Thursday, 24 April 2008

Journal Article: The Oligarchic-corporate state

In an article in ‘The Journal of Anthropological Theory,’ Australian anthropologist Bruce Kapferer proposes a new approach for understanding elite power structures and processes, and their relationship to the globalisation and the state. Extensive selections from the article below.

New formations of power, the oligarchic-corporate state, and anthropological ideological discourse

by Bruce Kapferer

University of Bergen, Norway, and Fellow, National Humanities Center, North Carolina, USA


The article presents a broad claim that the political environment of the nation-state is complicated by the emergence to dominance of state and state-like oligarchic-corporate state formations. These are considered as a relatively new kind of political departure that constitutes a reconfiguration of the relation of controlling interests to social realities. The argument develops the suggestion that some recent anthropological orientations to the state are relatively unreflective as to their own ideological positioning.


Current configurations of global, imperial and state power relate to formations of oligarchic control. A major feature of this is the command of political organizations and institutions by close-knit social groups (families or familial dynasties, groups of kin, closed associations or tightly controlled interlinked networks of persons) for the purpose of the relatively exclusive control of economic resources and their distribution, these resources being vital to the existence of larger populations. For many theorists the state, throughout history and in its numerous manifestations, was born in such processes and continues to be so. Moreover, the oppressive power of state systems (e.g. the denial or constraining of human freedoms, the production of poverty and class inequalities) and the expansion of these in imperial form is a consequence of oligarchic forces. A diversity of political theorists of different persuasions (from anarchists and Marxists to liberals) have developed such themes. This article continues their argument but is concerned to show that the oligarchic formation of political processes and, indeed, the character of the state, is undergoing significant transformation(s) or transmutation(s) in the current historical moment. The state takes multiple forms and defies most attempts to arrive at an adequate definition of long-standing worth. The once broadly accepted Weberian definition of the state as that authority with the legitimate monopoly of violence over defined territory seems to be undergoing challenge in many global regions. Difficult to define, it is nonetheless a hard, if often different, shifting and uncertain, imagined and felt reality in the experience of most. Rather than define the state in some absolutist sense, what I intend to do is to explore its formation as a commanding and differential organizational complex of power in relation to oligarchic processes.

What is broadly referred to as globalization (a catch-all term and conceptually problematic despite its trendy appeal) is widely conceived of as subversive of the state, particularly in its modern territorially defined nation-state form. But the concept of globalization disguises the emergence to unchallenged (if momentary) global imperial dominance of the USA, whose own claim to international sovereignty reduces the sovereignty of many nation-states. Globalization, in other words, is both the cause and the effect of the emergence to political and economic dominance of a relatively new political formation (with many historical antecedents) that I will refer to as the oligarchic-corporate state formation.


A broad argument that I develop is that contemporary globalization, and what are deemed to be its effects (the failure of the regulative function of postcolonial states, porosity of borders, the privatization of erstwhile state-controlled institutions of redistribution), is a feature of oligarchic processes coming into new internal and external relations with the political-bureaucratic machinery of nation-states (orders, I add, that are still highly relevant). More importantly, I explore the engagement of these processes in the generation of critical shifts in the orders of state power and the formation of new kinds of state structure.



Oligarchic formations are present throughout recorded history and themselves took a state form apparent in ancient systems (e.g. Mesopotamia, Athens, Carthage and so on), in feudal Europe, and especially evidenced in Italian city states – Venice and Florence being both outstanding examples. Political strife in ancient systems has repeatedly been expressed in rivalries between and within oligarchies which also embroiled loose and shifting alliances of dependents or ordinary citizenry within the wider population (e.g. the conflicts between factions relating to populist reforms involving the Gracchi in Imperial Rome, or the much later struggles between the Guelphs and Ghibellines through Europe.)

However, I suggest that in the modern period (with the formation of centralized territorially bounded nation-states in Europe and later in North America) oligarchic forces defined their economic interests and power through varying kinds of alliances with mass populist movements and sentiment through which they gained control of the machinery of state, developing it away from absolutist monarchical domination. Indeed, revolutionary movements (increasingly of left/right designation) over the last couple of centuries centred their struggles in relation both to entrenched oligarchic interests and newly forming oligarchies developing from the expansion of trading ventures (as a result of old and new world exploration, colonial settlement). This gathered pace from the Protestant Reformation on, coming to a head in the 17th century through to recent times. The kind of state that came into being was, of course, highly various, dependent often on the degree of popular involvement in its formation or the degree to which already entrenched political and economic interests took a part or controlling direction in the creation of their state-political circumstances of existence e.g. the Cromwellian vis-a-vis the French Revolution. Broadly, the modern nation-state in its variety of forms – nationalist elite, egalitarian democracies, fascist, socialist, or class (oligarchic) dictatorships, frequently military – took shape each with its particular compact with previous or newly created oligarchic interests. These interests were, by and large, pursued through the order of the state (or subordinated to state concerns), its machinery either being captured by oligarchic groups or else such groups themselves being captured by populist forces in control of state apparatuses that were external to the social orders of local oligarchies.


But mass populism was a critical element in the formation of most modern nation-states (both dictatorships and democracies). It was also a vital factor in the creation of state-regulated systems for the distribution of wealth. Oligarchic interests were constrained within national orders even as they were oriented to the control of the political machinery of these states (and by a diversity of means from dictatorial coups to democratic election). The regulation of oligarchic practice (with or without the approval of oligarchs) operated in the interests of oligarchic/industrial and other economic ventures both in controlling competition (e.g. through anti-monopoly legislation) and in maintaining, as Marx argued in Capital, a reserve army of labour. (The close connection between advertising, consumerism and nationalism has been widely noted and is a factor in the influence of oligarchic interests in nation-state control.) The nation-state system permitted the expansion and further development of capital and simultaneously operated to order the mass of nationally-defined populations in expansive capitalist interest (see Arrighi, 1994; Harvey, 2003).

