Sample Book Review Paper on David Cannadine, Ornamentalism

Cannadine’s view about status and class in the British Empire is convincing. This is more so when it comes to the upper echelons in the empire. According to Cannadine, status, rank, and class appeared to be more significant than race in the British Empire. The British Empire can be figured as the vehicle through which the social structures in Britain were extended. The conceptions that were made by the British in the empire were the primary mirror images of the individualistic, traditional and unequal society that were present in the metropolis. In this view, the empire attempted to restructure Tory England’s rural arcadia, where the individuals with high social prestige had been controlling the local government since the sixteenth century. Indirect rule was born as a system of government that had the characteristics of the empire, where power was devolved to a hierarchy of lesser and greater chiefs.

Cannadine argues that the empire did not focus much on “race and color” as it was so much on “class and status” (Cannadine 32). This argument can be perceived as an extension of Cannadine’s earlier analysis of hierarchical Britain that was traditional and conservative to the imperial arena. Suppose the role of race is underplayed in the imperial cocktail, then one can fail to unveil the cause for the sudden collapse of the Empire. The first world war led to the over-extension of the empire, while the second world war led to the cease of the of the empire. This is as a result of the Second World War being a war against racism, hence accelerating the downfall of the empire. If there were no wrong in opposing Hitler, then there would be no wrong in dismantling an empire that was built on principles of racism. Suppose the Germans were blamed for Hitler, then the British too should be blamed for the British Empire. According to Cannadine, the ruling class may have set up the imperial system, but lesser mortals also enjoyed in lording it over the racial inferiors.

Some contexts are not convincing concerning Cannadine’s view on status and class in the British Empire. For instance, something is perverse about the emphasis that Cannadine gives about the pre-eminence of class over race. Cannadine depicts unease concerning his fundamental formulation. “Limitations”, that is a chapter in his book analysis some drawbacks that are associated with his thesis. He claims that race has a running in the recent accounts of the empire, but is at the same time trying to regain a sense of equilibrium as he returns to some arguments that had been presented by Schumpeter some years back. A deep reading of Cannadine’s text suggests that he does not really believe that class trumps race, where he proposes that one should think about “antiquity and anachronism, plumed hats and ermine robes, chiefs and emirs, thrones and crowns, sultans and nawabs, ostentation and ornamentalism, etc (Cannadine 58).

Jonathan suggested that royalty could be perceived as “an ancient feudal idea” that lies on “medieval concepts of bloodline and heredity”. Cannadine ripostes to this suggestion where he argues that British variant is rather rooted in the Empire’s superstructure that is artificial, and one that was created in the nineteenth century. The monarchy that is being retained by the British only made sense as the apogee and apex of a great empire, without which it is meaningless. Cannadine claims, “The monarchy of the British was re-invented and refurbished as an imperial crown of importance, unprecedented reach, and grandeur”. He also believes that if the empire were still in existence, excellent opportunities would still be there for countesses of Wessex and royal duchesses to earn an honest impertinence.

A difficulty exists about Cannadine’s thesis “how the British saw their empire”. The British saw their empire as portrayed on an biscuit tin, or as a bottle’s label, where native orderly stood outside the campaign tent, ready to attend to the British officer who was expectant. Cannadine gives credence to this sense by recalling his memories as “a child of the empire” and how it was like to live in the misty afterglow of the empire (Cannadine 63). However, he fails to understand that in the recent research and examination of the experience of imperialism, the British were in a state of false consciousness concerning their empire. The British ‘saw’ their empire but they did not know what was being practiced in their name.

Cannadine’s argument is further not convincing in that he makes a mistake by not making any virtual reference to the diverse indigenous populations that the builders of the empire encountered. However, he admits that the vision he revealed was “a nescient oversimplification” of a complex subject. It is disingenuous of Cannadine to talk in a euphemistic manner about “colonies of settlement” when he refers to colonies where indigenous population has efficaciously been slaughtered. In cases of systematic settlement in New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa, Cannadine claims that the British did not pause “to banish the indigenous peoples to the margins of the new imperial society” (Cannadine 88). Jews in central Europe were banished to the societal margins, many people dwell more on their extinction.

Works Cited

Cannadine, David. Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire. Oxford [u.a.: Oxford Univ. Press, 2002. Print.