Thursday, January 03, 2013

Foundation of Empire

Every empire is built on theft. Perhaps we have become enough better to disdain such now. The big global empires of the western Europeans began with Spain's looting of Mexican and Peruvian gold and silver. The enormous fortunes so acquired excited intense envy in the rest of Europe, including England. It took a century or so before the English really got the hang of making long ocean voyages, but they were determined to find some gold of their own to steal. When they found they lacked the Midas touch, they turned to piracy instead. The successful pirates, like Morgan and Drake, gained knighthoods, while less accomplished ones like Walter Ralegh found scaffold and noose.

Such is the tale told by Niall Ferguson in Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power. Despite such scruffy beginnings, Ferguson is something of an apologist for empire at heart. In particular, he is critical of the viewpoint that the effects of empire are purely evil, or should be considered just an unpleasant detour in history.

Now if Arun is concerned about his blood pressure, he probably shouldn't read further here, because he's not going to like Ferguson's version of the mainly benificent effects of that empire the pirates started.

When the British governed a country – even when they only influenced its government by flexing their military and financial muscles – there were certain distinctive features of their own society that they tended to disseminate. A list of the more important of these would run as follows:

1. The English language

2. English forms of land tenure

3. Scottish and English banking

4. The Common Law

5. Protestantism

6. Team sports

7. The limited or ‘night watchman’ state

8. Representative assemblies

9. The idea of liberty

Ferguson, Niall. Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power (Kindle Locations 298-303). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.

YMMV