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Catterick
Thursday, May 12th, 2016, 10:35 PM
The rise of Europe revisited.

http://peterturchin.com/blog/2016/05/12/why-did-europe-conquer-the-world/


I recently finished reading Why Did Europe Conquer the World? by Philip T. Hoffman. Hoffman proposes a new explanation for the perennial question, Why Europe? Why did that cultural and technological backwater, Western Europe, suddenly embarked on the path to global domination. By 1914 the Europeans essentially controlled the globe. The few countries that were not colonies (only 16% of the world by Hoffman’s calculation), like China and the Ottoman Empire, were not truly independent. In the case of China, for example, we have two Opium Wars to attest that.

Many explanations have been proposed for this remarkable turn of fortune. Geography and crop domestication loom large in the writings of Jared Diamond and Ian Morris.

Other authors invoke special explanations. Thus, Francis Fukuyama assigns a large role to Catholicism and the division of power between the Pope and territorial rulers, like the Emperor. Jack Goldstone thinks that the development of science and technology was the crucial difference. Actually, there are so many different hypotheses and eminent authors, who have written about Why Europe?, that reviewing this literature in a blog doesn’t make sense.

Now the economist Phillip Hoffman enters the fray. His focus is more narrow than others. The question he asks is why Europe acquired military preponderance of power in the world by 1900. I must say that I really enjoyed the book and, in my judgment, it’s one of the better argued and empirically supported hypotheses. Things I like about the book are that there is an explicit mathematical theory underlying the argument (although I have some issues with the model), that Hoffman explicitly engages with the new discipline of Cultural Evolution, and that he brings a lot of data to bear on various issues. In short, it’s a fine example of Cliodynamics in action.

Not that I agree with everything Hoffman says. For example, one of his major premises is that Europe was different from the rest of the world in that military competition between European powers was particularly intense. And this was in a large degree due to the way European rulers were brought up—to them glory was a primary reason for war.

I don’t buy it, and I think that a comparative study using sources in non-European languages will show that “glory” was not a peculiarly early modern European motive for going to war. If you think about famous conquerors—Alexander, Caesar, Chinggis Khan, Timur Lenk, Toyotomi Hideyoshi—did they glorify war less than Carl V, Louis XIV, Friedrich der Grosse, etc?

Furthermore, it’s unnecessary to make this premise. When war is intense enough to create an existential danger to societies, such evolutionary pressures select for militaristic societies that glorify war—because they are the ones who are left once the dust settles. And between 1450 and 1914 war was clearly intense enough in Europe for this, since the number of independent polities shrank from more than 500 to around 30.

So the question is how we understand where and when war intensity waxes to the point where it becomes the most important evolutionary force affecting everything—governance forms, economy, technology, culture… and also driving the quest for conquest, because conquest and resulting large size is your best bet of surviving under the conditions of intense war (assuming you can reach large size without splitting up, more on these dilemmas in Ultrasociety).

The question then becomes how do we understand where and when war waxes in intensity. And here’s where Hoffman’s book develops quite a convincing argument. What I am going to do is filter it through my own theoretical lens, and mix in ideas from Victor Lieberman and Kenneth Chase.

The basic driver is technology. Just like horse technologies revolutionized warfare and drove the evolution of large-scale states before 1500, gunpowder played the same role after 1500. Actually, gunpowder-based weapons, which were invented in China of course, became an important military technology from c.1000 CE. In China, however, guns developed not continuously, but only during periods of political fragmentation and conflict between agrarian-based polities. Once a new unifying dynasty established itself, gunpowder technology stagnated, because it was not particularly useful against the main enemy—steppe horse-riders. In China periods of intense warfare using guns, and rapid gun development were concentrated in the periods associated with the Yuan-Ming and Ming-Qing transitions.

In Europe, where gunpowder technology arrived around 1300, it was continuously useful, because Europe was insulated from the influence of the Great Steppe. As guns become better, they turned into game-changer around 1450. After that we have continuous warfare in Europe with continuous evolution of artillery, muskets, etc. Europe was not unified as a result of being insulated from the Steppe pressures. Yes, there were several credible attempts to unify Europe, but all these empires rapidly disintegrated because they did not have the unifying threat represented by some overwhelming external force like the steppe horse-riders.

Because inter-European warfare was constant, gunpowder technology was developed without breaks, and by 1700 or perhaps even 1800 (later than most people think), the Europeans pulled ahead of the Chinese in the sophistication and power of their weaponry. And the rest was history.

Hoffman also discusses the other very important aspects of European military supremacy—the sailing ship, which you should read about in his book. But essentially, this is it. A very simple model (which many historians won’t like), and also general; and even better, testable with historical data. Testing this theory is something that we definitely should do with the Seshat data.

Primus
Friday, May 13th, 2016, 07:49 AM
Roman Catholicism and its ideological offspring, i.e. Anglicanism, Calvinism, Lutheranism, etc. conquered the world.

Bernhard
Friday, May 13th, 2016, 11:44 AM
These things can never be explained on a monocausal basis. But we can always pinpoint multiple factors that have contributed to European expansion. The point of Catholicism that is made by Fukuyama is only valid when this development is extended towards the process of secularization that followed. The division between pope and emperor of the era of the Holy Roman Empire was something different than the division between papal authority and the empires of the colonial era, even though the latter has its origins, historically speaking, in the former. But it was secularization that gave a fundamental twist to this division, leading to the worldy conquest of the modern age.

