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Joseph S. Lucas and Donald A. Yerxa, Editors 

Geoffrey Parker, "Military Revolutions, Past and Present"
Jeremy Black, "On Diversity and Military History"
Dennis Showalter, "Thinking about Military Revolution"
Jeffrey Clarke, "On the Once and Future RMA"
Geoffrey Parker, "Random Thoughts of a Hedgehog"

Michael A. Ledeen, "Terrorism in Historical Context"

Miriam R. Levin, "September 11 as a Transforming Event"

Timothy M. Roberts, "1848 and American Frustrations with Europe"

Paul Lyons, "From Vietnam to Iraq: Lessons from the City of Brotherly Love"

Niall Ferguson, "British Imperialism Revisited: The Costs and Benefits of 'Anglobalization'"
P.J. Marshall, "Beneficial for Whom?"
Robert E. Lucas, Jr., "Colonialism and Growth"
Andrew Porter, "'Anglobalization': A Conceptual Step Backward"
Andrew J. Bacevich, "Does Empire Pay?"
Niall Ferguson, "Globalization without Gunboats?"

Interview with David Brooks

David J. Staley, "Computers, Visualization, and the Representation of History"

Historically Speaking: The Bulletin of the Historical Society

April 2003

Volume IV, Number 4


Niall Ferguson, P.J. Marshall, Robert E. Lucas, Jr., Andrew Porter, and Andrew J. Bacevich

With two books and a British television series, Niall Ferguson has placed a spotlight on the history of the British Empire and its relevance for making sense of the contemporary world. Here he considers the empire’s impact on the global economy. P.J. Marshall, Robert E. Lucas, Jr., Andrew Porter, and Andrew Bacevich respond to his essay, followed by Ferguson’s concluding reply. 

British Imperialism Revisited: The Costs and Benefits of “Anglobalization” 
by Niall Ferguson       

It is fair to say that recent economic history has not been kind to the British Empire. According to one influential school of thought, late 19th-century capital exports to the country’s numerous colonies diverted resources away from the modernization of British industry. Some scholars have questioned whether it was even economically rational for the investors themselves.[1] Patrick O’Brien has argued that after around 1846 Britain could have withdrawn from empire with impunity, and reaped a “decolonization dividend” in the form of a 25% tax cut. The money taxpayers would have saved as a result of a Victorian decolonization could have been spent on electricity, cars, and consumer durables, thus encouraging industrial modernization at home.[2]

Such negative assessments of Britain’s relationship to the empire sit somewhat uneasily alongside the large “nationalist” literature on the impact of empire on Britain’s colonies, notably India. In the words of B. R. Tomlinson, “the suggestion remains that British rule did not leave a substantial legacy of wealth, health, or happiness to the majority of the subjects of the Commonwealth.”[3] Numerous authors have insisted that the principal consequence of British rule in the Indian subcontinent was a legacy of “underdevelopment.” Can it really be that the empire was economically bad for both Britain and her colonies? By drawing on the recent economic literature on globalization, past and present, this essay argues otherwise. 

* * *

In an influential paper published in 1995, Jeffrey Sachs and A. M. Warner demonstrated conclusively that one of the principal reasons for widening international inequality in the 1970s and 1980s was protectionism in less developed economies. In their words, “open economies tend to converge [on the developed economies], but closed economies do not. The lack of convergence in recent decades results from the fact that the poorer countries have been closed to the world.” When they compared per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth among developing countries, they found that “the open economies grew at 4.49% per year, and the closed countries grew at 0.69% per year.” Sachs and Warner’s findings have been widely interpreted as making the case for present-day “globalization.” However, their findings also have important historical implications. As the authors note, in the previous era of globalization—conventionally seen as the period from the mid 19th century until the First World War—economic openness was imposed by colonial powers (principally, of course, Britain) not only on Asian and African colonies but also on South America and even Japan.[4]

A similar point can be made with respect to flows of labor. Jeffrey Williamson and others have emphasized the importance of international migration (or the restrictions on it) in determining the extent of international inequality. The more free movement there is of labor, the more international income levels will tend to converge. One reason that modern globalization is associated with high levels of inequality is that there are so many restrictions on the free movement of labor from less developed to developed countries.[5] This too has obvious implications for the history of the British Empire, which actively promoted emigration to at least some of its colonies, and certainly did nothing to heed the migration of British people wherever they wished to go.

Consider also the evidence on international capital flows, another key component of globalization. Development economists have spent many decades trying to work out how to raise the level of investment in backward agrarian societies. The most obvious solution has been for them to import capital from where it is plentiful, namely the developed world. According to the simple classical model of the world economy, this should happen naturally: capital should flow from developed to less developed economies, where returns are likely to be higher. But as Robert Lucas pointed out, with respect to the United States and India in the 1970s, this does not seem to happen in practice.[6] Although some measures of international financial integration seem to suggest that the 1990s saw bigger cross-border capital flows than the 1890s, in reality most of today’s overseas investment goes on within the developed world. In 1996 only 28% of foreign direct investment went to developing countries; by 2000 their share was less than a fifth. The overwhelming majority takes place between the United States, the European Union, and Japan. Investors in the developed world prefer to invest in countries which already have high levels of per capita GDP, which is one reason why increased capital flows in recent decades seem to have been associated with widening international inequalities. 

As Michael Clemens and Jeffrey Williamson have shown, there was something of a “Lucas effect” in the first era of globalization, in that “about two-thirds of [British capital exports] went to the labor-scarce New World where only a tenth of the world’s population lived, and only about a quarter of it went to labor-abundant Asia and Africa where almost two-thirds of the world’s population lived.”[7] Nevertheless, the share of British capital going to poorer countries was still significantly larger than it is today. According to Maurice Obstfeld and Alan Taylor, in 1997 only around 5% of the world stock of capital was invested in countries with per capita incomes of 20% or less of U.S. per capita GDP. In 1913 the figure was 25%. They also estimate the share of developing countries in total international liabilities at 11% in 1995, compared with 33% in 1900 and 47% in 1938. Those figures are at least suggestive of the possibility that the existence of formal empire encouraged investors to put their money in less developed economies (see Figure 1).[8]

Figure 1Figure 1 

Finally, we need to consider recent empirical work on the institutional and political preconditions for growth. In a cross-country study of postwar economic growth, Robert Barro concluded that there were six significant variables that were likely to influence a country’s economic performance. The first was the provision of secondary and higher education; the second was the provision of health care, since there is a correlation between growth and life expectancy; the third was the promotion of birth control; the fourth was the avoidance of “non-productive government expenditures,” since “big government is bad for growth”; the fifth was the enforcement of the rule of law; and the sixth was the avoidance of inflation above 10% per annum.[9] David Landes, in his Wealth and Poverty of Nations, has come to similar conclusions, arguing that “the ideal growth-and-development” government would: secure rights of private property; secure rights of personal liberty; enforce rights of contract; and provide stability and fairness in an efficient, moderate fashion.[10]

It requires only a passing familiarity with the nature of British colonial administration to recognize that at least some of these were among its defining characteristics. To be sure, British colonial rule was not democratic (outside the “white dominions”—CanadaAustralia, and New Zealand). But as both Barro and Landes observe, democracy does not correlate especially closely with economic performance.

There is a significant discrepancy between the modern literature on economic growth and the historical consensus that the British Empire was economically deleterious. A striking number of the things currently recommended by economists to developing countries were in fact imposed by British rule. There was, as Alan Taylor has suggested, a “London consensus” not unlike the “Washington consensus” of our own time, with the difference that the International Monetary Fund cannot rely on the services of the Royal Navy to enforce its recommendations. Unless the economists have got it seriously wrong, there is at least a prima facie case that the British Empire was economically beneficial, not only to Britain herself, but also to her empire—and perhaps even to the world economy as a whole.

* * * 

Let us begin with world trade and tariffs. In an ideal world, of course, free trade would be naturally occurring. But history and political economy tell us that it is not. For most of the 19th century, free trade spread because of Britain’s power more than Britain’s example. From the 1840s until the 1930s, the British political elite and electorate remained wedded to the principle of laissez faire, laissez passer—and the practice of “cheap bread.” That meant that—certainly from the 1870s—British tariffs were significantly lower than those of her European neighbors; it also meant that tariffs in much of the British Empire were also kept low. Abandoning formal control over Britain ’s colonies would almost certainly have led to higher tariffs being erected against British exports in their markets, and perhaps other forms of trade discrimination. 

The evidence for this need not be purely hypothetical: it is manifest in the highly protectionist policies adopted by the United States and India after they secured independence, as well as in the tariff regimes adopted by Britain ’s imperial rivals France, Germany, and Russia after the late 1870s. Whether one looks at the duties on primary products or manufactures, Britain was the least protectionist of the imperial powers. In 1913 average tariff rates on imported manufactures were 13% in Germany, over 20% in France, 44% in the United States, and 84% in Russia. In Britain they were zero. 

According to Michael Edelstein, the economic benefit to Britain of enforcing free trade could have been anywhere between 1.8 and 6.5% of the Gross National Product (GNP).[11] But what about the benefit to the rest of the world? In the words of Sir John Graham, Britainwas “the great Emporium of the commerce of the World.” Its domestic market and much of its empire were more or less open to all comers to sell their wares as best they could. The evidence that Britain ’s continued policy of free trade was beneficial, in a protectionist world, to her colonies seems unequivocal. Between 1871-75 and 1925-29, the colonies’ share of Britain’s imports rose from a quarter to a third. More generally, as Jeffrey Williamson has argued, it was (mainly British) colonial authorities that resisted protectionist backlashes to the dramatic falls in factor prices caused by late 19th-century globalization.[12]

In the same way, there would not have been so much international mobility of labor—and hence so much global convergence of incomes before 1914—without the British Empire. True, the independent United States was always the most attractive destination for 19th-century emigrants. But as American restrictions in immigration increased, the significance of the white dominions—CanadaAustralia, and New Zealand—as a destination for British emigrants grew markedly, attracting around 59% of all British emigrants between 1900 and 1914, 75% between 1915 and 1949, and 82% between 1949 and 1963. Nor should we lose sight of the vast numbers of Asians who left India and Chinain the 19th century to work as indentured laborers, many of them on British plantations and mines. Perhaps as many as 1.6 million Indians emigrated under this system, which lay somewhere between free and unfree labor. There is no question that the majority of them suffered great hardship; many indeed might have been better off staying at home. But once again we cannot pretend that this mobilization of cheap and probably underemployed Asians to grow rubber or dig gold had no economic significance (see Figure 2). 

Figure 2Figure 2 

Similar arguments may be advanced about Britain's role as a capital exporter. As is well known, from the mid-19th until the mid-20th century, Britain acted as the world’s banker, channeling colossal sums of British (and other European) savings overseas. By 1914 total British assets overseas amounted to somewhere between £3.1 and £4.5 billion, while the British GDP was £2.5 billion. Compared with the other major capital exporters of the period, Britainsent a remarkably high proportion of her savings to overseas economies. To be sure, around 45% of British investment went to the United States and the dominions. But 16% of British foreign investment went to Asiaand 13% to Africa, compared with just 6% to the rest of Europe. Taking British investment as a whole, between 1865 and 1914, as much went to AfricaAsia, and Latin America (29.6%) as to the UK itself (31.8%). This pattern was surprisingly little changed by the effects of the First World War and the Great Depression. As late as 1938, around 18% of British overseas assets were in Asia, and 11% in Africa. As is well known, British investment in developing economies principally took the form of portfolio investment in infrastructure, especially railways. But the British also sank considerable (and not easily calculable) sums directly into plantations to produce new cash crops like tea, cotton, indigo, and rubber. 

Investing money in faraway places is risky: what economists call “informational asymmetries” are generally greater the further the lender is from the borrower. Less developed economies also tend to be rather more susceptible to economic, social, and political crises. Why then were British investors willing to risk such an exceptionally high proportion of their savings by purchasing securities or other assets overseas? One possible answer is that the adoption of the gold standard by developing economies offered investors a “good housekeeping seal of approval.” To be precise, as Michael Bordo has shown, going onto gold reduced the yield on government gold-denominated bonds by around 40 basis points.[13] It is certainly the case that before 1914 adoption of the gold standard was as good a way of obtaining cheap loans as membership in the British Empire—though it must be remembered that many countries went onto gold (which was, after all, a sterling standard devised in London) precisely because they were British colonies. 

Yet there is a need to distinguish here between anticipated and actual returns on overseas investments. For the period 1850 to 1914, anticipated (ex ante) returns were not significantly lower on colonial bonds than they were on other foreign bonds. But the same cannot be said of the actual (ex post) returns. If one takes an average of the three colonial countries in the sample, the anticipated yield was 5.3%, compared with 4.7% for the three South American countries. But the actual returns were significantly different: 4.7% as against 2.9%. This helps explain why, when the same countries returned to the bond market in the interwar years, they paid significantly different risk premia. On average, the ex ante returns Latin American borrowers had to offer investors were 270 basis points higher than those on new colonial issues. Even so, actual returns on Latin American bonds were once again worse than expected and worse than those on colonial bonds (see Figure 3).

Figure 3Figure 3 

In other words, experience showed that money invested in a de jure British colony such as India, or in a colony in all but name like Egypt, was more secure than money invested in an independent, albeit informally “colonized” country such as Argentina. This was because the commitment to gold was a “contingent commitment”; it was essentially voluntary and could be suspended in the event of an emergency such as a war.[14] Gold standard members who were otherwise sovereign states could not only suspend gold convertibility of their currencies; they could also default on their debts. To varying degrees and at various times, ArgentinaBrazilChileMexicoJapanRussia, and Turkey all did precisely that. Membership in the empire was quite different. British colonies were unlikely to suspend convertibility and not much more likely to default than Britain herself. By the 1920s, membership in the empire was therefore confirmed as a better “good housekeeping seal of approval” than gold (see Figure 4). 

