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The Absent-Minded ImperialistsEmpire, Society, and Culture in Britain$
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Bernard Porter

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780199299591

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199299591.001.0001

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(p.25) 2 Participation
The Absent-Minded Imperialists

Bernard Porter

Oxford University Press

The early and mid-19th century British empire did not need many people to run it. That would have offended against contemporary principles of low national expenditure and minimal bureaucracy. Those principles were adhered to by making the colonies pick up the tabs, and even do much of the ruling and policing themselves, through collaborators. That ensured that the number of native Britons taking on these duties was kept to a minimum. Most of these went to the dependent (‘authoritarian’) empire, with the settlement (‘libertarian’) colonies more or less running themselves, except in extraordinary circumstances, like wars. The ancillary agents of empire — sailors, traders, missionaries, and so on — were more numerous, but still just a tiny proportion of Britain's total population. As well as this, many of them tended to keep to themselves. This limited their impact on the stay-at-homes, which is what this book is concerned with.

Keywords:   empire, bureaucracy, authoritarian, libertarian, colonies, Britain, population, stay-at-homes

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