King Leopold’s Ghost

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Themes and Colors
Imperialism Theme Icon
Publicity and Mass Communication Theme Icon
Racism and Human Rights Theme Icon
Indifference and Activism Theme Icon
Historiography and Bias Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in King Leopold’s Ghost, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Racism and Human Rights Theme Icon

The late 19th and early 20th centuries were a time of widespread, normalized racism in Europe and America. Many of the most powerful people in the Western world believed that the native peoples of Africa, Australia, Asia, and the Americas were second-class human beings, or not human beings at all. Even some of the liberals of the era adopted a condescending attitude (an attitude that, by 21st century standards, would seem downright racist) when discussing minorities and native peoples. The international controversy surrounding the Belgian regime in the Congo brought out the racism of Westerners on both sides of the debate. However, it also pushed many liberals of the era to become more inclusive in their thinking and embrace a doctrine of universal human rights.

As Hochschild shows in his book, the international controversy over the Congo reform movement was not a case of racists arguing with tolerant people: rather, it was a case of extremely racist people arguing against more subtly racist advocates (with the perspective of the Congolese largely ignored on the international stage). On one extreme, the Congo controversy involved powerful, wealthy people, such as King Leopold II, who believed that Africans were no better than animals. Leopold, as well as many of his administrators in the Congo, saw the people of Africa as chattel, to be enslaved and put to work for his own benefit. Furthermore, Leopold was able to gain control of the Congo because he successfully manipulated the deep racism of white supremacists, such as the American senator John Tyler Morgan, who supported Leopold because he wanted the Congo to become a resettlement colony for African Americans. For many years, Leopold was able to exploit the people of the Congo, not only because he was a master of publicity and deception, but because a large chunk of the European population believed that Africans were sub-human, and had no rights worth protecting.

Even on the other side of the Congo reform movement controversy, many of the advocates for the Congolese people took a condescending, paternalistic stance on rights. For most of his career, Edmund Dene Morel (arguably the most important advocate for Congolese rights) made statements in which he treated the Congolese people like children. Furthermore, many of Morel’s allies believed that the Congolese, despite deserving the basic human rights of life and liberty, lacked the intelligence to take care of themselves. In other words, these late nineteenth century liberals objected to Leopold II’s cruelty, but did not question the underlying appropriateness of European imperialism. In general, even though the Congo reform movement viewed African slaves as human beings, it still thought of them as lesser human beings who needed the help and charity of sophisticated Europeans in order to survive. A famous quote from the missionary and humanitarian Albert Schweitzer epitomizes the “soft racism” of the liberal position on the Congolese: “The African is my brother, but he is my younger brother.”

But even if racism existed on both sides of the Congo controversy, the debate over Congolese slavery pushed some liberals to move past some of their racism and advocate a program of universal human rights. While Morel made many condescending and racist statements about Africans in the 1890s and 1900s, his views on the matter evolved throughout his life. Toward the end of the Congo reform movement controversy, Morel regularly argued that Belgium had no right to the land of the Congo—a statement that implied that Africans had a right to their own land, not just the right to be free. At the end of his life, Morel went further, arguing that Africans and other non-Western peoples should have the right to govern themselves, instead of relying on European governance. In general, the Congo controversy inspired Morel, and many other activists of the era, to stop thinking of the Congolese as immature, second-class human beings, and start thinking of them as human beings who had the right to be free, own property, and govern themselves. In this way, the Congo controversy was an important milestone in the history of human rights, encouraging many thinkers to push past their own soft bigotry and embrace the notion of true human equality.

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Racism and Human Rights Quotes in King Leopold’s Ghost

Below you will find the important quotes in King Leopold’s Ghost related to the theme of Racism and Human Rights.
Prologue Quotes

For Europeans, Africa remained the supplier of valuable raw materials—human bodies and elephant tusks. But otherwise they saw the continent as faceless, blank, empty a place on the map waiting to be explored, one ever more frequently described by the phrase that says more about the seer than the seen: the Dark Continent.

Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

When Western Europeans first began to explore sub-Saharan Africa in search of land, slaves, and raw materials (like gold or ivory) for their own societies, they did not yet have the technology to explore much of inland Africa. The mystery of the interior of Africa coupled with the danger and promise associated with exploring for resources meant that the European view of Africa became a romanticized one, encapsulated by the phrase “the Dark Continent.” In addition to alluding to the mystery and danger that, for Europeans, characterized the African continent, the phrase “the Dark Continent” also became part of a moral alibi for colonialism.

