Uday Singh Mehta

Position: Distinguished Professor
Campus Affiliation: Graduate Center
Degrees/Diplomas: BA Swarthmore College, PhD Princeton University
Research Interests: liberalism, post-colonial theory, globalization

Professor Mehta has taught at several universities, including Princeton, Cornell, MIT, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, Hull and Amherst College. He is the author of The Anxiety of Freedom: Imagination and Individuality in the Political Thought of John Locke(Cornell University Press, 1992) and Liberalism and Empire, (University of Chicago Press, 2000). Liberalism and Empire was awarded the J. David Greenstone prize for the best book in Political Theory by the American Political Science Association in 2002. In 2003, Mehta was one of ten recipients of the prestigious “Carnegie Scholars” prize given to “scholars of exceptional creativity.” He has a forthcoming book titled A Different Vision: Gandhi’s Critique of Political Rationality.


Uday Singh Mehta, Liberalism and Empire: A Study in Nineteenth-Century British Liberal Thought (University of Chicago Press, liberalism and empire1999)

We take liberalism to be a set of ideas committed to political rights and self-determination, yet it also served to justify an empire built on political domination. Uday Mehta argues that imperialism, far from contradicting liberal tenets, in fact stemmed from liberal assumptions about reason and historical progress. Confronted with unfamiliar cultures such as India, British liberals could only see them as backward or infantile. In this, liberals manifested a narrow conception of human experience and ways of being in the world.

Ironically, it is in the conservative Edmund Burke—a severe critic of Britain’s arrogant, paternalistic colonial expansion—that Mehta finds an alternative and more capacious liberal vision. Shedding light on a fundamental tension in liberal theory, Liberalism and Empire reaches beyond post-colonial studies to revise our conception of the grand liberal tradition and the conception of experience with which it is associated.

anxietyUday Singh Mehta, The Anxiety of Freedom: Imagination and Individuality in Locke’s Political Thought (Cornell University Press, 1992).

Against what he describes as the “all but canonical” reading of Locke as a narrowly political theorist, concerned with erecting institutional fences to prevent naturally free, rational, interested individuals from violating one another’s basic rights, Mehta argues cogently (though less originally than he seems to believe) that for Locke the disturbances of the natural condition proceed from a “cognitive” source, the common human propensity for madness, rooted in the natural power and disorderliness of the imagination. Far from presuming the effective naturalness of the rational agency required for membership in political society, Locke regards this quality as a human construction, the product of a “fundamental and massive” pedagogical effort. Recognizing the centrality of Locke’s concern over the mind’s susceptibility to madness, Mehta reads Locke’s political thought in the light of his educational thought; prior to the designing of liberal institutions as the “technology” of designing liberal individuals.

–From Peter C. Myers in the Journal of Politics (May 1994).

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