Figure 4Figure 4

That imperial membership offered better security to investors than mere adoption of the gold anchor is not surprising. There were a variety of explicit legal guarantees offered by the Colonial Loans Act (1899) and the Colonial Stock Act (1900), which gave colonial bonds the same “trustee status” as the benchmark British government perpetual bond, the “consol.” Over and above that, there was the cast-iron commitment of colonial governors and administrators to the principles of Gladstonian finance. It was inconceivable, declared the governor of the Gold Coast in 1933, that the interest due on Gold Coast bonds should be compulsorily reduced: why should British investors “accept yet another burden for the relief of persons in another country who have enjoyed all the benefits but will not accept their obligation”? Even colonial constitutions had been drafted with at least one eye on creditor preferences.[15]

This therefore explains why an increasing share of British overseas investment ended up going to the empire after the First World War. In the period from 1856 to 1914, around two-fifths (39%) of British overseas capital went to the empire, compared with three-fifths (61%) to the rest of the world. But after the First World War, the tables turned. Between 1919 and 1938, the empire got two-thirds, the rest got a third. Nor is it surprising that more than three-quarters of all foreign capital invested in sub-Saharan Africa was invested in British colonies (see Figure 5).[16]

Figure 5
Figure 5

P. J. Cain and A. G. Hopkins lay great emphasis, in their path-breaking history of British imperialism, on the dominant role played by the City of London, with its ethos of “gentlemanly capitalism.” In both the formal and the informal empire, they argue, finance came first, and British export industries a poor second. They do not address how the policy of prioritizing overseas investment affected the rest of the world. On the strength of the evidence I’ve presented here, it seems reasonable to conclude that it offered at least the opportunity of economic convergence. For in order to ensure that loans to developing economies were repaid, British policy makers were prepared to go to considerable lengths, ultimately allowing a system of differential tariffs to evolve which gave colonial manufacturers easier access to the British “home” market than British manufacturers enjoyed to colonial markets. 

Intention and outcome are two different things. The British did not see the economic development of Asia and Africa as their primary concern, though they sometimes paid lip service to the idea. As we shall see, they would have acted rather differently in India, if development had been the paramount objective. Nevertheless, the intended policy of financial rather than industrial domination of the world economy had secondary positive outcomes alongside the primary outcome of ensuring that investors got their interest and principal. Under the right circumstances, this policy was conducive to rapid economic growth on the periphery—more so than a policy which would have put the interests of British industrial exports first. 

* * *

The results of “Anglobalization” were in many ways astounding. The combination of free trade, mass migration, and unprecedented overseas investment propelled large parts of the British Empire to the forefront of world economic development. In terms of the production of manufactured goods per head of population, CanadaAustralia, and New Zealand ranked higher than Germany in 1913. Between 1820 and 1950, their economies were the fastest growing in the world. Per capita GDP grew more rapidly in Canada than the United States between 1820 and 1913 (see Figure 6). 

Figure 6Figure 6 

But the performance of the dominions was not matched in the rest of the Empire and least of all in Asia. Why was Indian economic performance so much worse than that of the dominions? India attracted £286 million of capital raised in London between 1865 and 1914—18% of the total placed in the empire, second only to Canada. Yet Indian per capita GDP grew at a miserably slow rate. Between 1857 and 1947—between the Mutiny and Independence, in other words—Indian per capita GDP grew by just 19%, compared with an increase in Britain of 134%. The chart shows that between 1820 and 1950, it grew at a mere 0.12% per annum—barely at all by the standards of the “white” empire, and slow even by comparison with Africa.

The nationalist explanation for Indian “underdevelopment” under British rule has four essential components. First, the British de-industrialized India by opening it to factory-produced textiles from Lancashire, whose manufacturers were initially protected from Indian competition until they had established a technological lead.Second, they imposed excessive and regressive taxation. Third, they “drained” capital from India, even manipulating the rupee-sterling exchange rate to their own advantage. Finally, they did next to nothing to alleviate the famines that these policies caused. One recent historian has gone so far as to speak of “Late Victorian Holocausts” in the 1870s and 1890s.[17] This negative view of the British role in India—which can be traced back to DadabhaiNaoroji’s Poverty and Un-British Rule in India (1901)—continues to enjoy wide currency.[18]

No doubt it benefited the Indian economy little to maintain one of the world’s largest standing armies as a mercenary force. Yet recent research casts doubt on other aspects of the nationalist critique. Tirthankar Roy has shown that the destruction of jobs in the Indian textile industry was probably inevitable, regardless of who ruled India, and that an equal if not greater number of new jobs were created in new economic sectors built up by the British. Even in the case of textiles, by the 1920s the Government of India was clearly giving preference to Indian manufacturers over Lancashire’s mills. Roy also casts doubt on the idea that taxation under the British was excessive, showing that the land tax burden fell from around 10% of net output in the 1850s to 5% by the 1930s.[19] The supposed “drain” of capital from Indiato Britain turns out to have been comparatively modest: only “about 0.9-1.3% of Indian national income from 1868 to the 1930s,” according to one estimate of the export surplus (which was what nationalists usually had in mind).[20] In any case, so far as the Home Charges were concerned, “a great deal of government expenditure was in fact incurred for services that India needed but could not supply on her own.” Finally, “the prospect of devastating famines once every few years was inherent in India’s ecology . . . . Famines were primarily environmental in origin” and after 1900 the problem was alleviated by the greater integration of the Indian market for foodstuffs. The Bengal famine of 1943 arose precisely because improvements introduced under British rule collapsed under the strain of the war.[21]

Moreover, British rule had some distinctly positive effects. It greatly increased the importance of trade, from between 1-2% of national income to more than 20% by 1913. The British created an integrated Indian market: they unified weights, measures, and the currency, abolished transit duties and introduced a “legal framework [which] promoted private property rights and contract law more explicitly.” They invested substantially in repairing and enlarging the country’s ancient irrigation system: between 1891 and 1938, the acreage under irrigation more than doubled. As is well known, the British transformed the Indian system of communications, introducing a postal and telegraph system, deploying steamships on internal waterways and building more than 40,000 miles of railway track (roughly five times the amount constructed in Chinain the same period). The railway network alone employed more than a million people by the last decade of British rule. Finally, there was a significant increase in financial intermediation. As Roy concludes:

The railways, the ports, major irrigation systems, the telegraph, sanitation and medical care, the universities, the postal system, the courts of law, were assets India could not believably have acquired in such extent and quality had it not developed close political links with Britain . . . . British rule appears to have done far more than what its predecessor regimes and contemporary Indian regimes were able to do.[22]

By comparison with the other major Asian empire—China, which remained under Asian political control—Indiafared well. The Chinese economy shrank, even if some of its troubles can doubtless be attributed to the disruptive influence of informal European imperialism.

The explanation for the disappointing impact of these improvements on per capita incomes lies not in British exploitation, but rather in the insufficient scale of British interference in the Indian economy. The British expanded Indian education—but not enough to make a real impact on the quality of human capital. The number of educated Indians may have increased sevenfold between 1881 and 1941, but the proportion of the population with primary or secondary educations was far below European rates (2% in India in 1913, compared with 16% in Britain). The British invested in India—but not enough to pull most Indian farmers up off the base line of subsistence, and certainly not enough to compensate for the pitifully low level of indigenous net capital formation, worsened by the custom of hoarding gold. The British built hospitals and banks—but not enough of them to make significant improvements in public health and credit networks. These were sins of omission more than commission. Unfortunately for Indians, the nationalists who came to power in 1947 drew almost completely the wrong conclusions about what had gone wrong under British rule, embarking instead on a program of sub-Soviet state-led autarky whose achievement was to widen still further the gap between Indian and British incomes, which reached its widest historic extent in 1973.

* * *

Economic historians continue to debate the causes of the “great divergence” of economic fortunes which has characterized the last half millennium. In this debate, the role of colonialism—and specifically the British Empire—has a crucial role to play. If geography, climate, and disease provide a sufficient explanation for the widening of global inequalities, then the policies and institutions exported by British imperialism were of marginal importance; the agricultural, commercial, and industrial technologies developed in Europe from 1700 onward were bound to work better in temperate regions with good access to sea routes. However, if the key to economic success lies in the adoption of legal, financial, and political institutions favorable to technical innovation and capital accumulation—regardless of location, mean temperature, and longevity—then it matters a great deal that by the end of the 19th century a quarter of the world was under British rule. According to DaronAcemoglu, Simon Johnson, and James Robinson, “societies where colonialism led to the establishment of good institutions prospered relative to those where colonialism imposed extractive institutions.”[23] Where colonizing powers encountered relatively advanced economies—as measured by the density of population—the institutions imposed were essentially those of plunder and exaction. These institutions were unlikely to foster long-run growth, and indeed had the effect of impoverishing the conquered. But in less densely populated, poorer societies, the colonizers had to start more or less from scratch. That was why Western European style institutions were more likely to be introduced in North America or Australia than in Central America

In all likelihood, the dichotomy between geography and institutions is a false one. The British settled in large numbers in temperate zones, taking their institutions with them; in the tropics, they preferred to rely on monopoly companies and plantations run in (unequal) partnership with indigenous elites. But by the last third of the 19th century this distinction had faded somewhat. Even in the tropics, the British endeavored to introduce the institutions that they regarded as essential to prosperity: free trade, free (and indeed forced) migration, infrastructural investment, balanced budgets, sound money, the rule of law, and incorrupt administration. If the results were much less impressive in Africa and India than they were in the colonies of British settlement, that was because even the best institutions work less well in landlocked, excessively hot, or disease-ridden places. There, the investments which were needed to overcome geography, climate, and their attendant deleterious effects on human capital were beyond the imaginings of colonial rulers schooled in the Gladstonian fiscal tradition. 

Perhaps they are beyond our imaginings, too. It is far from clear that the very different policies adopted by post-independence governments and international agencies have been more successful. A simple calculation of the ratio of British per capita GDP to that of forty-one former colonies is instructive. Between 1960 and 1990 the gap between the British and their former subjects narrowed in just fourteen cases (see Figure 7).[24] While it is convenient for contemporary rulers in countries like Zimbabwe to blame their problems on the “legacy of British rule,” the reality is that British rule was on balance conducive to economic growth. Tragically, most post-independence governments have failed to improve on it.

Figure 7Figure 7

©Niall Ferguson 2003

Niall Ferguson is professor of financial history at New York University’s  Stern Business School and senior research fellow at Jesus College, OxfordUniversity. His most recent books are Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and Its Lessons for Global Power (Basic Books, 2003) and Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World (Allen Lane, 2003), the latter of which was published to coincide with a television history of the British Empire broadcast in January 2003. 

[1] Lance E. Davis and R.A. Huttenback, Mammon and the Pursuit of Empire: The Political Economy of British Imperialism, 1860-1912 (Cambridge University Press, 1986), 107.
[2] Patrick K. O’Brien, “Imperialism and the Rise and Decline of the British Economy, 1688-1989,” New Left Review 238 (1999): 56, 65f, 75. 
[3] B. R. Tomlinson, “Imperialism and After: The Economy of the Empire on the Periphery,” in Judith M. Brown and Wm.Roger Louis, eds., The Oxford History of the British Empire, vol. IV:  The Twentieth Century (Oxford University Press, 1999), 375.
[4] Jeffrey D. Sachs and A. M. Warner, “Economic Reform and the Process of Global Integration,” Brookings Papers on Economic Activity 1 (1995): 6-10, 35. 
[5] Jeffrey G. Williamson, “Winners and Losers Over Two Centuries of Globalization,” National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Working Paper 9161 (2002).
[6]For a discussion, see Michael A. Clemens and Jeffrey G. Williamson, “Where did British Capital Go? Fundamentals, Failures, and the Lucas Paradox: 1870-1913,” NBER Working Paper 8028 (2000).
[7] Clemens and Williamson, “Where did British Foreign Capital Go?”
[8] Maurice Obstfeld and Alan M. Taylor, “Globalization and Capital Markets,” NBER Working Paper 8846 (2002): 60, figure 10; table 2. However, Obstfeld and Taylor follow Michael D. Bordo in identifying the spread of the gold standard as the explanation: Maurice Obstfeld, and Alan M. Taylor, “Sovereign Risk, Credibility and the Gold Standard: 1870-1913 versus 1925-31,” NBER Working Paper 9345 (2002).
[9] Robert J. Barro, “Determinants of Economic Growth: A Cross-Country Empirical Study,” NBER Working Paper 5698 (1996).
[10]David S. Landes, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations (Norton, 1998), 217f.
[11] Michael Edelstein, “Imperialism: Cost and Benefit,” in Roderick Floud and Donald McCloskey, eds., The Economic History of Britain since 1700, vol. II: 1860-1939, 2nd ed. (Cambridge University Press, 1994), 205. 
[12]Jeffrey G. Williamson, “Land, Labor, and Globalization in the Pre-Industrial Third World,” NBER Working Paper 7784 (2000).
[13] The definitive statement is in Michael D. Bordo and Hugh Rockoff, “The Gold Standard as a ‘Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval,’” Journal of Economic History 56 (1996), reprinted in Bordo, The Gold Standard and Related Regimes (Cambridge University Press, 1999), 149-178.
[14] Michael D. Bordo and Finn E. Kydland, “The Gold Standard as a Commitment Mechanism,” in TamimBayoumi, Barry Eichengreen, and Mark P. Taylor, eds., Modern Perspectives on the Gold Standard (Cambridge University Press, 1996), 55-100.
[15] P. J. Cain and A. G. Hopkins, British Imperialism, 1688-2000, 2nd ed. (Longman, 2001), 439, 570, 584f, 233. 
[16] Cain and Hopkins, British Imperialism, 439, 567.
[17]Mike Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World (Verso, 2001).
[18] See e.g. TapanRaychaudhuri, “British Rule in India: An Assessment,” in P. J. Marshall, ed., The Cambridge Illustrated History of the British Empire (Cambridge University Press, 1996), 361-4; Simon Schama, A History of Britain, vol. III: The Fate of Empire (Miramax, 2002), esp. 359-64.
[19]Tirthankar Roy, The Economic History of India , 1857-1947 (OxfordUniversityPress, 2000), 42ff, 250.
[20] Angus Maddison, The World Economy: A Millennium Perspective (OECD, 2001), table 2-21b. 
[21]Roy, Economic History, 241, 22, 219f., 254, 285, 294. 
[22]Roy, Economic History, 32-6, 215, 258-263, 46f.
[23]DaronAcemoglu, Simon Johnson, and James A. Robinson, “Reversal of Fortune: Geography and Institutions in the Making of the Modern World Income Distribution,” NBER Working Paper 8460 (2001): 5.
[24] They are: LesothoPakistanEgyptBotswanaMalaysiaMaltaBarbadosCyprusIsraelIrelandSingaporeHong KongCanada, and the United States: figures from Maddison, World Economy.


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Beneficial for Whom?
by P. J. Marshall

As is inevitable in any piece of historical writing, Niall Ferguson interprets the past through the preoccupations of the present. The dominant tendency in contemporary thinking about the wealth and poverty of nations is that economic growth can best be assured by: maximizing the free circulation of trade, capital, and labor; keeping inflation under control; maintaining proper standards of law and order and financial and governmental probity; and limiting taxation. All countries should therefore seek to take their place in a global order dedicated to these principles. The role of the state in the economy is of necessity a limited one. It should provide the infrastructure for an open economy, but must avoid damaging intervention, even if it is aimed at promoting growth. Ferguson argues that the British Empire from the mid-19th century generally enforced the principles of the contemporary global order throughout much of the world. “A striking number of things currently recommended by economists to developing countries were in fact imposed by British rule.” Hence the British Empire was on balance a force for good.