However, the current moment indicates both continuities with the relatively recent past and also new developments. One major shift is the breaking of oligarchic power away from the containing and regulative political order of the state. The development of the modern corporation has been of importance in this, further facilitated by the development of new technologies, especially relating to cyber-space, and new kinds of productive labour use. As summarized by Hardt and Negri (2000), production is now decentred and widely distributed (across different productive systems, tribal, peasant and so on) in a postmodern ‘putting out’ system articulated via computer technology – what Hardt and Negri label as post-Taylorist Toyotaism. The state has become in many instances a hindrance to oligarchic/corporate expansion, and the rhizomic mushrooming of corporations, interlocking directorships, shadow companies and other organizations, has reflected state constraints but also creative ways of escaping them and the revenues which states had been able to command. Organized extra- and trans-state oligarchic and corporate orders gathered an increasing political significance (as a function of their economic power and other influence), their organizations operating as independent political structures without a dependent population (apart from shareholders whose interests are thoroughly in accord with oligarchic and corporate self-interest). This key difference from state polities (which must enter into some kind of social contract with their populations, a key aspect of state promulgated nationalist ideologies), as these have hitherto developed, results in a relative lack of concern for populations except as consumers. Corporations are more or less immune from populist social demands and likely to be little interested in long-term programmes of social development that do not serve oligarchic and corporate self-interest. Rather, their approach is more in the direction of charitable assistance. The USA is an example. In many ways, it can be described as an oligarchic state par excellence whose charitable foundations are the key institutions of public support but intensely tuned to oligarchic/corporate interest. The privatization of public–state programmes in the contemporary era of corporate dominance over the state or release from state constraint is not merely a means for opening avenues of capital expansion but constitutes a way of increasing the indebtedness of populations (which, of course, is a major form of political and social control). In addition, it removes the capacity of populations to politically challenge corporations (especially in contexts where there are either no or weak unions), indeed the democratic possibility of the mass (or multitude as Hardt and Negri, 2004, following Marx would say) is dramatically reduced. While oligarchies and corporations may have some interest in controlling populations, their capacity to move outside the state (and effect shifts in state orders – to corporatize them) paradoxically can – at least in the short-term – be an effective means of subordinating the mass to oligarchic and corporate control.

So I am arguing that the growing independence of oligarchies and corporations from state control is producing a change in the state form. I am also suggesting that the nature of oligarchic and corporate orders is also changing. They are assuming increasingly state-like potencies but without the obligations of states. They are the global state form – states without borders and in many ways not reducible to notions of the state born in a history of nation-state formation.


The modern transnational corporation and aspects of a global oligarchic power were prefigured in the trading companies of the largely northern European colonial and imperial expansions from the 16th century onward. They acted like predatory states with virtually no moral obligations except to make money. In this they were much like modern corporations (see Bakan, 2004). But brought within state regulative control they assumed a clear state, often bureaucratic, form, effectively parallel states.4 This is evident in the British East India Company, the British West Africa Company and, of course, the British South Africa Company that in southern Africa was virtually the state (or a state within a state) right through to the end of colonial rule and after. The mining companies of southern Africa operated in a socially constitutive way, creating a society within the society of the encompassing colonial state.5

Contemporary corporate/oligarchic activity continues patterns that were evident in the colonial era (as Ho, 2004, stresses in the context of the World Trade Center attacks). They are involved in the creation of mobile global elites and simultaneously what could

be called a global working class. Perhaps Marx is more relevant today than ever before as far as the creation of class relations is concerned – a point that Hardt and Negri (2004) optimistically elaborate upon and indicate in their development of the concept of the multitude. My own view is that this multitude is much weaker than in earlier eras. It is highly fragmented and much more vulnerable (see Kapferer, 2002). It is relatively powerless before the coherent organized and often socially cocooned elites sponsored by company oligarchies.

A major distinction from the past in the present is that corporations and trading oligarchies were largely based in the nation-state, empowered by it as they were ultimately regulated by it. Fundamentally, they were formations of the state or nation-state (the freebooting extension of the state that acted as if it were independent) that operated a state-like bureaucratic system which continued through into postcolonial state orders. Acting apparently independently of the state, they were not bound by state legitimating moralities or inter-state diplomatic arrangements but were the under cover of the state, acting in its interests.

In the current context the situation is almost reversed. Nation-states are becoming the instrumentality of oligarchic empires and corporations. (The influence of News Corp and Fox is one example but there are many other less publicly visible examples.) These, as I have said, are not only independent of states (are deterritorialized states) but have a state form all their own, managerial rather than bureaucratic, with a tension to person-centred autocracy stressing flexibility rather than rule-driven impersonality (Sennett, 2000). Moreover, the modern state (the nation-state) is transforming in the corporate direction rather than the other way around, as in the past.

Corporate forms and practice are being fused with state processes so that the state itself is taking a corporate shape as well as a more overt oligarchic political form. The Hobbesian idea of the state (as mediating between rival groups and in a contractual relation to society) is in retreat. The Singapore model is becoming more evident in the sense that state forms and practice are becoming modelled after corporate organizational/ management ideals.6 This was the potential in the very beginnings of the USA and integral to its already established distinction from the monarchical bureaucratic centralized states of Europe. The individualist and oligarchic tendencies were explored early by De Tocqueville and provoked the excitement of the anarchist Kropotkin (1993 [1898]), who appreciated the individualist and oligarchic autonomy (and what he recognized as their innovative and creative flexibility) and the effectively anti-nation-state direction of America. The USA might be considered the modern and postmodern exemplar of the oligarchic state, though territorialized. Another example of contemporary oligarchic state formation is the European Community. It is a transitional form sharing some of the territorializing dimensions of the nation-state with the deterritorializing encompassing shape of the corporate state form. Its much commented upon bureaucracy, I suggest, is a hybrid elaborating around new managerial practices (Shore, 2000). Overall the newly emergent corporate state recognizes far more thoroughly than in the past the economic as the political. The market is its transcendent ideal and gives it ontological direction. This direction has minimal interest in either control over persons (except through the dictates of the market) or control over territory (other than that ‘territory’ defined by consumption).

