Hobson on White Parasitism and Its Solutions

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Tan, Benjamin R. Y.  ORCID logo  https://orcid.org/0000-0001-6278-4996

Since the publication of J. A. Hobson’s (1858–1940) Imperialism: A Study in 1902, the text has been studied—even celebrated—as a liberal or proto-Marxist critique of modern empires. This reputation stands in some tension with the text itself, which defends various forms of imperial domination. While scholars have addressed this tension, they remain divided over how best to understand Hobson’s imperial commitments. Offering a new response to this debate, I argue that a key dimension of Imperialism has been overlooked—namely, Hobson’s conception of humanity as stratified into a hierarchy of racial “souls.” This deeply committed view of human difference undergirded Hobson’s arguments about the moral and practical limits of Western imperial power. This article shows how Hobson articulated imperialism as the “parasitic” rule of whites over the nonwhite world—the solution to which was not the rejection of empire but the reform of white imperial power in accordance with his normative vision of global racial hierarchy. This recovery reveals the redemptive critique at the core of Imperialism and enables us to more readily grasp the text as a form of imperial apologetics. The article concludes with the suggestion that Hobson is better understood not as a liberal- or socialist-imperialist but as a proponent of racial capitalism on a global scale.


Peer reviewed: True

racial capitalism, imperialism, white supremacy, empire, new liberalism
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Political Theory
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SAGE Publications
gates cambridge trust (Gates Cambridge Scholarship)