Thursday, September 21, 2023


In education reform discussions in general, in my view practically all the attention is on what the adults are and/or should be doing, and almost no attention is given to what students are and should be doing. Leaving them out of the equation quite naturally contributes to poor discipline and reduced learning.

Bend it Like Truman
Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
26 March 2013

In the United Kingdom the number of reports of the verbal and physical abuse of teachers is growing at a sad and steady rate. In the United States as well, a number of fine teachers say that they are leaving the profession primarily because of the out-of-control attitudes and behavior of poorly-raised children who will not take any responsibility for their own education and don’t seem to mind if they ruin the educational chances of their peers.

David McCullough tells us that when Harry Truman took over the artillery outfit, Battery ‘D’, “the new captain said nothing for what seemed the longest time. He just stood looking everybody over, up and down the line slowly, several times. Because of their previous (mis) conduct, the men were expecting a tongue lashing. Captain Truman only studied them...At last he called ‘Dismissed!’ As he turned and walked away, the men gave him a Bronx cheer....In the morning Captain Truman posted the names of the noncommissioned officers who were ‘busted’ in rank...the First Sergeant was at the head of the list...Harry called in the other noncommissioned officers and told them it was up to them to straighten things out. ‘I didn’t come here to get along with you,’ he said. ‘You’ve got to get along with me. And if there are any of you who can’t, speak up right now, and I’ll bust you back right now.”

Now, I do realize the classroom is not a military unit, and that students cannot be busted back to a previous grade, however much their behavior suggests that they don’t belong in a higher grade. But Truman realized poor discipline would endanger the lives of the men in his unit, and teachers, no matter how much they yearn to be liked, relevant, and even loved, need to realize and accept that poor discipline in their classes will destroy some of the educational opportunities of their students. As it turned out, his unit respected and loved Truman in time, and lined Pennsylvania avenue for his inauguration parade.

For years, the Old Battleaxe was offered as a stereotype of the stern, demanding teacher who represented the expectations of the wider community in the classroom and required students to meet her standards.

In The Lowering of Higher Education, Jackson Toby quotes the experience of one man with an Old Battleaxe:

“Professor Emeritus of Religion at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, Walter Benjamin, wrote about a demanding freshman English teacher, Dr. Doris Garey, whose course he had taken in 1946, in an article entitled ‘When an ‘A’ Meant Something.’ Professor Benjamin praised the memory of Dr. Garey and expressed gratitude for what her demanding standards had taught him.

‘Even though she had a bachelor’s degree from Mount Holyoke and a doctorate from Wisconsin, Miss Garey was the low person in the department pecking order. And physically she was a lightweight—she could not have stood more than 4-foot-10 or weighed more than 100 pounds. But she had the pedagogical mass of a Sumo wrestler. Her literary expectations were stratospheric; she was the academic equivalent of my [Marine] boot camp drill instructor...The showboats (other instructors) had long since faded, along with their banter, jokes and easy grades. It was the no-nonsense Miss Garey whose memory endured.’”

In my view, too many of our teachers have been seduced by the ideas that they should be making sure their students have fun, and that their teaching should include “relevant” material from the evanescent present of her students, their egregiously temporary pop culture, and from current events of passing interest.

Once discipline and student responsibility for their own learning is established and understood, there can be a lot of interesting and even entertaining times in the classroom. Without them, classes are in a world of trouble. Samuel Gompers used to read aloud for their enjoyment to a room full of employees making cigars, but they continued to make the cigars while he did it.

In education reform discussions in general, in my view practically all the attention is on what the adults are and/or should be doing, and almost no attention is given to what students are and should be doing. Leaving them out of the equation quite naturally contributes to poor discipline and reduced learning.

A suburban high school English teacher in Pennsylvania wrote that: "My students are out of control," Munroe, who has taught 10th, 11th and 12th grades, wrote in one post. "They are rude, disengaged, lazy whiners. They curse, discuss drugs, talk back, argue for grades, complain about everything, fancy themselves entitled to whatever they desire, and are just generally annoying." And one of her students commented: "As far as motivated high school students, she's completely correct. High school kids don't want to do anything...It's a teacher's job, however, to give students the motivation to learn."

As long as too many of us think education is the teacher’s responsibility alone, we will have failed to understand what the job of learning requires of students, and we will be unable to make sense of the outcomes of our huge investments in education.

Monday, September 18, 2023


The most important variable in student academic achievement is student academic work.

