Raj Redux

William Dalrymple in the NYRB:

Two new books on the British in India, both of them sophisticated works by established scholars, demonstrate how polarized the debate has now become. For Nicholas Dirks, who concentrates on the India of the East India Company, the British Empire is a terrible blot on world history comparable to slavery and fascism; to be neutral or even balanced on the issue is to tolerate the intolerable, and even to become complicit in oppressive violence and tyranny. For David Gilmour, however, working on the later period of the high Raj, the Victorian administrators of the Indian Civil Service could certainly be eccentric and fallible, but far from being oppressive exploiters they in fact “represented the British Empire at its best and most altruistic.” It is difficult to imagine two books, on similar subjects, which have less common ground.

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