I should add that the imperialism that is generated from Hobbesian state processes is distinct from what could be described as the imperialism of the corporate state. The imperialism of the former involves an expansion of the boundaries of sovereign territory (Queen Victoria becomes the Empress of India). The imperialism of the corporate state respects no boundaries, is trans-territorial and denies sovereignty of any territorial kind, operating primarily a logic of control (of the market) rather than a logic of rule (of power over persons and populations).



Oligarchies (contemporary ones that create the social on the basis of economic organization in relation to the market) have an associated mythos that is increasingly delocalized. They might be described as alienated dislocated forms. Superficially they bear some similarity to nation-state ideologies, with the critical difference that they are not territorialized. They have kinship, religious and communitarian aspects but are generalized in an open space without borders. Their character is akin to product loyalty, the territory that they define marks out a space of consumption as a way of existence or life that can be shared across great differences in actual social and cultural practice. Religion, the community, the family become products for consumption (e.g. evangelist preaching, new pentecostalist movements such as Hillsong in Australia and in Europe)7 and exist chiefly as a product, virtually a fantasy, that can only be truly lived in the space of the product.

The USA as the wellspring of oligarchic nationalism provides numerous examples. The well-known discussions on Disneyfication or McDonaldization provide some illustration. The ideological development of the family in the USA was a conscious state-supported effort to forge a national unity among an extraordinarily diverse immigrant population. Corporations were at the forefront, advertising agencies being strongly influenced by Freudian subliminal theories (see BBC Documentary, Centuries of the Self ). The national ideology of the family (iconic with one definitional aspect of oligarchic power) is an alienated virtual fantasy space lived perhaps most concretely in the roadside diner or the larger company chains (McDonalds, Cracker Barrel and so on). Peter Weir’s film The Truman Show gives a marvellous sense of a global all-encompassing family-centred oligarchic-controlled cosmic possibility. Whereas state-nationalism centred and opposed populations on the basis of a territorialized national cultural difference, oligarchic nationalism decentres, deterritorializes yet unifies populations in relation to corporate generated totalities and values. In the latter, culture is created through consumption, labile and moveable, whereas in the former culture is embedded, essential, and grounded.

It might be added here that in the emergence of corporate state forms, what was once public space held in the larger public interest is made into corporate space. Paradoxically that which was common (the Commons) is transmuted into corporate territory and given back to the public as part of corporate largesse. The nation-state – even if only ideologically – protected the public interest, the commons as public right. The corporations capture or create ‘public space’ (often making it internal to the corporation, a right of the corporation) and link it with what I have already referred to as the charitable practice of binding populations in the moral economy of the gift.

The ideologies and practice of oligarchic state forces not only contribute to what some might identify as a growing tide of popular conservatism (intensifying processes of alienation) but also constitute a new structuring of power bolstering the capacity of corporations to define the society of populations and to simultaneously politically tighten their grip over them. Outside the USA, the corporate and oligarchic invasion of the once public sphere is everywhere in evidence from attacks on institutions concerned with the redistribution of social justice (education, health, social security) to the privatization of a vast array of public services.

The oligarchic state as an alternative to the nation-state (and certainly subversive of it) was implicitly expressed in an interview on Fox News with Shimon Peres concerning the transfer of Gaza to Palestinian control. Shimon Peres (interview, Fox News, 10 April 2005) recommended (echoing US policy in Iraq) that corporations should take over the task of development and socio-economic reconstruction. In other words, the Palestinian state should not be a nation-state but an oligarchic state in which corporations should take the key roles. The idea is undoubtedly encouraged in the vision of Palestinians as fragmented by kinship and lineage (a factor that often seems to be the understanding behind the failure to achieve unity, ignoring the fragmenting, overweening power of the Israeli state) and thus suited to oligarchic/corporate political forms. These, as I have said, are by and large antithetical to the nation-state as an institution of regulation and distribution (factors that might provide for the social-political unity of the state against Israel).


The emergence of what I have described as the oligarchic corporate state is a relatively new form, as too are corporate orders powerful enough to work independently of state regulation and controls. The nation-state may be in decline but it is giving way to a relatively original state order or political/economic formation with multiple state-like effects that is able to act in ways systemic with deterritorializing global processes. What I have labelled the corporate state and the emergence of corporations with state-like effects was developed in the context of nation-states, but through breaking free of state constraints or coming into control of state apparatuses new exploitative possibilities are opened. The corporate apotheosis is already indicating effects reflected in growing poverty, failures in public facilities, and an increased sense of insecurity – dimensions of Beck’s (1992) ‘risk society’. The issue of public order, the Hobbesian legitimation behind the nation-state, has been transformed into the problem of security. This is increasingly a private matter and has been corporatized. Security and surveillance have become a major concern for the corporate state, in many ways a means for protecting ruling interests against the public.

If the nation-state frequently abused the rights of its citizens, this is now a strong potential of the corporate state, which both privatizes the means for violence and turns the greater violent power of economically dominant groups against the general citizenry.

State violence takes a new oligarchic and corporate form. The nation-state is ceding the monopoly of violence as embodied in the military increasingly to private corporations, as Singer (2003) demonstrates. Corporations guard or secure themselves against the public, which suggests a vision of the mass that accords with the most abject visions of the essential baseness of humankind (sometimes attributed to Hobbes but vital in the most dismal economistic thinking). If we are in a risk society it is now also a society of intense suspicion. I suggest that this is not so much a consequence of the so-called War on Terror but generated in the very dynamic of the growth of the corporate state whose logic is founded in a dialectic of competition, control and self-protection.

