The Last Imperialist. Sir Alan Burns’ Epic Defense Of The British Empire

We are so very pleased to offer to our readers a first look at Bruce Gilley’s latest book, The Last Imperialist. Sir Alan Burns’ Epic Defense of the British Empire. This excerpt is made possible by the kind generosity of Regnery Publishing. Please support this important research and purchase a copy – and tell others.

Bruce Gilley is a Professor of Political Science at Portland State University. His research centers on the empire, democracy, legitimacy, global politics, as well as the comparative politics of China and Asia.


By the 1930s, most colonial governments were under pressure to set out a plan for self-government if not outright independence. India was the furthest along, and African, Asian, and Caribbean nationalists wanted to follow. Good government was losing its appeal amid the allure of selfgovernment. British socialists and communists, including Alan’s brother Emile, were calling for the empire to be handed over to the League of Nations. The Belize Independent columnist and Battlefield general Luke Kemp told his readers that they should follow the advice of Emile, “reputed to be the greatest exponent of the Marxist (communist) doctrine in England” and treat colonial rulers like his brother as temporary “aliens.” “It is the ‘great brains’ that ran this colony to the rocks. Now we ask that men we feel are honest be given a chance,” Kemp demanded. Universal suffrage was needed, because national unity would “be as strong as the political latitude granted to the entire population.” When colonial officials complained about the desultory singing of God Save the King on one occasion, Kemp riposted: “I am quite sure the English taxpayers and the Secretary of State for the colonies would be shocked at the result of a plebiscite in British Honduras as to whether a change to the Stars and Stripes would be desired.”

London had imposed direct rule on British Honduras after the 1931 hurricane to speed recovery. Alan returned the colony to partial self-rule in 1936 with the election of 5 of the 13 seats in the legislature. He gave women the vote for the first time. Even so, the number of votes cast in the 1936 election was a meager 1,300 (less than 5 percent of the adult population), compared to 1,900 in the election before direct rule. Many people had fallen below the income or property thresholds, while others simply could not be bothered to register or vote. Most of the votes, about 1,200, were cast for the two seats in Belize Town. Of the other three seats, two were acclaimed. One returned a candidate whose nomination papers had been signed by a road crew. Robert Turton, the chewing gum nationalist, won the northern chicle district by sixty-five votes to forty-four. Given Alan’s legislative experience in the Bahamas and his “great ability as a speaker,” the Belize Independent bemoaned, the government bloc in the legislature—consisting of six officials and two appointees—was “so well clothed with power that their position” was “nigh impregnable.” Alan was “a Mussolini” for the way he “swept aside” opposing views in legislative sessions.

As in the Bahamas, London argued that any attempt to loosen voting qualifications would cause a backlash from white elites fearing mob rule. Luke Kemp, for instance, wanted only blacks and Creoles to be given the vote under his “natives first” plan. The Maya would be relegated to a secondary
role while whites would be disenfranchised or even expelled. Kemp wrote that “fascism or Nazism is a superior form of government” to colonial rule “for food, shelter, and medical treatment are within the reach of citizens and it is only the small minority that suffers unjustly.” Soberanis and Kemp
appealed for “closer association” with military-ruled Guatemala despite its comparative poverty and instability. Law and order “would be so under any flag,” Kemp wrote. Just as Haiti provided a sobering reminder to citizens of the Bahamas of the dangers of popular government, Guatemala, which had thrown off the colonial “yoke” in 1821 and similarly descended into a century of chaos, did
so for British Honduras. When Alan arrived, the conditions of the working class in Guatemala were far worse than in British Honduras, and labor leaders there were simply killed by the government. For the colony’s middle classes, a populist politics that led to control by Guatemala or by a native fascist regime would spell disaster. When Guatemala mobilized troops on the border in 1938, even the Belize Independent scurried for cover: “British Honduras must ever remain a British colony.”