That the British Empire was in some senses a global system before “globalization” is not a proposition that will strike historians as novel. It is, for instance, analyzed at several places in the recent collection on Globalization in World History, edited by A. G. Hopkins.[1]There is, however, a long tradition of writing about the economic order maintained by later 19th-century Britain in its empire and beyond that sees it as far from a force for good. The case usually made is that the free trade order was a damagingly unequal one, stunting the economic, social, and even the political development of those countries that exchanged primary products for British manufactures. They became societies of poorly rewarded peasant producers, whose lives were dominated by landlords and by the great import-export merchants of the port cities. The free movements of labor merely meant the transportation of impoverished Indian and Chinese rural laborers under dire conditions to become semi-slave labor on plantations or the uprooting from their land of Africans to be consigned to the mining compounds of the South African Rand. Moreover, it is often argued, the British colonial state took so negative a view of its responsibilities that it utterly failed to mitigate the damage free trade wrought by encouraging development in any form. What was needed were vigorous “national” governments, as in the United States, Tsarist Russia, or Japan, capable of building up an appropriate infrastructure and initiating positive policies to foster a diverse economy, including industry. 

Ferguson’s case for a relatively benign imperial economic order has much to commend it, especially if he rests his case on the period from the mid-19th century to 1914, and thus avoids the depression years of the 1920s and the 1930s. Ferguson is fond of posing counterfactual, what-if questions. It would certainly strengthen his case were he to ask what if British capital, British financial services, the demand of British markets, British technology, and British skilled personnel had not been diffused throughout the world largely through the mechanism of empire? Other sources of such things are hard to envisage. Needless to say, international agencies did not exist. Japanwas, of course, the great counter-example of a non-European state that could deal with the world and take what it wanted from international contacts on its own terms. How many other potential Japans were there, however, in the later 19th-century world?

The British imperial economic order assumed specialization of functions and offered export-led growth in primary products to countries outside Europe. The British market was an open one, British shipping greatly cut the cost of transporting bulk commodities over long distances, British investment enabled railways to be built to move such commodities to the coast, and capital could be raised in London for plantations to develop new crops. Export-led growth certainly occurred in conditions in the later 19th century which were for the most part favorable to primary producers: the prices that they got for their products generally held up quite well, while those of the manufactured goods that they imported tended to fall. The most conspicuous examples of growth, as Ferguson points out, were what are called the “white dominions” (Canada, Australia, and New Zealand), whose economies were “the fastest-growing in the world” between 1820 and 1950 and prospered greatly in the later 19th century from exports of wheat, wool, meat, and dairy products. Farmers of export crops, such as palm oil in parts of West Africa or wheat, sugar cane, raw cotton, or jute in Indiaalso did well. Tea plantations in India and Ceylondisplaced China as Britain’s main supplier.

Even in 1914, only relatively small parts of tropical Africa were fully integrated into the British economic order, but India certainly was, and Indiais the great test case of the benign or malign effects of that order. Quantification is extremely difficult, but it seems likely that there was a modest annual overall growth in average income per head of perhaps 0.5% throughout the later 19th century. This certainly did not amount to any sort of transformation of the expectations of the great mass of Indians. Indeed, large areas were devastated by periodic famines and the death rate remained horrendously high even in “normal” years when there were no great epidemics of plague or cholera. The conclusion that the opportunities for improvement through increased participation in world trade brought about by British rule were available to too few people seems inescapable.

If the British government in India did not actually generate poverty, could it have done more to diffuse wealth? Should it have intervened more, even in ways that the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund might not now approve? The government of India was certainly much more interventionist than governments in Britainever were. It sponsored huge programs of public works, above all the irrigation schemes that greatly improved agricultural yields. By the end of the 19th century the Raj was trying to grapple with the diseases that afflicted the Indian masses and with the problems of educating a largely illiterate population. Results were, however, disappointing, and even Ferguson finds the government of India’s efforts wanting. He complains of the “insufficient scale of British interference in the Indian economy.” “The investments which were needed [in tropical countries] to overcome geography, climate, and their attendant deleterious effects on human capital were beyond the imaginings of colonial rulers schooled in the Gladstonian fiscal tradition.” In the last resort, however, the constraints were rather more than those of the Gladstonian fiscal tradition. For all its undeniably high-minded concern for the well-being of its subjects, the Raj was still a colonial regime with such a regime’s priorities. Its own survival was the first priority. Hence it was not prepared to be as ruthless in extracting wealth from its subjects and applying it to investment, as, for instance, was the case with Meiji JapanDefense expenditure was another priority. India not only had to provide for its own defense but also made a substantial contribution to the defense of the empire as a whole. India’s role as a market for British exports could not be compromised. Not until the First World War was India’s government free to put duties on British imports for revenue or to protect Indian industry.

The case for the economic role of national governments free of such colonial restraints still seems to have some validity, for all the fashionable despair about the inability of any regime to manage an economy without yielding to the sectional interests of its supporters or even the kleptomania of its members. Even 19th-century British imperial history seems to support the case for autonomous governments. Ferguson points out that CanadaAustralia, and New Zealand succeeded in diversifying their economies to the degree that “in terms of the production of manufactured goods” per head of their population they “ranked higher than Germany in 1913.” There were clearly many elements in their success, but the control over their economies, including tariff policies, which they enjoyed under what was called “responsible government,” must surely have been one of them. Those who assert the advantages for Britain of maintaining a currency that is independent of the Euro are arguing the case for the autonomy of national governments in economic matters.

Ultimately, the debates about the beneficence or otherwise of both the British imperial economic order and the contemporary global system under which economic practices converge throughout the world seem to hinge on the same question: of whom are we talking? Already “developed” countries were likely to do well under both systems. For all its imperfections, the British order may have been the best path on offer in the later 19th century for countries with the economic potential of India and perhaps of some of the Latin American republics. They have taken on the uncertain role of “tigers” in the contemporary world. Yet poorly endowed regions could not take advantage of the British offer of export-led growth at the end of the 19th century and are “marginalized” now. Neither the British empire nor modern globalization have done much for them; nor have they for the most part been blessed with effective national governments that might kick-start them into growth.[2]

Ferguson also asks the question: was empire beneficent for Britain itself? His answer is again “yes,” although, understandably in a short piece, he does not give himself space to support that answer beyond quoting the calculation that the benefits of “enforcing free trade could have been anywhere between 1.8 and 6.5% of GNP.” The arguments on the other side about the burden of defense costs or the blunting of the competitive edge in British manufacturers who were committed to “soft” imperial markets perforce remain unanswered. Again the appropriate question is probably: of whom in Britain are we talking? Conventional dichotomies between the City (presumed to be a great beneficiary) and other sectors of the economy that are thought to have borne the burdens of empire should probably be abandoned, but it is still worth asking: who gained and who lost? As with the territories incorporated within the British Empire, there are likely to have been losers as well as winners from empire in Britain itself. 

P. J. Marshall is emeritus professor of imperial history at the University of London. He is editor of both The Oxford History of the British Empire, Vol. II: The Eighteenth Century (Oxford University Press, 1998) and The Cambridge Illustrated History of the British Empire (CambridgeUniversity Press, 2001). 

[1] A.G. Hopkins, ed., Globalization in World History (Norton, 2002).
[2] A.G. Hopkins, “Back to the Future: From National History to Imperial History,” Past and Present 164 (August 1999): 239-240.

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Colonialism and Growth
by Robert E. Lucas, Jr.

During the forty year period 1950-1990 world population grew at an annual rate of just under 2%, and total production of goods and services grew at 4%. This means that production per person grew at more than 2%, implying that income per person more than doubled over these years. These figures refer to the entire world, rich and poor alike. I have not left out the communist countries or Africa or anyone else. Nothing remotely like this has ever been seen before.[1]

The remarkable economic growth in the post-colonial period has been a mix of continued steady growth of the already-rich countries, growth at higher, catch-up rates by some others, and continued stagnation or worse by some of the pre-industrial societies that have been left behind. These differences have attracted a lot of attention from economists. Detailed worldwide data sets have been created, and patterns have been sought that might reveal why some societies have thrived in this new economic environment while others have continued to stagnate. Niall Ferguson’s essay provides a compact, accurate, and useful account of what these studies of growth rate differences have found. He concludes that the evidence from this period overwhelmingly confirms the economic benefits of classical liberal values: free trade, free markets, and stable, limited government. A large majority of economists specializing in the study of economic growth would concur in this opinion.

It would have seemed a natural development of this opening theme if the rest of Ferguson’s essay had focused on the British role in developing and exemplifying these liberal values, but instead he uses it to build a case for a reassessment of British imperialism. Thus the paper is organized as an attempt to relate the evidence on comparative economic performance in the post-colonial period to contributions of the British Empire during the colonial period itself. I find this an odd way to think of the British contribution: In common with many British thinkers from Adam Smith onward, I think of imperialism as almost an opposite of liberalisma system based on paternalism and coercion rather than on autonomy and free exchange. In any event, I do not find the economics of Ferguson’s defense of imperialism convincing.

The conclusion of the essay, “that British rule was on balance conducive to economic growth,” suggests a direct argument that the economic growth of the successful societies in the post-colonial years can be viewed as a continuation of their economic performance under the British Empire. There are also two indirect arguments. One is that the free trade environment that has been so conducive to economic growth in the postwar years can be viewed as a resumption, still only partial, of the British-influenced commercial environment of the late 19th century, which lasted until 1914. This is the “Anglobalization” of the title. The second is that British institutions transferred to the colonies under the Empire have fostered economic success after independence. These two arguments are complicated and harder to judge; I will discuss them below as well.

I like the graphics in Ferguson’s essay, and offer in return one of my own.[2] The figure below plots the course of per capita incomes in five parts of the world since 1750. There are only so many curves that can be put on one graph, and since I wanted to include everyone in the world, I tried to group similar societies together. Groups I, III, and IV are countries largely populated and ruled by Europeans, wherever located, ordered from most to least successful economically. Group II is Japan—not a group at all, I know, but Japan's role in the history of the Industrial Revolution is so singular that I could not bring myself to average it in with anyone else. These four curves summarize the history of most of the successful societies of the modern world, and some of the failures. 



The final curve includes all of Africa and Asia (except for Japan): today, more than two-thirds of the world’s population. British India and Africa are here, along with the subjects of French, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Spanish, and American imperialism. So is China, with its ambiguous role in the colonial age, and those few others that somehow remained outside the empires of Europe and Japan. The striking fact is that these colonial subjects had the same living standards at the end of the colonial period as they had had two centuries earlier.

The British Empire shows up in this figure in two places. British-ruled and largely British-occupied CanadaAustralia, and New Zealand are included in the top curve, along with the U.S.and the UK. The British-ruled and largely non-British occupied colonies of Africa and Asia are included in the bottom curve. When Ferguson writes that “on balance” British rule was conducive to economic growth, he means that an average of these two per capita income paths (think of Spain) would be a pretty successful economic history by world standards. Of course, Ferguson recognizes the distinction between the two types of colonies—he uses the term “dominions” for colonies settled by British people—but he does not use it consistently to break the question of evaluating the empire into its component parts. This leads him to comparisons that seem to me as irrelevant as calling Algeria a department of France and then telling the Algerians they should be happy to be living in such a prosperous country. I just do not see what historical questions can usefully be addressed without treating the economics of the dominions and the economics of the colonies in Africa and Asia as completely separate and largely unrelated topics.

My figure does not show the British colonies in Africa and Asia separately, but doing so would have added no information: the pre-1950 histories of the economies in these parts of the world all show living standards that are roughly constant at perhaps $100 or $200 above subsistence levels. There are no differences in this regard between colonies and independent nations in this group (Japan, of course, excepted) or between the subjects of any one of the European empires or another. Fergusonis surely right that there is no reason to think that British or other imperialism caused the economic stagnation shown on the figure: Stagnation at income levels slightly above subsistence is the state of traditional agricultural societies anywhere and any time. But neither did the modern imperialisms—the British included—alter or improve incomes for more than small elites and some European settlers and administrators.

The income curve for Africa and Asiain my figure turns up a bit after 1950. This may not look like much in the picture—these parts of the world are still very poor by European or American standards—but it amounted to more than a tripling of incomes. The fact that living standards for masses of people in these populous, poor societies finally began to grow after independence is what made possible the high worldwide growth rates that I quoted at the beginning of this piece. The main economic event of the late 20th century was this diffusion of the Industrial Revolution to non-European societies (begun in Japan half a century earlier), a diffusion that will surely continue throughout the 21st century. A central question is why it did not begin much earlier, during the colonial period, at the same time that the Industrial Revolution was spreading throughout Europe.

That it did not do so is especially surprising and puzzling in view of the developments that Ferguson calls “Anglobalization.” There were large scale increases in the volume of world trade in the 19th century—even by the impressive standards of the late 20th century—and considerable investment by the British in the Americas, India, and elsewhere. Ferguson reviews some of the evidence from this period, and points out that the security of foreign investment is an advantage of imperialism: British military power made Indian railroad bonds as safe for British savers as home investments were. This is important, and India was surely better off with the British-built railroads than without them, but somehow investments like these did not lead to anything like the kind of economic development we have seen in the post-colonial period.

Ferguson rightly emphasizes the potential importance of the empire in facilitating trade and capital flows, but does not go on to ask why it was that this potential was largely unrealized. Why weren’t the factories that are now changing people’s lives all over Asia(for the better!) operating in British India or the Dutch East Indies 100 years earlier? Ferguson and Jeffrey Williamson may be right that parallels between the world economy now and prior to 1914 justify the use of the common label “globalization” for both periods, but this terminology should not be allowed to obscure the fact that the second, post-colonial phase of globalization was associated with unprecedented growth in the living standards of hundreds of millions of people while the first, colonial phase was not.

There remains the possibility that the institutions set up under the British Empire played a role in fostering the economic growth that occurred in the successful post-colonial societies. Ferguson cites a stimulating recent paper by Acemoglu, Johnson, and Robinson that advances the idea that “societies where colonialism led to the establishment of good institutions prospered relative to those where colonialism imposed extractive institutions.” There must be something to this, but if this idea is to have useful content, we need some way of identifying “good institutions” other than looking at economic performance. Ferguson criticizes the Indian nationalists who came to power in 1947” for “embarking . . . on a program of sub-Soviet state-led autarky,” as though the Indian socialists were isolated deviants from the British liberal, capitalist tradition. But liberalism was dead in Britain in 1947, too! Many of the leaders of newly independent India got their ideas about centralized socialist planning at Cambridge and the London School of Economics.[3] There are so many things one can learn from the British, but we shouldn’t permit them to take credit for the good ones and blame the colonials for all the bad ones.

