Nicholas Hoover WilsonAug 17, 2023
Empire and Morality in the Making of British India
Columbia University Press 2023
When Robert Clive, the man who established Company rule in India was hauled in front of Parliament to answer for crimes of corruption, he allegedly responded by saying, essentially, he could have been worse.
Am I not rather deserving of praise for the moderation which marked my proceedings? Consider the situation in which the victory at Plassey had placed me. A great prince was dependent on my pleasure; an opulent city lay at my mercy; its richest bankers bid against each other for my smiles; I walked through vaults which were thrown open to me alone, piled on either hand with gold and jewels! Mr. Chairman, at this moment I stand astonished at my own moderation!
The strange thing is that Clive’s argument was actually acceptable according to how many at the time understood corruption, as Nicholas Hoover Wilson writes in Modernity's Corruption: Empire and Morality in the Making of British India (Columbia University Press: 2023). Nick uses Company rule in India as a way to examine how society’s view of corruption changed–from something governed by one’s situation, to a behavior that violates some universal code of ethics.
In this interview, the two of us talk about Clive, Company rule, and why this period is a good period through which to understand the idea of “corruption.”
Nicholas Hoover Wilson is associate professor of sociology at Stony Brook University. Nick’s research focuses on the historical sociology of empires and colonialism, through the case of the English East India Trading Company's presence in South Asia.
Nicholas Gordon is an associate editor for a global magazine, and a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon.