October 11, 2005

Columbus, the Exit, and the Forge of Modernity

In the second millenium, a small part of Northwest Europe, including England, became an exception to that rule, as serfdom gradually evolved into tenancy, while productivity in these societies started to rise. However, the Mediterranean world, both the Christian and Islamic sides, was still a group of slave civilizations. As the Portuguese started to sail down the African coast, they found that the local slave markets offered pretty much the only cargo worth buying and taking back. Thus started the Renaissance African-European slave trade, in which pre-existing slave markets in Africa were used to supply pre-existing slave markets in Portugal. Any contact from the Old World to the New was more likely than not to have extended some form of coerced labor to it, because that was the global norm in that era.

The New World had been epidemiologically isolated from the Old for geologic eras, and thus was, epidemiologically speaking, a huge tinderbox waiting to be set alight. The first major contact from the Old World would set it alight. As it happened, this was Columbus -- but it could have been Chinese voyagers had the Ming treasure fleets not been cut back, or it could have been Japanese mariners cast adrift on the Japan Current and landing in the Pacific Northwest, or it could have been, as it nearly was, the Portuguese landing in Brazil as they did in 1500, not because they were trying to imitate Columbus, but because they had gone a bit wide turning around the bulge of Africa. Columbus was the agent of this contact, but he can hardly be charged with genocide for it, any more than the nameless Muslim trader who passed on, unwittingly, the bubonic plague to Italy and started the great Black Death epidemic in medieval Europe can be charged with Muslim genocide against Europe. Let's save the charge of genocide for cases where there is something like the Wansee Protocol -- a deliberate decision by an entire political system to eradicate a specific ethnic group.

Had the New World been settled entirely by cultures from the zone of coerced labor, it is not clear that the cultures thereby established ever would have abandoned coerced labor. Prior to the Exit, coerced-labor states were more efficient at warfare than free states except in certain geographically limited circumstances. Thus, coerced-labor states tended to snuff out free labor states, and then ultimately collapse due to the Malthusian trap, only to be replaced by new coerced-labor states. Getting out of this cycle is the Exit - -that is specifically what this term refers to.

What really counted, then, was that a free-labor society could expand and create a critcial mass of capital to make the Industrial Revolution happen. Once through the Exit, such a society would then be on the right side of a revolution in military affairs, allowing it to cancel out the traditional slave-labor advantage in warfare. That in turn would create, for the first time in history, an incentive for coerced-labor societies to convert themselves into free-labor societies, in other words, to put themselves through the Exit.

The northwest European societies -- England, the Netherlands, Belgium, northern Germany, parts of northern France, and Scandinavia, were proto-Exit societies. They were increasing their productivity through technological and social innovation, creating better agriculture and shipping, and financial systems to finance more productivity. War sidetracked France and the German states and forced them to bureaucratize and militarize their societies to survive. The Low Countries had too little hinterland to support domestic production, and being supported by trade alone, gradually became less compeititve. Only England had the insulation from Continental military rivalry and the domestic potential for sufficient agricultural and industrial scale and productivity to support a state able to organize a strong enough navy to remain free.

The opening of the New World, and England's expansion into it helped it to become the predominant naval power in Europe and the world. For a period of time, it used coerced plantation labor extensively in the tropical and semi-tropical colonies to augment its profits and capitalization and increase its wealth, power and independence. But it never became reliant on coerced labor at home or in the temperate-zone colonies, which remained under the free labor system. Ultimately, the full flowering of the Industrial Revolution gave rise to the first powerful class of producers in history, the Quaker, Presbyterian, and other dissenting industrialists of the English Midlands, Northern England, and Lowland Scotland in the Old World, and their counterparts in New England, New York, and Pennsylvania. These regions together became the what we might think of as the Forge of Modernity -- forging technological, scientific, philosophical and constitutional progress all at the same time.

First their precursors created the American Revolution, permitting the northern states to become the first polities in the modern world to abolish slavery. Then they gained control of British politics in a process starting in the First Reform Bill of 1832, and abolished slavery in the British realms and colonies, because for the first time in history, organized productivity outspent and outvoted the recipients of predatory wealth in the form of the Caribbean sugar plantation owners. Then they financed and achieved abolition of coerced labor in the southern United States, completing the truiumph of production over predation in the Anglosphere.

