More on the empire's growth.

Posted by Tory Historian Monday, October 20, 2008 ,

Tory Historian is greatly taken by Niall Ferguson's "Empire - How Britain Made the Modern World" and has already done a posting on the somewhat ramshackle beginning of the Empire. (Interestingly, the American edition's subtitle is different: "The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and Lessons for Global Power".)

Moving along historically, this is what Professor Ferguson has to say at the end of his long chapter, entitled "Why Britain?", a question he does not precisely reply to. "Why", in Tory Historian's opinion is not the same as "how". But the "how" is fascinating.

In 1615 the British Isles had been an economically unremarakbale, politically fractious and strategially second-class entity. Two hundred years later Great Britain has acquired the largest empire the world had ever seen, encompassing forty-three colonies in five continents. The title of Patrick Colquhoun's Treatise on the Wealth, Power and Resources of the British Empire in Every Quarter of the Globe (1814) said it all. They had robbed the Spaniards, copied the Dutch, beaten the French and plundered the Indians. Now they ruled supreme.

Was all this done "in a fit of absence of mind"? Plainly not. From the reign of Elizabeth I onwards, there had been a sustained campaign to take over the empires of others.

Yet commerce and conquest by themselves would not have sufficed to achieve this, no matter what the strength of British financial and naval power. There had also to be colonization.
One could simply assume that late entrants are likely to profit by the mistakes of earlier players as well as their exhaustion, but that would hardly be an adequate explanation for it all.

The robbing, beating and plundering was done by all, though, perhaps, the copying was a peculiarly sensible British innovation. In other words, Tory Historian is greatly looking forward to an answer to the question "why"?


  1. Simon Harley Says:
  2. I've never read "Empire" (caught the T.V. show instead, not bad for Channel 4), but I have read his "Colossus", which is a fascinating comparison between the "American Empire" and the British Empire. One of those books I really need to re-read it's so insightful. The American market sub-title of "Empire" certainly suggests an attempt on the part of the publisher to link the two books together. Subtle hints abound.

  3. Anonymous Says:
  4. Obama needs to cut his ties to ACORN and their nation-wide voter fraud actions!

  5. I shall break my own rules and reply to Anonymous. That posting is not precisely relevant either to the actual subject or the whole blog. In any case, it is probably too late for Obama to do anything of the kind.

    Mr Harley,
    Interesting - there probably is an attempt to link the two books. I am not convinced that Ferguson actually understands what the American "empire" might be about. I fear they will not follow his advice.

  6. Anonymous Says:
  7. The answer to "why" may be in part found here.

  8. Thank you, Lex. Excellent books. I wish Niall Ferguson quoted them at least once or twice.

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