As Hochschild strongly implies here, it’s hardly a coincidence that Europeans began to conceive of Africa as a barbaric land around the same time that they began stealing from Africans. The European theft of African property—not to mention African people—necessitated some kind of religious or moral justification, which came in the form of portraying Africa as an uncivilized place. In doing so, Europe created the illusion that Africans were incapable of governing themselves or using their own resources, which suggested that Europeans had a right to rule over Africans and take ivory and gold for themselves. Ultimately, the phrase “the Dark continent” reflects the European attempt to excuse its own theft: Europeans told themselves that Africans were barbaric and altogether incapable of taking care of their own land and resources. Therefore, European rule could provide the service of bringing light and civilization to the “Dark Continent”—the extraction of resources, then, could be framed as mere compensation for a good deed.

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Chapter 1 Quotes

Underlying much of Europe's excitement was the hope that Africa would be a source of raw materials to feed the Industrial Revolution, just as the search for raw materials—slaves—for the colonial plantation economy had driven most of Europe’s earlier dealings with Africa. Expectations quickened dramatically after prospectors discovered diamonds in South Africa in 1867 and gold some two decades later. But Europeans liked to think of themselves as having higher motives. The British, in particular, fervently believed in bringing "civilization" and Christianity to the natives; they were curious about what lay in the continent's unknown interior; and they were filled with righteousness about combating slavery.

Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Hochschild gives a sense of the relationship between 19th century European economics and values. In other words, he shows how European imperialists used concepts like civilization and Christianity as justifications for their theft of African property.

For many centuries, Europeans colonized the African continent, stealing ivory, gold, and other valuable goods, and enslaving African people. But in the 19th century, Hochschild argues, the rate at which Europe stole from Africa accelerated, reflecting the beginning of the modern industrial era. Europeans needed African gold, iron, and rubber to build their steam engines and cars. Not coincidentally, Hochschild implies, it was during the 19th century that Europeans became more confident that their colonial projects were actually benefitting the people of Africa. They claimed that imperialism brought culture, religion, and enlightenment to the “barbaric” African tribes.

The passage suggests that evangelism and enlightenment were smokescreens for Europe’s real priority—robbing Africa of its natural wealth. However, Hochschild is not saying that every European who colonized Africa in the 19th century was a liar. There were many Europeans who sincerely believed that they had a moral duty to baptize Africans, teach them how to read and write, etc. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Christianity and civilization, regardless of their legitimacy as ideas, functioned as convenient justifications for the European imperialist project.

Chapter 4 Quotes

By the time Stanley and others working for the king were done, the blue flag with the gold star fluttered over the villages and territories, Stanley claimed, of more than 450 Congo basin chiefs. The texts varied, but many of the treaties gave the king a complete trading monopoly, even as he placated European and American questioners by insisting that he was opening up Africa to free trade. More important, chiefs signed over their land to Leopold, and they did so for almost nothing.

Related Characters: John Rowlands / Henry Morton Stanley
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:

In the 1880s, Leopold II worked hard to secure territories for himself in the area of Africa surrounding the Congo River. In order to do so, he sent Henry Morton Stanley, one of the most famous explorers of the era, to the Congo to secure legal agreements with hundreds of Congolese tribal chiefs. Leopold’s goal was to give himself legal ownership of the Congo river basin. His plan proved wildly successful: within a few years, Stanley had succeeded in making “agreements” with almost every Congolese chief.

The truth, of course, was that Stanley had conned most of the Congolese chiefs into surrendering their people’s land without knowing it. Most of the Congolese chiefs had never seen written language, let alone a legal document, in their lives. They didn’t fully understand what they were doing when they signed the documents. Furthermore, Stanley used bribery and the offer of alcohol to ensure that tribal chiefs complied with his demands. Finally, it’s quite likely that the tribal chiefs were frightened of Stanley and his armed men, and signed the legal documents to avoid violence.

In short, Hochschild makes it clear that Leopold II was able to gain “legal” ownership of the Congo because he used bribery, manipulation, and intimidation. The same could be said of almost any Western imperialist project in the 19th century—around the world, European and American empire-builders reached questionable “agreements” with native peoples, providing a sketchy legal basis for their subsequent theft and colonization and undercutting the moral claims they made on behalf of their actions.

Chapter 8 Quotes

In 1887, the king asked him to serve as governor of the colony's eastern province, with its capital at Stanley Falls, and Tippu Tip accepted; several relatives occupied posts under him. At this early stage, with Leopold's military forces spread thin, the bargain offered something to both men. (The king also contracted to buy the freedom of several thousand of Tippu Tip's slaves, but one condition of their freedom, these "liberated" slaves and many others quickly discovered, was a seven-year enlistment term in the Force Publique.) Although Leopold managed for most of his life to be all things to all people, the spectacle of this antislavery crusader doing so much business with Africa's most prominent slave-dealer helped spur the first murmurings against the king in Europe.

Related Characters: King Leopold II, Tippu Tip
Page Number: 131
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout the 1870s, Leopold II gained a reputation as a great humanitarian, and a firm opponent of slavery. Leopold was able to gain such a reputation because he contrasted his own beliefs with those of “Afro-Arab slavers.” Arab slave traders were a convenient bogeyman, which Leopold used to give a sense of urgency to his “civilizing” project in the Congo—he claimed that he wanted to protect the Africans from falling under Arab control.

However, as the passage shows, Leopold II clearly didn’t believe that Afro-Arab slave traders were the enemy, as he’d always claimed in public. On the contrary, Leopold was 1) willing to enslave the Congolese people, and 2) willing to cooperate with Arab slave traders, such as Tippu Tip. For several years, Tip, one of the most prominent slave traders in sub-Saharan Africa, was Leopold’s loyal servant—a clear reminder of Leopold’s moral hypocrisy.

Chapter 9 Quotes

We do not know whether Rom was already acting out any of these dreams of power, murder, and glory when Conrad passed through Leopoldville in 1890 or whether he only talked of them. Whatever the case, the moral landscape of Heart of Darkness and the shadowy figure at its center are the creations not just of a novelist but of an open-eyed observer who caught the spirit of a time and place with piercing accuracy.

Related Characters: Joseph Conrad, Captain Léon Rom
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:

In this short chapter, Hochschild discusses the life and career of Joseph Conrad, one of the most famous writers of the early 20th century. As a young man, Conrad worked in the Congo driving a steamship. As such, Conrad witnessed human rights atrocities—he saw Belgian soldiers beating and killing Congolese women and children. Later in his life, Conrad wrote a novella, Heart of Darkness, in which a man named Marlow travels to the Congo and witnesses human atrocities against the Congolese. Hochschild argues that Conrad’s novella, despite being a work of fiction, was based on actual events that Conrad witnessed during his time in Africa. For example, the character Mr. Kurtz, often considered the antagonist of the novella, may have been based on a real-life Belgian officer, Captain Lèon Rom. Rom was known to be an especially cruel, sadistic man, even by the standards of the Belgian occupation. He was said to enjoy collecting the heads and hands of murdered Congolese people—a trait that Conrad gave to Kurtz in his book. In all, Hochschild stresses the point that, although Heart of Darkness is often praised for its otherworldly, nightmarish tone, Conrad didn’t have to invent very much—most of the grisly passages in his book are based on real-life events.

Chapter 10 Quotes

For Leopold, the rubber boom was a godsend. He had gone dangerously into debt with his Congo investments, but he now saw that the return would be more lucrative than he had ever imagined. The world did not lose its desire for ivory but by the late 1880s wild rubber had far surpassed it as the main source of revenue from the Congo.

Related Characters: King Leopold II
Page Number: 159
Explanation and Analysis:

In the late 1880s, Western industry developed a need for rubber. The popularization of the bicycle created a need for rubber tires, and soon, manufacturers used rubber for wheels, steam engines, and other important machines. The international demand for rubber was a boon to Leopold II, because there was plentiful rubber in the Congo territory. Rubber sap, collected from rubber vines, could be converted into strong, firm rubber, and sold to European manufacturers for a hefty profit.

The passage is important because it conveys the relationship between Western industrialization and Belgian human rights atrocities in the Congo. The Belgians forced Congolese slaves to work long hours in inhuman conditions to harvest rubber that would feed Europeans’ “addiction” to industry. Much like the profits of the Congo funded Leopold’s palaces and monuments in Belgium, the profit motive fueling the rubber industry incentivized using slave labor in order to make Europeans’ lives more luxurious. While it’s easy to demonize Leopold II and personally blame him for the horrors of the Congo, the truth is much more disturbing: Leopold II was only able to enact horrific policies in the Congo because Western capitalism incentivized slave labor and Western economies turned a blind eye to the source of their raw materials.

Chapter 11 Quotes

Due to the missionaries, from the mid-1890s on Leopold had to deal with scattered protests, like Sheppard's articles, about severed hands and slaughtered Africans. But the critics at first captured little attention, for they were not as skilled at public relations as the king, who deployed his formidable charm to neutralize them.

Related Characters: King Leopold II, William Sheppard
Page Number: 173
Explanation and Analysis:

As early as the 1890s, Western writers and journalists had spoken out against the Belgian administration of the Congo. However, as Hochschild notes here, it took a long time before anyone took these writers’ claims particularly seriously.

Why did it take so long for the Western world to heed the warnings of people like William Sheppard and George Washington Williams, both of whom visited Africa in the 1880s and witnessed the Belgian army’s cruelty to the Congolese people? In part, it took a long time because Sheppard wasn’t very good at public relations—he didn’t do a good job of reaching out to powerful people and telling them what he knew about the Congo. By contrast, Leopold II was a master of public relations; he’d spent more than a decade currying favor with Europe’s elite, so he had a lot of credibility with powerful people. Thus, when Sheppard denounced Leopold in print, few people took Sheppard seriously. It wasn’t until Edmund Dene Morel began criticizing Leopold II in the late 1890s that the Congo reform movement was able to build enough good publicity to turn the international tide against Leopold. In other words, in this instance it was more important to be savvy and well connected than to be right.

With great fanfare they were brought by train to Brussels's Gare du Nord and then marched across the center of the city to take the tram for Tervuren. There, in a park, they were installed in three specially constructed villages: a river village, a forest village, and a "civilized" village. A pair of Pygmies rounded out the show. The "uncivilized" Africans of the first two villages used tools, drums, and cooking pots brought from home. They danced and paddled their dugout canoes around a pond. During the day they were on exhibit in "authentic" bamboo African huts with overhanging thatched roofs. European men hoping to see the fabled bare breasts of Africa went away disappointed, however, for the women were made to wear cotton dressing gowns while at the fair. Clothing, a local magazine observed, was, after all, "the first sign of civilization'"

Page Number: 176
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Hochschild describes the 1897 Belgian world’s fair, which was attended by rich, powerful people from around the world. At the world’s fair, Belgian officers displayed a group of African slaves, supposedly from different tribes of the Congo. According to signs, most of the Africans were “uncivilized,” though a few showed some early signs of civilization. Hundreds of thousands of visitors to the world’s fair saw the Africans in their cages and thought nothing of it.

For most of his book, Hochschild has suggested that the international community of the late 19th century didn’t speak out against Belgian atrocities in the Congo because they didn’t know about them. However, this passage suggests a much more disturbing possibility: in large part, Europeans and Americans didn’t speak out against human rights abuses in Africa because they didn’t regard Africans as full human beings. As the racist signage on the cages at the world’s fair suggests, many Europeans at the time thought of Africans as subhuman, and therefore not worthy of much kindness or respect. The passage helps us understand why hundreds of people visited the Congo in the 1880s and 90s and said nothing about the cruelty they witnessed—because they didn’t think of Africans as human beings, they didn’t think it was worthwhile to protest the torture or murder of African people.

Chapter 14 Quotes

Because Shanu was a British subject, the Congo authorities did not want to risk an international incident by arresting him. Instead, they harassed him unremittingly, even rescinding the medal he had been awarded for his work for the state. They then ordered all state employees not to patronize his businesses. That guaranteed that these would fail. In July 1905 Hezekiah Andrew Shanu committed suicide.

Related Characters: Hezekiah Andrew Shanu
Page Number: 221
Explanation and Analysis:

As Hochschild made clear in the prologue to his book, there is a temptation, when writing a history of the 19th century Congo, to emphasize the achievements of white Europeans and to marginalize the contributions of Africans. One reason this temptation is so strong is that the vast majority of the written accounts of the 19th century Congo come from Europeans (whereas many native Africans at the time had no written language, or were forbidden from writing about their experiences under colonial rule).

In this passage, however, Hochschild writes about the important contributions of Hezekiah Andrew Shanu, a Nigerian man who risked his life to pass information about Belgian human rights abuses to Edmund Dene Morel. For many years, Shanu sent reports on the Congo to European journalists; however, it was eventually discovered that he was an ally of Morel. Afterwards, the Belgian army in the Congo intimidated and harassed him, ultimately playing a major role in his suicide in 1905. The life of Shanu is an important reminder that white Europeans weren’t the only (or even primary) people who fought for Congolese rights in the 19th century; arguably the most energetic and important human rights crusaders of the era were the Congolese slaves themselves (many of whom died fighting for their freedom), followed by other African figures, such as Shanu, who risked their lives to inform journalists like Edmund Dene Morel of the truth.

Chapter 17 Quotes

Despite the report's critical conclusions, the statements by African witnesses were never directly quoted. The commission's report was expressed in generalities. The stories were not published separately, nor was anyone allowed to see them. They ended up in the closed section of a state archive in Brussels. Not until the 1980s were people at last permitted to read and copy them freely.

Page Number: 255
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Hochschild offers a particularly clear example of European bias in the history of the Congo. In the early 20th century, King Leopold II made a huge tactical error: knowing that the tide was turning against him and his Congo regime, he assembled an international team of judges and invited them to study the administration of the Congo. Leopold gambled that the judges’ language barrier would prevent them from learning much about the Congo; however, the judges spoke to many Congolese slaves, who told them about the horrors they’d witnessed under Belgian rule. Horrified, the team of judges compiled a lengthy report criticizing the Belgian occupation of the Congo in very strong language.

The problem with the judges’ report on the Congo, however, was that it included no first-person accounts by Congolese slaves. Instead of discussing individual victims of the Belgians’ authority, the judges preferred to speak in “generalities.” As Hochschild suggests, the judges’ report exemplifies the subtle racism of the Congo reform movement. Although the judges clearly wanted to help the Congolese people (and they clearly believed that the Belgians’ use of force was unjust), they seemingly didn’t trust or respect Africans enough to include their testimony in their report. Ultimately, the internal judges’ report confirms the point that Hochschild made in introduction to his book: it is difficult to write a history of the Belgian occupation of the Congo because the surviving written sources marginalize the stories of the native peoples of the Congo.

"I realized that I was looking at this tragedy [in the Congo] with the eyes of another race of people once hunted themselves."

Related Characters: Roger Casement
Page Number: 268
Explanation and Analysis:

Roger Casement, who collaborated with Edmund Dene Morel in the Congo reform movement, wrote that he felt an especially strong connection with Congolese slaves because he, too, belonged to a race of “hunted people.”

It’s not entirely clear that Roger Casement meant when he referred to himself as being hunted. It’s possible that Casement was referencing his Irish heritage; and indeed, Irish people were often discriminated against in England during Casement’s lifetime. Moreover, the island of Ireland could be considered an imperial territory—during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, England colonized Ireland by force, converting Ireland into a part of Great Britain. Later in life, Casement fought for Irish independence from Great Britain, eventually going to jail for doing so.

Another possibility is that Casement was referencing his homosexuality. During Casement’s lifetime, homosexuality was a serious criminal offense. Casement’s homosexuality would eventually come back to haunt him—after he was arrested for supporting Irish independence it was revealed that Casement was a homosexual, which discredited him in the eyes of many of his former allies. Left with few powerful advocates, Casement was sentenced to death for treason, and he was executed shortly thereafter. Regardless of what he meant, this quote underscores the point that the most vocal critics of Belgian rule in the Congo tended to be those who understood personally what it meant to be systematically mistreated by a society or empire.

Chapter 18 Quotes

With the start of the Second World War, the legal maximum for forced labor in the Congo was increased to 170 days per man per year. More than eighty percent of the uranium in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs came from the heavily guarded Congo mine of Shinkolobwe. The Allies also wanted ever more rubber for the tires of hundreds of thousands of military trucks, jeeps, and warplanes. Some of the rubber came from the Congo's new plantations of cultivated rubber trees. But in the villages, Africans were forced to go into the rain forest, sometimes for weeks at a time, to search for wild vines once again.

Page Number: 279
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter 18, Hochschild discusses the century following the Congo reform movement, and attempts to answer the question, “What did the Congo reform movement really accomplish?”

To begin with, Hochschild makes it clear that the Congo reform movement didn’t end human rights abuses in the Congo, though it may have improved the human rights situation somewhat. Belgian administrators continued to control the native Congolese, shipping massive amounts of rubber, ivory, metal, and uranium out of the country and into the hands of European and American industrialists. Worse, the native Congolese continued to work in squalid conditions to support Western industry. The Congolese were paid for their work—but not very much. In all, the Congo reform movement succeeded in mitigating Belgium’s human rights atrocities in some important respects; nevertheless, it failed to address the root cause of the problem—European imperialism. This should be tied, in the reader’s mind, to the failure of many of the leaders of the reform movement to identify imperialism as the engine of human rights atrocity. Perhaps, had these reformers tried to treat the cause rather than the symptom, the twentieth century history of the Congo could have been different.