The Industrial Revolution began in Britain, and British people took it to America and other parts of the world, appropriating land and other resources as they came. Vast wealth was created in the process, and if this is what is meant by British imperialism, then surely no one has ever questioned its success, from the viewpoint of British people. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, industrialization spread to much of Europe and to Japan, under British influence certainly, but not under British rule. I think the pre-1914 international trade environment that Ferguson describes played an important role in this diffusion, and the protectionist policies of the interwar period retarded it. But in any case the diffusion that did occur before 1950 was between independent nations, not within the empires of Europe or, later, Japan. The economic progress that has come to Asia and Africa came after the colonial empires were dismantled. This progress has been mixed, with many mistakes and failed hopes, but it has been real and it will continue.

The one glorious exception to these generalizations is the postwar miracle of the Crown Colony of Hong Kong. This was the product of laissez faire economic policies introduced by a maverick administration that was completely out of step with the socialists back home. I would like to call this the exception that proves the rule. Most remarkably of all, most Hong Kong residents welcomed the transfer of authority from the British to the communist Chinese government. Nostalgia for the empire seems to be a very one-sided emotion.

Nobel laureate Robert E. Lucas, Jr. is the John Dewey Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago. He is the author of Lectures on Economic Growth (HarvardUniversity Press, 2002).

[1]For comparison, during the 18th century world population and production both grew at about 0.33% per year, and average living standards grew not at all. From 1800 to 1950, when the industrial revolution began to transform the lives of large numbers of people, population grew at 0.7% and production at 1.4%, implying per capita income growth of 0.7%. All of these figures are taken from Tables 5.1 and 5.2 in my Lectures on Economic Growth (Harvard University Press, 2002).
[2]This is Figure 5.3 in my Lectures.
[3]India could have done worse: Pol Pot studied his economics at the Sorbonne.

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“Anglobalization”: A Conceptual Step Backward
by Andrew Porter 

Britain’s empire these days is high on the list of places for scholarly tourists to visit. The style of visitation, however, is rarely that of the wandering scholar. Academic entrepreneurs career around in the manner of the modern jetsetter, equipped with a concept for all time zones, a laptop for the storage of nuggets, and a 48-hour stopover permit. Niall Ferguson does not entirely escape the hazards of such a position. His concept is “globalization,” than which it is of course difficult to find one wider or more all-embracing. His laptop is dedicated to the task of generating graphs and bar charts, dispensing comforting continuities from imperfect or ambiguous contemporary statistics. And a little more time for reflection might have enabled him to address some of the further questions provoked by his interesting paper.

Let us take “globalization” as a starter. How is it to be understood, either in chronological terms or functionally? His terminology refers to “modern globalization,” but also to “the previous era of globalization” conventionally dated we are told to the years 1850-1914. This period may also have been “the first era of globalization.” His argument, however, also knits the two together in a single period and process. At different points in the paper, globalization may be taken to mean either little more than the far-flung existence of even limited economic activity involving a major power’s (e.g. Britain’s) nationals, or an active process of territorial integration into a worldwide market economy. In both cases, “globalization” is apparently a continuing feature, albeit one, Ferguson argues, in which the phase 1850-1945 was characterized by the equalization of incomes. The second half of the 20th century, on the other hand, witnessed mounting economic divergence and inequality. There is a fuzziness here in the handling of globalization—whether as concept, descriptive category, or economic process—that needs to be cleared away.

This need for clarity is further indicated by Ferguson’s lack of attention to the possibility that globalization, however it is defined, may have had a history stretching back well before 1850. There is much in the history of the 17th and 18th centuries to support the view that a process of globalization was then underway. Doubtless the balance of power and wealth among (and so the contribution made by) participating states was different then from that which developed later on; and “globalization” had perhaps not yet become global in its reach. It may be debated whether there was a distinctly “early modern globalization,” or merely an earlier phase of a single process. It is more important, however, to recognize that the prominence of war and economic protection or monopolization meant that the characteristics of that earlier age were very different from those that Ferguson suggests operated during the British-dominated phase of globalization after 1850.

If it is accepted that there was an early modern globalization underway well before the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars; that its momentum owed much to war both internationally and on local colonial frontiers; and that the prominent role of Britain in the Caribbean, North America, and parts of Asia means that it too deserves the ghastly appellation of “Anglobalization,” then this has implications for Ferguson’s portrayal of the post-1850 period. From then on Ferguson seems to allow that the global accumulation of wealth was promoted only by an increasing absence of restraint on the movement of people (labor migration), the flow of capital (external investment), and produce from land (overseas commerce). This argument is unpersuasive because it ignores the role of war, economic protection, and strategic calculation—persisting from that earlier period—in the continuing growth of a global economy. Britain’s many colonial wars in the 19th century and beyond were an essential aid to the incorporation of new territories into her own empire, and to the expansion of free trade both within her colonies and into areas beyond the reach of her direct rule. Furthermore, in Ferguson’s contemporary age of “modern globalization,” echoes of the early modern period are to be found in the way in which world economic patterns are being decisively shaped by the protectionist agenda of the United States and many other European countries, notably in respect of their domestic agriculture.

This last observation directs us not only to the compatibility of continuing globalization with partially-closed economies, but also to the limitations of free trade arrangements historically associated with the pursuit of an open global economy. Contrary to much current thinking, Ferguson wishes us to accept that the priority attached by Britain to free trade, free labor migration, and unfettered capital movements was beneficial to Britain itself, to her empire, and to the world at large. The extension of her empire not least contributed to the global growth of GDP, because Britain was the “least protectionist” of all the great powers. By this yardstick, the British Empire was “a good thing,” British rule “on balance conducive to economic growth.” I would argue that this simple standard requires a more critical consideration than it receives in Ferguson’s essay. 

Two points are fundamental. First, it is surely necessary to bear in mind that the pattern of free trade, particularly in the form of unlimited exchange of foodstuffs and raw materials for manufactured capital and consumer goods, generally operates over any significant period of time to the decided disadvantage of commodity producers. Free trade might have been one of the pillars of “Anglobalization,” but at the same time it was likely to restrict and impoverish the less economically “modernized” party. The second follows from that: free trade cannot necessarily be equated with freedom of choice and opportunity. The time at which any territory is drawn through the opening up of its trade into the globalizing economy can have a critical impact on its future development. The great variety of combinations of climate, geographical position, and natural endowment of resources inevitably means that each territory may be more or less well placed to find its own niche in the range of economic openings prevailing at any one time. Hence, as Donald Denoon demonstrated in his Settler Capitalism (1983), temperate lands of white settlement, faced with exclusion from industrial and manufacturing options, not only evolved their own forms of capitalism but did so largely irrespective of their colonial or independent status. Moreover, their contribution to the globalization process was evidently compatible with a distribution of any gains within individual states that was often very far from equalizing incomes. Fergusonis to be applauded for his realism in calling on historians to consider not ideal worlds but inescapably imperfect worlds in which the option of “Anglobalization” was if not the best then perhaps the least bad course available. However, the reality of the imperialism of free trade which underlay that option was far more constraining and less benign than Ferguson, at least here, seems to acknowledge. It was, of course, greatly to Britain’s own advantage as the world’s major industrial power for much of the 19th century that she should insist on the expansion of free trade while at the same time facing little serious competition in the new markets she was exploiting.

My last comment relates still more directly to the issue of costs and benefits. As befits any public performer, Ferguson is fond of catching his audience’s attention with striking juxtapositions of images and arguments. Stark intellectual polarities, however, can be snares and delusions, especially in the history of empire, so riddled as it is with complexities and ambiguity. In seeking to argue that the empire was not “economically bad for both Britain and her colonies,” Ferguson sets up an Aunt Sally no less grand and vulnerable than that constructed by some of the historians he criticizes.

Consider his reference to Robert Huttenback and Lance Davis’s Mammon and the Pursuit of Empire, a book extensively debated when it appeared in 1986. Whatever the problems presented by that work (and they were numerous), Davis and Huttenback did not make quite the bald claim for Britain’s losses and colonial benefits from empire that Ferguson’s compressed opening paragraph suggests. They confirmed above all the need to ask of imperial commitments and colonial possessions who benefited, from what, and when. In demonstrating that fortunately placed individuals, particular social classes, and identifiable types of business in both metropole and colonies gained or lost in varying degrees and at different times, they argued convincingly for a more discriminating and nuanced scrutiny of the empire’s political economy than was currently available. They also proved beyond doubt the centrality of the incidence of taxation and the costs of defense to any assessment of costs and benefits. Ferguson seems in effect to argue that the association of global economic growth with both the element of redistribution inherent in the workings of a free market system and the existence of Britain’s free trade empire was sufficient—as Lewis Carroll would put it—for all to have prizes. That surely represents a significant retreat from the ground so usefully opened up to debate some fifteen years ago.

Andrew Porter is Rhodes Professor of Imperial History at King’s College, London . He is editor of The Oxford History of the British Empire: The Nineteenth Century (Oxford University Press, 1999; 2001). 

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Does Empire Pay?
by Andrew J. Bacevich

Niall Ferguson advances “at least a prima facie case that the British Empire was economically beneficial, not only to Britain herself, but also to her empire—perhaps even to the world economy as a whole.” For the most part, that is, “Anglobalization” paid, producing results that “were in many ways astounding.” Where results fell short of that standard, the culprit was insufficient exertion. Britain’s imperial sins were those of “omission rather than commission.” Indeed, when, the sun finally set on Britain ’s empire, independence in all too many cases left the Crown’s former subjects worse off.

In offering this argument at this particular moment, Ferguson adds his voice—knowingly, one assumes—to a swelling chorus heard throughout much of the Anglo-American world. Already discernible before the terrorist attack of September 11, these voices have become altogether insistent since.  Empire, they argue, has gotten something of a bum rap. Indeed, if a planet awash with religious fanatics and rogue regimes is to have any hope of enjoying order and predictability—and by extension, prosperity and civility—a little dose of empire might be just what the doctor ordered.

Among those former colonials who were the very first to throw off British rule, this idea has met with growing favor. In public discourse, a preference for rhetorical evasions persists—“global leadership” being the euphemism of choice—but the truth is that especially since September 11 more and more Americans have warmed to the notion that as the sole remaining superpower the United States ought to call the shots. 

In words and actions, the present Bush administration has with alacrity seized upon this imperial moment. The administration’s National Security Strategy, published precisely one year into the so-called war on terror, offered a breathtaking assertion of American primacy. More telling still, the battle dress-clad legionnaires sweeping into such formerly British imperial precincts as Central Asia and the Persian Gulf—and settling in for what promises to be a protracted stay—testify in ways both symbolic and real to this administration’s willingness to don the mantle of empire.  Although not quite willing to say so out loud, Washington and Wall Street have laid claim to the prerogatives once reserved for London and its City. 

A new variant of globalization, informed by American values and American aspirations, has emerged, a successor of sorts to the Anglobalization that made life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries comparatively tolerable. Noting the resemblance between today’s Washington consensus and the Londonconsensus of that earlier age, Ferguson finds hopeful similarities between the two projects. When it comes to economic and political ground rules, the United Statesarguably stands today as the true successor of Great Britain in its imperial heyday. 

Implied but not stated is the suggestion that by following the wise example of their cousins across the pond, the architects of today’s American Empire just might manage to create a global imperium approaching Britain’s in durability and (by Ferguson’s measure) decency, to the benefit of all.

A nice thought but don’t count on it—at least not without Americans having to pay a helluva price.

Ferguson’s empire is a business proposition, its success measured in terms of capital flows, advances in per capita GDP, and the anticipated vs. actual return on government bonds. In that empire, the practitioner of “gentlemanly capitalism” occupies center stage. (Rudyard Kipling, T. E. Lawrence, and Winston Churchill, meanwhile, are nowhere to be seen). It is an empire devoid of grandeur and, seemingly, of moral purpose.

To be sure, the American Empire is also a business proposition.  But it is not only just that. When any modern president describes America’s purpose—and here George W. Bush differs little from his immediate (and now all but forgotten) predecessor—he speaks the language not of the corporate CEO or accountant but of the prophet and revolutionary. It is not gentlemanly capitalism that informs the American Empire but a conviction that providence has charged America with the salvation of the world. The patron saint of the American Empire is not J. P. Morgan; it is Woodrow Wilson.

Do sophisticated, worldly American statesmen—people like Cheney, Powell, and Rumsfeld—really believe all of the Wilsonian blather about democracy, freedom, and world peace that routinely washes across the top of the bully pulpit? Maybe, maybe not. But in either case they can’t stop pretending that they do, and that’s what counts. The continuing legitimacy of the empire prohibits them (and us) from admitting any doubts about America ’s responsibility (and capacity) to steer history to its intended destination. 

As a consequence, in the Age of Bush empire demands of its subjects much more than it did in the Age of Victoria. It is not simply a matter of trade balances and gold reserves. It is about ideology and culture. Come, be like us: this is America ’s message to the world—sometimes an invitation, at other times a command. In this empire, the ultimate proof of loyalty is not obedience but conformity, a willing embrace of that package of values and taste and lifestyle known as the American Way of Life. 

That in some quarters—most notably at present across much of the Islamic world—this expectation evokes antagonism and resistance is to put things mildly. Thus, the future of the American Empire promises to be a bloody one—indeed, the leaders of the Bush administration promise that we face many years of apparently unavoidable armed struggle. 

Few subjects demand more careful thought today than the prospects and problems awaiting America s experiment in global empire. History may well hold some useful lesson for how best to guide the great enterprise to which the United States has committed itself. But the British Empire—at least as depicted by Ferguson in this essay—seems unlikely to provide a useful model. 

In the meantime (at least if the present administration has its way), we will not shirk our duty. If we fail, it will not be due to sins of omission. Rather, adhering to the tradition of Woodrow Wilson, we will get on with teaching others—Arabs, this time—to elect good men, at the point of a bayonet if need be.

Andrew J. Bacevich is professor of international relations at BostonUniversity and director of that institution’s Center for International Relations. His most recent book is American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U. S. Diplomacy (HarvardUniversity Press, 2002).

