Man’s most ancient ancestors have left their bones on three continents, and civilization seems to have begun where Asia and Africa meet, between the river valleys of Mesopotamia and Egypt, with Europe, Asia’s extension, close by. Its outward mark was a society divided into classes and ruled by higher classes sometimes for the collective benefit, always for their own benefit. Several such societies were crowded fairly close together, learning from each other but also frequently at war, again for the benefit of their ruling groups; a feature that was to characterize most civilizations through most of history, and Europe’s most of all.
During the first millennium BC three new civilizations were taking shape, which among them came to rule or influence most of Asia, and which through many changes have lived on to our own day – the Persian, Indian and Chinese. They borrowed from the older ones, in India from the Mohenjodaro or Indus Valley culture, that may have been in its prime about 2000 BC. They differed from them in being much larger, and in general further apart, which allowed each to feel itself, like every human being, the hub and centre of all things: China especially, the remotest, as Mohenjodaro had been earlier. Greece was also appearing, the first ‘Europe’ with which we can connect ourselves, although the earliest European settlements with some title to be called civilized now appear to go back much further than was thought until very lately. Greece lay scattered in small units from Asia Minor to the western Mediterranean – a distance about as great as from India’s north to south tip. It floated on the sea, the others belonged to dry land. The permanence of these four, with least continuity in Europe and most in China, has been as striking as the failure since then of any radically new civilization to grow up, except in Central and South America and, by synthesis of older with new elements. in the Islamic world.
Linguistically Europe, Persia and northern India all belonged to an ‘Aryan’ or ‘Inda-European’ family that had spread out by migration or conquest, probably from southern Russia. Geographically Europe, western Asia and northern India form a continuum, separated from farther Asia by desert, mountain or sea. But linguistic affinities and whatever vaguer racial affinities may have gone with them counted for less than other factors. Persia was the least stable of the regions because it was in the middle, interacting with all the rest, and it was drawn (along with limited parts of Europe, India and China) into Islam, though it kept its distinct character. India too was subjected to recurrent interference, and defended itself passively by developing a uniquely tenacious social structure, caste cemented by religion, which is only being slowly eroded today. China, left more to itself except by barbarian assailants, evolved towards a more flexible society divided into classes, often racked by class conflict, but with a political structure as firm as India’s social structure. In this and various other significant points the far west and far east of the Euro-Asian land-mass have had and still have more in common than either of them with any lands in between.
Europe has undergone far more change, particularly in the way of internal evolution, than any of the others, yet in each of its incarnations much has remained from earlier ones. Greece itself, moored close by the earliest civilization as Japan was moored off the coast of China, learned a great deal from Egypt, partly by way of Crete, and from Babylon. It had, however, a personality of its own, which its latest heirs or mortgagees like to sum up in the word ‘freedom’. This is a word easier made into a parrot-cry than defined, and Westerners boast now of being free very much as not long ago they boasted of being white. Greeks, who invented democracy, were slave-owners when they could get hold of any slaves. Nevertheless their little republics, unlike the great empires and kingdoms of Asia, did harbour an independence of spirit, a right of individuals or groups to be heard, that elsewhere existed only at the lowly level of village or clan. This spirit was to recur throughout European history in a multiplicity of forms, and helped to impart to it a restless changefulness. Europe’s towns, the cradles of its civilization, began as separate city-states, and never ceased to be wholly or partially self-governing, small but complex political entities of a kind virtually unknown anywhere else in the world.
Greece grew conscious of itself by contact and contrast with Asia. Its citizens called everyone but themselves ‘barbarians’, as the Chinese also learned to do, but in a different spirit. They could not pretend to more wealth, knowledge, or refinement of living than the old civilizations of the East, towering like pyramids above their heads; but they could make a virtue of their own narrower means, untainted by corrupting luxury or extravagant pomp, and more positively of their civic institutions and the rationality and the disciplined courage in war that were both fostered by them. We still think of restraint, moderation, balance, as well as fortitude and patriotism, as qualities essentially Hellenic, and modern Europe in contact with Asia has given itself credit for the same virtues. Then, as at every later stage, Europe cultivated its warlike prowess in conflict with Asia, as well as with itself. Greece beat off the Persian empire’s attempt to swallow it up; Greeks employed by the Persians and Egyptians became their best soldiers; finally under Alexander Greece conquered both Persia and Egypt, and founded the Hellenistic kingdoms that stretched into central Asia and northern India. Striking experiments took place there in the fusion of diverse cultures, and it was only very slowly that they melted away into their Asian environment. We still often look at Asia through the eyes of those Greeks, or fancy we are doing so while really making them look through ours. In the nineteenth century triumphant Europe saw Alexander’s army, carrying Western civilization into Asia, as its vanguard. Governors and generals went out east with their heads stuffed with the classics, determined to find Asian rulers of the same breed as Xenophon’s slippery satraps.