In general I think we should make a distinction between material causes and a certain type of 'spirit' that prompted Europeans to engage in conquering the globe. Material causes, such as development of technology or many different historical contingencies, facilitate the expansion. But the expansion as such is driven by human beings, not by technology.
This spirit, in my view, consists of the combination of a faustian soul on the one hand and on the other hand an increasingly secular view of the world and loss of contact with metaphysical reality. The faustian drive for infinity, for lack of better purpose, is directed towards physical expansion in a time when life is conceived of in mere physical terms. It's a way of compensating for the drive for metaphysical infinity, but the goal is endless. This type of spirit found its perfect vessel in the combination of Calvinism and global seapower.
In general I think it's a rather beautiful history of Europe in a tragic sense. We accomplished so much, but what did we gain?
It's time to direct our energy elsewhere!

Shadow
Friday, May 13th, 2016, 08:14 PM
Like all human behavior, it has a genetic basis. Europeans combine genes for high intelligence with genes for innovation. East Asians have the former but not the latter to the same degree as a race. I don't know about American Indians. Africans have neither.

Catterick
Saturday, May 14th, 2016, 10:10 AM
But does this explain the late rise of Europe? Charles Murray placed the core of the west between Scotland, Italy and Germanophone Prague. In ancient and medieval times nothing there compared to China, Byzantium or the Caliphates. Then later it became world center.

Shadow
Saturday, May 14th, 2016, 09:19 PM
But does this explain the late rise of Europe? Charles Murray placed the core of the west between Scotland, Italy and Germanophone Prague. In ancient and medieval times nothing there compared to China, Byzantium or the Caliphates. Then later it became world center.


You have taken one tiny slice out of history, one of the same little slices politically correct historians use to make us all equal. You could do the other thing and talk about iron working in Sub-Sahara Africa as if that one technology speaks for the level of the entire culture.

There are some inventions which come from outside Europe or Europeans. Gunpowder, algebra, the zero, and noodles are some of these. On the other hand from 300,000 years ago to the present the technologically most sophisticated society has mostly been in Europe.

Catterick
Saturday, May 14th, 2016, 10:26 PM
You have taken one tiny slice out of history, one of the same little slices politically correct historians use to make us all equal. You could do the other thing and talk about iron working in Sub-Sahara Africa as if that one technology speaks for the level of the entire culture.

There are some inventions which come from outside Europe or Europeans. Gunpowder, algebra, the zero, and noodles are some of these. On the other hand from 300,000 years ago to the present the technologically most sophisticated society has mostly been in Europe.

If you look at the Chinese and the Moslem science that isn't true. Even the advanced Byzantines were right on the edge of Europe.

True that historians since the mid 20th century have tended to belittle European uniqueness and even the Greeks, especially in the medieval period, but the late rise of western Europe was still unexpected and mysterious.

Plantagenet
Saturday, May 14th, 2016, 11:27 PM
I am not sure I buy the idea of Western Europe being a cultural and technological backwater prior to the early modern/modern era. To take just one example, medieval Europe had some of the best military technology on Earth, perhaps being ousted by the Chinese with their gunpowder based weapons but excelling them in armor and defensive fortifications. I came across this passage in the past and I believe it is from a book but don't recall which one, in any case it stated:


The Tenth Century was “full of beans”. Newly engineered beans, that is. Because slavery was unlawful, and it was not recommended to try to domesticate a Frank, the Franks domesticated instead all sorts of animals, including oxen and very convenient draw horses. Developing new, deep ploughs to go with them. Europe covered itself with windmills and watermills.

When Europeans made it to China, they were amazed to see that the Chinese did everything by hand, including moving huge tree trunks, hundreds of people lifting them, something which was done with few people, animals, and mechanical advantage in Europe.

By 1,000 CE, the energy at the disposal of individual European was the highest in the world. Rome had been superseded, the world was left behind. And this was accompanied by a theoretical and empirical understanding never achieved before, while the rest of the world was going around in circles.

Furthermore there was Insular/Hiberno-Saxon, Romanesque, and Gothic artistic traditions, sophisticated philosophy ranging from Eriugena to Aquinas, literature like Dante and Chaucer and the Arthurian/Grail tradition, Gregorian chant and European polyphonic musical traditions from geniuses like Machaut, etc. To mention Gothic art again, I am not sure anyone could claim that contemporary architecture elsewhere in the world was artistically or technically superior.

The Byzantines routinely lost to the Muslims in battle, yet the Franks, Crusaders, and other Western powers managed to defeat them often. While I suppose it is debatable whether Hungary and Poland are Western (I'd say being part of Latin Christendom they certainly are more Western than Eastern) and while there were defeats at Leignitz and Mohi, it is notable that both managed to defeat Mongol invasions into Europe whereas aside from the Mamluks and Vietnamese, most of the rest of the world was defeated by them.

By the 15th century certainly I think the West had already largely surpassed most of the world in most aspects, and all this despite having a much smaller population than the Near East, India, or the Far East, their primary rivals in terms of sophistication.