Meanwhile, the example and influence of this class of producers, and the rising classes of producers in the rest of the world, set the pace for the rest of the developed world in the 19th century, seeing slavery and serfdom abolished throughout Europe, Russia, Latin America (finally in 1888) and eventually in all but the most primitive fringes of the world. In 1790 coerced labor was universal and unremarkable, as it had been for millenia. By 1890 it had largely been abolished. This was the critical period of the Exit.

Would the Exit have happened without the linking of the New World with the Old? We can never say for sure. Likewise, we can't say for certain that the particular combination of history, technology, and geography that led the British Isles to become the driving force for the Exit was inevitable or unduplicatable. What is clear that the chain of events set in motion, as it happened, by Columbus ended up in the Exit. It is also the case that had the Old World been colonized entirely by Mediterannean civilizations, it is not clear that the Exit would have happened. Therefore the chain of events triggered by John Cabot's voyaging to North America, leading to the extension of the Anglosphere to the bulk of North America, must similarly be treated as essential to the Exit.

Therefore we should give due credit to Columbus's entrepreneurism, as leading to Stage One of the circumstances leading to the Exit. But we must also not fail to honor Cabot and those who came after him, for it was they, and all our ancestors, memetic if not genetic, who broke the endless cycle of predation. This is the standard, and accomplishment, against which all other considerations of history must be measured and calculated.

Posted by Jim Bennett at October 11, 2005 05:00 PM

I'm sorry: do you mean "detractors" in the first sentence?

Posted by: Daniel Lucraft at October 12, 2005 05:30 AM

Great post. But I'm going to join in the proofreading frenzy because pirhanas have more fun. In "Any contact from the Old World to the New was more than not likely ..." I think you meant "more likely than not".

Posted by: Natalie Solent at October 12, 2005 06:37 AM

The French colonization of North America was somewhere in between. French farmers on the St. Lawrence plains had some freedom of tenure, but no place to go. Elsewhere in the north the French emphasized uncoerced paternalistic trade with the Indians. In the tropics, Louisiana and Haiti, the French, like the British established plantation economies. Climate and topography played a big role in freeing both northern Europe and northern America from plantation economies. The key variable was probably England's export of religious dissidents to north America, where they killed or drove off the native population so that they could construct their ideal polities.

Posted by: jimbo at October 12, 2005 08:55 AM

There is a good reason that proofreaders are not normally interviewed for their opinions. Or as Mother Goose had it:

"Pussycat, pussycat, where have you been?
I've been to London to see the Queen!
Pussycat, pussycat, what saw you there?
I saw a wee mouse under a chair!"

Posted by: John Fembup at October 12, 2005 08:58 AM

Well, I don't know. Proof-readers are of importance. Language in its spoken and written forms is a tool and must be used precisely. That involves no typos or wrong words by mistake. However, I am not joining the feeding frenzy this time.

My question is different. The account is fascinating and profoundly accurate (as opposed to the typos) but there is a feeling of determinism about it. This happened then that happened then that happened and all for reason of certain economic andpolitical developments. What of people making choices? After all, as you say, slavery is normal in history. It has existed as far as anyone can trace societies and exists in many parts of the world now. What distinguised certain societies - all Anglospheric - is that they, or a large proportion of people in them, said that it is wrong. Not simply that it is wrong to treat slaves badly - a number of Spanish and Portuguese chruchmen and writers said that as early as the (16. But that it is basically wrong to own slaves. And that, I think, was a choice.

Posted by: Helen at October 12, 2005 09:06 AM

Of course you are wrong about this and everything else. Look at Iraq, which is the same as the exploitation of the indigeonous peoples of the New World. This suggests that the influence of Leo Strauss can be regarded as the predatory imperialist aims outlined by the crypto-fascist Project for a New American Century. So far, the unstated purpose of this war brings forth the slaughter of thousands of children by Air Force cluster bombs. It is quite remarkable that a minority of warmongers and apologists belies justifications given by the world's leading apologists for an act of international violence that exceeds even those of the "liberal" Bill Clinton. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the apparent demise of "anti-Americanism" as a respectable means of stifling recognition of American imperialism is solid evidence of the essential Western imperial interests. This suggests that the influence of Leo Strauss is determined by capitalist interests which lead to an oil war masquerading as an endless crusade against "terrorism."

Posted by: Educated and Compasionate at October 12, 2005 09:12 AM

Look at Iraq, which is the same as the exploitation of the indigeonous peoples of the New World.

