History matters

By Kelsey Bischot

Spending six weeks in a hut in the mountains of rural Thailand, I left feeling quite pessimistic about the state of the country and its institutions. I can’t help but wonder what countries like Thailand would have been like if it had been colonized like all of its neighbors. Likewise, it is hard to imagine what the world would be like today if there had been no colonization.

History matters and it is important to be critical of our history such as colonialism, which I will show is not the only path for past institutional change. Ferguson claims that the British disseminated many features in their colonies such as: the English language, the common law, and the idea of liberty. This is exactly what Thailand seems to be missing in its institutions so it would be easy to say that it would have gained these features, had it been colonized. Yet, we must look at history and institutions critically. Yes, it would be more likely that the living standards would be higher but it is important to realize that Thailand could have or will “naturally” gain these features without the British’s bloody path to modernity. Japan for one, is known to have high living standards like many Western nations although it escaped formal colonization.

This is where I disagree with Ferguson. Colonization is not the most successful way to create the above-mentioned features in an institution. As it may seem that many of the British Empire’s colonies have the characteristics of a “democratic or successful nation,” the empire built these institutions on oppression and exploitation.

Hence, it is important to understand history but it is likewise crucial to be critical of history’s effects.