African liberalism in the age of empire? Hassuna D'Ghies and liberal constitutionalism in North Africa, 1822-1835 Academic Article uri icon


  • Although in most accounts of liberalism Africans appear only as passive victims or beneficiaries of European policies, in the early nineteenth century many Africans shared liberal aspirations for the “good society” based on free trade, constitutional government and individual property. However, African liberalism was articulated in the context of an existential crisis provoked by the new European world order. Hassuna D’Ghies, educated in Tripoli and Europe, articulated an overtly “African” liberal response to this crisis of adaptation through his writings and political activity in London in the 1820s. By the end of the decade, D’Ghies had abandoned this project and returned to North Africa to take up a more authoritarian model of reform that ultimately led to the reabsorption of Tripoli and its region into the Ottoman Empire. D’Ghies's turn toward an “imperial liberalism” underwritten by Islamic legitimacy suggests the impossibility of reconciling African autonomy with European liberal claims to universality, and the ways in which African political thought was fragmented by imperial globalization.

publication date

  • November 2015