Liberalism and colonialism: a critique of Locke and Mill
Liberalism is both egalitarian and inegalitarian, it stresses both the unity of mankind and the hierarchy of cultures, it is both tolerant and intolerant, peaceful and violent, pragmatic and dogmatic, skeptical and self-righteous. Bhikhu Parekh examines the writing of John Locke and John Stuart Mill, two of greatest liberal philosophers. Locke state that the Indians had cultivated and lived on their land for centuries and it was their ‘rightful inheritance’. He asked the English settlers for information about the Indian way of life, and built up an impressive collection of books dealing with the European exploration of the Americas. The Indian way of life offered a realistic contrast to, and provided most valuable insights into, the nature and structure of political society. Locke’s analysis of the nature of reason was complex and inconsistent, by and large he thought that it analysed and reflected on the sense impressions, perceived similarities and dissimilarities between different events and entities, traced their causes, and formed universally valid generalizations. Locke analysed English colonialism in America in terms of his theory of man and society. He argued that since the American Indians roamed freely over the land and did not enclose it, it was not their land; they used it as one would use a common land, but they had no property in it. In Locke’s view, English colonization not only did them no harm, but also respected their natural rights and conferred on them great economic, moral, cultural, scientific and political benefits. Locke characterized two modes of colonization, one based on ‘conquest by sword’ and represented by Spanish, the other based on commerce and represented by the English. Whilst Locke’s principle of equality offer at least some moral protection to Indians, it offered them no political protection. Indians were entitled to equality as individuals, but not as...
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