What’s in a Number, Part 5
Well, despite my entire household suffering from the plague, I am back in front of the keyboard. The good thing is, however, that despite not being able to think coherently enough to write, I have been able to set some new and exciting things into motion. I will tell you all about it later, however. For now, we must wrap up the history lessons.
The Birth of a New Realm
The Christians lost access to the Holy Land when the Islamic people took control of the Christian remnants of the Eastern Byzantium Empire (think of this as the Middle East),. With the Byzantium Empire defeated, another rising society had become the stronghold of the Christian people. These people took offense to the loss of access to the Holy Land and began a series of crusades to reclaim the area. Descended from the Britons and the Gauls (once conquered and socialized by the Roman Empire), the Western Europeans had begun to establish their own unique kingdoms.
The series of crusades served as the bridge between the Second Realm and the Third Realm. As the crusading armies attempted to regain Christendom from the Muslims in the 11th through 13th centuries, it gave the European kingdoms an opportunity to hone their skills at being world powers. There were many mistakes made, and many victories won. Armies were seasoned, able to pass on their fighting knowledge to the next generations. Even though there was war between the individual kingdoms, the crusades allowed for the majority of kingdoms to focus on a common enemy and goal. This in turn allowed them to individually become more prosperous scientifically and industrially. With less common continental turmoil, and fewer internal political struggles, western society began to advance. This is not to say that it was an easy time for western civilization. It was difficult and wrought with hardship. However, one nation took these difficult circumstances and turned them into a foundation for a dominant world power.
England began its exploration and expansion as early as the 1400’s. This began slowly at first, but picked up speed with time. By 1578, Queen Elizabeth I became the first ruler of the formal British Empire. This empire lasted in one form or another until 20th Century, though as with all of the empires we have discussed, there is still a remnant of each even today.
Though the Britons had been part of the crusades, they were relatively unimpressive in most other regards. Before the age of colonial expansionism, British ambitions were rather unimpressive. It was through these extraordinarily dull people, though, that ushered our world into the modern age. How did this happen? Five factors stand out: Capitalism, Expansionism, Popular Revolution, Social Division and Industrialization.
These are all themes that were the result of centuries of trial and error witnessed in the first two realms we have discussed. The British – or more specifically the Englishman (Ireland, Scotland and Wales were all brought under the control of the English throne) – may have been dull, but he was a good study of history. In fact, these five pillars of the British Empire were also instrumental in both the separation of the American Colonies, as well as our own foreign and domestic policies.
Industrialized, capitalistic expansion to save the uncivilized…
The English, and later the British Empire, were some of the earliest “venture capitalists”. In reality this meant little more than being a pirate or privateer. Most of these early adventurers and profiteers were sanctioned by the Crown, lending legitimacy to the individual, while giving the English government a safe degree of separation from the atrocities necessary to complete the ventures. If the Englishman is anything, he is a gentleman.
Capitalism began to thrust the British into economic prominence as a world power. There were significant advancements in science and industrial technology. This boon in cultural evolution made quickly accelerated the progression of their placement as a world power. However, a little wealth is a good thing in the eyes of the businessman. A lot of wealth is even better. It was in search of more resources and wealth that the British began their most aggressive expansions.
An empire is rarely a benevolent entity. While it may make the appearance of looking out for the best interests of the individual, this is rarely the true intentions. An empire is built on the principle of power, wealth and resources. Typically, this can be seen as evident in the treatment of the lowest classes as well as those that are most ignorant or blind to the happenings of their nation’s politics. These people are The Masses [see: “The Life Cycle”]. Resources are more than natural elements harvested for profit from the earth. Resources can be many different things – money, land, military power, information. By looking at these elements, there is one common component to each: People. The individual can be the most valuable resource available to a nation. The individual is required to harvest natural resources. The individual drives wealth through economy. They farm the land, wage the war and make decisions based on the information they are provided. It is through the individual that The Establishment maintains power. It is through the use and manipulation of the individual that Empire are built and maintained.
