Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Global View

A frequent topic on this blog has been the question of how a group of tiny, fiercely divided states in Western Europe managed to gain control of much of the world between the fifteenth and twentieth centuries. They did this despite lacking significant advantages in technology, relatively tiny populations, and confrontation with the long established centers of human progress in the East. That, apparently, is one of the subjects of John Darwin's new book After Tamerlane: The Rise and Fall of Global Empires, 1400-2000, which is one of my latest non-fiction reads - just started.

He begins by reviewing some of the history of history writing on this subject, from naive triumphalism, to Marxist and Marxist-Leninist critiques, to more sophisticated triumphalism ala Max Weber, to the anti-colonial critiques following Edward Said in the 1980s. I take it that he thinks he has a somewhat original vision, but I haven't gotten there yet.

I heard about the book from Josh Marshall, who has a mini review here. He adds the following:

...Europeans were becoming knowledgeable about the totality of the globe, in geographical, civilizational and commercial terms, while the other great world civilizations were not, is a matter of the greatest significance, even though it wasn’t directly related, except in very limited ways, to superior wealth, technology or firepower.

Since Magellan, the West had a global view and perspective. Maybe one key advantage they had was that they could see more of the chessboard than their political rivals in India and elsewhere.