A Mission to Civilize

French ideas of civilization—simultaneously republican, racist, and modern—encouraged the governors general in the 1890’s to attack such “feudal” African institutions as aristocratic rule and slavery in ways that referred back to France’s own experience of revolutionary change. Ironically, local administrators in the 1920’s also invoked these same ideas to justify such reactionary policies as the reintroduction of forced labor, arguing that coercion, which inculcated a work ethic in the “lazy” African, legitimized his loss of freedom. By constantly invoking the ideas of “civilization,” colonial policy makers in Dakar and Paris managed to obscure the fundamental contradictions between “the rights of man” guaranteed in a republican democracy and the forcible acquisition of an empire that violates those rights.


Conklin, Alice L.
Stanford University Press
A Mission to Civilize
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