The British Empire was no different. This empire followed in the footsteps of those that came before it in many ways. It employed the use of slave labor. Justification for expansionism was a self-centered moral superiority to those that were to be conquered. The machine was set into motion in a particular way that demanded greater numbers of subservient people to keep it operational. While the British Empire arguably allowed for a more pleasant (relatively) life for its lowest classes, it still exploited them for the sake of expansion.
Racial motivation of prejudice has existed since the beginning of human history. However, the primary motivation of discrimination had been more religiously based. This is not to say that those of different creed and nationality were not shown lesser treatment throughout history. On the contrary, there were wars fought over race. However, the prominent reasoning and justification for persecution was religious in nature. With the advent of the British Empire, the issue of race as a justification for subjugation became a more publicly accepted concept. One can look to the British Empire’s treatment of the indigenous peoples of India, America and Africa and see this vividly illustrated.
The British Empire used the Church of England, their Judiciary and the military to enforce their Anglo-centric idea of superiority. The Englishman was superior to the dark skinned native. It was bragged that by introducing the “gentleman’s governance” of the British Empire to the “savages” that a fundamental generosity was being shown.
Within the British Empire, there was another set of parameters by which superiority and inferiority was decided. While no true caste system existed within the British Empire, there was a rigorous class system that was used to maintain control by The Establishment. The most powerful of the middle class (few as they may have been) and upper class, used this class system to keep The Masses distracted and unorganized. The factory became a place of unfathomable atrocity, not even sparing children. Long hours, low wages, high taxes and aggressive debt holders became an endless cycle that could not be escaped by those set upon it.
This system of aggressive industrialization was the key to the British Empire’s expansionism. It was a style of government that allowed The Establishment to justify subjugation of their own citizenry, while at the same time spreading the subjugation to other lands as well. At its greatest point, the British Empire spanned more land than any nation or empire before it. It was said that “The sun never sets on the British Empire” because it spanned the entire globe. (Note: as mentioned previously, this statement was also spoken analogous to the British Empire never ending its powerful rule.)
Roots of Revolution
Despite the successful development of the British Empire and its extremely authoritarian rule, its people had in them a deep history of revolution. As early as AD 1215, the English imposed the Magna Carta on their monarch, King John. This limited his power to an extent that he could not arbitrarily infringe on certain rights and liberties of the citizenry. Individual liberty became a power struggle between the monarchy and the citizenry for the rest of England’s existence. Monarchs would restrict the rights set forth in the Magna Carta and the citizens would eventually rise to regain their liberty.
When the first colonists came to the Americas, they brought with them their own charters. These charters claimed rights and privileges of the English Citizen, as well as established some rights unique to the colonies. From these interpretations of the Magna Carta, and the evolution of the colonial charters, some of the principles that are seen as guaranteed (Habeas Corpus, Trial by Jury) were established on American soil.
As the British Empire grew on American soil, the colonists began to see a restriction in their personal liberty. Slowly, colonists began to rankle at the increased pressure from the crown. It was the inborn spirit of revolution that was ignited to defend those American liberties. The American Revolution was not as much about fighting for independence as it was a defense for fundamental rights.
With the loss of the American Colonies, the British Empire began to see a sharp reduction in its power across the globe. The British position as the primary power in the world was slowly eroded, and can even be seen in the more recent loss of Hong Kong in 1997.
While the British Empire was immensely successful for a long period of time, it was wrought with corruption. It made multiple mistakes in not learning from the lessons of those empires from which it came. Greece learned from the mistakes of the unorganized city states before it. Rome learned from Greece. Britain, however, learned only a few lessons, choosing instead to grow through blunt force and power rather than through improving on the system.
With the decline of the British Empire to a shadow of its former self, American now stands as the primary world power. It is this, the Fourth Realm, that we will conclude this series arc.
- What’s in a number? Part 1 (4one8.org)
- What’s in a Number? Part Two (4one8.org)
- What’s in a Number? Part Three (4one8.org)
- Economic Growth: A Social Pathology (resilience.org)