The Widening Gyre
This project asks why changing norms of statehood in the early twentieth century produced extraordinary violence, and locates the answer in the way a variety of actors across the British Empire—colonial and Dominion governments, nationalist movements, and clients or partners of colonial regimes—leveraged the problem of imperial defense to serve their own political goals. It explores how this process increasingly bound ideas about sovereignty to the question of security and provoked militarizing tendencies across the British world in the early twentieth century, especially among liberal governments in Britain and the colonies, which were nominally opposed to militarism and costly military spending. Security provided a framework in which the matters of imperial defense and strategy could be translated into an expedient language of danger and safety, risk and reward, order and disorder. It legitimized colonial state-building projects and helped control populations; it propelled the renegotiation of relationships between those colonial states. Security suffused the British world’s racial identities and hierarchies with yet more hopes and fears, and yoked these to the centralization and growth of states and institutions. The project employs sources and methodologies that link history to debates about sovereignty and state-building in political theory and international relations, about identity and anxiety in the production of literature, and about federalism and subsidiarity in constitutional law. Beginning with the outbreak of the South African War, the first chapters cover the haphazard coordination of imperial forces in that conflict, and how it shaped movements for constitutional federation in Australia and New Zealand. Next, the project explores how the Government of India under George Curzon attempted to manage its military clients in the Indian Princely States, and how Indian princes understood and performed their sovereignty by providing troops to serve in the Indian Army. It then compares these arguments about sovereignty in India to highly similar ones about military subsidies from British Dominions to the Royal Navy, and the irony of self-governing Dominions converging with Indian modes of rule. The third chapter discusses colonial reactions to the Anglo-German naval crisis in 1909 and how colonial governments leveraged the Empire’s security crisis to argue that, through their contributions to imperial defense, they had transcended colonial status and become “Dominions.” Next, the project discusses the breakdown of systematic schemes for defense and political cooperation in the British Empire in the years leading up to World War I, and how they reflected the tensions inherent in the empire’s emerging norms of sovereignty. Central to this chapter is the struggles of Wilfrid Laurier’s government in Canada and between nationalist and unionist factions in Ireland to manage the militarization unleashed by the securitizing logic that had taken hold in the British Empire and, increasingly, the British metropole. The final chapter explores the issue of conscription during World War I, and how it personalized the problems of security and sovereignty for millions of British subjects by forcing them to apprehend the reality that states could take possession of their physical selves for service in war. This chapter draws extensively on personal recollections of the war years by Irish men and women who gave “witness statements” to the Republic of Ireland’s Bureau of Military History during the 1940s and 50s about their experience of the years 1912-1922, including World War I, conscription, the Anglo-Irish War, and the creation of the Irish Free State.