For Alan, demands for political advance were rooted in demands for social dignity. “The one problem at the bottom of all their troubles, and the ones for which they passionately seek a solution, is how they are to obtain from the white world that recognition of social and political equality which has, up to now, been denied them,” he would write. When the German boxer Max Schmeling defeated the black American boxer Joe Louis in the first of their two fights in 1936, Alan recalled, “The gloom among the coloured inhabitants of British Honduras was worthy of a major national disaster.” Colonialism had, for better or worse, brought “social restrictions and personal insults” to subject peoples which prevented them “from recognizing or admitting” its great benefits. “The inevitable effect of this is that the unthinking mob . . . will follow the noisy and irresponsible persons who freely express their hatred of the white man and promise the people fantastic and impossible things.” The task was to expand democracy without handing over power to demagogues. Holding ultimate power in the hands of the governor for as long as possible, Alan would later write, was critical because it “ensured that British humanitarian and liberal principles should prevail, for the benefit of the underprivileged and often illiterate classes, against the selfish policies of the members of the old Assemblies.”

Alan drove this lesson home in his reform of the Belize Town Board. Since its founding in 1912, the board had been treated as the de facto democratic legislature of the colony because of its elected majority (eight out of fourteen seats). Board members typically debated issues far outside their purview, and the board was diligently covered in the local press. But it was also dysfunctional,
constantly in turmoil over committee battles and mutual recriminations. It failed to collect most of its taxes and most of its elected members were in arrears on their own taxes. One local merchant called it “effete, dishonest, and a menace to the progress of our City.” Without consultation or explanation, Alan cut it down to five elected and five appointed members for the 1936 election.

The act by Il Duce caused outrage on the Battlefield. But locals noticed that municipal affairs were working better and that day-laborers on town projects were being paid on time. A new “Sanitary Brigade” kitted in khaki replaced the slovenly food market and street inspectors of the defunct board. In 1938, Alan suspended the board altogether pending a reorganization. He made himself chairman of an interim board and was seen on the streets inspecting clogged drains and filthy latrines. Kemp eventually admitted that “90 percent of the citizens of Belize wanted the defunct board to be abolished” and congratulated Alan on “a master step.” Alan had proven his point: when faced with a choice between good government and elected government, colonial peoples would prefer the former. Clean latrines and operable sewers might not stir the passions on the Battlefield, but they made lives better and laid the foundations for durable democracy.

True to his word, Alan restored the democratic nature of the Belize Town Board in 1939 with six elected and three nominated members. All nine were non-European, marking the first all-local and majority-elected council in the colony’s history.101 He also added one elected member to the colonial legislature in the 1939 election, replacing a nominated member, leaving the government bloc with a slim majority of just seven to six. In these ways, Alan was balancing his liberal instincts with his attention to administrative efficiency. “It is not logical,” he would write, to tell colonial subjects that “all men are equal before the law and then to deny him the equality which he claims.” Democracy was clearly desirable. On the other hand, if that “right” came at the cost of death and destruction, it would be a poor trade. Like his growing interest in racial questions, his political reforms in British Honduras presaged a growing interest in the question of when and how a colony could be brought to independence. He rejected the idea that “independence should be given forthwith to those colonials who ask for it, whatever may be their competence to govern themselves, and regardless of the consequences to the mass of the population.” There would be nothing noble about decolonization if it caused countries to implode. “It would probably save us a lot of trouble and win us the applause of the unthinking if we surrendered at once to all the demands for self-government and rid ourselves of the burden of trusteeship,” he would later comment. “But we have a duty to the people of the dependent territories and to the world at large that it would be cowardly to shirk, and we could not later escape the responsibility and the blame for the disasters that would follow if we abandoned our trust.”


The featured image shows the map of the British Empire by Walter Crane, printed in 1886.

After The Anti-Racist Struggle At Trinity College – The Wokeness Crown

There is nothing novel about the gravamens of “anti-Black racism” that Mayo Moran, the Provost of Trinity College at the University of Toronto, has been laying down over the last half year. Indeed, it is rather disappointing how pedestrian her pronouncements have been. When Canadian university faculty and administrators were swept up in the Great George Floyd Moral Panic of 2020 in May and June, Moran like others declared that she had suddenly discovered wide-ranging racism plaguing Trinity and announced plans for complete therapy.