Corporatization and, of course, the capitalist ethos which it further impels and transmutes, is founded in a discourse of desire and envy. The current stress in some scholarly areas on the larger political relevance of a psychoanalysis of desire, insightful as it undoubtedly is, is also organic to a contemporary rise of oligarchic and corporate power. The War on Terror is to a great extent fuelled in the formation of the corporate state whose participants both present themselves as objects of desire and of envy and who must be protected – such protection, of course, becoming itself a product for consumption and profit.

The nation-state was incorporative (often oppressively so), creating public order in a society of the state. The corporate state is oriented differently. It is not concerned to totalize society or to provide uniform regimes of order. The problem of order is resolved not by ordering the mass into a relatively static whole but rather by retreating from it, enclaving and guarding against the dangers of the mass at large. The corporate state is oriented to the creation of micro social orders of total control highly adapted to a social world premised on movement and displacement in which the social is always in the process of being reconstituted, often as a direct result of oligarchic and corporate action. If the nation-state gave rise to the impossible paradox of society against the state, the corporate state escapes such a paradox by sealing off spaces where persons must submit to control as a condition of access and participation in them from other spaces in which control is more open.

Human beings are made to choose continually between relatively open and closed social, political and economic worlds. As in nation-states, but motivated in different ideological commitments (which often accentuate individual freedom and which are antagonistic to government or ‘big government’), populations are being made complicit in their own domination, engaged in the acts of making choices between personal freedom and control – choices that they have little opportunity to avoid and which are oriented in the direction of willing submission.

A somewhat stark example is Iraq. This is becoming a corporate state par excellence, certainly distinct from the totalitarianism of Saddam Hussein. More a system of distributed totalitarian enclaves in which the citizenry is routinely given the choice – a choice that is more or less impossible to refuse – to forego personal freedoms in order to gain access to the means of survival. Moreover, the public is engaged in its own control and surveillance (the BBC reports that Iraqis engaged in security work, now the main employment, outnumber the occupying troops). This self-policing is a feature that scholars following Foucault describe as governmentality. Developed as part of nation-state systems, it is at least as crucial to what I am calling the corporate state and its rather distinct processes of ordering.



4) They were, in effect, incorporated within the state. Their often dramatic fiscal failures enabled states to take them over. Of course, the agents of the trading companies had heavily engaged the political interests of the state in their operations and the takeovers were largely a formalization of the state-political controls that were already integral in operations that had the open appearance of being independent.

5) In South Africa and in Zambia the domains controlled by the mining companies were extremely tightly controlled, more regulated and far more autocratic than even the colonial orders within which they were embedded and upon which they were dependent.

6) The managerialization of state bureaucracies subverts conventional bureaucratic hierarchies’ command and promotional structures. On the surface this may increase participation, for example, in decision-making (this and flexibility being its ideological justification). However, the effect is to circumvent the power of bureaucrats (which is a dimension of their alleged inefficiency and slowness) as it may concentrate power in particular individuals which, nonetheless, is always limited or subject to results as these are defined in terms of the overall objectives of the corporate or corporatized organization. The limitation of the power of state-institutional/corporatized functionaries (expressed in higher rates of turnover in key managerial positions) reduces their capacity to impede the power of those oligarchic interests or groups who exercise control through access to and command over state Instrumentalities. I am suggesting that the state in its corporatization is not only changing but increasing its power ultimately in oligarchic interest.

7) Recent fieldwork by Judith Kapferer and myself among new Pentecostal churches in Australia indicates their powerful corporative and secretive/surveillance nature. Their growing alliance with the corporatizing state of the current Prime Minister John Howard is noteworthy. What is often described as the growing Christian religious fundamentalism in the USA and in Australia has a powerful corporate dimension to it. There is a degree of identity between the corporate structure of some of the relatively new evangelizing church congregations and the corporate/managerial style of government.


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Thursday, 10 April 2008

Fjordman on Tibet and Europe’s indigenous peoples

At the Brussels Journal blog, Creating a European Indigenous People's Movement:

The next time EU leaders complain about China's treatment of minorities, I suggest the Chinese answer the following: "Yes, we represent an anti-democratic organization dedicated to subduing the indigenous people of Tibet, but you represent an anti-democratic organization dedicated to displacing the indigenous peoples of an entire continent."


I have earlier toyed with the idea of giving native Norwegians the legal status as indigenous people in Norway. A large proportion of my ancestors have lived here since the end of the last Ice Age, for as long as this country has been habitable for humans.


Genetically speaking, native Europeans have thus lived longer on the same continent than have Native Americans. Many Southeast Asians are descendants of southern Chinese settlers who displaced or eradicated the original, dark-skinned inhabitants of the region in early historical times, just as many of the nations of sub-Saharan Africa are Bantu invaders who displaced or eradicated the indigenous Khoi-San peoples throughout much of Africa. Modern-day Japanese have lived in Japan for a shorter period of time than Europeans have lived in Europe. Yet a Scottish councillor, Sandy Aitchison, was chastised for using the term "indigenous" about native Brits. Why is it considered ridiculous or evil if Europeans assert our rights? Is it because we are white? Everybody's supposed to keep their culture, except people of European origins? Is that it? Why is colonialism bad, except when my country, which has no colonial history, gets colonized by Third World peoples?


Excellent article. Do read the rest.

Yesterday I visited the campus of a local university and happened to meet some students, campaigning under a ‘Free Tibet’ banner, for the creation of a state devoted to the interests of the Tibetan people.

For ten minutes or so we had a pleasant chat about Tibet’s history, imperialism and colonialism, and Buddhism. The students’ friendliness gave way to wariness, however, when I pointed out that the Chinese government programs the campaigners found most objectionable were identical to those of most European governments: deliberate demographic transformation contrary to the native peoples’ wishes, suppression of indigenous protest movements, educational programs designed to alienate the native people from their heritage and deracinate them, and the governments’ blanket denial of the native peoples’ ownership of their homelands.