When these other mass murders went largely unnoticed except by their victims, why, in Britain and the United States, was there such a storm of righteous protest about the Congo? The politics of empathy are fickle. Certainly one reason Britons and Americans focused on the Congo was that it was a safe target. Outrage over the Congo did not involve British or American misdeeds, nor did it entail the diplomatic, trade, or military consequences of taking on a major power like France or Germany.

Page Number: 282
Explanation and Analysis:

Hochschild hypothesizes that the Congo reform movement attracted international attention for the simple reason that Belgium was an easy target. Although there were many Western countries engaged in brutal imperialist ventures around the world, most of these countries eventually joined together to denounce Belgium. Belgium was a relatively new and weak European country, which meant that England, France, Germany, and the United States could safely denounce Belgian foreign policy without any serious threat to their own economies or foreign policies. Considering that the economic interests and foreign ventures that these Western powers wanted to protect included some colonialist atrocities of their own, this move to criticize Belgium should remind readers of Leopold II’s criticism of Arab slave traders, which served to distract from his own slave trading. In this way, the international humanitarian outcry (which did result in some tangible positive effects on conditions in the Congo) could also be seen as a cynical mechanism by which Western powers sought to pacify the public while preserving other human rights violations occurring simultaneously around the globe.

Chapter 19 Quotes

It is an oversimplification to blame Africa's troubles today entirely on European imperialism; history is far more complicated' And yet, consider Mobutu again. Aside from the color of his skin, there were few ways in which he did not resemble the monarch who governed the same territory a hundred years earlier. His one-man rule. His great wealth taken from the land. His naming a lake after himself. His yacht. His appropriation of state possessions as his own. His huge shareholdings in private corporations doing business in his territory. Just as Leopold, using his privately controlled state, shared most of his rubber profits with no one, so Mobutu acquired his personal group of gold mines—and a rubber plantation.

Related Characters: King Leopold II, Joseph Mobutu
Page Number: 304
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Hochschild discusses the history of the Congo during the 20th century, arguing that the Belgian occupation of the Congo in the early 20th century set the country on a path of violence, chaos, instability, and economic depression that continues to this day. For example, in the 1950s, the Congo fell under the control of a U.S.-backed dictator named Joseph Mobutu, who ruled his country with an iron fist. He tortured those who opposed him, killed many of his political rivals, and robbed the Congolese people of their rubber, metal, and ivory.

Hochschild seems to be implying that Mobutu wouldn’t have risen to power, and ruled his country so cruelly, had it not been for the legacy of King Leopold II. First, it’s possible that Mobutu was directly inspired by King Leopold—Leopold was a role model for the young, megalomaniacal Mobutu. Second, it’s possible that the Western countries (including the United States) would not have been so willing to support Mobutu’s murderous policies had King Leopold II not already set a precedent for cruelty in the Congo.

Hochschild doesn’t have enough time to explore his hypothesis seriously. Nevertheless, he argues that King Leopold II’s legacy has been to weaken and fragment the Congo, paving the way for dictatorship.

At the time of the Congo controversy a hundred years ago, the idea of full human rights, political, social, and economic, was a profound threat to the established order of most countries on earth. It still is today.

Page Number: 306
Explanation and Analysis:

Hochschild concludes his book with a powerful reminder of the importance of fighting for human rights in the 21st century. Although King Leopold II lived a long time ago, there are many powerful people alive today who, like Leopold, want to deprive other people of their rights in order to increase their own fortunes. Thus, instead of thinking of Leopold as a figure of the distant past, we should think of him as a highly relevant, modern figure (indeed, Hochschild has made an effort to portray Leopold as being exceptionally “modern,” both in terms of his public relations manipulations and his economic policies).

By the same token, Hochschild suggests that readers can learn from the achievements of people like George Washington Williams and Edmund Dene Morel, respecting both their strengths and weaknesses as human rights crusaders. Above all, Hochschild doesn’t want us to think of the Belgian occupation of the Congo as a distant, trivial historical curiosity; instead, he encourages us to learn from people like Williams and Morel and use the lessons to fight people like Leopold II in our own societies.