Table of Contents
The British Empire
Ah, the British Empire! Who here has not dreamed of a world in which the Union Jack still flies proudly over Suez and Bombay, New York and Honolulu? A world in which the medium of exchange is not Dollars or Euros (urgh!) but good old Pounds Sterling (240 d.)? A world in which fast food means greasy spoons or cod and chips wrapped in old newspaper? Where films means Ealing and cars means Austin, Bedford and Morris?
Possible reasons for the decline of the British Empire include:
- Nationalist movements, fuelled by the lack of respect the British ruling class often displayed towards its colonial subjects (particularly in America, Ireland and India), by charismatic leaders, and by the examples of previously successful independence movements.
- By the 1920s, most of the colonies cost more to govern than they raised in revenues.
- Britain's intellectuals increasingly disliked the idea of ruling over subject peoples.
- Economic inefficiency during the twentieth century.
- The cost of fighting the First and Second World Wars, and of funding a welfare state.
- America's determination, in the period during and immediately following the Second World War, to reduce Britain's power.
- Decadence. Victorian attitudes, which many at the time believed had helped make Britain great, wore off during the twentieth century, to be replaced by a more easy-going, hedonistic attitude to life.
- Britain's failure to impose its will in Palestine and during the Suez crisis made it appear weak.
- New developments in the field of anthropology undermining the narrative of the “White Man's Burden”.
AH.com Timelines involving a more successful British Empire
AH fiction about the British Empire
The Warlord of the Air by Michael Moorcock (1971), the first volume of his Nomad of Time trilogy. One of the PODs is that there was no First World War. This novel is also famous for its widespread usage of airships.
The Peshawar Lancers by S.M. Stirling. After a series of comet impacts in 1878, the British government relocates to India, forming a New Empire from the ashes of the Old. By 2025, technology is still at the level of our world's early 20th century. However, the New Empire is far more Indian than British, and goes by the name “Angrezi Raj”.
Anti-Ice by Stephen Baxter.
In AH.com Culture
As an historical epoch, the era of the British Empire was the pinnacle in the history of global politeness, snootiness, and tea consumption. As a political entity, it spanned half the globe and at all times of the day at least part of it received sunlight, which was diligently blocked out by wide-brimmed hats and the accompanying warmth disregarded in favour of well-starched formal clothing. The collapse of the British Empire was definitely not the fault of any British person.
An excellent rant: AH.com and the British Empire: A Rant