I must have missed that part of US history where the colonists freed the Native Americans from a brutal dictator, helped them draft a democratic constitution, allowed them a free vote on it, handed over millions of pounds as a gift, then restored Native American sovereignty over North America and sailed back to Europe.

Posted by: Daniel Lucraft at October 12, 2005 09:40 AM

Thought-provoking stuff. Some time ago, I explored just why northern Europe was both able and forced to make the transition to modern economic models beginning in the late medieval era, and how the ability to reform politically was tied to the economies. Click here.

Posted by: Donald Sensing at October 12, 2005 09:41 AM

Somehow I don't think most Columbus bashers will find the rise of Western free-market industrial capitalism much of a vindication.

Posted by: Edens at October 12, 2005 09:42 AM

Helen, do you think it detracts from the virtue of the decision to free slaves that there may have been economic or cultural pressures acting that encouraged it? I'm not sure that it does.

Without getting into quantum physics, every decision is informed and influenced by other factors. For instance, in this case you said they decided it was morally wrong. Doesn't this imply simply that an explanation of the decision must take into account prevailing ethical ideas and therefore religion?

And then we have to ask why those religio-ethical ideas flourished here more than anywhere else, and we're into determinism again.

(This is a tremendous blog by the way).

Posted by: Daniel Lucraft at October 12, 2005 09:54 AM

"Forced labor", serf or slave, originated in the "hydraulic" civilizations of Mesopotamia and the Far East. Its genesis appears to have been less a concern for class-hierarchical "production" than a self-defense substitute for slaying captives taken in constant nomadic conflicts. Roving tribes would descend on settled areas to appropriate their surpluses. In defense, the agriculturalists erected city walls and outlying strongpoints, until it occurred to them to utilize captives not only to extend defenses but to expand and improve their aqueduct-and-irrigation systems, including high dams and widespread canals. As this system spread, "hydraulic" cultures developed not only priestly and warrior classes, but scribe-based administrations and above all merchants, the latter confident in making long-range treks along relatively safe routes from one secure market to another. So arose not only specialization of enterprise, but enterprise itself; and although it is true that such civilizations depended on "coerced" labor, the neo-Marxist perspective of an "Exit" (from latifundia/plantations to free-labor markets operating within global exchange-based rather than commodity-type milieus) as usual puts carts before many a different horse.

In the West, the real Exit to modernity began with Greek rationalism, Roman law, Medieval alchemy and cosmology, that laid the basis not merely for Renaissance art and literature but for the extraordinary innovations of Galileo, Kepler, Newton et.al.: The Scientific Revolution, without which no Enlightenment, no Industrial Revolution, and everything that has followed in its train.

"Economics" as an overview of exchange-based transactions is always a contributing, never a determining, factor in civilizational advance. To my mind, as to eminences such as Jacques Barzun, culture and ideas --broadly defined, including but not limited to the "zeitgeist" that contemporaries assume they recognize-- are all that matter. Else why no Chinese hegemony, why no Mogul expansion out of India... why have Muslim cultures sunk back to pre-Medieval stews, reading nothing, understanding nothing, suppressing every effort of free-enquiry and entrepreneurial enrichment? The answer is obvious, and it is NOT "forced labor".

One final comment: To claim, even at one remove, that physical labor drives development, and that pre-industrial reliance on serfdom and slavery reflected only caste and class, swallows Nineteenth Century mechanistic determinism whole. Marx was its primary exemplar but there were many others, from Social Darwinism (Herbert Spencer) to the Fabian Socialists whose radical materialism is as foolish and retrogressive today as it was then.

Progress occurs when visionaries, not dreamers, bring impossible goals to everyday fruition. Compensation is not the issue, but incentive: The good ole Protestant Ethic is a proxy as good as any for required attitudes. Absent such indefinable but very real motivations, nothing good will happen. On the other hand, should economic and other purely materialistic philosophies take hold, bad things ALWAYS happen.

So in discussing Cristobal Colon, please remember that he travelled with a full freight of Western culture and ideas. In all history, no other set of peoples evolved anything resembling that cargo. Had plate tectonics not formed a New World at all (where is its Pacific counterpart?), Columbus would have vanished into limbo. But in a context of High Renaissance, with Reformation pending, you can be sure that, led by the West in spirit of Northern European ideas and ideals, much of what we know today would have transpired in any case.

Posted by: John Blake at October 12, 2005 09:55 AM

Educated and Compassionate - Yours is one of the best posts I've ever read - you have brought irony and sarcasm to new heights. I just hope that no one is taking it seriously.

