Friday, July 31, 2015

Why Did Europe Conquer the World?

Its starting point is the assertion that Europe really did conquer the world, or at least 84 per cent of it, between 1492 and 1914 – but that you probably would not have bet on that outcome had you landed on Earth in the year 900, when our continent was deeply backward in comparison with the cultural and commercial sophistication of the Muslim Middle East, southern China and Japan. 
So why did those early leaders of civilisation stay at home and regress, while our ancestors sailed the seas and built empires?

It was not a matter of economic supremacy through industrialisation, which arrived only in the last of the five centuries or so that Hoffman’s study covers.

Rather, he argues, it was down to both military and economic advantage gained through “gunpowder technology” – the continuing development of firearms, artillery, ships armed with guns and fortifications that could resist bombardment – which itself derived from the fact that warfare was “the sole purpose of early modern states in western Europe”.

The core of Hoffman’s analysis is the idea that European powers were engaged in a centuries-long “tournament” – a competition that drove contestants to exert enormous effort in the hope of winning a prize. In pursuit of “financial gain, territorial expansion, defence of the faith, or the glory of victory”, Europe’s rulers fought each other for two thirds of the time between 1550 and 1700; well over 80 per cent of the annual government budgets of England and Prussia between 1688 and 1790 were spent on waging war.
H/t 3QD.


  1. For sugar. Seriously...,

    1. Thanks for the link.There was a guy on the Hopkins faculty when I was there in the 60s who researched the sugar trade. Forget his name. Ron Walters?