Duncan Bell’s project to restore late-Victorian and Edwardian debates on federative empire or a Greater Britain to international theory emphasizes the “political language” of civilization, race, and character available to fin-de-siècle thinkers on empire. In the process, Bell leaves out the contribution to these debates made by a key figure in the newly emerging discipline of economics: Alfred Marshall. Most recent writings on 19th-century empire similarly ignore the work of late-Victorian economists, as do recent efforts to map the terrain of international theory more broadly. Marshall’s writings on federative empire are not referenced by the advocates of Greater Britain that Bell carefully documents, but it is clear that Marshall followed those debates closely. And though he imagined his contribution as distinctly economic, his work unfolded in a similar language of civilization, race, and character, informed particularly by social evolutionary thought. In conclusion, I stress the dangerous temptation to sort the relevance of thinkers according to contemporary disciplinary boundaries so that more recent economists and the components of earlier political economic work that might be classed as economics are sifted out of our narratives of political thought. Instead, I see the debates on empire that Bell explores as unfolding in a language that, since the 17th and 18th centuries, has engaged issues of commerce and trade, social change, moral virtue, and the nature of political rule: political economy.
Thanks to Duncan Bell and all the members of the workshop on “The International Origins of Social and Political Theory” for their careful and constructive reading of this article. I am especially grateful to Tarak Barkawi and George Lawson for bringing the workshop participants together.
Blaney, D.L. (2017), "Late-Victorian Worlds: Alfred Marshall on Competition, Character, and Anglo-Saxon Civilization", International Origins of Social and Political Theory (Political Power and Social Theory, Vol. 32), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 127-152. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0198-871920170000032006
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