Annals of the Fondazione Luigi Einaudi

An Interdisciplinary Journal of Economics, History and Political Science

The Annals is a forum for the free exchange of ideas
among scholars working in the field of social sciences
Volume LV 1 - 2021

British Imperial Administration and the “Thin Crust of Order”: Society, Constitution, and Diplomacy in the Political Thought of Lord Elgin

Matilde Cazzola,
pp. 281-302
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This essay analyses the thought of Lord Elgin in relation to his transnational colonial service in Jamaica, Canada, China, Japan, and India between the 1840s and the 1860s. Elgin was implicated in the most eventful processes of the Victorian age: the abolition of slavery in the Caribbean, the implementation of “responsible government” in Canada, the Second Opium War, and the establishment of the Indian Raj. In the course of his 20-year imperial career, Elgin expressed original views on politics and society, which were first inspired by his knowledge of Aristotle, the Scottish Enlightenment, and Coleridge, then influenced by his militancy among the Peelite liberal conservatives, and eventually developed during his administration of the colonial empire. After detailing Elgin’s view of social order, this essay examines the constitution as a tool of government of colonial societies, and focuses on the figure of the Governor as a fundamental constitutional actor. The article concludes by considering Elgin’s liberal imperialism as a lens through which to rethink notions of civilization and barbarism on the imperial scale.