Rome built out eastward, as far as the head of the Persian Gulf, on Hellenistic foundations. It is within the ghostly frontiers of the Roman empire that a European still in a sense grows up and has his being – the empire, as Robert Louis Stevenson remembered it nostalgically far away in the Pacific, ‘under whose toppling monuments we were all cradled, whose laws and letters are on every hand of us’. In political structure it was a European power, ruling wide regions of Asia and Africa as well; it shared with and partly borrowed from its Greek teachers a conviction of representing civilization against barbarism, whether this barbarism was Gothic and primitive or Oriental and decadent. Rome like Greece grew through conflict with the non-European world and in resistance to it first displayed its strongest qualities. The great challenger in the early days was Carthage; from the heroic struggle against Hannibal the poet of the empire and its mission, Horace, later drew his conception of Roman valour and virtue. He was indignant at the soldiers of his own epoch captured by the Parthians, now masters of Persia, who, when Crassus was defeated in 53 BC, settled down there, married ‘barbarian’ wives, served in the Persian army. He was indignant with them, in a modern phrase, for deserting their country and ‘going native’.
Later on something like this befell Rome itself. Eastern trade and the wealth of the eastern provinces, as well as the death of the republic, drew the empire’s centre of gravity too far eastward. There was trading with India, and through Arab and other intermediaries with China; Rome discovered, as Europe was to go on doing down to the late nineteenth century, that it had little to offer except its scarce silver for the goods of farther Asia, principally silk, that it coveted.5 In the end the western half of the empire was left to fade into the backwardness of northern and western Europe; the eastern half, as the Byzantine empire, continued for another thousand years, but half-orientalized – ‘barbarized’ in the opposite sense – not distinctively ‘European’ as Greece and Rome at their best had been.
The West was left to make a new start, largely on new foundations and from a low cultural level. In the long run this shake-up proved an advantage, which China never experienced and Persia and India, through Muslim conquest, only in a restricted way. It ended a long era of technical stagnation, such as all these civilizations were liable to fall into through their own complexity and inertia. Rome lived on, its memory officially recognized in the ‘Holy Roman Empire’ started by Charlemagne in 800 and terminated by Napoleon in 1806. It lived on in some of the components of medieval feudalism, in vague but therefore plastic and potent memories of senators, legions, glories, and in the Christian religion it had adopted before its fall. Christianity represented another blending of Europe and Asia, as Hellenistic culture, in some devious ways its ancestor, had done, but it was becoming practically a monopoly of Europe, and part of Europe’s essence.
This region as it took shape again in the Middle Ages was of convenient size, big enough for diversity, small enough for armies, traders and ideas to move about it. Byzantium was a separate sphere, straddling Europe and Asia, with a separate Greek Orthodox Church to which nascent Russia was linked. The Levantine and north African fringes of the Mediterranean, and for a long time Sicily and nearly all Iberia, were detached after the seventh century by Islam. The Europe thus shifted away north and west had an extreme breadth of less than two thousand miles, rather less than India from north to south, about the same as China from north-east to south-west. It was a big peninsula jutting out from Asia, broken up and nearly surrounded by seas. It had no huge cavernous interior like Asia’s or Africa’s, and always in one way or another looked outward.
More than any of the other civilizations this one was growing as a congeries of separate political units, mostly quite small, states that were also growing into nations. In Islam any national concept was completely overlaid by religious cosmopolitanism; Persia held out, adopting a heretical Muslim creed of its own, but was oftener than not under alien rule – Arab, Turk, Mongol. China was in a sense a nation as well as an empire, but because of its size only inertly; the smaller countries within its radius, especially Japan, were also acquiring a kind of nationhood. Europe had besides a peculiar social structure, with a unique variant of feudalism in the countryside, and with towns independent as in antiquity or at least autonomous. It was held together and given a dim but pervasive sense of unity by a common religion, organized thanks to its historic origins in a Church of unique form (the very word ‘Church’ is hard to translate into any non-Christian language): this, like urban life, had its own autonomy, and collisions between Church and State were frequent. This encouraged the growth of other permanent institutions, and of representative bodies – Estates, parliaments, city councils – that had scarcely any analogy in the rest of the world. The obverse of this freedom of privileged classes or corporations was the reduction of the rural masses to serfdom, which left them with less freedom than almost any peasantry in Asia or Africa. Republicanism in ancient Europe had leaned similarly on slavery, and the freedom of modern Europe was to rest on a dispossessed proletariat.
Periodically Europe, like Greece and Rome, was menaced by Asia. One danger lay in attacks by tribal hordes like the Huns and Avars. Some of these were repulsed, some absorbed like the Magyars settling in the ninth century in what was now Hungary. Early in the thirteenth century the biggest of all upheavals in inner Asia brought Mongol armies flooding through the Islamic countries into eastern Europe; one mass, the Golden Horde, stayed on the lower Volga and from there dominated Russia for two centuries. ‘Hun’ and ‘Mongol’ are still names that make flesh creep, and have been used in the twentieth century by Europeans as terms of abuse for one another. Still, the short-lived Mongol empire opened the route across Asia that Marco Polo and his fellow-merchants, and Franciscan missionaries, followed; the West caught a brief glimpse of farther Asia, after which China, or Cathay, faded into a dream.