Posted by: DBL at October 12, 2005 11:00 AM


I don't want to go into quantum physics either, not least because I don't know any. I don't disagree that every historical development has many causes. My point was that you cannot leave out the question of moral choice. You then have to look at why certain moral choices were taken by certain people at certain times.

Posted by: Helen at October 12, 2005 11:04 AM

"Yours is one of the best posts I've ever read..."

Yeah, I want to know the URL of the random communist phrase generator he used to produce it. It's ability to appear coherent until you actually try to parse out what he's trying to say is absolutely brilliant.

Whatever he's using, it's even better than the Chomsky random phrase generator.


I'm reminded of Sokal's famous experiment.


Posted by: celebrim at October 12, 2005 11:22 AM


compassionate is spelled with two s's.

Posted by: Brezh at October 12, 2005 11:35 AM

I offer a supporting historical vignette: California.

Settled by the Spanish, they rapidly enslaved the natives in their mission system. The Spanish settlers (via Mexico) remained predatory, living off herds of roving cattle. The major labor tasks were killing grizzlies and herding cattle to slaughter.

The coming of the free Americans rapidly supplemented the Spanish/Mexican culture and quickly developed the state by exploiting the natural resources (gold, timber) then developing commercial agriculture for world markets (wheat, then fruits with better transportation.)

The American traders with the Californios were amazed that they could buy cattle hides, sail them around the Horn to New England, then return them in the form of shoes to trade for more hides.

With Americanization, the native slavery stopped and racial slavery was never introduced.

I appreciated Mr. Blake's reference to "hydraulic" civilizations. I think the term originated with Wittvogel's "Oriental Despotism". The reviewer on Amazon called it "Deep Germanic Insight into pre-industrial geo-politics."

Posted by: Whitehall at October 12, 2005 12:53 PM
Educated, compassionate is spelled with two s's.


This post is awesome, didn't find the blog till today, some great content recently. (Scotland, et al)

Posted by: Citizen Grim at October 12, 2005 02:01 PM


“[D]o you think it detracts from the virtue of the decision to free slaves that there may have been economic or cultural pressures acting that encouraged it?”

Perhaps I can say “yes.” You cite "cultural pressures" but they could just as well be the result of moral choices that act upon future developments. We may be simply looking at different parts of the same animal. They need not be mutually exclusive.

When considering economic pressures, such as "productivity" verusus "predation," then moral choices are nobler because they are products of compassion and imagination, not necessity. Perhaps you can point to the futility of ideas as historical forces. Indeed, the history of ideas does have something “gooey” about it, unlike the more solid numbers behind a study of the history of economies.

Economic factors, though necessary, play upon human nature’s first tendency to self-preservation and self-interest. It is not the most virtuous of considerations but must, of course, be taken into account. Yet, if we take only these factors into account and leave behind philiosphical, religious, and ethical claims that have had an impact on history, we do "detract from the decision to free slaves."

According to those factors it became more profitable that free-labor societies be preferred over slave-labor societies. That is indeed true but, when taking economic forces into account at the exlucsion of other forces, it also implies that the historical claim and moral choice that slavery is immoral and evil as irrelevant. It is this implicit claim that I believe Helen finds objectionable.

Call me squeamish, or a hopeless romantic, but I hope there are enlightened people in history, who, unmoved or unaware of economic forces that would vindicate their views, saw a moral wrong when no one else did and spoke of it.

To Mr. Bennett:

Continuing in the vein of “idea” driven history, there is Victor Davis Hanson’s “Carnage and Culture,” in which he singles out ancient Greece as the origin of a society where (non-slave) laborers (men only) were enfranchised (able to vote) and have some control over their individual and collective fate. The “hoplites” were the first such group, the first “bourgeoisie” as it were. In turn for their freedoms, the hoplites had to defend the realm—in which they also owned property to grow their own food and crops for the market—when war broke out. They were, in short, the grunts who fought the wars. But not without the concomitant freedoms that no one else in history enjoyed without resorting to slavery.

It is the rise of free-labor and its attendant freedoms that, down through the ages of Western history, deeply motivated free societies to be very effective in waging and winning wars—not least because their freedoms allowed for the expression of ideas and for scientific inquiry, which led in turn, to technological innovations that would prove lethal in war. To put this in a moral context, the free-laborer had a lot more to lose in losing a war to a slave-labor society. What did the slave lose in losing? This development would, as least in a limited sense, contradict “[o]nce through the Exit, such a [free-labor] society would then be on the right side of a revolution in military affairs, allowing it to cancel out the traditional slave-labor advantage in warfare.”

