Sympathy for the Ruled
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Published in: November-December 2013 issue.


Rise of Gay Rights & the FallThe Rise of Gay Rights and the Fall of the British Empire: Liberal Resistance and the Bloomsbury Group
by David A. J. Richards
Cambridge University Press.  280 pages, $95.


WHEN PRESIDENT OBAMA spoke in Senegal a few months ago, he confirmed his belief in the basic human rights of sexual minorities. But the President of Senegal, Macky Sall, rebuffed Obama’s universalist claim, stating that “we have different traditions.” As in many other countries in Africa, the leader of Senegal contends that homosexuality is an immoral relic of Western imperialism and not indigenous to the traditions of Africa.

David Richards engages the tension between imperialism and gay rights and offers an intriguing thesis: the emergence of gay rights in England (and the West more generally) was a result of a new ethical awareness about the problem of patriarchy, an indispensable pillar in the logic of imperialism. The same awareness gave rise to the concept of gay rights, which was predicated on a critique of patriarchy and thus of empire building. In essence, if imperialism is the denial of ethical practices related to human rights, then the rise of gay consciousness is of a piece with the anti-imperialist urge to build a more inclusive, democratic society.

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