This observation made the students deeply uncomfortable, as it once made me. I remembered my own struggle, thanks to a lifetime’s conditioning, simply to admit that my people have rights too - even that I *had a people*. I decided not to push the kids too hard, so signed their petition, wished them well, and left.

It’s discouraging, naturally, to see English students demanding rights for other peoples they are reluctant to grant their own people. But I console myself with the knowledge that polls show most of our people believe that what these students demand for the Tibetans is owed to us, too. Even these students, I believe, will one day come around to thinking of their own people with same concern they now have for the Tibetans. An organisation and campaign along the lines Fjordman recommends would help return these kids - and our nations - to health all the sooner.

Genius of Friendship - Williamson on T.E. Lawrence / Shaw (Lawrence of Arabia)

I have uploaded a PDF file of Henry Williamson's Genius of Friendship, a memoir of his relationship with T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) / T.E. Shaw, to and

As far as I can tell this is the only copy available online. If the link breaks I can email a copy to anyone who requests it, but for now this is good:

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Ronald Niezen on Ethnocide

A Brit, fed-up with race replacement immigration, claims, with justification, that the principles outlined in the UN’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples have been violated in Britain. In the comments thread to an article about the BNP’s chances of gaining a seat on the London Assembly, James Burrows quotes the Declaration adopted by the General Assembly on 13th September 2007 :

Article 7.2 “Indigenous peoples have the collective right to live in freedom, peace and security as distinct peoples”

Article 8.1 “Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture.”

Article 8.2 “States shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress for:
(a) Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities;
(b) Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources;
(d) Any form of forced assimilation or integration;
(e) Any form of propaganda directed against them

Quite right Mr. Burrows, and your timing couldn’t be better. Western politicians, spooked by the violent protests of these last few weeks, are finally discussing the decades long program of ethnocide in Tibet. But in sympathising with the Tibetans, and in giving the Dalai Lama a respectful hearing - his solution to the conflict is essentially ethnic-nationalist - these politicians cannot help but compromise their own opposition to Europe’s nationalist movements and spokesmen.

Anyway, a good excuse to post these quotations from Ronald Niezen, The Origins of Indigenism: Human Rights and the Politics of Identity (University of California Press, Berkeley, CA. 2003):

“Ethnocide, ” sometimes also called “cultural genocide, ” occurs more often where the state has a firm grip over a subject people but is still striving to secure its national identity. It is usually manifested in policies or programs of “assimilation” aimed at eliminating stark cultural differences and rival claims to sovereignty that arise from first occupation of a territory. Its goal is the elimination of knowledge of, and attachments to, distinct and inconvenient ways of life. In the nation building of the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere, assimilation policies made use of what was referred to as the “tools of civilization”— the schools of the state, the churches of the Christian faith, and the households of “national families”—to eliminate the attachments of children to the “backward” and “uncivilized” ways of their families and ancestors. [p.55]


That remains true for the New World, and is the case in Europe too. But today the principal targets of the states’ efforts are the White majorities.

Niezen goes on to explain that the ethnocidal regime will also employ mass-murder (genocide) to achieve their ends:

Ethnic cleansing becomes an actuality or latent possibility when a minority people people [more accurately, a subject people ~ fellist] are seen to be significantly obstructing the unity and prosperity of the dominant society: claiming title to land that could be better used; practicing faiths laden with error and malignant powers; insisting upon maintaining traditions that contrast with those of the standard bearers of nationhood; and, by virtue of these differences, competing for political representation and power as a distinct society—such perceived faults lead to a general view of minority people as an obstacle to unity and collective self-actualization by those with power over them. More significantly, the minority is seen as somehow beyond the possibility of reform, unchangeable, stubborn, or, even when “properly” educated, subject to cultural recidivism.

With such perceptions as a starting point, dominant peoples, especially in frontier societies where there is competition over resources, sometimes assert their identities and interests by eliminating, one way or another, the weaker people who stand in their way. Such “cleansing” has taken a variety of forms, including forced expulsion, imposed hunger, and mass killing. The goal of total removal is inseparable from the idea, itself a companion of collective hate, that a subject population cannot be separated from its attachments to cultural differences and assertions of sovereignty. Ethnocide, by contrast, stems from the prevailing notion that cultures are malleable, that entire peoples are capable of guided transformation and therefore that inconvenient or threatening attachments to differences can be peacefully disposed of through strategies of cultural reform.

These basic approaches to eliminating cultural differences are not mutually exclusive. Ethnic cleansing and ethnocide can in fact be seen as complementary, since their main difference is that one has the goal of eliminating a people whereas the other has the goal of removing those features that make them distinct. But it is important also to keep in mind that colonial powers or dominant ethnic groups are not always politically homogeneous or coordinated in their actions, interests, and objectives. State governments can be perfectly willing to negotiate treaties with their indigenous inhabitants—or, more correctly, “neighbors”—while settlers are bent upon their extinction. It is thus conceivable, and realized on a number of occasions, that the sovereignty of indigenous societies can be affirmed through a treaty-making process at the same time that policies are put into effect to remove their cultural differences, all the while that they are being forced onto reservations or starved into submission or that frontiersmen are waging open warfare against them with impunity. [Ibid., p.92]

UNESCO at 60 by Claude Lévi-Strauss

A rather surprising endorsement of the basic claims of race-realists and nationalists:

From UNESCO at 60 by Claude Lévi-Strauss, Diogenes Vol. 54, No. 3, 5-10 (2007)


In the wake of the Second World War, what with the horror caused by racist doctrines and their pursuance through the massacre of entire populations and the extermination camps, it was only to be expected that Unesco would regard as its most urgent task the scientific criticism and moral censure of the notion of race. Hence the two successive declarations on race, in 1951 and 1952 respectively. Why two? This was because the first, sociologically inspired one was seen by biologists as too simplistic. After the second declaration, it seemed, Unesco was able to consider the problem to have been settled once and for all.

Around 1950, however, population genetics had not really come into its own. It nowadays prompts us to recognize that the oneness of the human person, which it does not question, is of greater complexity. Behind this oneness, it discerns what it calls fuzzy sets of genetic variants that cross and intersect, become isolated, disperse or run together in the course of time, and whose identification can be genuinely useful in medicine. While continuing to proclaim the oneness of the human person, we have to keep abreast of scientific research and make adjustments as necessary, which is what Unesco did in two subsequent declarations in 1964 and 1967. This is a particularly necessary task in view of some disquieting recent publications by biologists attempting to rehabilitate the notion of race, if only in acceptations differing from those it may have had in the past, but which nevertheless remain sensitive.

Recognition of cultural diversity and the protection of cultural identities under threat form the second segment of this mission of Unesco in which anthropology also sees its place. Unesco first conceived it from the angle of the world’s heritage, where such diversity is to be seen spread over time, as it were. It more recently undertook to envisage it also in space, including therein all its modalities throughout the world and which, being intangible and so devoid of tangible reality, are liable to disappear without trace.


Unesco has become convinced that languages are a treasure, in themselves for a start and because their disappearance entails that of beliefs, skills, usages, arts and traditions that are all irreplaceable items of the heritage of humanity.

As Unesco emphasizes throughout its material, these fears are unfortunately all too justified by the accelerated impoverishment of cultural diversity caused by this fearsome conjunction of phenomena called globalization.


For its part, Unesco has always recognized the existence of a link between cultural diversity and biodiversity. The 1972 Convention on the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage even then brought the two aspects closer together by associating with the cultural heritage ‘habitats of threatened species of animals and plants’. Unesco has moreover established worldwide some 500 biosphere reserves to safeguard remarkable cases of biodiversity.

Over the years, it gave this link ever greater importance in seeking to understand its reasons. Hence, in his Proposals for 2006–7, the Director-General emphasizes the existence of a ‘cultural diversity-biodiversity nexus’. It indeed seems to me that, to develop differences, for the thresholds making a culture distinguishable from its neighbours to become sufficiently clear-cut, the conditions are roughly the same as those fostering biological differentiation: relative isolation for a long period; and only limited exchanges, whether cultural or genetic. Cultural barriers are of much the same nature as biological barriers; the latter prefigure them all the more closely in that all cultures impress their mark on the body through styles of costume, headgear and ornament, through bodily mutilations and through body-language patterns; and they mirror differences comparable to those recognized between varieties within one and the same species.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Impressive amateur photos of Lake District fells

I just found some lovely photos on Flickr, posted by 'tricky'.

Derwent fells from the top of Maiden Moor

Boathouse on Derwent Water

Cat Bells ridge by Derwent Water

Sunday, 9 March 2008

A.L. Morton’s ‘A People’s History of England’ II

This is Part II of a look at Morton's account of empire. Part I can be read here.

All that follows is a direct quotation of the third section of Chapter XV of Morton's History, Colonial Expansion - Egypt:

The story of British dealings in Egypt is worth telling in some detail, not only because of its intrinsic importance but because it contains in the most concentrated form the whole essence of imperialist method. What took centuries in India was here crowded into little more than a generation, while the compact and unified character of the country, the valley of a single great river, enables the whole scene to be realised at a glance.

From the time of the Mohammedan conquest in the seventh century to the beginning of the nineteenth, there were few fundamental changes in Egypt. New dynasties arose, trade routes came into being and declined, but the unchanging basis of peasant cultivation dependent upon the annual cycle of the Nile remained unaltered. Napoleon came and departed, the Turkish empire crumbled away, leaving Egypt virtually independent under its khedive. Almost as shadowy as the authority of the Turkish sultan in Egypt was that exercised by the khedive over the vast territory of the Sudan and the even remoter Somali coast.

In the 1850s came the project of the Suez Canal, and European capitalists began to turn their attention to the Nile valley. The canal was opened in 1869. Much of the capital was French, but the khedive Ismail had subscribed nearly half of the shares. At once Egypt became the key to the most important waterway in the world. Britain was more vitally concerned with the control of the Suez than France because the canal was on the main route to India. At the same time, the development of important cotton plantations in Egypt, to which a powerful impetus had been given by the American Civil War, was another reason for British interest in this region, since Britain was the chief importer of cotton and the plantations had been developed largely with British capital.

Naturally, therefore, when Ismail began, in the 1860s and 70s, to introduce Western improvements, it was to London that he turned for the capital that did not exist in his own country. These were merry years. In little more than a decade 900 miles of railways, hundreds of bridges, thousands of miles of canals and telegraphs, costly docks at Suez and Alexandria were built.

The operations proved almost boundlessly profitable to British bankers and industrialists. First of all the loans had to be raised. Between 1864 and 1873 four great loans amounted to over £52,500,000, raised at heavy rates of interest. But Egypt received only £35,400,000 of this sum, the rest going to the London financiers as commission and expenses. This was only the beginning since almost all the money raised was at once paid over to British contractors, who in their turn made vast profits. Thus, the harbour works at Alexandria, for which the Egyptian Government paid £2,500,000, realised a profit of £1,100,000 for the contractors. By 1876 the indebtedness of Egypt was about £80,000,000, and the interest on this sum was £6,000,000 a year out of a total state revenue of £10,000,000, all of which had to be screwed out of a peasant population of about eight million, cultivating less than five and a half million acres of land. In 1875, the khedive was forced to sell his shares in the Suez Canal, which were bought by the British government through the Rothschilds.

Year by year, as loan was piled upon loan, the country became more and more bankrupt. The peasants, who benefited least by the new railways and docks, were bled white to pay the foreign bond-holders. In 1878 there was cattle plague and famine and it was clear that a crisis was at hand. The Egyptian state machine was breaking down and it was time for Britain, as the representative of the financiers, to step in and protect their interests. A strong agitation compelled the khedive Ismail to grant a constitution, and a nationalist party, openly anti­-foreign, began to gain support. This was too much for the British, who had Ismail deposed and replaced by the more subservient Tewfik. The nationalist movement continued to grow, led by Arabi and other army officers. In 1881 they seized power and established a government determined to resist foreign encroachments.