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
15 September 2023

    Teachers are employees. They are educated, selected, hired, assigned, and paid for their work. Students are not selected, hired, or paid, so how could they be unemployed?

    Think of students as academic workers. When I was teaching U.S. History at the high school in Concord, Massachusetts in the 1980s, I noticed that they had to do almost no academic work. I would assign ten pages of reading and then go over it in the next class, so they didn’t have to do the reading.

    Doing nothing can have its charm. Dolce Far Niente, as the Italians say. But sitting in classes six hours a day or so, and not being asked to do anything, is not charming. It is dull, boring, exasperating. Yet this is what we ask high school students to do, except perhaps in chemistry or foreign language labs.

    The message this sends to students is that the work of teachers is terribly important, but the academic work of students is not. If you tell a worker or an employee that what they do doesn’t matter, what happens to their motivation and morale?

    This is what we do to students day in and day out. On the athletic field the story is very different. If they are on a team, they are expected to work hard, take responsibility and contribute to the success of the team. When do they experience anything like that academically? On the football or soccer field, every player is called on in every practice and in every game. Even if a player is on the bench, there is a constant risk for most of them that they may be called on at any time, and if they do not know what to do, the disgrace and disapproval will be obvious and swift. The same may be said for Drama productions, Chorus, Model UN, and most of the students’ other activities.

    In extracurricular activities, the student will often face a peer pressure to do well that is usually lacking in the classroom. Peers in the classroom may even think it is cool for another student to “get away with” having done no preparation for the class.

    While the Educator consensus seems to be that teacher quality is the most important variable in student academic achievement, I have long argued that the most important variable in student academic achievement is student academic work. Seems obvious, but not to most thinkers in EdWorld.

    Paul A. Zoch, a teacher from Texas, wrote in Doomed to Fail (150) that: “Let there be no doubt about it: the United States looks to its teachers and their efforts, but not to its students and their efforts, for success in education.” Diane Ravitch wrote in Death and Life of the Great American School System (162) that “One problem with test-based accountability, as currently defined and used, is that it removes all responsibility from students and their families for the students’ academic performance. NCLB neglected to acknowledge that students share in the responsibility for their academic performance and that they are not merely passive recipients of their teachers’ influence.”

    In a June 3, 1990 column in The New York Times, the late Albert Shanker, President of the American Federation of Teachers, wrote: 

“...It is also worth thinking about as we consider how to reform our education system... As we’ve known for a long time, factory workers who never saw the completed product and worked on only a small part of it soon became bored and demoralized, But when they were allowed to see the whole process—or better yet become involved in it—productivity and morale improved. Students are no different. When we chop up the work they do into little bits—history facts and vocabulary and grammar rules to be learned—it’s no wonder that they are bored and disengaged.”

    To be unemployed is to be passive, and to be passive when you are young is frustrating indeed. We really must help students to get off the academic unemployment line and let them do the work they need to become educated.

Monday, September 11, 2023


HE WAS BORN on October 14, 1890, in a small rented frame house, not much more than a shack, beside the railroad tracks in Denison, Texas. He was the third son of David and Ida Stover Eisenhower. They were members of the Mennonites, fundamentalists in their religion, and pacifists. David was a common laborer—he had once owned a general store in Hope, Kansas, purchased with an inheritance from his father, but it had failed. In 1891 he moved to Abilene, Kansas, where a relative had found him a job as a mechanic at the Belle Springs Creamery. When the Eisenhowers stepped onto the train platform in Abilene, David had in his pocket the sum total of his capital, $10. In a small two-story white frame house at 201 South East Fourth Street, set on a three-acre plot, David and Ida raised six strong, healthy boys—Arthur (born 1886), Edgar (1889), Dwight (1890), Roy (1892), Earl (1898), and Milton (1899).

The Eisenhowers were respected around town, but the family was in no way prominent. David held no elective office, provided no community leadership. Still the Eisenhowers were content. The parents were frugal out of necessity, but they were proud and ambitious, if not for themselves, then for their sons. “I have found out in later years we were very poor,” Dwight said on June 4, 1952, on the occasion of laying the cornerstone of the Eisenhower Museum in Abilene, across the street from his boyhood home, “but the glory of America is that we didn’t know it then.”

