by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Hong Kong and Singapore; India and Pakistan; Egypt and South Africa; Australia and New Zealand; Canada and the United States.
These far-flung countries are all the powerhouses of their regions of the world, both politically and economically.
They have histories of law, order, and general liberty that, though certainly troubled and far from perfect, tower above those of their neighbors.
Finally: They were all once major colonies of the British Empire.
The European empire had many exports. Some were ugly, including death and war (though European colonialism didn’t invent these things and was far from the first to introduce them).
Others, however, were beautiful. When the Spanish empire collapsed 200 years ago, for example, it left lands more Catholic than even Spain itself. And as the British empire receded in the years following its heroic struggle to defeat the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese, it left all around the globe strong and durable native institutions built in the British model.
Because where the British went, tribal justice was replaced with written law. One famous story from Raj recalls Hindu priests complaining to Gen. Charles James Napier that his soldiers wouldn’t let them burn a dead man’s widow on his funeral pyre, per local custom.
“My nation also has a custom,” the general answered. “When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property.”
Far from anecdotal, where the British ruled, slavery was eventually abolished, literacy rates improved, railroads were built, and elites were educated at universities. Theirs is a legacy that stands far apart from the barbarous Dutch, or murderous French — and the states the British left behind testify to this truth every day.
Queen Elizabeth II, of course, had little to do with this impressive history. She ascended to the throne just 70 years ago — as the empire was winding down in every respect. That didn’t stop the enemies of civilization from attacking her, of course.