J. G. Ballard, author of the 1984 novel Empire of the Sun, was born in the Shanghai International Settlement in China in 1930, into a privileged colonial milieu with a chauffeur, a nanny, and servants. Ballard witnessed at first hand the collapse of the British Empire in Asia. The year 1945 was not a moment of imperial defeat, but of imperial reassertion for Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Britain, each of which saw their futures as global, colonial entities. This article, which deals with the end of empires, focusing on the loss of colonies such as Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and South-East Asia, also discusses blueprints for a liberal policy in Africa, the 1956 Suez Crisis, developmental colonialism and decolonisation, and the empires of Portugal and Spain.
The fact that we know the end points of formal colonial rule may lead us to forget that, for those involved, the process appeared less determined and more contingent. It is deceptively easy to trip over the supposed ‘milestone’ of the Second World War, ascribing undue influence to a failing capacity or will to rule among the colonial powers themselves. Such generalizations leave no room for agency among colonized peoples themselves and dismiss both rulers and ruled as essentially homogenous, almost preprogrammed to behave stereotypically as reactionaries or revolutionaries. Recognizing these interpretive problems, political analysts of European decolonization are now more divided over the extent to which the Second World War prefigured the end of European colonial rule. Much of the evidence for a strong causal link is powerful. By 1950 the geopolitical maps of eastern, southern, and western Asia were markedly less colonial. The justificatory language for empire was also different, evidence of the turn towards a technocratic administrative style that would soon become the norm in much of the global South. If basic political rights were frequently denied within dependent territories, a stronger accent on improved living standards gave imperial powers something with which to muffle the rising chorus of transnational criticism against colonial abuses. For all that, the concept of the Second World War as a watershed in the end of empires should not be accepted uncritically. This chapter explores the reasons why.
Robert J.C. Young
The phrase ‘the postcolonial condition’ is usually invoked with respect to the particular state, as well as the common circumstances, of the many colonies that were freed from colonial rule during the second half of the twentieth century and are now living on the legacy of colonialism. Postcolonial conditions all over the world remain very substantially the product of European rule, given the extent of the European empires. While the rest of the world gradually frees itself from its postcoloniality, as it earlier freed itself from the shackles of colonialism, it is the Europe from which colonialism came that remains caught within the postcolonial condition: for this reason, the idea of ‘the postcolonial’ has had most currency in Europe. One aspect of the European postcolonial condition was the refusal to recognise its overall historical inevitability even as the decolonisation process was taking place. This article discusses the postcolonial condition in Europe, along with cultural production as well as postcolonial theory and Islam.