“All that we knew was that our parents—of great courage—could say to us, ‘Opportunity is all about you. Reach out and take it.’ ” By most standards, David and Ida never reached out to take that opportunity themselves. Instead they invested in their sons the hopes they once had for themselves. They taught the simple virtues of honesty, self-reliance, integrity, fear of God, and ambition. They wanted their sons to succeed in a wider setting than Abilene, or even Kansas. They gave the boys the feeling, as one of them later put it, that “if you stay home you will always be looked upon as a boy.” Eisenhower’s home life revolved around worship. Every day, morning and night, the family members got down on their knees to pray. David read from the Bible before meals, then asked for a blessing. After the meals the boys washed the dishes, then gathered around David for Bible reading. “Finally there was bedtime,” Earl recalled, “when Dad got up and wound the clock on the wall. You could hear the ticking no matter where you were. When Dad started winding, you might as well get ready for bed, for that was the bedtime signal.”

Stephen E. Ambrose, Eisenhower: Soldier and President (15-16). [1989] Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023


“When people ask me why I sacrificed the sociable, slightly surreal daily life at my local school for the solitary life of a homeschooled student in 2021, I almost never reveal the reason: an absence of books.”...The worst part is that we students are blind to the extent of our loss.

A Constitution for Teenage Happiness

Ruby LaRocca—the winner of our high school essay contest—urges her generation to read old books, memorize poems, and invite senior citizens to parties.

By Ruby LaRocca
August 31, 2023

Back in June, when we announced our first-ever high school essay contest, we invited teenagers to describe a problem troubling American society—and how they would fix it. We told young writers that we were especially interested in hearing about challenges older generations have misunderstood, missed, or maybe even created. ” But out of the hundreds of essays we read, one writer really stood out: 17-year-old Ruby LaRocca from Ithaca, New York. 

Ruby is a homeschooled rising senior. She told us she entered the contest because she believes in our mission of finding “the people—under the radar or in the public eye—who are telling the truth.” In addition to a lifetime subscription to The Free Press, Ruby’s essay has won her a $2,000 cash prize.

The Free Press high school essay contest winner Ruby LaRocca.

When we tried to reach Ruby to tell her about her win, she gave us the number for her mother’s cell phone because she doesn’t have one of her own. And when we asked her to respond to some of our edits, she said she’d tackle them as soon as she was done “putting in 15-hour days at a Latin program. I translated about 500 lines of the poet Propertius today!” 

All of which is to say: Ruby lives by her ideals, as you will see below. We look forward to seeing what she does next and we’re sure you’ll understand why. —BW [Bari Weiss]

When people ask me why I sacrificed the sociable, slightly surreal daily life at my local school for the solitary life of a homeschooled student in 2021, I almost never reveal the reason: an absence of books.

For many students, books are irrelevant. They “take too long to read.” Even teachers have argued for the benefits of shorter, digital resources. Last April, the National Council of Teachers of English declared it was time “to decenter book reading and essay writing as the pinnacles of English language arts education.” 

But what is an English [or History] education without reading and learning to write about books? 

Many of our English teachers instead encouraged extemporaneous discussions of our feelings and socioeconomic status, viewings of dance videos, and endless TED Talks. So five days into my sophomore year, I convinced my mother to homeschool me.

Distance from high school affords a clearer view of its perennial problems. As I head into my final year of homeschooling, I often think about the dilemma in American education, which perhaps should be called the student crisis (it’s also a teacher crisis). Students and teachers are more exhausted and fragile than they used to be. But reducing homework or gutting it of substance, taking away structure and accountability, and creating boundless space for “student voices” feels more patronizing than supportive. The taut cable of high expectations has been slackened, and the result is the current mood: listlessness.

Like human happiness, teenage happiness does not flourish when everyone has the freedom to live just as they please. Where there is neither order nor necessity in life—no constraints, no inhibitions, no discomfort—life becomes both relaxing and boring, as American philosopher Allan Bloom notes. A soft imprisonment.
So, here is my counterintuitive guide for teenage happiness:

#1. Read old books.
In Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, the profoundly human (i.e., imperfect) teacher, Hector, reminds his students that “The best moments in reading are when you come across something—a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things—that you’d thought special, particular to you. And here it is, set down by someone else, a person you’ve never met, maybe even someone long dead. And it’s as if a hand has come out and taken yours.”

Today’s teachers and students talk a lot about “relatability”; they want to see their own lives and experiences reflected in the books they read. I, however, am electrified when a book gives me the feeling Hector brilliantly describes—words from someone who is not at all like me, from a very different time and place, yet speaks words that feel written just for me.