For Hanson, starting with the Greek free-state defeat of the slave-warrior Persians at Salamis and continuing on through America’s defeat of the autocratic Japanese at Midway, free-labor society ultimately had the advantage over slave-labor societies in time of war. The Industrial Revolution owes much to the free-labor society’s prior existence and served greatly in expanding its freedoms and fostering its revolution in the modern world.

None of this is to be taken as deterministic. Hanson insists that the free-labor society had nothing inevitable about it. Rather, it was an historical orchid, an aberration, whose unprecedented qualities survived perhaps as much due to accident as to the compelling example of its ideals and advantages. Hanson also points out such advantages even in harrowing Western defeats such as suffered by the Romans at the hand of Hannibal at Carnae.

Through the study of battle, Hanson traces the development of the free-labor society throughout European history, from Greece to Venice to the British Empire, where there was such a thing as a “citizen” who enjoyed his (until recently exclusively male) freedoms. Among them is the right to vote and have an impact on leadership, to own property and enjoy a measure of prosperity, to redress grievances through arbitration rather than at the whimsy of fiat, to enter voluntarily into a contract, and to express ideas and create innovations that greatly improved material conditions. Accompanying this development were the freedom to think without too much censure, and the rise of empiricism (the testing of experience) to overcome, gradually and imperfectly, the thrall of superstition and myth.

Obviously free-labor societies got off to a slow start in Western history: Alexander the Great destroyed the last vestiges of the free Greek state, the rise of serfdom in Christian Europe became the norm, and the use of slave labor and the deracination of native peoples characterized modern colonialism. But the West is the only place where free-labor societies originated and flourished, eventually outlasting and overcoming slave-labor societies, not least because of their ability to fight and win wars.

Posted by: Donnel at October 12, 2005 02:16 PM

I do suspect some causality problems in this Outline of History, and an overemphasis on morals and economics as historical prime movers, to the detriment of those old standbys, warfare and science. England moved against slavery when its moral instincts happened to coincide with its economic interests, but not before. When scientific farming increased crop yields in England to the point that the population could move from the farmlands to the cities, thereby providing factory workers, England went anti-slavery, and cut off the slave trade by sea. This tended to cripple those countries with economies dependent on agrarian slave populations, and help those (like England) with industrial populations. The Navigation Acts were intended to keep the English colonies mired at a pre-industrial level, as perpetual producers of raw materials and markets for manufactured goods. Of course the Revolution scotched that plan, at least in North America.

England's struggle with the Netherlands was solely about trade. The Dutch had it, and England wanted it. England kept it until after the War of 1812, which demonstrated that the Royal Navy was not strong enough to keep Yankee traders from fierce competition with English carriers.

Morals, economics, and warfare all have their contributions. Getting back to slavery - the importance of warfare in the overall mix implies that the Janissaries (elite slave-soldiers of the Ottomans) should have been a more influential worldwide force than in fact they were, but they were never the same after their failure at the first siege of Vienna.

Interesting subject, isn't it.

Posted by: big dirigible at October 12, 2005 03:11 PM

I too, found the article interesting, especially for its willingness to attribute multiple causes to the starting of the continuing industrial revolution. I would like to suggest that the (relatively) non-coerced labor situation developed by Northern European states also went hand in hand with other incrementally developed elements, that are equally important. As in labor, they involved relative lacks of coercion in regards human actions to build and maintain the highly productive networks of continuing industrial revolution. Rather than using the term "Exit", however, I would use the term 'phase transition', since I believe that incremental change reached a non-linear takeoff point for societies and for the world.

In particular, there was greater freedom of action developing in spiritual activities, intellectual activities, market activities, political activities, and finally physical activities. Each of these have crucial roles to play in building the worldwide networks that have multiplied productivity in industrial societies.

The physical freedom, to change the human environment to fit human needs may be an obvious component, but it needs to be stated. Take it away, and most of the wealth of the industrial revolution disappears. The political freedoms needed to shield (however imperfectly) generated wealth from the twin evils of corruption and confiscatory taxation are also a requirement that is again proving essential. After the collapse of the USSR, most people now admit that market freedoms to build market networks of exchange of value are vital to industrial societies. The intellectual freedoms needed to allow networks exchanging new ideas around the world have been crucial to the advance of both science and technology, as well as markets and politics. Finally, without the spiritual freedom to turn the mind's attention to the subtlest things each individual can perceive at any one time, and the freedom to exchange information about that process, the drift to coarser and coarser levels of attention and action could well negate any of the above advances over what the agrarian world achieved.

Each of these categories of freedom of action was developing between 1500 and 1750 in Europe, to different amounts at different levels of action in different places. It was in Britain that the combination of these freedoms of action finally passed a 'phase transition' point, IMHO, about 1750, lossening the more rigid patterns of the old agrarian world almost as dramatically as the melting of ice to liquid water frees up a flow by several orders of magnitude. Yes, ice flows, but slowly. Yes, agrarian society could generate new ideas, wealth, and technology, but very slowly, compared to industrial society.

Lastly, a word about geography and the development of these freedoms in Britain before they appeared elsewhere in a sufficient combination needed for the industrial revolution. While the combination of naval trade and warfare did allow Britain's stability throughout the 18th and 19th centuries to hothouse such freedoms(at least within Britain itself), there is new information that applies to that.

As N.A.M.Rodger noted in "Safeguard of the Seas", for 1000 years before the 18th century, the sea was as much a highway to invasion as any sort of barrier. It took all that time for Britain to get it right! The huge costs of sustaining the infrastructure for naval warfare required a far broader political base than was available in the centralized states like France and Spain. Thus, for their opponents in Europe, naval warfare was a sometime thing, which waxed and waned with the interests of their opponent's monarch. By 1690 in Britain, the Royal Navy was a fulltime concern of the Parliamentary committees that funded it. Thus, attention was continual, and recognized as vital by those who got the money for the RN.

That broad political base was available precisely because Britain had not got the centralized state structure of much of continental Europe. New information about that comes from climatology, and its relation to political states, through the book, "The Long Summer", by Brian Fagan. In his 10th chapter, he shows how, over the 2500 years before the 18th century, the usual boundary between Mediterranean and Atlantic air masses changed several times, bringing the boundary of highly productive wheat tillage farther North or South.

Wheat had become a crucial factor in maintaining first Imperial Armies, and then later armies of the larger nation states. This boundary never moved farther North than the south edge of the Channel, (being there between 300BC and 300AD). Thus, while imperial armies could be supported a ways beyond this boundary, their hold became ever more tenuous when the boundary moved South again. By about 500AD it had swung far, to the south shore of the Mediterranean, and large centralized states in Britain and Ireland became evanescent.

Even though this boundary (Ecotone is the word used by Fagan) moved North to southern France by the 17th Century, Britain had developed a broad representative political base for government, specifically because attempts at centralization failed. A great contributor to that failure in agrarian Britain may have been the inability to easily support the larger State armies that became predominant on the continent.

Thus, we have an Atlantic air mass, with relatively cold wet summers, blocking highly productive wheat crops, which blocked state centralization in an island sitting near the mouth of rivers needed for trade into the continent. This island thus had far more chances to develop representative government. That broad political base then assured Britain's sustained funding of the naval infrastructure vital to worldwide naval warfare and convoys for trade. That combination allowed those physical trade networks which opened new chances for intellectual networks and the other freedoms of action needed for the continuing industrial revolution.

Thus, some choices were available, and some were not, to political actors in Britain for over 1000 years before the continuing industrial revolution. Still, the value of choices by individuals can never be discounted, if for no other reason than the record of 1000 years of attempts at centralizing a British State, before they settled down to a relatively representative government, and the freedoms it then allowed to grow.


Tom Billings

Posted by: Tom Billings at October 12, 2005 03:36 PM

Another argument against the Columbus haters is that the Aztecs themselves were more brutal than anything in the West. Imperialist conquerors who took captives for heart sacrifices! Human nature being what it is, and with the lack of industrialization in the New World at the Columbian dawn, there is no doubt that most native americans engaged in slavery, war fare and environmental depredation. The Left just wants to believe that the West ruined some enviro-anarcho-socialist paradise. Wonder how the world would be today if the Americas had the worse viruses etc and prevailed in the columbian exchange that many historians believe was responsible for almost all of the collapse of the ancient american civilizations after 1492.

Posted by: Neocon Don at October 12, 2005 04:11 PM

I meant to name the Roman defeat by Hannibal as "Cannae" (August 2, 216 B.C.), and not "Carnae." The slip fo the keys, however, is telling. . . .

