperial Destiny," is simply a selection of entries from Blunt's diaries, which first appeared in My Diaries: 1888–1914, a book published in 1919. A selection of excerpts from the diaries of a colorful eccentric published decades after the matters being discussed occurred have little actual importance in world affairs, although they do allow us to understand his personal thoughts, more formally expressed in his major books on the topic including numerous published letters, pamphlets, articles and books such as the following:

  • Ideas about India. London: Kegan Paul, Trench & Co., 1885
  • The future of Islam. London: Kegan Paul, Trench & Co., 1882

Perhaps the most important element of the diary excerpts for students reading them is the way they reveal in a short and easily accessible form the types of issues informing the growing anti-imperialist movements in the second half of the nineteenth century in Britain. They show that anti-imperialists were concerned about multiple issues including the harm inflicted on the natives, the way imperialism led to conflicts among western imperialist nations, and the way imperialism contributed to moral decline.

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Wilfred Blunt, an outspoken Conservative member of British Parliament in the late 1800s, was strongly against British imperialism. While he did put British imperialism on a higher level than that of American or Belgian imperialism, he saw nothing but continued trouble from British overseas possessions, especially those held in Africa. He saw the Boer War as Britain bullying the Dutch settlers in South Africa. He also viewed imperialism as a way to stir up trouble in Europe during a very tense period of alliances between major powers. This was important because at the time of his writing (1896-1900) Britain was not affiliated in any of the Continental Alliances. If there was ever trouble with another power, Britain would be isolated. Blunt saw colonialism as needless expenditure. He also saw it as a foreign policy liability, even making note of the potential conflict between Britain and France over the Fashoda affair. He also saw British imperialism as exploitation of the people who lived overseas. Britain could no longer claim the moral high ground over other countries if it treated its subjects in the developing world poorly.

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Wilfred Scawen Blunt's "Britain's Imperial Destiny" is significant as a critique of British imperialism. Writing in the late 1890s, Blunt argued, in short, that colonialism was fundamentally bad, not just for colonial people, but for the British themselves, as it encouraged corruption and abuses within the British government. "The gangrene of colonial rowdyism is infecting us," Blunt, a conservative member of Parliament, argued, "and the habit of repressing liberty in weak nations is endangering our own." He predicted the collapse of the British Empire, which he thought was unsustainable because it created hostility among native peoples and between European nations, which would lead to constant conflict. The Boer War in South Africa, he thought, was an example of this. In short, Blunt was one of the most eloquent of many critics of imperialism during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

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