Britain and France sent warships to Alexandria, where they organised a 'massacre' of Christians, mostly Greeks and Armenians, by hired Bedouin assassins, as a pretext for intervention. But the antagonisms between the different European Powers made immediate action impossible. A conference was held in June 1882, at which Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Russia and Austria agreed not to seek any 'territorial advantage, nor any concession of any exclusive privilege', except, according to British addendum, 'in case of special emergency'.

On 11 July the British created their 'special emergency' by bombarding the forts of Alexandria on the excuse that they were being repaired by the Egyptians. An army was landed which defeated Arabi's forces at Tel-el-Kebir, and by the end of September the British were in full military control of the whole country. The most solemn assurances were of course given that the occupation was only temporary and would end when order was restored. For the next twenty-five years the real ruler of Egypt was Sir Evelyn Baring (of Baring Brothers the bankers, later Lord Cromer) whose official post was that of Consul­ General. Before describing the policy on which Baring re­organised Egypt in the interests of high finance, it is necessary to outline the events by which British rule was extended to the Sudan.

The Sudan, stretching south from Egypt almost to the equa­tor, was important not only for its fertility and natural riches but because the upper reaches of the Nile pass through it and whoever controls the Sudan also controls Egypt. Towards the end of the century it became of special value to Britain as a link in the chain of territory which it was hoped would extend right across Africa from Egypt to the Cape.

About 1880 a religious nationalist movement under Mahommed Ahmed, better known as the Mahdi, spread over the whole country. From Dafur in the West to Suakim on the Red Sea and south to the great lakes, the Egyptian garrisons were swept away. In 1883 an Egyptian army which had been sent up the Nile against the Mahdi under Colonel Hicks was entirely destroyed. Only Khartoum remained in Egyptian hands, and the large garrison there was threatened.

Sir Evelyn Baring and the majority of the British Cabinet, including Gladstone who was Prime Minister at the time, decided that the Sudan must be abandoned for the moment. A powerful minority, working in close harmony with Lord Wolseley and other leading army officers, thought otherwise. Making use of a stunt journalist, W. T. Stead, they whipped up an intense and apparently spontaneous agitation to have General Gordon sent to Khartoum to organise the withdrawal of the garrison, though he had publicly declared his opposition to this policy. Baring's protests were overruled and Gordon arrived at Khartoum in February 1884.

Instead of proceeding with the evacuation as he had been instructed to do, he allowed himself to be besieged, apparently with the idea of blackmailing the government into sending a relief force, defeating the Mahdi and reconquering the Sudan. A relief force was sent, after much delay, but it did not arrive till 28 January 1885, two days after Khartoum had fallen and Gordon had been killed. The expedition then returned, since the re-conquest of the Sudan was impracticable till after the reorganisation of Egypt had been completed. But British imperialism gained something more immediately useful than a new province, it gained a saint and martyr. The very peculiarities which had made Gordon an imperfect instrument when alive, his naive piety, his indiscipline and his contempt for convention, made him all the more suitable for canonisation, since the vein of sentimentality running through the British ruling class would have prevented their accepting a saint who was not also something of a simpleton.

For twelve years the Sudan was abandoned. During this time much happened: the position in Egypt had been consolidated, Britain, France and Italy were penetrating the Somali Coast, Abyssinia and Uganda, the vision of Rhodes of a British empire running unbroken from north to south was being embodied in the settlement of Rhodesia. And, in opposition to this, the French were planning an east to west block which would cut across the British somewhere on the upper Nile.

Then, on 1 March 1896, the first Italian attempt to conquer Abyssinia was shattered at Adowa. Adowa was more than a defeat for Italy. Indirectly it was a defeat for Britain, Italy's ally in East Africa, and a victory for France which had been supplying Abyssinia with arms and posing as its only genuine friend, with the object of using that country as a base from which to conquer the Sudan and turn the flank of the British. Adowa meant that the way was now clear for such an attempt.

Within a week the British government had decided to begin the invasion of the Sudan. General Kitchener, with a powerful Anglo-Egyptian army, moved slowly up the Nile, consolidating every step and building a railway as he advanced. In September 1898 Khartoum was re-taken after the Sudanese had been routed in a bloody battle at Omdurman. Soon after, the victor­ious army encountered a handful of French soldiers who had occupied Fadosha, still higher up the river. For a short time, war between France and Britain seemed likely, but the French gave way, partly because their rivals were in effective military occupation of the Sudan but more because they dared not risk a war of which a hostile Germany might take advantage.

The finance of the conquest was somewhat peculiar. Egypt had to pay two-thirds of the £2,500,000 bill, and for years after paid the heaviest part of the cost of administration. But the profits from the exploitation of the new province went entirely to British capitalism. Railways and other works were constructed on the same terms as those in Egypt, and the Sudan soon became a producer of fine quality cotton. The highest point of co-operation between the British government and the cotton planters was reached in the case of the Sudan Plantations Syndicate, of which the ex-Prime Minister Asquith was one of the directors. Over a large area in which an irrigation scheme was carried out all the land was forcibly rented by the government from its Sudanese owners at 2s. an acre, and then re-allotted to the original peasant occupiers on condition that one-third of each holding of thirty acres was used for cotton growing. The cultivator was allowed 40 per cent of the proceeds of the cotton crop and the remaining 60 per cent was divided between the syndicate and the government. It is not, perhaps, surprising that for the first eight years of its working the syndicate made an average profit of 25 per cent. Besides being a cotton-growing area, the Sudan became an important and steady market for the products of British heavy industry.

