David Hume on British character
On British character
Indian attempts to show imperial British character as exploitative fail on one count. Apart from adjectives and inferences, there is usually little else. The terminal narrative is to a large degree propaganda – forethought and afterthought.
Been there and done that
David Hume (1711-1776), whose historiography shaped British outlook for the next 200 years, sheds some light on events during this period. Hume’s influence provoked a latter-day philosopher to note that “Hume is our Politics, Hume is our Trade, Hume is our Philosophy, Hume is our Religion.” (statement by 19th century British idealist philosopher James Hutchison Stirling).
Hume’s argument about the ‘progress’ that British brought to the colonies lives in the colonial narrative even today. In the context of Ireland Hume wrote, “A more than equal return had been made [the slothful and barbarous Irish], by [the planters] instructing the natives in tillage, building, manufactures, and all the civilized arts of life”
Hume’s views on White superiority persist till date. Hume wrote,
I am apt to suspect the Negroes to be naturally inferior to the Whites. There scarcely ever was a civilized nation of that complexion, nor even any individual, eminent either in action or speculation. No ingenious manufactures amongst them, no arts, no sciences. On the other hand, the most rude and barbarous of the Whites, such as the ancient Germans, the present Tartars, have still something eminent about them.
Thoughts and ideas that were later echoed by Immanuel Kant and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.
A testimony to British ‘character’
To David Hume, an investor in slave trade, Britishers from East India Company in India ‘manifested the immense superiority of the British character’. This British ‘character’ according to Hume, of ‘the servants of this company of merchants [was] formed in a great degree by the habits and conditions of the masters’. Hume says, it was this British ‘character’ that was the reason why
a mercantile company, in less than ten years, [could] acquire by war and policy, more extensive possessions, and a richer revenue, than those of several European monarchs.
Proudly, Hume described ‘British character’. What Hume said, Indians experienced, first hand. Hume described how Britishers of East Indian Company
considered, in every transaction of war, peace, or alliance, what money could be drawn from the inhabitants. … Before they planned aggression, they calculated the probable proceeds, the debts that they might extinguish, and the addition, on the balance of accounts, which they might make to the sum total. They considered war with the natives, merely as a commercial adventure: by so much risk encountered, a certain quantity of blood spilt, and a certain extent of territory desolated, great sums were to be gained. (read more via The history of England: from The history of England: from the invasion of Julius Cæsar, to the revolution in 1688 – Volume 12 By David Hume).
- David Hume’s Rejection of The Enduring Self (socyberty.com)
- A tournament of atheists, then and now (theglobeandmail.com)
- The Forgotten Radicalism of the European Enlightenment (3quarksdaily.com)
- Wicked Company (blogs.discovermagazine.com)