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Globalization without Gunboats?
by Niall Ferguson

In November 2002 British foreign secretary Jack Straw made some remarks to the New Statesman magazine which seem apposite here:

I’m not a liberal imperialist. There’s a lot wrong with liberalism, with a capital L, although I am a liberal with a small L. And there’s a lot wrong with imperialism. A lot of the problems we are having to deal with now are a consequence of our colonial past.

Reading the comments on my essay by Andrew J. Bacevich, Robert E. Lucas, Jr., P.J. Marshall, and Andrew Porter, I was sometimes reminded of Straw’s words. His misunderstanding of Britain’s imperial legacy is, of course, absurdly crude. Yet at least two of the commentators’ criticisms seem to be based on the same underlying assumption that there was, from a liberal standpoint, a “lot wrong” with the British Empire.

Central to my argument is that there was such a thing as liberal imperialism and that on balance it was a good thing. From the 1850s until the 1930s the British approach to governing their sprawling global imperium was fundamentally liberal both in theory and in practice. Free trade, free capital movements, and free migration were fostered. The rule of law was institutionalized. Colonial government practiced the strict rules of Gladstonian fiscal and monetary policy: balanced budgets and a stable currency. This policy “mix” encouraged British investors to put a substantial portion of their capital in what we would now call emerging markets. New technologies like railways and steam power were therefore spread across the world, reaching countries they would not have reached had those countries been self-governing or under some other less liberal form of imperial rule. The results of liberal imperialism were mixed, to be sure. Not everywhere grew as rapidly as the colonies of white settlement. But even those countries (like India) that achieved only very slow increases in per capita income fared better than they would have fared under alternative regimes.

In short, Peter Marshall is right to infer from the essay a counterfactual question: “What if British capital, British financial services, the demand of British markets, British technology, and British skilled personnel had not been diffused throughout the world largely through the mechanism of empire?” I have little doubt that the global economy would have grown less rapidly in such an alternative 19th century. I certainly do not think it plausible that these things would have happened on the same scale without the “mechanism” of empire. And yes, as Porter says, that mechanism did indeed rely on “war” and “strategic calculation” to promote the growth of a “global economy.” This was, as I have written elsewhere, “globalization with gunboats.”[1]

Political Independence and Economic Growth
Robert E. Lucas, Jr. admits that “in common with many British thinkers from Adam Smith onward” he “think[s] of imperialism as almost an opposite of liberalism.” This was certainly true in Adam Smith’s day, when the empire was thoroughly mercantilist in its policies.[2] Less than a century later, however, Smith’s Wealth of Nations had been enshrined as one of the sacred texts of Victorian liberalism. Policy makers took it for granted that laissez faire was superior to state intervention and monopoly. This was not true in other European empires, which from the late 1870s onward steadily increased the level of both agricultural and industrial protectionism. In failing to make this distinction, Lucas errs.

He further errs when he imputes to me the argument that “the economic growth of the successful societies in the post-colonial years can be viewed as a continuation of their economic performance under the British Empire.” This is the very reverse of what I say. By comparing the economic performance of Britain’s former colonies before and after British rule, I show that a majority—27 out of 41—fared worse under independence than they had fared under British rule, in that the economic gap between Britain and them widened after the 1960s. Because he uses highly aggregated data in assessing the economic performance of Africa and Asia, Lucas fails to distinguish between the economic performance of British colonies and those of other empires, to say nothing of China . To say that “these colonial subjects had the same living standards at the end of the colonial period as they had had two centuries later” is therefore to miss the point that (for example) in South Africa they rose while in the Congo they collapsed, or that in India they held steady while in China they declined.

Lucas insists that the real distinction to be made is between “the economics of the dominions and the economics of the colonies of Africa and Asia.” But the real distinction we need to consider is that between British colonies and comparable economies in Asia and Africa that had different forms of government. My question remains unanswered: given that the British imposed superior economic institutions wherever they ruled, did it make a discernible difference? Such questions are not easy to answer when the data for 19th-century Africa and Asia are so patchy. But Lucas’s ballpark figures certainly do not help us. 

For that reason, his claim that the diffusion of the industrial revolution “was between independent nations, not within the empires of Europe” is a generalization too far. India acquired an immense railway network, coal mines, and a modern textile industry under British rule. South Africa did the same. Where the prerequisites for industrialization were present in the territories under British rule, it was encouraged not hindered (with one caveat, which follows). The implication—that India would have performed as well as Japan had it remained independent—is not plausible, because it does not compare like with like. When P.J. Marshall talks enthusiastically of “vigorous ‘national’ governments, as in the United States, Tsarist Russia, or Japan,” he is not offering credible role models for the great majority of British colonies. Indeed, when many former colonies self-consciously sought to follow the Russian example in the 1960s, the results were dire.

Lucas claims that “living standards for masses of people in these populous, poor societies finally began to grow after independence.” As a global generalization this seems uncontroversial, but once again it does not make any distinction between British colonies and other economies. It is also somewhat cavalier with chronology. To repeat: most British colonies—especially those in Africa—lagged further behind Britain after independence. Among the minority that closed the gap, India began to do so only in 1979 (see chart below). The “economic development” of the “post-colonial period” largely refers to the very recent past, when governments like India’s abandoned the unsuccessful protectionism and socialism of the post-independence period. As Lucas rightly says, the Indians and others got the ideas for some of these policies from Britain, but not (he omits to mention) from the British imperialists. The ritish Empire can be blamed for many things, but surely not the London School of Economics.

The Imperialism of Free Trade versus Tariffs 
The most important criticism advanced—not surprisingly by the two experts in the field—relates to the role of tariffs. Here there is an important distinction to be drawn and it is one that I discuss more fully in my book than was possible in the allotted space here. This is the distinction between those colonies which secured, through the granting of “responsible government,” the right to set their own tariffs. Canada did so in 1879, an example soon followed by Australia and New Zealand. Recent work on the late 19th and early 20th century by Jeff Williamson and Michael Clement has shown that there was a positive correlation—an apparently awkward one for the proponents of unconditional economic “openness”—between the imposition of tariffs and growth.[3] This has important implications for any economic history of the British Empire. If Canada and the other dominions benefited from protection, then the question becomes: would India have done better with tariffs? That is certainly the implication of P.J. Marshall’s assertion that “the free trade order was a damagingly unequal one, stunting the economic, social, and even the political development of those countries that exchanged primary products for British manufactures”; and Andrew Porter’s even more sweeping claim that “free trade . . . generally operates over any significant period of time to the decided disadvantage of commodity producers.”

Yet there is a difficulty with this line of argument. First, as Douglas Irwin has pointed out, the tariffs imposed by Canada and others were revenue tariffs, not protectionist tariffs. Canadian growth came from exports of agricultural products, not import substitution by domestic manufacturers.[4] Second, the argument ignores the far more damaging effects of unfree trade on primary producers during the 1930s. The Depression was hard on everyone, but harder on primary producers outside the system of imperial preference than inside it. Porter’s generalized argument against free trade— which is explicitly repudiated by Clemens and Williamson—also ignores the continuing harm inflicted on primary producers today by European Union tariffs and subsidies. Finally, it is to lapse into the economically inexact rhetoric of an earlier anti-imperialist era to claim that Britain “insisted on the expansion of free trade while at the same time facing little serious competition in the new markets she was exploiting.” The evidence that imperial markets were open to and were successfully penetrated by German firms in the late 19th century is well known and often adduced as proof of British entrepreneurial decline.
The Distribution of Costs and Benefits
Three out of four commentators argue that the benefits of British imperialism were unevenly distributed. Only “small elites and some European settlers and administrators” gained, while much more numerous peasant cultivators did not (Lucas). I am, of course, well aware of the arguments advanced by Davis and Huttenback, particularly their point that the lion’s share of the financial returns on empire flowed to a tiny group of politically influential investors. As the author of the history of perhaps the greatest of all the financial houses interested in the empire—the Rothschild bank[5]—I think I can claim to have contributed important evidence in support of that point. However, Lucas’s own data relate to per capita income growth and tell us nothing about the relative gains made by the rich and the poor, then or now. If the world economy grows, then at least all may have prizes. But if it does not, then there are no prizes for anyone.

In fact, there is good reason to question his assumption that the empire as a whole increased inequality. To speak of “some European settlers” is to underestimate the many millions of such beneficiaries. The effect of mass migration to land rich, labor poor colonies like CanadaAustralia, and New Zealand was, as Jeffrey Williamson has argued, to reduce global inequality.[6] It is also possible (and the British certainly believed) that their rule in India tended to reduce social inequality.[7]
Lessons of History? 
A final point worth making is that my essay has very different implications for the United States in our own time than the two American authors seem to recognize. Strikingly, Lucas leaves out of his account of post-1945 economic growth any acknowledgement that this was due in some measure to America ’s “imperialism of free trade.” Like many economists, he assumes that the rapid growth of trade after the Second World War was naturally occurring, whereas historians would tend to emphasize the “hegemonic” role of successive U.S. administrations, who had learned the lesson of the 1930s and committed themselves to trade liberalization as a policy goal.

Even more puzzling is Andrew Bacevich’s allegation that the empire I portray was “an empire devoid of grandeur and, seemingly, of moral purpose.” If he wishes to be reminded of the share scale of the undertaking and the crucial role of evangelical Christianity in providing its rationale, he need look no further than my book. Kipling, Lawrence, and Churchill are all there.

Of course, an essay as broad in its scope and ambition as this is unlikely to command universal assent. But I am grateful to all four commentators for their contributions and I am content to let one of them provide one of my concluding reflections: “For all its imperfections, the British order may have been the best path on offer in the later 19th century for countries with the economic potential of India and perhaps some of the Latin American republics.” One might infer from that another counterfactual question: what if ArgentinaBrazil, and Chile had been able to enjoy the benefits of formal as well as informal British imperialism? 

Such questions may not be politically correct. It is much more gratifying to blame economic under-performance on dependence rather than independence. But it behooves us as scholars interested in the history of the global economy to pose awkward questions. And though I do not go as far as Andrew Bacevich thinks—I doubt very much that Americans today are capable of following the British path to formal empire—I do believe that there are valuable lessons to be learned from the British experience of empire. 

Andrew Bacevich thinks that the American Empire is informed not by “gentlemanly capitalism” but by “a conviction that providence has charged American with the salvation of the world,” and that therefore “in the Age of Bush empire demands of its subjects much more than it did in the Age of Victoria.” For this reason, he concludes, “the British Empire . . . seems unlikely to provide a useful model.” This is quite wrong. Britain in the early 1820s was in the grip of one of the greatest religious revivals in her history.  The evangelical movement played a crucial role in legitimizing and inspiring British expansion in mid-19th century. To any student of the Victorian empire, the mood of pious bellicosity which hangs over the White House at the time of writing is all too familiar. 

The true difference between then and now lies in the very short time horizon of nearly all America ’s quasi-imperial undertakings. The American view, paraphrased by Bacevich, is that “others” can be “taught to elect good men, at the point of a bayonet if need be,” allowing American troops to return home swiftly from the scenes of their interventions. President Bush insists that it is not his intention to “determin[e] the precise form of Iraq ’s new government”:

We will remain in Iraq as long as necessary and not a day more. America has made and kept this kind of commitment before in the peace that followed a world war. After defeating enemies, we did not leave behind occupying armies, we left constitutions and parliaments.

The United States, in short, forswears the traditional techniques of imperial rule and instead anticipates swift transitions to democracy in the wake of its military interventions.

To American voters, this is no doubt reassuring. To the historian, however, it seems unrealistic. The problem of our time, I venture to conclude, may prove to be not the liberal imperialism feared by Jack Straw but the conservative “non-imperialism” propagated by George W. Bush.

[1]Niall Ferguson, Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power (Basic Books, 2003).
[2]Andrew Porter makes the claim that “a process of globalization” was already underway in the 17th and 18th centuries. This is not borne out by empirical studies of price and wage convergence. See Kevin H. O’Rourke and Jeffrey G. Williamson, “When did Globalization Begin?” NBER Working Paper 7632 (2000). The “fuzziness” about globalization is in Porter’s definition, not mine.
[3] Michael A. Clemens and Jeffrey G. Williamson, “A Tariff-Growth Paradox? Protection's Impact the World Around 1875-1997,” NBER Working Paper 8459 (2001).
[4] Douglas A. Irwin, “Interpreting the Tariff-Growth Correlation of the Late Nineteenth Century.” NBER Working Paper 8739 (2002).
[5] Niall Ferguson, The World’s Banker: The History of the House of Rothschild (Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1998).
[6] Jeffrey G. Williamson, “Winners and Losers Over Two Centuries of Globalization,” NBER Working Paper 9161 (2002); idem, “Land, Labor and Globalization in the Pre-Industrial Third World,” NBER Working Paper 7784 (2000).
[7] Angus Maddison, The World Economy: A Millennium Perspective (OECD, 2001), 110f.


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Historically Speaking: The Bulletin of the Historical Society

April 2003

Interview with David Brooks
conducted by Joseph S. Lucas

David Brooks, author of Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There (Simon and Schuster, 2000) and editor of the anthology Backward and Upward: The New Conservative Writing (Vintage Books, 1996), is working on a book called How to Be American (forthcoming from Simon and  Schuster). His essays on American culture and politics have appeared in a wide variety of publications, including the Weekly Standard, the New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, the Atlantic Monthly, Forbes, the Washington Post, the TLS, Commentary, and the Public Interest.

Joseph Lucas: When you were in college, at the University of Chicago, you planned to become an academic historian. What got you interested in history? Did you have an idea back then of what you would write about once you became a history professor? 

David Brooks: I grew up in an academic household. My father was an English professor who worked at New YorkUniversity and then WestchesterUniversity teaching mostly 19th-century English literature. And my mother wrote her history dissertation at ColumbiaUniversity—on Wimbledon Common—and then went on to teach Western Civ. as a traveling, starving professor. So history was basically something I grew up with. It was normal for me to want to become a history professor. It was the family business. 

I became interested in American history, particularly late 19th- and early 20th-century technological history, and social and cultural history. One of my professors at the University of Chicago was Neil Harris. He was my senior paper advisor, and I took a number of courses from him on the effects of technology and other things on culture. 

Even at an early age I fixated on the books of the late 1950s and early 1960s—Leo Marx’s The Machine in the Garden (1964), William Taylor’s Cavalier and Yankee (1961), Cesar Graña’s Bohemian versus Bourgeois (1964), and the books that came from that American historical tradition of Richard Hofstadter and Henry Steele Commager. Those were the books I liked the most. 

Lucas: Do you still like those books?

Brooks: Absolutely. I go back to those books all the time. I’m writing a book now that’s sort of an updated version of David Potter’s People of Plenty (1954). In the 1950s historical writing was more for the general public—sometimes a little too broad, maybe, but usually more interesting than the stuff that came before and after. 

Lucas: At that time, historians were in the habit of taking on big themes. They didn’t hesitate to conceive of and then tackle subjects like “the history of the American mind.” 

Brooks: My favorite example is Reinhold Neibuhr’s The Nature and Destiny of Man, which I always say covers a lot of ground. I admire the serious scholarship of that era—on Neibuhr’s part or Commager’s (his book The American Mind). But there was also a willingness to generalize and the understanding that you were writing for the educated lay reader. 

Lucas: What do you think has changed since then? 

Brooks: I would say professionalization and scientism are the two main culprits. I didn’t become an academic in part because I didn’t want to write for journals whose readers numbered only in the single digits. 

When I was a senior in college I went to a conference which was put on by the Chicago literary magazine Triquarterly. Lots of academic all-stars were there, mainly from literary studies, but not exclusively: Wayne Booth, Edward Said, RonaldDworkin. There were about fifteen or twenty superstars, very impressive people. I sat there for twenty-two hours, and I barely understood a word they said. I wrote in the school paper that maybe this language is useful, and I could go to graduate school and learn it. But suppose it turns out to be a racket? Then I’ll have wasted ten years, and then I’ll have to unlearn what I’ve learned. So I ended up not going to graduate school, and went into journalism instead. 

Lucas: Yet it’s clear from your writing that you keep tabs on what academics are up to. 

Brooks: I look at the catalogues of academic presses, and I spend a lot of time cruising the better bookstores. When Lingua Franca was around, they would have people in the field describing what they thought were the best books in the field, and you could pick up a few of those if you were interested. 

I need to keep in touch with the world of scholarship for the sort of reporting I do. Every reporter needs to bring something to the table. Some people bring the fact that they’ve just gotten off the phone with somebody who was at a meeting with the president. I don’t do that sort of reporting, so I try to bring the world of ideas to bear on modern politics and modern events. I just went down to Nashville to look into Bill Frist’s background, and I needed to find books about either Nashville or the South, or the “southern mind.” 

Lucas: What did you read to prepare for the Nashville trip? 

Brooks: I read John Egerton’s The Americanization of Dixie. I went back and read a book I mentioned already, Cavalier and Yankee, which is a favorite of mine. It’s about the cavalier mentality of the Confederacy and its anti-commercial feeling. I have a reasonable knowledge of the Southern Agrarians—I’ll Take My Stand was assigned to me in college. 

I just wrote a piece about why Americans lack class consciousness. There you can go back to Seymour Martin Lipset and his writings on American exceptionalism. Or you can go further back to Puritanism. One of the writers I often turn to is SacvanBercovitch (named after Sacco and Vanzetti). His description of the eschatological framework of the Puritan mind is something I find very applicable to a lot of current public policy debates. 

Lucas: So you believe that ideas from the colonial period still inform American culture?

Brooks: Why does George Bush—who, as he said during the campaign, has no interest in nation-building, who doesn’t have a great interest in history and probably hasn’t read too many books—react to September 11 in such an overtly moralistic way? I’d say it’s because he subconsciously has inherited certain ideas about what America should be and certain religious impulses. And those ideas and impulses are deep and longstanding, as many historians have described them. 

Lucas: Are these the kind of ideas you write about in your forthcoming book, How to Be American

Brooks: Essentially the question of the book is: if you drive around your basic fast-growing suburb in America , are these people as shallow as they look? I hope to show that while there are many excesses of materialism and shallowness and complacency, the ideas that, say, Bercovitch talks about, and some of the nobler impulses that Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt talked about, are still alive, if submerged, in these people. 

Lucas: You started your first book, Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There, by writing about the changes you noticed in America when you got back from Europe after working there for several years for the Wall Street Journal. You’ve written elsewhere about the differences between Europeans and Americans. These are differences you’ve experienced first-hand. 

Brooks: I left America a big Europhile, and came back still admiring Europebut feeling much more estranged from it than before I lived there. My two turtles when I was a boy were named Disraeli and Gladstone. My family was Anglophilic, very much in the “think Yiddish act British” style of New York Jewry. When I lived in Brussels for four and a half years I came to see that the mentality really is very different. I felt more like a stranger there than I expected to. 

Lucas: In “Among the Bourgeoisophobes: Why the Europeans and Arabs, Each in Their Own WayHateAmerica and Israel ,” Weekly Standard (April 15, 2002), you argue that an anti-bourgeois ethos shapes elite Europeans’ ideas about America . Is this a vestige of the aristocratic disdain for ordinary people? 

Brooks: There is definitely a different attitude toward democracy. I would get invited to these conferences at a place called Ditchley Park, which is in Oxfordshire where Churchill spent part of World War II. In attendance were elite diplomats from across Europe, academics and foreign policy people from the States, and a few journalists. You would hear from the European diplomats—and there were also former prime ministers and cabinet ministers—anti-democratic attitudes that you just wouldn’t hear in America , uttered publicly at least. The idea that we can never let the people know about this, we can’t let them vote on this because they’ll get it all wrong. Those are attitudes that I think are prevalent in Europe and just not found in the United States

Europeans have more sophisticated public discussions. And frankly a lot of Europeans, particularly the French, write the sort of books I like. Scholars there are less professionalized and what they write is read by the general public. 

But I came away thinking—and maybe this was just Belgium—that  Francis Fukuyama’s “last man” really was to be found in northern Europe; complacent, flat, comfort-oriented lives—not enough work. 

Lucas:  Since Bobos in Paradise [which argues that the American elite of the 1990s successfully merged two sets of values that have historically been at odds: bourgeois and bohemian—hence, “bobo”] you’ve continued to write about the American bourgeoisie, and also its enemies.  I’m thinking of “Among the Bourgeoisophobes,” and also Patio Man and the Sprawl People:America’s Newest Suburbs,” Weekly Standard (August 12-19, 2002) and “One Nation, Slightly Divisible,”Atlantic Monthly (December 2001). Why is it that Bobos don’t figure very largely in these essays? 

Brooks: I’m sick of them. While promoting the book, actually, I found myself in places like ScottsdaleArizona, where golf is far more important as a cultural influence than universities. I remember being in PiffinOhio, a rural town where a lot of the things I was writing about didn’t touch these people at all. I sort of knew this already, but I came to see more vividly that the slice of America I wrote about in Bobos, the coastal, upper-middle class suburb, is an influential but small part of AmericaAnd so since then I’ve tried to do more reporting from rural America, exurban America, and in Nashville, where I just came back from, pretty well-preserved Protestant establishment America, with white-tie balls and country clubs, and rich people who’ve been rich for four generations.

I’ve become incredibly impatient with people who don’t know about these parts of America (which was me only five years ago)—people who don’t know what Pentecostalism is, or don’t know who Tim LaHaye is (whose books have sold 42 million copies). It seems to me you have a responsibility to know your own country. 

Lucas: Do you think that these neglected parts of America have closer ties to the country’s cultural roots?  

Brooks: All the country’s regions have ties to America ’s many different traditions. But if you use the phrase “middle America,” you’re talking about the people who live in rural areas and exurbs. And exurban America is interesting because it’s growing. One of the things that intrigues me is that in the 1990s 90% of the offices that were built in this country were built in exurbs. Whereas in 1979 the vast majority—I think 80%—of the office space in America was in cities. Now it’s almost 50/50. So you have a whole new crowd of people who don’t commute to cities, don’t go to dinner in cities, don’t have any contact with urban life. They live in these fast-growing exurbs, and it’s interesting to know what they’re all about. 

Lucas: Do you think these people are more capable than Bobos of articulating and defending American values? 

Brooks: No, they’re much less capable. They don’t read as much; they don’t listen to NPR; they don’t even watch PBS. The paradox of their lives is that they seek out the pleasures of private life, but because they work so hard and create so many companies and jobs and products, they account for the U.S. economy being so dominant in the world, and therefore arousing hatred, envy, resentment—all sorts of feelings—from people around the world. So while they seek out just private satisfaction, America ’s position in the world means that they’re inescapably drawn to foreign conflicts, as we learned on September 11, 2001. So they get woken up and dragged into politics, which they desperately want to avoid. They’re not inclined or trained or interested in—I’m speaking generally, of course—the wars of ideas and debates about the future of the country. 

Lucas: You mentioned Francis Fukuyama. Since September 11, 2001, intellectuals have waged a modern battle of the books, pitting Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man against Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order. What do you make of this? 

Brooks: I used to be a firm Fukuyaman. I was the only person in America, aside from him maybe, who would go around saying his book was absolutely right. The second part of the book is about “the last man,” which as I said is who I found in BrusselsFukuyama’s intellectual guru, AlexandreKojève, moved to Brusselswhen he decided history was over, which was an act of integrity, if boringness. 

Now I’m a little less convinced that Fukuyama is right. One of things you see across the United States and especially across the world is religious revival being so strong. Philip Jenkins, a historian at PennState, notes in his book The Next Christendom: The Rise of Global Christianity that the most successful social idea of the 20th century was Pentecostalism, which started at nothing and now has 400-500 million adherents. According to projections there will be about one billion Pentecostals in the world in 2050. 

Jenkins writes about the rise of Christianity in Latin America and Africa, especially the rise of Protestantism, which is displacing Catholicism in many places. What this shows is that, as Peter Berger argues, the secularization thesis is not true. You have to be a lot more religiously minded when you think about grand politics. You have to be aware of religion when you think about this Fukuyama/Huntington debate. To me it’s not so much a clash of religions but a clash of eschatologies. Saddam Hussein has one vision of how history ends, Osama bin Laden has another, and many Americans share a vision of how history ends—with the United States as the last, best hope on earth leading the whole world to democracy. 

Lucas: In much of your work you suggest that big changes have recently happened or are happening right now. How do you think future historians will describe our era? 

Brooks: One of the things I think future scholars will emphasize is the tremendous wave of democratization throughout the world. I think there were 10 multi-party democracies in the world at the turn of the 20th century, and now there are 120 real democracies and 170 multi-party nations, 33 new democracies in the last 20 years. 

I think that our look at the world does not take into account our victory in the Cold War. When historians look back on this era that will be a tremendous victory, and I think we’re either too close to it or don’t really understand what it means. We’re shaped more by World War II and Vietnam than our victory in the Cold War. 

Historians will also focus on the unprecedented mass affluence of the country. When you go to places like DouglasCounty or LoudounCounty or HendersonNevada, they’re carving golf courses out of the desert, and these places are huge. MesaArizona, has more people living in it than live in St. LouisMinneapolis, or Cincinnati. That’s the emergence of a new sort of person. And we really haven’t caught up with that.  END 

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Computers, Visualization, and the Representation of History
by David J. Staley 

For academic historians, serious history is written history. But why can’t the past be depicted visually? Many visual representational forms exist already: film, museums, Chautauqua presentations, dramatic recreations. Academic historians, if they consider these other representations of the past at all, tend to confine them to the background of our discipline. These might be fine for schoolchildren or museum patrons or history buffs, but a professional historian would never design one of these visual displays as a substitute for a conference presentation, a journal article, or a monograph. Of course there are many historians who are interested in the representation of the past on film. Hayden White even coined a term for such a visual history: historiophoty. Indeed, some historians have appeared in documentaries and have written elegant critical and theoretical essays about historical films. However, academic historians tend not to direct their own films. And even White was forced to concede that historians tend to use images only to supplement their words.[1]

I have yet to discover any philosopher of history who directly explains why serious history must be written history. Instead, many philosophers of history—if they discuss the issue at all—equate serious history with written history as an axiom, a first principle upon which the rest of the edifice of our discipline is built. The philosopher and historian Michael Stanford has been perhaps the most eloquent about this assumption. In The Nature of Historical Knowledge Stanford writes that “history, like poetry and song, is a way of using language.” In an otherwise insightful analysis of historical methods, Stanford provides no other explanation for why this is so. “Whether spoken or written,” he argues, a historical work “is a construction in words.”[2] Stanford does not explain why history is a construction in words; he just asserts that it is. 

Our reasons for preferring writing over visual representation are rooted in the same cultural assumptions that have undergirded much of modern Western thought, assumptions that historians have had little occasion to question: We believe that words and writing represent the highest form of thought. The arrival of the printing press hastened the creation of the “Gutenberg Galaxy,” a cultural environment wherein the ability to write and read the printed word became the hallmark of scholarship and the educated person. The modern discipline of history was forged during this “Gutenberg” period. Long before Ranke established our current practices, history was viewed as a branch of literature. As Francis Haskell has chronicled, while visual images such as paintings, sculpture, and monuments were at one time a common method for representing the past, modern historians after the Renaissance dismissed these, confining them to the ranks of antiquarians.[3] In establishing the professional discipline of history, Ranke emphasized immersion in the sources, meaning the written documents found in the state archives. That writing was associated with science, scholarship, and the highest level of thought would probably have been self-evident to any 19th-century historian. 

This attitude persists among historians at the beginning of the 21st century. While ours is a culture awash in images—from television, magazines, cinema, billboards, newspapers, video games, and now the Internet—historians continue to remain committed to the written word. Our educational institutions enshrine these beliefs. One need only note that reading and writing are considered core cognitive competencies, whereas facility with images is deemed an enrichment experience, something that can be easily cut when budgets get too tight. If “Johnny can’t read,” politicians, business leaders, and concerned parents lament the state of our schools and fret about Johnny’s competitiveness in the marketplace. If “Johnny can’t draw,” no one bats an eye. Perhaps it is the very ubiquity of images that explains this attitude: that images are associated with mass culture and a “dumbed down” society. Images are something little kids look at before they learn to read the words. Wayward teenagers avoid reading the novel by seeking out “the movie version.” In emphasizing graphics over prose, newspapers such as USA Today appeal to the lowest common denominator. These largely unexamined cultural assumptions might explain why historians insist history must be written. While it is true that some historians study images—such as art historians and historians of popular culture—and while it is true that visual primary sources are becoming increasingly common in historical scholarship, we write about images. Historians do not choose to communicate through images. 

Historians uncritically adhere to the written word despite the limitations of that medium of communication. Where I have found no definitive statement from a philosopher of history concerning the necessity of writing, I have found more direct evidence for the problems of writing as a medium for representing the past. In an early 19th-century essay, Thomas Carlyle wrote about how difficult it was to write about causation in history:

The most gifted man can observe, still more can record, only the series of his own impressions; his observation, therefore . . . must be successive, while the things done were often simultaneous; the things done were not in a series, but in a group. It is not in acted, as it is in written History: actual events are nowise so simply related to each other as parent and offspring are; every single event is the offspring not of one, but of all other events, prior or contemporaneous, and will in its turn combine with all others to give birth to new: it is an ever-living, ever-working Chaos of Being, wherein shape after shape bodies itself forth from innumerable elements. And this Chaos . . . is what the historian will depict, and scientifically gauge, we may say, by threading it with single lines of a few els in length! For as all Action is, by nature, to be figured as extended in breadth and in depth, as well as in length . . . so all Narrative is, by its very nature, of only one dimension; only travels forward towards one, or towards successive points; Narrative is linear, Action is solid.[4]

More recently, John D. Hicks expressed his frustration with writing as a medium for conveying historical narrative. “All historical writing,” he observes,

is a kind of compromise between topical and chronological treatment; how far should he go with one subject before he takes up another? And what sequence can he follow that will least confuse the students  who so regularly assume that whatever comes earlier in the book happened before whatever comes later? And how can he guard against introducing a subject, following it halfway through, then dropping it for chronological reasons and forgetting to return to it? Many times I have pointed out to my students how much simpler it would be if historical synthesis could follow the example of a symphony orchestra, with the various instruments, each representing some significant developments, all blended together to produce a harmonious whole. Instead, the historian has to do the best he can to convey his enormously complicated message on a single instrument that can produce only one tone at a time.[5]

Although both Carlyle and Hicks expressed frustration with the written word as a medium for representing the past, neither sought an alternative medium. As Hicks says, historians must “do the best we can” with the written word. 

When we write, we line up words in sequential order, even when the reality we are representing does not line up so sequentially. The effect is something like trying to translate all the information contained in a map into written prose. Even as they tend to dismiss other forms of visual information, most historians would agree that maps are useful to our work, and would probably admit a map as a “serious” form of history. Maps are useful because they efficiently arrange information in a two-dimensional space. Now, imagine trying to write out all that information as a sequence of words: “Paris is west of Berlinand north of Madrid and south of London, located on the Seine which winds from . . . .” There are any number of cases where a map-like display of the past would convey historical knowledge better than a written account, because the historical reality historians wish to represent is often made up of events occurring at once simultaneously, chronologically, and topically. Instead of “doing the best we can” with writing, perhaps historians might seek out a more appropriate medium of communication. 

Many of the events of the past, as Carlyle observed, might be better understood as a three-dimensional structure extending in breadth and depth as well as length. Think of complex historical phenomena like the genesis of revolutions, the causes of the First World War, or the rise of consumer culture. The events that made up these historical phenomena did not occur one at a time, like a line of words, but more like the acoustic space of a symphony, with events occurring simultaneously, located in a variety of places, moving at different rhythms of time. The medium of writing forces us to reduce this three-dimensional (or even four-dimensional) structure into a one-dimensional sequential line of words. 

Instead, why not employ a medium of representation that retains more of this multidimensionality? Maps would seem a natural medium for historians, but there are many other visual forms that would retain multi-dimensional structure. In his Outline of World History, H.G. Wells commissioned the artist J.F. Horrabin to design illustrations and charts. One chart in particular highlights the elegance and efficiency of a visualization to convey historical information: 

Source: H.G. Wells, Outline of History (New York: Macmillan, 1921), 1123.

In this diagram, time is represented along the x-axis, and geographic space is placed along the y-axis. Within the resulting space, Horrabin has placed notable events. Note how we can watch the rise and fall of the Roman Empire in this image, which is represented as a steadily increasing area. Note how this area expands in size as the empire grows both westward and eastward. Now, look to the upper right portion of the image and notice the advance of the Huns who, in the year 220 A.D. are “deflected” by the Great Wall of China. The movement of the Huns is depicted as a line, which moves inexorably westward, eventually “piercing” the Roman Empire and taking a “chunk” out of it. Horrabin, reflecting the historiography of the early 20th century, did not choose to represent the Han Empire in a similar fashion, but he easily could have done so. Moreover, he might have depicted interactions between Rome and China through, say, a depiction of the Silk Road. Questions of interpretation aside, this relational graph conveys multiple dimensions of historical information, in a manner similar to a geographic map. Note how your eye moves around the image, at once grasping the whole while zooming in on specific parts. This visualization retains more of the simultaneity and whole/part structures that are linearized in a written account. 

Imagine this image updated in a digital environment. We could add a third dimension along a z-axis, representing some other thematic dimension, as Hicks would have wanted. The resulting three-dimensional space would feature a “volume” that represents the rise and fall of Rome, with another volume reflecting its spatial/temporal/thematic relationship with Han China. In such a three-dimensional digital space, we could rotate the image, viewing in from many angles and perspectives. A viewer could also “fly around” inside the space, “zooming in” on some portion of the space, alighting somewhere within the volume, thereby revealing new levels of information. The volume itself could be filled with representations of events, people, and other historical phenomenon, such as a Hadrian’s Wall to mirror the Great Wall. After zooming into the details, we could then zoom back out to reveal the macro-level structure of the whole once again. Instead of a linear, one-dimensional written narrative, this visual image would be an efficient way to visualize the multidimensionality of the past. 

Like geographic information systems (GIS) maps, the digital information space I have described above could be easily produced right now; it is not the stuff of science fiction. In fact, there are historians and social scientists who are currently experimenting with such representations.  The China Historical GIS Project at Harvard (http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~chgis/) is an extensive collection of databases for much of Chinese history, which are then geo-referenced. The resulting GIS maps reveal patterns in the data that would not have been apparent had the data remained in database form. The historian John Bonnett has recreated 19th-century Ottawa using digital modeling techniques.  Most of the buildings have long since been razed, but by using fire insurance records, contemporary photographs, written documents, and other primary sources, Bonnett has been able to “rebuild” many of the buildings in silico. It may be possible in the near future to allow a viewer to “walk through” the city using virtual reality, providing a multidimensional experience that would be difficult to capture in a written account.[6] Digital visualizations need not make reference to physical spaces. The sociologist Lothar Krempel “maps” social networks and relationships as abstract structural patterns (http://www.mpi-fg-koeln.mpg.de/~lk/netvis.html). Spheres of differing size and color represent social actors, whose relationships to and influence upon each other are depicted as lines of varying width and color. The resulting digital “tinker toys” depict complex social relations; Krempel has so far depicted gift exchange patterns among the !Khung, the patterns of influence flowing among German research institutes, universities, and corporations, and the structure of world trade. These visualizations capture more of the Chaos of Being than what can be represented in writing.

A historical work is a representation, not the thing represented. Why, then, do historians choose one form of representation (the written word) over the many other forms of representation? Digital visualizations provide historians useful and evocative possibilities for representing the simultaneity, multidimensionality, and holistic structures of the past. I envision a day when dissertation committees—and journal editors and academic publishers—accept a visualization in lieu of a written document. 
David J. Staley is an assistant professor of history and the director of grants at Heidelberg College in Tiffin,Ohio. He is the author of Computers, Visualization, and History: How New Technologies Will Transform Our Understanding of the Past (M.E. Sharpe, 2003) and is the executive director (elect) of the American Association for History and Computing (AAHC). He is a series editor for the AAHC/M.E. Sharpe book series “History, the Humanities, and New Technology,” and is currently at work designing a visualization comparing imperialism and globalization and is preparing a manuscript analyzing the visualizations in William McNeill’s The Rise of the West

[1] Hayden White, “Historiography and Historiophoty,” American Historical Review 93 (1988): 1193-99.
[2] Michael Stanford, The Nature of Historical Knowledge (Blackwell, 1986), 130.
[3] Francis Haskell, History and its Images: Art and the Interpretation of the Past (Yale University Press, 1993), 1-2.
[4]Thomas Carlyle, “On History,” in Fritz Stern, ed., The Varieties of History: From Voltaire to the Present (Vintage Books, 1972), 95.
[5]John D. Hicks, My Life with History: An Autobiography (University of Nebraska Press, 1968), 166. 
[6] John Bonnett, “Bringing Students to a Virtual Past: Teaching Ottawa History with the 3-D Historical Cities Project,” in Jeff Keshen and Nicole Saint-Onge, eds., Construire une capitale—Ottawa—Making a Capital (University of Ottawa Press, 2001), 483-502. 


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Geoffrey Parker, Jeremy Black, Dennis Showalter, Jeffrey Clarke

In January 1955 Michael Roberts delivered his inaugural lecture, “The Military Revolution, 1560-1660,” at the University of Belfast. Roberts argued that the changes wrought by firearms and the tactical reforms of Maurice of Nassau and GustavusAdolphus led to larger, more disciplined, and more expensive standing armies. Supporting these armies necessitated bureaucratic mechanisms that led to more centralized and complex governments. Put simply, late 16th-century tactical reforms helped to bring about the modern nation-state. Almost as soon as it was published in 1956, Roberts’s thesis was incorporated into accounts of early modern military and political history. In 1976, however, Geoffrey Parker modified the original formulation of the Military Revolution by calling attention to the importance of siege warfare in the 16th century. The fortifications developed to resist artillery assault first in Italy and then all over Europe were the real keys to the Military Revolution and were ultimately responsible for the increased size of European armies. In 1988 Parker expanded the concept of the Military Revolution to include naval warfare and the experience of European militaries in colonial settings with the publication of The Military Revolution: Military Innovation and the Rise of the West, 1500 – 1800, 3rd ed. (CambridgeUniversity Press, 2000). The overseas expansion of Europe, Parker argued, was primarily a function of its superior armies and fleets. The Military Revolution debate continued through the 1990s with Jeremy Black and Clifford J. Rogers, among others, contributing major critiques. 

While historians debated the nature and extent of the Military Revolution in early modern Europe, advances in weapons systems such as those showcased in the 1991 Gulf War were prompting military experts to proclaim the emergence of a “revolution in military affairs” (RMA). In the following forum, several prominent military historians weigh in on both the historiographical and policy debates involved with these military revolutions of yesteryear and today. Geoffrey Parker brings the Military Revolution debate up to date by addressing Jeremy Black’s more recent concerns as well as discussing the relevance of historical understanding to contemporary policy matters. Black, along with Dennis Showalter and Jeffrey Clarke, respond, followed by Parker’s concluding reply. 

Military Revolutions, Past and Present[1]
by Geoffrey Parker

A couple of years ago, a friend and I were cruising the shelves of London University’s magnificent bookstore, Dillons (now merged into Waterstones), in which “History” occupied an entire floor. After passing “World History,” “European History,” and “Women’s History,” we lingered over “Military History” (reassuringly large), and then found ourselves in front of some shelves labeled “Black History.” “Oh no!” my friend exclaimed. “Not an entire section filled with Jeremy’s books!” 

Jeremy Black has certainly been prolific. He has 213 entries to his credit in the current bibliography of the Royal Historical Society. Last summer one of his students hosted a party for him, entitled “Convergence,” to mark the fact that the number of books he has written equals his age. Several of them deal with military history in general and a few with military revolutions in particular. Most recently, in War: Past, Present & Future, Black argues that military revolutions are not driven by research and technology, as some of us had supposed, but rather stem primarily from “military organization”:

“Organization” can be understood in a double sense: first, the explicit organization of the military—unit and command structures—and second, organization as an aspect of, and intersection and interaction with, wider social patterns and practices, leading to the social systematization of organized force.[2]

Black criticizes historians like me who have argued that an important military revolution, based on technology and research, occurred in early modern Europe. On the one hand, he claims, we fail to offer empirical research, instead “employing individual cases as illustrations more than evidence”;on the other, he dismisses early modern Europe’s Military Revolution as a chimera. While acknowledging that “Europeans created the first global empires” in the 16th and 17th centuries, Black denies that these empires were the fruits of a “technologically driven Military Revolution.” Furthermore, he even denies that these empires exercised military dominance over the rest of the world’s peoples.[3]

These denials overlook three important developments that took place between 1500 and 1650. First, superior military technology and combat effectiveness enabled relatively small groups of Spaniards to dominate thousands of square miles of Central and South America; second, those same assets enabled equally small groups of Russians to create the largest state on earth; finally, several groups of Western Europeans achieved mastery over the world’s oceans thanks to a lethal combination of “guns and sails” devised by shipwrights along Europe’s Atlantic coast.[4]

I contend that a military revolution did occur in early modern Europe; that it reflected advances in research and technology, not “military organization”; and that it played a crucial role in the rise of the West . . . .

Geoffrey Parker is Andreas Dorpalen Professor of History at Ohio State University. He is author or editor of thirty-one books, including the award-winning The Military Revolution: Military Innovation and the Rise of the West, 1500-1800 (Cambridge University Press, 1988; rev. ed., 1996), which has been tranlsated into Chinese, French, German, Indian, Japanese, and Spanish. 

[1] This essay is adapted from a paper presented in August 2002 at the XXVIIIth International Congress on Military History sponsored by the U.S. Commission on Military History. A longer version with full documentation will appear in the ACTA of the Congress.
[2] Jeremy M. Black, War: Past, Present & Future (Sutton, 2000), 28-29. Admittedly Black includes in his definition of military organization “the systematization of knowledge, such that it is possible better to understand, and thus seek to control, the military, its activities and its interaction with the wider world.”  But the examples he offers are statistics and mapping, not the acquisition of knowledge through research.
[3] Black, War, 95: “Historians who argue for a technologically driven Military Revolution as the key causative factor behind the European rise to dominance in the early-modern period are mistaken, because, first, although the Europeans created the first global empires, this was only partly due to the military developments of the Military Revolution and, second, there was no European dominance.” 
[4] Black specifically discounts two of these important anomalies. Black, War, 110: “It is possible to consider the Spanish conquistadores as unique, and in addition, to regard the trajectory and causation of naval success, both in the Indian Ocean and elsewhere, as separate.” Possible, perhaps, but it seriously undermines the argument that no Military Revolution occurred in early modern Europe.

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On Diversity and Military History
by Jeremy Black

Geoffrey Parker correctly draws attention to our different views on early-modern warfare, ones I have discussed in European Warfare, 1494-1660 (2002), but I suspect there are more fundamental differences that repay consideration. I am wary about meta-narratives and cautious about paradigms, mono-causal explanations, and much of the explanatory culture of long-term military history. My emphasis is on diversity and on being cautious in adducing characteristics and explanations. Thus, in the series of books that accompany War: Past, Present and FutureEuropean Warfare, 1494-1660 (2002), European Warfare, 1660-1815 (1994), Western Warfare, 1775-1882 (2001), Warfare in the Western World, 1882-1975 (2002), and War in the New Century (2001)—there is a stress on diversity within both the West and the Rest . . . .

