The British Enlightenment and Ideas of Empire in India 1756-1773
This dissertation examines the relationship between Enlightenment political thought and the conduct of imperial affairs on the Indian subcontinent between 1756 and 1773. It is concerned with the ways in which Enlightenment ideas affected the response of politicians, thinkers, merchants and East India Company officials, to the Company's actions and conduct in Bengal. It seeks therefore to uncover the underlying political principles that informed debates regarding the future of Britain's connection with the acquired territories. At first, controversy raged between the Company and the British state over the question of property rights: in 1767 the British government tried to assert its right to the territorial revenues of Bengal that had been acquired by the Company in 1765. The government was not successful and the issue of ownership would remain unresolved in this period and beyond. However, as the Company began to appear incapable of managing and reforming its own affairs, the British government was forced to confront the question of what the best way of conducting policy in the east might be. This thesis makes use of an array of under-utilised printed sources - pamphlets, books and tracts - as well as analysing contemporary parliamentary debate, to recover the ways in which empire was both rationalised and theorised. The first part of the dissertation lays out the narrative of events, gives a brief sketch of ideologies of empire in Britain after 1690, and reviews the historiography on the East India Company's rise to power. It then proceeds, in part two, to set out the ways in which Enlightenment conceptions of a science of politics underpinned both the condemnation of the Company's government of Bengal and plans for its reform. In the third part of the thesis, particular attention is given to the thought of Sir James Steuart who was specifically approached by the Company to provide a solution to their monetary problems in Bengal. This was a brief that he fulfilled comprehensively, making use of the concept of self-interest, and revealing the rationale that he believed should inform the Company's commercial policy towards a British dependency. Throughout this work, the political ideas examined are situated in the broader context of debate regarding sociability, international trade, the nature and obligation of governments in general, and of the British constitution in particular.
AuthorsAhmad, Asma Sharif
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