The principle on which Baring ruled Egypt during the twenty-five years of his consulship was that 'the interests of the bond-holders and those of the Egyptian people were identical'. In practice this meant that the surplus for export must be increased so that the charges on loans could be regularly met. By 1907 cotton exports had increased from £8,000,000 a year to about £30,000,000. As the proportion of land under cotton rose, food had to be imported for a population previously self-supporting. Thus the peasants provided two new sets of profits, one for the exporters of cotton and one for the importers of wheat. While the total productivity of the country rose, they received a steadily diminishing proportion of the value of their crops.

Egypt was governed by a bureaucracy entirely under British control, and for a long time organised opposition was impossible. In 1906, however, a particularly gross example of misrule in the judicial massacre at Denshawai provided the spark which set ablaze the smouldering discontent and a new nationalist movement began to develop. Under pressure of this movement small concessions had to be made but the First World War, during which Egypt became a point of first-class strategic importance, provided an opportunity for even stricter control. Egypt was placed under martial law, her nominal connection with the Turkish empire was at last broken, a rigid censorship was imposed and nearly a million peasants and workers were conscripted for war service in spite of the most specific pledges that this would not be done.

After the war the nationalist agitation was resumed. In 1919 there were widespread riots and strikes in course of which over one thousand Egyptians were killed. After a struggle lasting for more than a decade Britain was forced to grant Egypt a nominal independence, in which the reality of British rule was preserved, first by a strong military occupation of the Suez Canal zone and secondly by the continued occupation of the Sudan. The great irrigation works which have been constructed on the upper Nile made it possible for Egypt's vital water supply to be interrupted at any time, and it has therefore always been a prime demand of the Egyptian nationalists that the whole Nile valley should be united under a single independent regime.

A.L. Morton’s ‘A People’s History of England’ I

I posted a comment at Laban Tall's yesterday which included a quotation that I think would benefit from some context. I did not want to intrude too much on someone else's blog, so I decided to become a blogger myself - of sorts - and post extended passages from A.L. Morton's classic 'A People's History of England'. These passages relate certain episodes from Britain's imperial past which I believe might be instructive for all opponents of today's Empire.

LT posted a link to a book of 'patriotic' verse extolling the virtues of empire, but to me, patriotism and empire are in opposition. Patriotism is a love of the local, particular, and traditional, while empire turns away from these to seek satisfaction in the exotic, distant, and new, and tends inevitably to destroy the local and particular attachments of both imperialist and colonised peoples.

A Victorian Bishop is quoted from the foreword to the book:

To consolidate the Empire, and to animate it as a whole with noble ideas, is one of the greatest needs and duties of the present day; and an empire, like an admiral, lives not by bread alone, but by its sentiments, its ambitions, its ideals.

LT, perhaps rightly, wrote that many Bishops of 2008 would call the Victorian a 'fascist'. But I wanted to comment on the inherent tension between empire and patriotism, I wrote:

Substitute 'international community' for empire and you'd be hard-pressed to find a Bishop who doesn't swoon with relief at being offered the soft alternative. The Bishops pretend not to see that the 'international community' pursues the same ends as empire, and readily resorts to hard-empire military invasions when frustrated.

Empire and patriotism are, almost by definition, polar opposites, but like the Victorians we are being trained not to see this.
A.L. Morton in 'A People's History of England' wrote:

It is entirely characteristic that it was just as the Tory Party ceased to be really representative of the landowners that it adopted a pretentiously self conscious 'Merrie England' propaganda patter. The peculiar task of Disraeli was to reconcile the English aristocracy to their position of junior partner in the firm of Imperialism Unlimited.

Topical substitutions for key words in that passage, and parallels with today's Empire, are various and obvious.

Here is the quotation from Morton in context:

It was during the government of Gladstone that attention was forced upon Ireland by the Fenians. Nothing could be more revealing than Gladstone’s famous exclamation when he was called on to take office in 1968, ‘My mission is to pacify Ireland.’ Here ‘pacify’ is the operative word. For all sections of the ruling class, Ireland was a conquered province to be governed in their interests, peacefully if possible, but by violence when necessary. It was within the limits set by this conception that the whole struggle between Liberals and Tories over the Irish question was waged during the late nineteenth century. Their differences were purely tactical and it was among the working class alone that the belief that Ireland was a nation with the right to determine its own destiny found any support.

One outstanding event of the period, and the one which marks decisively the turn into a new age, must receive more detailed consideration in a later chapter.* This was the purchase by the British government in 1875, on the initiative of Disraeli and with the assistance of the Rothschilds, of the shares in the Suez canal held by the Khedive of Egypt. It is important both for its place in the development of the British Empire and for the close co-operation it reveals between the Tory government and the powerful international financial oligarchy.

New figures appear on the scene, Goschens, Cassels and the like, to balance the already established Barings and Rothschilds, and they exercise an increasing influence upon British policy and turn it into a new direction. As they grew in power, and as the influence of banking over industry extended, the Liberal party became more and more a party of the middle class and its authority diminished while the rise of the Labour party on the other side ate away its mass basis among the workers. It is entirely characteristic that it was just as the Tory Party ceased to be really representative of the landowners that it adopted a pretentiously self conscious 'Merrie England' propaganda patter. The peculiar task of Disraeli was to reconcile the English aristocracy to their position of junior partner in the firm of Imperialism Unlimited.

It was indeed a pressing necessity for the British bourgeoisie to learn new ways, for in the late 1870s a deep economic and social crisis was upon them, not to be overcome so lightly as the periodic crises of the bounding years of dominant Liberalism.

* Morton's account of the British Empire in Egypt forms Part II of this posting.

Earlier in Chapter I, Morton had written of Disraeli:

The revolt against Peel was led by a young and almost unknown Jewish politician, Benjamin Disraeli, and it was Disraeli who re-created the Tory party at the beginning of the age of imperialism, no longer primarily as a party of the landowners but as the party of the new power of finance capital.