As elsewhere, Moran is now taking this movement in its logical direction of abandoning deliberation and procedure in favor of revolutionary action. In November 2020, she promised that the “recommendations” due to be made by an “anti-racism task force” by the end of the year would be treated not so much as recommendations as commandments: “Our goal is to begin implementation as soon as possible.”

The idea that there is a crisis of “anti-Black racism” at Trinity, or elsewhere on Canadian college campuses, is absurd, and everyone knows it. Alongside First Nations students, black students are the most coddled and privileged members of the campus community. When three black Trinity students of the college’s Multicultural Society wrote in the university newspaper this summer about the intolerable suffering of “anti-Black racism rampant in the dining hall, the quad, and on the front steps” of the college, the most they could come up in specifics was that they had “heard of” some black students being treated rudely during orientation.

When I went to Trinity, being treated rudely during orientation was one of the purposes of the exercise, creating solidarity with one’s fellow classmen and good-natured connections to upper classmen. The three black students would have Trinity redesign its orientation with special rules for the treatment of black freshmen, surely an ironical aim for a group devoted to “inclusion.”

The other charge of pervasive anti-black racism the students made was that Trinity student groups – which include the Trivia Association, the James Bond Society, and the Garlic Bread Society – had not issued pro-Black Lives Matter statements during the summer. These non-compliant student groups, they charged, were “rooted in hate and further the exclusion of Black students at Trinity.” From what I can tell, their Multicultural Society did not issue a letter of condolence on the death of Sean Connery in deference to the feelings of the James Bond Society either. Shocking.

The totalitarian face of any political movement is never so clear as when it demands complete deference to its agenda from others in a pluralistic world. Like Provost Moran, these three students believe that the purpose of a university or college is to take a position on controversial social issues of the day and then rigorously enforce conformity among all students – sort of like the Marxist doctrines that animated the BLM movement in the first place.

In good Leninist form, the students also warned darkly that “people are choosing to protect their own images rather than acknowledging their faults” without naming anyone in particular. Perhaps sensing the threat, the college’s three main student leaders stepped down and apologized for their skin color: “As white and privileged leaders, we are the very people who have benefited from these institutions. We wholeheartedly believe that these structures need to be taken down.” This was the only blatantly racist episode that Trinity experienced over the summer, but of course it was the sort of performative virtue-signalling that progressive administrators like Moran look upon with loving kindness.

To charges of rampant racism, student radicals at the college later added rampant misogyny and “classism” (to be distinguished from classicism which these students may not have heard about in their years of thought reform at Trinity). This new Holy Trinity – race, class, and gender – has now replaced the older one that sought God’s truth.

Following the cue of the “white and privileged” students to “take down” the 170-year old college, Provost Moran and her “task force” are running headlong into a transformation of Trinity from a place of education into something truly sinister. There is already a student-led “Trinity Anti-Racism Collective” formed this year, and if its writ is as large as the Provost’s actions suggest, the college might simply rename itself accordingly as part of its Woke rebranding.

Such a renaming would at least help the shrinking number of intellectually curious high school students – as opposed to those adept at the virtue-signaling, performative moralizing, and careerist box-checking – to begin seeking out alternative places for a serious education. The list of elite colleges in the U.S. that have suffered this fate is a long one and Trinity may soon join them. Along with the disappearance of top students will go a disappearance of the “excruciating whiteness” that the organizers of the Trinity Multicultural Society insisted forced them to mobilize in 2018. During the current academic year, just 2 of Trinity’s 10 student leaders are white. Surely there will be no more excruciating whiteness once the whites have been sent packing. This is of course a problem from Trinity because there is wide evidence that top-performing high school students will avoid ethnic ghettos where the majority group has been ethnically cleansed since those places will not help them to thrive in mainstream society or to form valuable social connections.