Posted by: Donnel at October 12, 2005 04:14 PM

In general, an excellent and thoughtful set of comments. I'll try to respond to the principal ones in some length in a follow-on post soon. However, as a generic comment, this was not intended as a general theory of industrialization, it was a more limited discussion of the role of forced labor as a factor in development. For a more complete discussion see my book (www.anglospherechallenge.com) and especially the annotated bibliography, (www.anglospherechallenge.com/biblio.html). I think you read these you will see hat I don't favor a deterministic interpretaton of history. However, geographical, climatological, and technological factors can't be ignored, and in fact they play a substantial role.

To Mr. Blake I would say that I read Karl Wittfogel's Oriental Despotism avidly at college, and accepted his "hydraulic" thesis in large part at that time and for many years. I still believe Wittfogel's insights are very useful, but I don't think it works any better than any other largely deteministic approach as a universal explanatory theory. And although I do appreciate the inheritance of rationalism from the ancient Hellenic world, it was a foundation, and one that a number of other peoples also took, but did not build what was built in England and America. It may have been necessary but it wasn't sufficient.

Finally, I would agree that the gem of all the comments was "Educated and Compasionate". It was too good to have been the product of a random chomskyist phrase generator, expecially the pseudonym itself. What a perfect example of the conceited, self-important, bloviating, whining, preaching, self-righteous mentality of the politcally correct. No, it's just too perfect.

I suspect Iowahawk has been hitting the comments sections again.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at October 12, 2005 04:32 PM

Mr. Bennett:

I certainly don't dispute the particular political and cultural genius that is the "Anglosphere." You have done us all a favor by elicidating the values we come to share in the English speaking world and the developments that are particular to it only and no where else in the world or in history. However, I would assign kindred exceptionalism to the Greeks no matter how far a cry they are from England and America in other respects.

Hanson is doing for Western Civ. in general what you do for the English speaking world in particular: showing it to be a special and rare development. This is an especially welcome thesis in light of Western-bashing and particularly English- and American-bashing. Hanson, like you, provides an antidote to these ugly tendencies today.

My point was in dispute of your claim that slave-labor societies are better at fighting wars up until a shift in power took place vis-a-via the Exit and the Industrial Revolution.

Hanson's thesis would disagree with this as an overall pattern. Certainly slave-labor societies have overwhelmed free ones, but overall the West has developed a civilization that is very adept at fighting wars for the reasons briefly stated in my prior post. His claim is that the military genius of the West, as originating in ancient Greece, is inherit in that of the British and Americans and explains its evolution in his book. Such a thesis, of course, may not be to your liking and you might take issue with it.

As a military historian and classicist, this is Hanson's way of explaining the rise of the West and its great influence on the world stage even today. The Greeks began a pattern, as you suggest, but without which, among a myriad of other things, the Anglosphere would not be possible.

That does not mean the Greek genius was "sufficient," as you say, to give us the British Navy or the Industrial Revolution. It means that that genius was indispensible.

Posted by: Donnel at October 12, 2005 06:51 PM

One of the interesting things about the Aztecs is that not only they were brutal imperialist but they had not been in place for all that long. A couple of centuries only. So the arrival of Cortez and his people would not have seemed earth shattering to the local population - just another bunch of invaders.

I'd like to add two things about the Spanish conquistadores and the Church that followed them, both of which struck me when I saw the massive Aztec exhibition in London a couple of years ago. Who was more brutal is hard to work out, but from a very early stage there were Spanish writers, mostly Churchmen, who asserted that the conquered people must be treated humanely; and the Spaniards plus various odds and sods that went to the place seem to have been the first invaders to be interested in the people they conquered. Attempts at historical and cultural studies started almost at once.

Posted by: Helen at October 12, 2005 07:00 PM

"I do suspect some causality problems in this Outline of History, and an overemphasis on morals and economics as historical prime movers, to the detriment of those old standbys, warfare and science."

Since when did warfare and science have nothing to do with morals and economics? They are not necessarily at odds. Economics has a direct relation to warfare. Read the chapter on the Venetian victory at Lepanto "The Market - Or Capitalism Kills" in "Carnage and Culture." Likewise, the free state as developed in the West gave wide leeway to economic development. In other words, values, ideas, ethics, free inquiry - morals if you will, are implicit in warfare and science.

