Description: American democracy owes its origins to the colonial settlement of North America by Europeans. Since the birth of the republic, observers such as Alexis de Tocqueville and J. Hector St. John de Crvecur have emphasized how American democratic identity arose out of the distinct pattern by which English settlers colonized the New World. Empire of the People explores a new way of understanding this process—and in doing so, offers a fundamental reinterpretation of modern democratic thought in the Americas.

In Empire of the People, Adam Dahl examines the ideological development of American democratic thought in the context of settler colonialism, a distinct form of colonialism aimed at the appropriation of Native land rather than the exploitation of Native labor. By placing the development of American political thought and culture in the context of nineteenth-century settler expansion, his work reveals how practices and ideologies of Indigenous dispossession have laid the cultural and social foundations of American democracy, and in doing so profoundly shaped key concepts in modern democratic theory such as consent, social equality, popular sovereignty, and federalism.

To uphold its legitimacy, Dahl also argues, settler political thought must disavow the origins of democracy in colonial dispossession—and in turn erase the political and historical presence of native peoples. Empire of the People traces this thread through the conceptual and theoretical architecture of American democratic politics—in the works of thinkers such as Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Alexis de Tocqueville, John O’Sullivan, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Daniel Webster, Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman, and William Apess. In its focus on the disavowal of Native dispossession in democratic thought, the book provides a new perspective on the problematic relationship between race and democracy—and a different and more nuanced interpretation of the role of settler colonialism in the foundations of democratic culture and society.

Description: The paradox of progressivism continues to fascinate more than one hundred years on. Democratic but elitist, emancipatory but coercive, advanced and assimilationist, Progressivism was defined by its contradictions. In a bold new argument, Marilyn Lake points to the significance of turn-of-the-twentieth-century exchanges between American and Australasian reformers who shared racial sensibilities, along with a commitment to forging an ideal social order. Progressive New World demonstrates that race and reform were mutually supportive as Progressivism became the political logic of settler colonialism. 

White settlers in the United States, who saw themselves as path-breakers and pioneers, were inspired by the state experiments of Australia and New Zealand that helped shape their commitment to an active state, women’s and workers’ rights, mothers’ pensions, and child welfare. Both settler societies defined themselves as New World, against Old World feudal and aristocratic societies and Indigenous peoples deemed backward and primitive.

In conversations, conferences, correspondence, and collaboration, transpacific networks were animated by a sense of racial kinship and investment in social justice. While “Asiatics” and “Blacks” would be excluded, segregated, or deported, Indians and Aborigines would be assimilated or absorbed. The political mobilizations of Indigenous progressives—in the Society of American Indians and the Australian Aborigines’ Progressive Association—testified to the power of Progressive thought but also to its repressive underpinnings. Burdened by the legacies of dispossession and displacement, Indigenous reformers sought recognition and redress in differently imagined new worlds and thus redefined the meaning of Progressivism itself.

Abstract: This thesis is a study of the invention and consolidation of a domain of knowledge and government we today denominate as the ‘economic’ in the particular context of the British colonisation of New South Wales. Two lines of argument are pursued. The first recovers the idea of British imperialism in New South Wales as an ‘economic’ project, in which phenomena that have been typically assumed as essential to colonial development – convict work, land settlement, wool growing, migration and their impact on Aboriginal societies – came to be classified, organised and administered as distinctly economic problems. As imperial and colonial authorities increasingly appropriated the ‘constitutive metaphors’ of Ricardian political economy in their reports, inquiries and correspondence, they re-narrated these phenomena from discrete problems of state to integrated dynamics of production, distribution and wealth-accumulation. This economic project is studied in distinction from, even as it intersected with, the paradigms of democratisation, settler colonialism and legal-positivist statism with which historians have tended to frame the colony’s political and intellectual history in the first half of the nineteenth century. Its legacies, in the identities it forged and projects it legitimated, have been as enduring as the colonial constitution but less closely assessed. The second line of argument, arising from this reading of colonial history, revises the significance of nineteenth-century political economy as an emergent political vocabulary in a nascent Australian political culture, and in English-speaking Anglophone culture more generally. In appropriating political economy as an official discourse, imperial authorities not only helped insulate the ‘economic’ as a domain of knowledge, but consolidated a new, reductive framework for interpreting, governing and debating social interaction, regulated by the imperatives of supply and demand, profits and wages. Together, these two lines of argument are offered as a critical exercise in recovering and recognising the historical functioning of economic language in official, public and everyday speech. They provide a fresh perspective on aspects of the colonial past, and recover legacies which continue to shape our world today.

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