So why care about this predictable response from Provost Moran and her anti-racist task force, any more than we care about similar developments elsewhere on Canadian college campuses? Isn’t this just the way the campus has gone, and the evidence that Canadians interested in freedom of thought and speech and a vigorous contest of ideas in the search for truth should no longer expect to find it in taxpayer funded universities and colleges?

Two reasons suggest otherwise.

One is that Trinity, like some other legacy institutions of education in Canada, holds a special place because of its deep lineage in the Canadian tradition. What happens there is more emblematic of a core shift than, say, similar developments at a newer or more experimental institution, or for that matter at Provost Moran’s alma mater, the UBC English Department whose June Statement of Solidarity Against Anti-Black violence promised with illiberal ferocity to eliminate “scholarship that still valourizes whiteness and settler-colonial ideas of European civilization.” We don’t expect much of the UBC English Department, which regularly suspends classes so that its students can rush to the barricades to support the latest social justice cause. But if excellence and academic freedom and merit cannot survive at Trinity, they will not survive anywhere in Canada.

More practically, there are substantial intellectual lineages of which Trinity is the steward that risk annihilation by Provost Moran’s new fanaticism. Over the summer, the college’s library was “re-evaluated and reshaped” according to an official notice, to downplay its main holdings in Canadian history and literature and emphasize the new party doctrine which the Provost helpfully enumerated as “anti-racism, anti-oppression and equity.” Surely it does not take a history degree to feel alarmed when political movements show up at the library spoiling for a fight with the stacks. Book burnings in the Quad anyone?

In particular, the Trinity library is steward of the Upjohn-Waldie Collection, which is no mere trifle in Canadian heritage. The collection includes rare books from late medieval Europe such as a 1473 book on the education of princes and a psalter of the same year. Priceless manuscripts from the early Renaissance include two first edition publications by Martin Luther and printed in 1520 and 1531, and a 1623 printing of Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens. The collection harbors one of the best holdings of early exploration accounts of Canada, such as a 1728 printing of John Gatonbe’s A Voyage into the North-West Passage Undertaken Anno 1612, and Alexander Mackenzie’s 1801 Voyages from Montreal on the River St. Laurence Through the Continent of North America to the Frozen and Pacific Oceans. There is a 1787 Book of Common Prayer in Mohawk, a critical early resource documenting that language, and a first edition of Joseph Conrad’s 1942 collection of nautical stories, The Tremolino.

I dwell on these precious holdings because libraries and collections are not inert, but rise or fall depending on how they are stewarded and celebrated. The Trinity library staff spent their entire summer “reevaluating” to promote the latest Woke Studies novels, as well as reading and promoting hate-filled screeds by black American racialists. Trinity’s precious holdings, especially that Mohawk prayer book, may soon be charged with “valourizing whiteness and settler-colonial ideas of European civilization.” The iconoclastic destruction of Trinity’s Upjohn-Waldie Collection, by indifference and erasure even if the books survive in some forgotten vault, seems only a Provostial missive away from “immediate implementation.”

Of course, the world will not fall because Trinity (or McGill, or Queen’s, or Dalhousie) falls. But the wave of illiberalism that Provost Moran is leading is an important signpost in this larger trend. As goes Trinity, we might say, so goes Canada. “After the Struggle, the Crown”, reads the college moto from 1851. Queen Moran is now hastening to the throne after her struggles against phantom racism at Trinity. I prefer an older college motto, that of the Trinity Literary Society that came into being in the 1840s, and has recently become a focal point for the Trinity revolutionaries that Moran has unleashed: Feros Cultus Voce Formare. “To tame wild manners by power of the voice.” Canadians as a whole need to tame the wild manners of campus barbarians with the voices of their strong opposition.

A native of Calgary and a graduate of Trinity College, Bruce Gilley is professor of political science at Portland State University.

The image shows an etching of Trinity College by Owen Staples, c. 1930.