A Boulay de la Meurthe said of Napoleon’s murder of the Due d’Enghien, “it is worse than a crime, it is a blunder,“l a judgment recalling the oft-forgotten third line of Lord Acton’s maxim on power and corruption-that ‘@eat men are almost always bad men.“* Both sentiments embodied the rock-hearted moral philosophy of nineteenth-century empire: in the affairs of state one emphasized efficacy rather than law, dominion rather than compassion.
For the scions of empire in that century, such choices were self-evident, even though in the liberal imperia of Britain and France at their zenith nobler rationalizations from clerics and men of letters were required to sate public sensibilities with talk of the “white man’s burden” and la mission civilisatrice. In those political cultures, such rationalizations were the ballast of the ship of state, whose true course was guided by calculations simultaneously more base and basic. The balances thus struck allowed imperial professionals to carry out their business relatively unperturbed. British soldiers were fighting virtually every year during the nineteenth century in various foreign climes, and yet, the Boer War excepted, the con&ct never impinged fundamentally on the course of British political life.