bell on j. s. mill and colonies


Duncan Bell, “John Stuart Mill on Colonies”, Political Theory, 38, 1 (2010), pp. 34-64.


Recent scholarship on John Stuart Mill has illuminated his arguments about the normative legitimacy of imperial rule. However, it has tended to ignore or downplay his extensive writings on settler colonialism: the attempt to create permanent “civilized” communities, mainly in North America and the South Pacific. Mill defended colonization throughout his life, although his arguments about its character and justification shifted over time. While initially he regarded it as a solution to the “social problem” in Britain, he increasingly came to argue that its legitimacy resided in the universal benefits—civilization, peace, and prosperity—it generated for humanity. In the final years of his life Mill seemed to lose faith in the project. Finally recognizing the prevalence of colonial violence and the difficulty of realizing his grand ambitions, yet refusing to give up on colonization altogether, his colonial romance gave way to a form of melancholia.

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