None of this development, by the way, was determined or pre-ordained. I am no Calvin. But, I believe that pattern going back 3000 years is there and serves, to my mind, the best defense against historicism that sees no value anywhere except in the will to power and which they take to be the only constant.

Posted by: Donnel at October 12, 2005 07:44 PM

I don't think that there is any big gap between what I and Donnel are saying. I think the Greek inheritance is essential to the Anglosphere, or at a minimum, it is impossible to prove that it isn't. My point above was that here are other civlizations that share much of our Hellenic inheritance, but who never made the Exit. We like everyone stand on the shoulder of giants, and a number of those giants were Greek. You wil notice that I include Woodcock's Marvellous Sixth Century in my bibliography (www.anglospherechallenge.com/biblio.html) and find convincing his argument that "something happened" in the Helleniic world in the 6th century BC that was essential to who we are and where we are today.

Wittfogel speculates a bit toward the end of Oriental Despotism about the tensions between the invading barbarian tribes from Eurasia and Mediterranean civilization, and posits the same creative synthesis between tribal liberty and civilizational organization for ancient Greece as is discussed in Riddle of the Modern World for Northwestern Europe, in the context of Tacitus's forest Germans and Rome. So if that is correct ancient Greece was Act One, and medieval northwest Europe was Act Two of the same drama. That might explain why the Anglosphere classicists identified with classic Greece, while the Latin civilizations identified more with imperial Rome. Charles V and Napoleon envied Caesar's laurels, while Brutus was the hero of Anglosphere classicism. (Although toward the end of the Second British Empire many young British distict officers in dusty corners were given to empathise, somewhat uneasily, with Pontius Pilate.)

Of course the last wave of the barbarian horsemen to synthesize tribal liberty with civilization were the Hungarians. That might explain something about the peculiar brilliance of the Hungarian intelligentia.

On the military quetion, it is important to rmember that coerced-labor societies as a category includes a wider range of institutions than just chattel slavery. Sparta was definitely a coerced-labor society. however you might specifically categorize the helots, and the military concentration thhat its organization permitted definitely gave it military advantges. And just as England was able to derive advantage from its island status, ancient Greece was in a somewhat anomalous miliitary situation because of its being a rugged peninsula. If it had been on the Anatolian plain it's much more likely they would have become a Persian province before thaey ever had much of a chance to articulate their unique society.

As for the Aztecs, it was definitely the case that their downfall was not due to the Spanish alone. The conquistadores provided shock and awe; the rest of Mexico provided the bulk of the army that overthrew Montezuma. Being a peon on an encomienda was not a particularly wonderful life, but it beat Aztec open-heart surgery with an obsidian knife.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at October 12, 2005 08:03 PM

Isn't one of the reasons that continential Europe has always looked to inspiration to imperial Rome was because it was a long period of peace and prosperity that Europeans have long sought to recapture since the demise of Rome.
By contrast, Britian has always been on the periphery so it was never completely Romanized, thus never succumbed to the Roman nostalgia.

Just to be a bit mischevious, at least the Iberian colonization incorporated the aborignes into society however imperfectly; whereas, British colozation never did. The reservation is a blight on Anglosphere colonization/settlement.

Posted by: xavier at October 13, 2005 04:58 PM

Britain was part of the Roman Empire for four and a half centuries and, while geographically on the periphery, was definitely part of it. Whether one can be nostalgic for something that ended in the fifth century is, of course, questionable. But the western Roman Empire was hardly a haven of peace in the last couple of centuries of its existence. Full of turmoil, rebellions, praetorian guards deposing emperors and so on. In some ways the answer seemed to be the Holy Roman Empire - uniting the political and legal order of the Roman with the supposed spiritual order of the Church. That didn't exactly work either.

Posted by: Helen at October 15, 2005 07:25 PM

Ward Churchill chooses to honour and yes, love the 50.000 years before a little and by definition shortlived disaster, now, yes, even at this late stage of the game, calling itself the . . .cough .. .'productive' 'anglosphere' (demographically disastrous desertspawn crossed with gullible naive northerners) saw fit to happen. Oh, it's productive alright. Erosion and pollution mostly. Blame pre- and postbiblical bookkeepers and surblusburden distribution bias. Hit and run horsey hatriarchy; animal abuse. Fact is natives were are and remain closer to permaculturists than all those lovely english garden lovers but their numbers are dwindling .. .and yes, you are welcome to take credit for that.

Posted by: piet at October 18, 2005 06:12 AM