The Journal of Caribbean History: Volume 54, Issue 2

Article 10
Colonial Autocracy and Authoritarianism in the Caribbean

Brian L. Moore


This paper argues that the culture of authoritarianism that characterizes Caribbean politics and governance has its roots in European colonization. Founded in violent conquest by adventurous fortune seekers, and isolated from the imperial capitals of Europe by distance, the early colonies were governed by feudal autocrats who ruled as unrestrained tyrants. Even when European governments assumed political responsibility, authoritarianism was further entrenched by imperial centralization of political and commercial institutions. The universal embrace of forced labour for profit encouraged landholders to use naked terror backed by draconian laws, an ideology of racial hierarchy, and the guns of imperial troops to preserve social order. Socialized in this hostile environment, the enslaved learned that violence and terror were the only ways to win freedom; and, as demonstrated in Haiti, they adopted the old imperialist philosophy that authoritarianism was the most effective way to govern.