decolonisation dicussed at library of congress, columbia


Wed July 13:

Decolonization is widely thought of as one of the foundational processes of the modern world. An old imperial order was swept away: a new ‘world of nations’ emerged to replace it. The inviolable nature of national sovereignty, the right to self-determination and a portfolio of human rights acquired normative status as the basis of international law and practice. With all the wisdom of hindsight, statesmen, politicians and policymakers assured us in their memoirs that such was the vision that guided their actions through the ‘end of empire’. But how much of all this should we really believe? Were the statesmen really so wise and far-seeing or merely dab hands in self-interest and expediency? Is the modern world really a world of nations or (largely) the detritus of broken-down empires? Can the imprint of empire be erased from our culture(s): is it wise to try? Is a world of nations an attainable or even a desirable object? What alternative is there? There’s some room for debate.

Wed July 20:

New Spain became Mexico virtually over night, in 1821, although a decade of bloody civil strife preceded its final independence. Using the case of Mexico and the life and ideas of Lucas Alamán (1792-1853), one of the most important statesmen of the early republican period, Eric Van Young illustrates the layered and contradictory nature of decolonization as it crossed visions of Atlantic modernity. Decolonization is a transition that typically takes place in several planes or spheres interconnected in complex ways, yet each with its own rhythm. The fastest and most easily achieved may be in the political sphere, with the severing of formal ties between colony and metropolis and the formation of a new state (nation- formation being another matter). Economic decolonization may take a good deal longer, or never occur at all; dependency theory was developed to explain this. Slower still is social decolonization, with lingering ideas about ethnicity and social power embedded even in new institutions. And cultural redefinition within the new polity may be the most protracted change of all because the least susceptible of purposive social engineering by states and ruling elites. Mapping all this onto the struggle to achieve a controlled decolonization of Mexico, Eric Van Young explores the aphorism recently coined by one observer of the country that Mexico went straight from a condition of pre-modernity to one of post-modernity without ever passing through modernity.

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