The Prager U video on the British Empire has a lot of issues, but I think it also vindicates my decision to deal with the empire as a multi-part series. Today’s video goes through a lot of the assumptions and foolishness in the video, but Prager’s biggest mistake is probably trying to tell this epic, world-altering story in such a short form. There wasn’t much agreement on what the British Empire was, and what it represented at the time, and there isn’t much more now. I’ve now got over a dozen videos that attempt to put forward an argument about the British Empire. Prager’s attempt to sum it all up in just five and a half minutes looks deeply silly by comparison.
This has been one of the most requested videos since I launched the British Empire series last fall. I hope you enjoy it!
Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there. Today I am finally going to be weighing in on that British Empire video from Prager University. Now many have responded to this video already, and they are absolutely right that it is mostly nonsense.
I particularly liked this video from Shuan a scandalized British guy. I will put a link in the description below. YouTube is now filled with deep dives on specific historic instances that the narrator, H.W. Crocker III, gets very wrong. Shaun seems to have read not one but two of Crocker’s books, and he makes a pretty convincing case that the guy is a more or less open white supremacist.
As somebody who has spent a couple years studying the topic, I want to focus on the video itself, and a Iglaring problem that it reveals to this amateur historian. H.W. Crocker III doesn’t seem to know anything about the British Empire or its legacy. Seriously, he presents a cartoon propaganda version, that even a British elementary school teacher from the 1800s would be embarrassed by. There is zero appreciation for time or space in this video. It completely ignores the fact that the British Empire was very different things at different times and in different places.
This policy of local control for non-white people was only adopted in the last half century or so of the British Empire after they had swallowed up so much territory that they couldn’t physically send out enough administrators. In fact, the first war of Indian Independence in 1857 was sparked in part by the fact that the British Governor-General Lord Dalhousie kept stealing land from the various princes he had treaties with.VISUAL ON DALHOUSIE It was only after murderously suppressing that rising, that the British introduced the bribe the local kings approach, though they only introduced it in some places. Because again, there was no consistent policy from country to country, let alone continent to continent.
This video consciously squashes centuries of development into a brief just so story about completely unexamined concepts and heroes.
A similar story for the United States would talk about how all Americans like to take the pony express to their technology jobs in Silicon Valley to escape European religious persecution. It’s ridiculous. And the Prager Video’s greatest hits approach is very conscious. After watching this video you could get the impression that all the British did was suppress slavery and widow burning.
If you spend any time at all studying the British Empire you get very familiar with these two arguments, because they are just about the only unreservedly positive things the British Empire has to show for its 350 sordid years of history. Charles Napier, the hero of the widow burning controversy Prager dedicates a tenth of the video run time to, was able to save one woman’s life. He was not able to keep the British government from burning the villages of Indians who did not pay their taxes.
As Crocker points out, this was the…
Biggest empire in history
…And all they have to show for it is a little less domestic violence in a select few of the Indian families they were starving to death, and stopping slavery once they had perfected it and outsourced it to Brazil and the United States like one of today’s highly polluting manufacturing industries.
…These arguments were both heavily used as the British were pillaging the world, and they should ring just as false today. BTW, the British were happy to crush slavery when it gave them power in the Atlantic and West Africa, but they cheerfully tolerated slavery in East African and Arabian kingdoms they controlled long after the slaves were freed in the United States. The British finally stomped out slavery in Oman with a coup in 1970.
This video is from Prager U, a YouTube channel that pushes a strident right wing view, and I have nothing against pushing a viewpoint on YouTube. Prager University is not a University But More Freedom Foundation isn’t a foundation either. I do have a problem however, with incoherence and ignorance though, and this video is chock full of both. Alongside paint by numbers 19th century imperial propaganda, it includes some very 1990s culture war buzzwords that are completely meaningless in the context of the British Empire.
This is some very strong ca. 1999 George W. Bush campaign rhetoric that is about as relevant to the British empire as the Sony PlayStation is. But that last nation-building bit is interesting, because it gets to another conflict that Crocker ignores completely. This is the conflict within the British empire.
The British Empire didn’t just change over time and space, there was very little agreement on what they were doing within the British Empire, at any time. Some wanted to educate conquered populations, some did not. William Gladstone, the British Prime Minister who kicked off the Scramble for Africa, actually kind of hated the Empire, and rightly feared that it would lead to the end of British power. Prager U’s rosy, confident view of the British Empire wasn’t even true during the British Empire.
The Prager University video is not an educational one. It is five or so minutes of happy chat propaganda, mostly crafted to flatter a handful of old white men who purchase the Channel’s millions of views. Crocker’s one admission that the British Empire might not have been flawless makes that clear.
There are a lot of proud Irish Americans in conservative circles nowadays, and that’s some identity politics Prager has to respect. This whole thing isn’t just propaganda, it’s really, really dumb propaganda.
There is one thing that this video gets very, very right however. The British Empire is vastly more influential than it is given credit for being. The British Empire is responsible for the spread of all of these institutional forms, and it had a lot to do with forming our modern idea of what freedom is. In this sense Prager University has provided a service by bringing attention to the British Empire. Of course Prager and Crocker have no idea what freedom is, or how it actually works. We will cover that next time in a video entitled what Prager U gets kind of right about the British Empire.
Thanks for watching, please subscribe, and if you’re interested in a similarly opinionated, but much smarter and more complete picture of the British Empire, you can buy my book Avoiding the British Empire, available now in paperback and Amazon Kindle form.