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  • Telling Tales to Children: The Pedagogy of Empire in MGM’s Kim and Disney’s Aladdin 1
  • Jerry Phillips (bio) and Ian Wojcik-Andrews (bio)

The mere story of their adventures, which to them were no adventures, on their road to and from school would have crisped a Western boy’s hair. There was a boy who, he said, and none doubted, had helped his father to beat off with rifles from the veranda a rush of Akas, in the days when those head-hunters were bold against lonely plantations. And every tale was told in the even passionless voice of the native-born . . . Kim watched, listened, and approved. [The tales] . . . dealt with a life he knew and in part understood. The atmosphere suited him, and he throve by inches.

(Kipling, Kim 172)


On the historical terrain of the modern experience, two things stand out with striking clarity: the ongoing process of capital accumulation, and the ongoing process of centralizing bureaucratic power. Capital accumulation originates in the exploitation of labor and the control of material resources; bureaucratic power flows, in an ever-widening capillary network, from the massive edifice of the State. Statist bureaucracy and capital accumulation go hand in hand; the former makes possible the latter, and the latter gives rise to the former. Thus, in The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels noted:

[The bourgeoisie] . . . compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates the world after its own image . . . Just as it made the country dependent on the towns, so it has made the barbarian and semi-barbarian [End Page 66] countries dependent on the civilized ones, nations of peasants on nations of bourgeois, East on West . . . The necessary consequence of this was political centralization. Independent or but loosely connected provinces, with separate interests, laws, governments, and systems of taxation, become lumped together into one nation, with one government, one code of law, one national class interest, one frontier and one customs tariff.


The familiar name of “political centralization” (on the terms of “the bourgeois mode of production”) is “empire,” the colonial (and neo-colonial) theater of capital accumulation, a racialized social hierarchy, and bureaucratic (disciplinary) rule. Over the last three centuries, the intellectual servants of the bourgeois have labored mightily to convince the skeptics that empire is the preeminent vehicle for modernity. That is to say, the forced reduction of “nations of peasants” to “nations of bourgeois” must be seen as Progress, Development, Uplift, the benign “evolution” of human society towards “civilization.” On occasion, however, the truth of the matter is frankly revealed to the light of day.

Thus, for example, the nineteenth-century British statesman Joseph Chamberlain observed that the administration of the colonies is not “the sole or main object that should interest us. It is our business in all these new countries to make smooth the paths for British commerce, British enterprise, the application of British capital” (qtd. in Bennett 312). Chamberlain contended that “if we want our trade and industry to grow we must find new markets for it” (314). In the aftermath of World War II, the sun finally set on the main of the British Empire, as nation after nation gained independence. But as the sun rose on a new day, it also rose on a new empire. Michael Parenti writes:

Today the United States is the foremost proponent of recolonization and leading antagonist of revolutionary change throughout the world. Emerging from World War II relatively unscathed and superior to all other industrial countries in wealth, productive capacity, and armed might, the United States became the prime purveyor and guardian of global capitalism. Judging by the size of its financial investments, and military force, judging by every standard, except direct colonization, the U.S. empire is the most formidable in history, greater than Great Britain in the nineteenth century.


In U.S. political culture: if “class” is the great unmentionable five letter word of the domestic social scene, then “empire” is its six letter counterpart in foreign policy...

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pp. 66-89
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