Books that are “representative,” that are more easily “absorbed,” undermine the main reason to read them: to push readers beyond themselves in uncomfortable and productive ways.

Bloom wrote about the disappearance of books from our educational lives back in 1987. Books, he argued, “are no longer an important part of the lives of students. ‘Information’ is important, but profound and beautiful books are not where they go for it. They have no books that are companions and friends to which they look for counsel, companionship, inspiration, or pleasure. They do not expect to find in them sympathy for, or clarification of, their inmost desires and experiences.” 

The worst part is that we students are blind to the extent of our loss.

#2. Memorize poetry. Learn ancient languages.
In another scene from The History Boys, one English schoolboy preparing for Oxbridge entrance exams, Timms, asks Hector why they are reading the poetry of A. E. Housman instead of doing something “practical.” 

Timms: I don’t always understand poetry!
Hector: You don’t always understand it? Timms, I never understand it. But learn it now, know it now, and you will understand it. . . whenever.
Timms: I don’t see how we can understand it. Most of the stuff poetry’s about hasn’t happened to us yet.
Hector: But it will, Timms. It will. And then you will have the antidote ready!

Like Timms, I sometimes don’t understand what I’m learning or memorizing when I study poetry, but I believe Hector when he says it prepares us for the very real events of the world—going to war, falling in love, falling out of love, making a friend, losing a friend, having a child, losing a child. 

Understanding ancient authors as they understood themselves is the surest means of finding alternatives to our current way of seeing the world. It is what Bloom calls one of the most awesome undertakings of the mind. The first step to reading ancient authors is learning ancient languages—Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, Old English. I have found the work of learning languages and the difficult art of translation to be the most taxing and pleasurable method of training my brain, combining technical rigor with poetic insight. It doesn’t matter if all the hours you spend studying gerundives, middle-passives, and semi-deponents seem to offer no immediate service. Learn them. It will serve you in a way you don’t yet know.

#3. Learn from the monks, and slow your pace—of reading, of writing, of thinking.
Someone once told me that I look like Martin Luther—you know, the sixteenth-century German clergyman who called for reformation in the Catholic Church. This comment referred to my bangs, which are somewhat short and monastic. I think it’s funny that my hairstyle echoes my lifestyle. I wake up at 6:00 a.m., work alone for many hours on subjects that seem arcane—Latin, German, applied mathematics—spend more hours caught up in an actual printed book, and get to bed at a very reasonable, grandmotherly hour (we have a family saying that “nothing good happens after 9:07 p.m.”). 

I used to think speed equaled competence. If you’re a motivated student, you may find yourself on the “accelerated” track. Instead of learning things that challenge you, you are simply rushed through the curriculum, “covering” concepts at a faster rate than your peers. Since I transitioned to homeschool, I never move on from a problem or subject before I am ready. I find knowing that I truly understand something—or at least, have spent time trying to know it, thus expanding my mind—far more rewarding than the fleeting frisson of being the first to finish.

#4. Learn how to conduct yourself in public. It all begins with knowing how to arrange your face when having conversations with real, living people. No one wants to talk to someone who has a slack jaw and glazed eyes, who yawns openly, who doesn’t laugh at jokes or nod in recognition. Too many Zoom school sessions involved speaking into a void of faceless boxes.

So for my seventeenth birthday, I threw an intergenerational celebration of First World War–era poetry. I labored lovingly on a historically accurate chocolate cake modeled on the trenches and the waste of No Man’s Land. When I told my best traditional high school–aged friend to come with her favorite war poem, she said sarcastically, “It will be so hard to choose.” I invited my favorite teachers, family members, and friends of my parents. A little weird, but it was a great party, and the conversation flowed.

Part of learning how to conduct yourself in public is learning how to interact with people of different ages and experiences—who read different books, watch different shows, and grew up in a different time than you. 

#5. Dramatically reduce use of your phone.
The final key to being a happy teenager is to do away with the “machine for feeling bad,” as we call it in my house. Seriously, walk away from your phone. You’ve seen the statistics, you’ve read the Jonathan Haidt articles, and you’ve watched that Netflix documentary with Tristan Harris. You know it’s bad for you. 

But let’s make it more concrete. Having a phone in your pocket is like always carrying around a glazed donut that constantly tempts you to snack on it—but if you do, you know it will ruin your appetite.

Sure, the phone is a good way for people to get hold of you—just like smearing yourself with blood before you go swimming in shark-infested waters is a good way for sharks to reach you. Now how appealing is that?

My roommates at Latin summer school, a group of some of the kindest and sanest teenagers I have ever met, agree that most of their friends are unhappy and anxious. “I wish there were higher standards for us,” said one. Another declared, “I wish we had higher expectations for what we learn.” Teenagers actually crave self-guided, unstructured time and the kind of rigor in school that makes you feel energized, not enervated. 

My suggestions for teenage happiness are, I know, unlikely to appeal to the intended demographic. And yet I hope my peers will hear me: if you choose to take on three out of five of these precepts, I guarantee your heart will stop sinking. 

Friday, September 1, 2023


Now that the teaching of reading is starting to recover from more than a century of EduExpert opposition to phonics, new concerns may lead to the revival of the Zombie idea of giving students some knowledge while they are in school.


Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
1 September 2023

For at least five thousand years, the idea of education was that ignorant students would go to school, get some knowledge, and become less ignorant, and the thought was that this would be better both for them and for the society in general.

Modern American educators have largely killed off that old idea, revealing that what is important in school is the instilling of politically correct attitudes, feelings and values. To give a picture of this change, look at the research interests of the Harvard School of Education faculty by looking at their website. By all means tell me if this is no longer a fair view: Some examples—

Dr. Ronald F. Ferguson is a Lecturer in Public Policy and Senior Research Associate at the Wiener Center for Social Policy at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, where he has taught since 1983. His research publications cover issues in education policy, youth development programming, community development, economic consequences of skill disparities, and state and local economic development. For much of the past decade, Dr. Ferguson's research has focused on racial achievement gaps...

During the past two decades, [Howard] Gardner and colleagues have been involved in the design of performance-based assessments; education for understanding; the use of multiple intelligences to achieve more personalized curriculum, instruction, and pedagogy; and the quality of interdisciplinary efforts in education. Since the mid-1990s, in collaboration with psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and William Damon, Gardner has directed the GoodWork Project, a study of work that is excellent, engaging, and ethical. More recently, with longtime Project Zero colleagues Lynn Barendsen and Wendy Fischman, he has conducted reflection sessions designed to enhance the understanding and incidence of good work among young people. With Carrie James, he is investigating trust in contemporary society and ethical dimensions entailed in the use of the new digital media. Underway are studies of effective collaboration among nonprofit institutions in education and of conceptions of quality in the contemporary era. In 2008 he delivered a set of three lectures at New York’s Museum of Modern Art on the topic ‘The True, The Beautiful, and the Good: Reconsiderations in a post-modern, digital era.

Nancy Hill’s area of research focuses on variations in parenting and family socialization practices across ethnic, socioeconomic status, and neighborhood contexts. In addition, her research focuses on demographic variations in the relations between family dynamics and children's school performance and other developmental outcomes. Recent and ongoing projects include Project PASS (Promoting Academic Success for Students), a longitudinal study between kindergarten and 4th grade examining family-related predictors of children's early school performance; Project Alliance/Projecto Alianzo, a multiethnic, longitudinal study of parental involvement in education at the transition between elementary and middle school. She is the co-founder of the Study Group on Race, Culture, and Ethnicity, an interdisciplinary group of scientists who develop theory and methodology for defining and understanding the cultural context within diverse families. In addition to articles in peer-reviewed journals, she recently edited a book, African American Family Life: Ecological and Cultural Diversity (Guilford, 2005) and another edited volume is forthcoming (Family-School Relations during Adolescence: Linking Interdisciplinary Research, Policy and Practice; Teachers College Press).

This is really a random sample and there are scores of faculty members in the School, studying all sort of things. If I were to summarize their work, I would suggest it tends toward research on poverty, race, culture, diversity, ethnicity, emotional and social disability, developmental psychology, school organization, “The True, the Beautiful, and the a post-modern, digital era,” and the like, but as far as I can tell, no one there is interested in the academic study (by HS students) of Asian history, biology, calculus, literature, chemistry, foreign languages, European history, physics, United States History, or any of the academic subjects Thinkers of Olde thought should be the main business of education in schools.

However, now that the teaching of reading is starting to recover from more than a century of EduExpert opposition to phonics, new concerns may lead to the revival of the Zombie idea of giving students some knowledge while they are in school.