Jeremy Black is professor of history at the University of Exeter. He is the author of America as a Military Power, 1775-1865 (Praeger, 2002). 

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Thinking about Military Revolution 
by Dennis Showalter

From the relatively humble beginnings of a lecture delivered in what was a secondary British university, and a pamphlet published in a city then hardly noted as an intellectual center, the concept of “military revolution” has metastasized. It has metastasized semantically, subdividing into the “military technological revolution,” which focuses on weapons systems; the “revolution in military affairs,” involving related but not comprehensive bodies of innovation in warmaking; and the “military revolution” pur, a comprehensive upheaval, “uncontrollable, unpredictable, and unforeseeable,” that brings systemic changes mot merely to armed forces but to states and societies. “Military revolution” has metastasized historically. From its original location in the late 16th and early 17th centuries it has been extended backwards into the Middle Ages, and forwards to the contemporary era with stopovers in the mid-19th and early 20th centuries. “Military revolution” has metastasized geographically. Its initial location in northern Europe, specifically the Netherlands and Sweden, has expanded first to most of the continent including the British Isles, then to Asia, Africa, and the Ottoman Empire. And finally, “military revolution” has metastasized conceptually. Its original paradigm of an episodic process with relatively clear beginnings and ends is being challenged by an alternate concept of development over centuries, with particular actions and reactions less significant than the underlying pattern of steady modernization. In the more extreme version of this thesis, military revolution becomes for practical purposes military evolution, and invites incorporation into the Whig/Marxist approach of history as progress. 

The disputatio between Jeremy Black and Geoffrey Parker presented here involves intellectual adversaries who invite preliminary categorizing in the context of Isaiah Berlin’s famous dichotomy. Black is a fox: a wide-ranging investigator who in the context of war studies takes the world for his province and challenges traditional wisdoms regarding “the West and the Rest.” Parker is a hedgehog. No less wide-ranging intellectually, his scholarship and his reasoning alike remain solidly based in the Western experience of the 16th and 17th centuries. Black’s argument is that military revolution, however it is defined and wherever it appears, depends ultimately on military organization. Organization is institutional, by its nature favoring the long term and the slow hand. Its totemic gas is nitrogen. Parker, on the other hand, makes his case for the centrality to military revolution of technology-based innovations and the research bases and mentalities underpinning them. These innovations energize. They inspire “aha” moments. By their nature they are episodic, involving the kind of paradigm shifts discussed by Thomas Kuhn. They have the impact of oxygen . . . . 

Dennis Showalter is professor of history at Colorado College and past president of the Society for Military History. His Tannenberg: Clash of Empires (Archon, 1991) won the Paul Birdsall Prize. 

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On the Once and Future RMA[1]
by Jeffrey Clarke

Given Geoffrey Parker’s specialization, it is not surprising that his presentation begins to lose a certain fidelity as it transitions into the 20th century and especially into the contemporary decade. But to his credit, Parker has discovered that the term “revolution in military affairs”—widely acronymed RMA—has great resonance with current defense decision-makers and thinkers, including many of the world’s principal heads of state and their closest advisers. The literature on the subject is extremely rich and, although generally not written by historians, makes extensive use of historical analogies for both scholarly and partisan purposes. Although few of today’s RMA exponents would admit to any similarities with Parker’s early modern European models, useful parallels certainly exist . . . .

Jeffrey Clarke is Chief Historian of the U.S. Army Center of Military History and a long-time adjunct professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Among his recent works is Riviera to the Rhine, one of the Army's World War II "Green series" operational histories. 

[1] The views expressed in this essay are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.


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Random Thoughts of a Hedgehog
by Geoffrey Parker

So Dennis Showalter has finally discovered my secret: “Parker is a hedgehog!” I first came across Michael Roberts’s Inaugural Lecture “The Military Revolution, 1560-1660” as an undergraduate in 1964, and the last chapter of my doctoral dissertation in 1968 (with Roberts as an examiner) sought to explain why his “model” did not seem to fit the Spanish Army of Flanders. That chapter eventually appeared as an article in 1976. I began work on The Military Revolution in 1982 and published it six years later. [1] This is indeed a hedgehog's page compared with Jeremy Black, who first published on the subject in 1991 but refers the persevering reader to no less than twelve of his books—covering several thousand pages—since then. Small wonder that, looking back, Black finds that his “ideas have developed over the years and he can spot differences in emphasis in [his] work.” Nevertheless, as he says, his oeuvre has “remained consistent in emphasizing diversity within both the West and the Rest,” and every book bristles with examples and counterexamples from around the world.

This does not always aid historical clarity. Sir Isaiah Berlin’s celebrated essay on “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” cited by Showalter, discussed the lapidary views about history in Leo Tolstoy’s “Epilogue” to War and Peace. Having portrayed as the backdrop to his novel the enormous upheavals that engulfed Europe in the early 19th century, which his contemporaries ascribed to the “genius” (sometimes “evil genius”) of Napoleon Bonaparte, Tolstoy (who did not himself use the “fox” or “hedgehog” metaphors) questioned whether Napoleon had in fact shaped those upheavals and concluded that he did not:

A contemporary event seems to us indubitably the doing of all the men we know of concerned in it; but in the case of a more remote event we have had time to observe its inevitable consequences, which prevent our conceiving of anything else as possible. And the farther back we go in our investigation of events the less arbitrary do they appear.

So Tolstoy tried to portray Napoleon as one man among many wrestling with a variety of forces and influences over which he had little control and whose outcome he could not predict.[2]

History, as Tolstoy recognized, often works in a non-linear fashion. The simplest and most compelling illustration of the logic of the process is the “Polya urn” thought experiment. Imagine a large vessel containing two small balls, one red and one blue. Players are supposed to remove one ball, at random, and return it to the urn, accompanied by an additional ball of the same color. And they are supposed to repeat this procedure until the urn has been filled. If the Polya urn starts out with one red ball and one blue one, then the odds of picking either one start out as even; but once the first move is made and a player picks a ball (say red), and returns it with a like ball, the odds shift. There are now two red balls and only one blue. On the next move, the odds of picking red are now 2-1, and if a red ball is indeed picked and returned with a mate, there will then be three red balls to one blue. The chances of picking a red ball have thus risen from 50% to 75% in just two moves; and if one keeps picking in accord with the prevailing chances, which increasingly favor red, the odds climb so swiftly that red balls will soon be dominant. It is then very easy to forget that at one time the odds of the urn becoming virtually completely red or virtually completely blue were even.[3]

The rise of the West was just such a non-linear process. Jeremy Black’s desire to “recreate the uncertainty and confusion within which choices and changes occur” is therefore commendable, but it can only take us so far in explaining how the West managed to acquire domination over 85% of the world’s land and most of its oceans by 1914. After a certain point, the potential of “uncertainty and confusion” to halt or derail Western expansion dwindles. Thus although between 1775 and 1842 Britain “intervened unsuccessfully in Argentina, Egypt, and Afghanistan,” these failures pale in significance beside the simultaneous acquisition of direct control over a numerous population and prodigious resources in India. Likewise, although there is indeed “a need to encourage research in a number of fields that have been relatively under-studied, for example the military history of South-East Asia and the ‘Horn’ of Africa,” and although it would doubtless illuminate why those areas managed to resist Western conquest for so long, nevertheless the survival of a few such blue balls in the Polya urn neither alters nor explains the fact that by 1914 almost all the rest were red . . . . 

[1]Readers interested in the “humble begins” of Roberts’s “lecture delivered in what was a secondary British university” will find material in Geoffrey Parker, “Michael Roberts 1908-1996,” Proceedings of the British Academy 115 (Biographical Memoirs of Fellows, I): 333-354.
[2] L. N. Tolstoy, War and Peace, English translated by Rosemary Edmonds, 2 vols. (Penguin, 1957), 2:1433; Isaiah Berlin, The Hedgehog and the Fox: An Essay on Tolstoy’s View of History (Simon and Schuster, 1953).
[3] See Philip Tetlock and Geoffrey Parker, “Conclusion: Counterfactual History: Its Advocates, Its Critics And Its Uses,” in Philip Tetlock, Ned Lebow, and Geoffrey Parker, eds., Unmaking the West: Exploring Alternative Histories of Counterfactual Worlds (forthcoming).


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Terorrism in Historical Context
by Michael A. Ledeen

The best book on terrorism is Walter Laqueur’s A History of Terrorism, written some twenty-odd years ago, because it puts terrorism in its proper historical context, and thus avoids an intellectual blunder very common nowadays: the assumption that we are dealing with something quite new and unique. The word “terror” itself goes back to the French Revolution, and was then taken on by various killers, anarchists, assassins, intellectuals, and leaders of large and small political and religious movements. All of them—from Robespierre to the 19th-century Russian anarchists, from Sorel to Yasser Arafat—believed that it was possible to frighten and intimidate their enemies in order to achieve political objectives that were impossible by normal political means. So terrorism isn’t new and isn’t all that rare.

Laqueur also took pains to point out that terrorism was not, as it is often described, a desperate act fueled by misery and poverty. Most terrorist leaders have been well educated (with a surprisingly high percentage of medical doctors), and the September 11 killers fit the model. They came from good families with plenty of money, and they had excellent opportunities to become successful: they were well educated, traveled abroad, spoke foreign languages, and had no trouble finding work. As Thomas Friedman has pointed out, there is obviously an important connection between this generation of Islamic terrorists and significant strains in European culture. Students of fin de siècle France and Germany should recognize some of these strains—which run from Nietzsche to Hermann Hesse—and it’s a bit disappointing that very few scholars have noticed the connection. David Brooks had a great essay on “bourgeoisophobes” in the Weekly Standard (April 15, 2002) that delved into this fascinating and important theme, and some of George Mosse’s writings on the origins of national socialism describe the transformation of bourgeois self-hatred into a kind of spiritual revolution in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. My own book on D’Annunzio’s occupation of Fiume at the end of the First World War, D’AnnunzioThe First Duce, dealt in large part with the phenomenon . . . .

Michael A. Ledeen, resident scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of, most recently, The War Against ther Terror Masters (St. Martin's Press, 2002). 

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Progress, Holes, Ruses, and Countercultures: September 11 as a Transforming Event[*]
by Miriam R. Levin

For a brief moment, the terrorist attacks on the WorldTrade Center and the Pentagon made all Americans—indeed the entire world—aware of technology by casting a most horrific light on the web of structures and socio-technical systems in which we are embedded. And then, somehow, this fragile web drifted back below the public’s consciousness as the media and politicians turned to human suffering, human heroes, and human failures. But what we see, hear, and read in the media does not mean that technology is far from people’s minds these days or that public attitudes toward it have remained the same. Historian John Lukacsrecently observed that a profound new division has begun to form “between people who are still unthinking believers in technology and in economic determinism and people who are not.”[1]

In March 2002 the National Science Foundation funded a workshop at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology entitled “Rethinking Technology in the Aftermath of September 11.” Several issues and questions about the impact of September 11 on the history of technology were raised at this workshop. Here I offer my own thoughts . . . . 

Miriam Levin is professor of history at Case Western Reserve University. She is the editor of Cultures of Control (Taylor & Francis, 2000). 

[*]This essay is adapted from Miriam Levin, “Progress, Holes, Ruses, and Countercultures: September 11 as a Transforming Event,” History and Technology 19 (2003). Reprinted with permission from Taylor & Francis, www.tandf.co.uk

[1] John Lukacs, “It’s the End of the Modern Age,” Chronicle of Higher Education, April 26, 2002, B7.

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1848 and American Frustrations with Europe

by Timothy M. Roberts

The United States and Europe are at it again. On January 22 of this year U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld was asked why, concerning U.S. claims of Iraq’s dangerous weapons, “a lot of Europeans would rather give the benefit of the doubt to Saddam Hussein than to President George Bush.” Rumsfeld’s reply was that much of Europe supported the United States; only two countries, France and Germany, were “a problem,” and these weren’t that important, since “that’s old Europe.” German and French officials snapped back, protesting that Europe’s age actually was a good thing. The German foreign minister said, “Europeans [are] old,” but only “as far as the creation of a state or culture is concerned.” A French spokesman said that since Europe was “an old continent . . . ancient in its traditions,” it could offer wisdom to the less seasoned republic across the Atlantic. Meanwhile, Rumsfeld’s remarks also suggested that the United States expected more return from less traditional potential allies like ItalyPoland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, the latter three recent entrants to the NATO alliance. Said Rumsfeld, “the center of gravity is shifting” toward such members of the “new Europe.” Pundits wondered what this exchange hinted at: either U.S. plans to act unilaterally, without consultation of “old Europe,” or U.S. anticipation that “new Europe” would march lock step to the American drumbeat.

While wrangling over how to oppose terrorism is a new chapter in transatlantic history, the ambivalence with which Americans regard European politics goes back to the early history of the United States. An episode often overlooked, but worth remembering today, happened during the mid-19th century. The United States gazed at a Europe aflame in the revolutions of 1848. Several aspects of the relationship between the United States and Europe then resemble conditions today. Americans assumed that Atlantic nations’ adoption of democratic institutions would depend on their “age.” Americans alternately cheered and groaned at Europeans’ efforts to act according to American democratic prescriptions. And European leaders expressed exasperation at Americans’ meddling and simplistic understanding of continental affairs. The 1848 revolutions provided an early test of transatlantic solidarity, and the test failed. But the story of Americans’ responses to 1848 reveals aspects of American politics and society at that time. And it illustrates a pattern of American perceptions of Europe that the United States today might well try to avoid . . . .

Timothy M. Roberts teaches history at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey. He is the author of "The United States and the European Revolutions of 1848," in Robert Evans, ed., The Revolutions in Europe, 1848-1849: From Reform to Reaction (Oxford University Press, 2001). 

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From Vietnam to Iraq : Lessons from the City of Brotherly Love
by Paul Lyons

The current anti-war movement draws fuel from groups who for several years have been protesting against globalization. At their best, these respective movements stand against militarism and imperial adventures and in solidarity with those locked out of affluence and, characteristically, liberty. At worst, these various Lefts romanticize Third World revolution, apologize for dictatorship, and simply flip the conventional view of American exceptionalism on its head—instead of  being the last, best hope for mankind, the United States becomes the cause of all of the world’s woes, from poverty to AIDS.

These groups could stand to learn some lessons from the Philadelphia Resistance, one of America’s most successful Vietnam era anti-war movements . . . .

Paul Lyons teaches history, social welfare policy, and Holocaust studies at Richard Stockton College and is the author of The People of This Generation: The Rise and Fall of the New Left in Philadelphia (University of Pennsylvania Press, forthcoming). 

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