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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)265-293
Number of pages29
JournalModern Intellectual History
Issue number2
Early online date9 Oct 2014
E-pub ahead of print9 Oct 2014
PublishedAug 2015


King's Authors

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  • King's College London


Rather than renouncing empire after the fall of Napoleon, this essay argues, French liberal thinkers expressed a sustained preference for a strategy based on transnational connections, or what imperial historians describe as informal imperialism. The eulogy of European Christian civilization exemplified by François Guizot's lecture at the Sorbonne in 1828 served not only to legitimize French global ambitions, but also to facilitate cooperation with other European imperial powers, especially Britain, and indigenous collaborators. Liberal enthusiasm for the spread of Western civilization also inspired the emergence of a French version of free-trade imperialism, of which the economist Michel Chevalier proved a consistent advocate. Only when such aspirations were frustrated did liberals reluctantly endorse colonial conquest, on an exceptional basis in Algeria after 1840 and on a global scale after 1870. The allegedly abrupt liberal conversion to empire in the nineteenth century may instead be construed as a tactical shift from informal to formal dominance.

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