Matt Barnum writes in Chalkbeat: This has led some academics, educators, and journalists to call for intentional efforts to build young children’s knowledge in important areas like science and social studies. Some school districts and teachers have begun integrating this into reading instruction.

Yet new state reading laws have almost entirely omitted attention to this issue, according to a recent review. In other words, building background knowledge is an idea supported by science that has not fully caught on to the science of reading movement.

It is too soon to say if the idea of knowledge for students will truly come back to life in the public schools, but fortunately for many students, they have discovered that they do not need to go to public school to diminish their ignorance…

Friday, August 25, 2023


It would be quite misleading, however, to suppose that the agents of the EIC were all about making a profit for shareholders, amassing fortunes for themselves and intimidating Indian opponents. John Malcolm was not the only company man to take a serious interest in learning about his cultural environment. Warren Hastings, for example, achieved fluency in Bengali and had a decent working knowledge of Urdu and Persian. Fascinated by India’s Hindu and Buddhist past, which had faded from sight during seven centuries of Muslim rule, he pioneered the revival of Sanskrit and sponsored the first ever English translation of the Bhagavad Gita. In 1784 he supported the prodigiously polyglot Sir William Jones in founding the Calcutta Asiatic Society, which became the centre of a cultural revival that would blossom into the Bengal Renaissance, especially in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. So great was Hastings’ cultural enthusiasm that he once declared, ‘In truth, I love India a little more than my own country.’

 In general, when people encounter a foreign culture, they are bound to try and understand it in their own, familiar terms. In so doing, they become aware of elements that do not fit and at that point they recognise cultural difference, which might alarm and repel them, but equally might fascinate and attract them. In this particular case, Hastings clearly admired what he encountered. Besides, it is quite hard to see how his translation of the Bhagavad Gita served to entrench British domination. On the contrary, the comparative philology developed by William Jones undermined the Eurocentric assumption of the primacy of Graeco-Roman language and civilisation. According to Nirad Chaudhuri, in rescuing classical Sanskritic civilisation from oblivion, Hastings, Jones and other European Orientalists ‘rendered a service to Indian and Asiatic nationalism which no native could ever have given. At one stroke it put the Indian nationalist on a par with his English ruler.’ It gave him the material out of which to build ‘the historical myth’ of a Hindu civilisation that was superior to Europe’s.

Nigel Biggar, Colonialism: A Moral Reckoning (40-42). [2023] HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.


Tuesday, August 22, 2023


This unscrupulous indifference to historical truth indicates that the controversy over empire is not really a controversy about history at all. It is about the present, not the past. An empire is a single state that contains a variety of peoples, one of which is dominant. As a form of political organisation, it has been around for millennia and has appeared on every continent. The Assyrians were doing empire in the Middle East over four thousand years ago. They were followed by the Egyptians, the Babylonians and the Persians. In the sixth century BC the Carthaginians established a series of colonies around the Mediterranean. Then came the Athenians, followed by the Romans and after them the Byzantine rump. Empire first appeared in China in the third century BC and, despite periodic collapses, still survives today.

From the seventh century AD Muslim Arabs invaded east as far as Afghanistan and west as far as central France. In the fifteenth century empire proved very popular: the Ottomans were doing it in Asia Minor, the Mughals in the Indian subcontinent, the Incas in South America and the Aztecs in Mesoamerica. Further north, a couple of centuries later, the Comanche extended their imperial sway over much of what is now Texas, while the Asante were expanding their control in West Africa. And in the 1820s King Shaka led the highly militarised Zulus in scattering other South African peoples to several of the four winds, conducting at least one exterminationist war.

Set in this global historical context, the emergence of European empires from the fifteenth century onwards is hardly remarkable. The Portuguese were first off the mark, followed by the Spanish, and then, in the sixteenth century, by the Dutch, the French and the English. The Scots attempted (in vain) to join their ranks in the 1690s and the Russians did so in the 1700s. What is remarkable, however, is that the contemporary controversy about empire shows no interest at all in any of the non-European empires, past or present. European empires are its sole concern, and of these, above all others, the English—or, as it became after the Anglo-Scottish Union of 1707, the British—one. The reason for this focus is that the real target of today’s anti-imperialists or anti-colonialists is the West or, more precisely, the Anglo-American liberal world order that has prevailed since 1945.

Nigel Biggar, Colonialism: A Moral Reckoning (15-16). [2023] HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.