The other danger, more permanent and closer at hand, was the organized pressure of Islam. This last great religion and last new civilization of the Old World replaced Persia from the seventh to the nineteenth century as Europe’s arch-enemy, the anti-Europe. These adversaries were worthy of each other’s steel, and sharpened their steel, and occasionally their wits, on each other. No other religions have been so fanatical as Christianity and Islam, in their different ways, have been, and no other large societies so much addicted to war. They were next of kin, as well as neighbours; Islam had drawn on Christianity as well as Judaism and other sources, and its philosophy, military technique and material culture were Hellenistic or Byzantine as well as Persian.
They exchanged blows mostly at long range, across the dwindling Byzantine barrier; exchange of ideas was easiest in Arab Spain, a transplantation of Asia on to European soil comparable with that of Europe in the time of the Hellenistic kingdoms on to Asian soil. Muslim Spain was a non-national, made up of distinct races and communities rather than classes. Jews mediated between Muslims and Christians, and all western Europe learned much from the resulting brilliant culture. Most of what it learned belonged to its own past, however: ideas of Plato and Aristotle that the Arabs had preserved; Europe cared less for truly Islamic ideas or arts. Astrology and alchemy probably drew its attention most. If countries and civilizations were ready to accept one another’s best, mankind would have got on more quickly.
In the Muslim world less civilized peoples came to the front, Moors or Berbers supplanting Arabs in Spain, Turks in Asia. The Turkish horsemen who poured out of central Asia to conquer first India and then Asia Minori and finally south-east Europe and north Africa, were a remarkable stock, militarily and politically; but culturally, compared with either Arabs or Persians, they were philistines. Their advent paralleled that of the Normans in western Europe while the sophisticated Byzantines sank into decay. On each side the old strife of Asia and Europe was helping to bring the rude man of action to the front. To the Muslims the true Europe was still Rome, or Byzantium: Erzerum came by its name – Arz-i-Rum, the Roman land – because it once lay on the Byzantine frontier in the east. The barbarous Europe farther west, because of the prominence of French or French-speaking Norman knights in the Crusades, was ‘Firangistan’, or Frank-land. To this day ‘Firangi’ is a hostile term for European to Muslims as far off as India. Western Europe called itself in its vulgarized Latin lingua franca ‘Christianitas’, Christendom, and its enemies ‘Pagani’, paynim – a term that expressed its blank ignorance of their religion. It could not feel equal in splendour and wealth, and in fighting power not better than equal, to the East, so Christianity had to be made the most of as a badge of superiority. Later it began to use two ‘national’ names, and speak of Asiatic Muslims as Turks, or as Tartars: T’a-t’a, the Chinese name for Mongols (some of whom had become Muslim), turned into ‘Tartar’ by association with ‘Tartarean’, or hellish. Some atrocity stories that originated in Crusading days went on knocking about Europe and did duty again in the propaganda of the Great War.
The Late Middle Ages : Contraction and Expansion
In 1099 the Crusaders stormed and sacked Jerusalem; in 1453 the Turks stormed and sacked Constantinople, and turned it into Stamboul and Agia Sofia into a mosque. Islam had entered on a second great age of expansion, and seemed at last to have devised a military machine capable of crushing Europe. Not only had the Turks taken with enthusiasm to artillery, but for a while they revived the talent for naval war that the Arabs lost when they turned away from the sea into inner Asia. The Ottoman empire was organized for conquest, and pressed on north-west up the Danube valley until finally stopped before Vienna, and westward along the Mediterranean until stopped at Malta. Meanwhile the Turks continued to learn, though not quickly enough to keep up with the West. By moving their capital to Constantinople they partially westernized their empire, as the Romans had orientalized theirs by the same manoeuvre; it was, in a lesser degree, like the removal of the Russian government later from Moscow to St Petersburg. But Turkey’s direct contacts were with areas of Europe not in the van of progress, first with decadent Byzantium, then with the Russian and Hapsburg realms. Organized as the Turks were, their ability to originate new methods was limited; beyond a certain point they depended on borrowing. They had the accumulated resources of western Asia’s past to live on, but western Europe after its long, obscure travail of the Middle Ages was ready now to move forward on its own, in a fashion the Turks were too far away to grasp.
France, it is true, with a freedom from prejudice – in spite of crusading ancestry – it often showed later, was prepared to seek diplomatic contacts with Turkey, as the enemy of its grand enemy Spain. Rabelais might humorously picture the Turks as a pack of droll savages, but the French explorer Postel paid tribute to the good government of Sulaiman the Magnificent, as the Europeans, not his own people, called him. To this extent Turkey might seem already in the sixteenth century to be taking its place in the European system, and there was no lack of merchants anxious to trade with Its most fanatical opponent was Spain, which had fought crusades of its own earlier on to dislodge Muslim power from its soil, and in the 1480s completed the process by conquering Granada. At the end of that century Islam and Judaism were both prohibited. Many Jews fled to the shelter of Turkey; a century of strained relations with a forcibly converted community of ‘Moriscos’ ended in their mass expulsion in 1609. It was an unhappy omen for Europe’s future relations with Asia.
Spain itself in spite of this purging and purifying still looked half-eastern in manners and temperament, and it and Turkey were sinking in the seventeenth century into a curiously similar decline. But before this happened it was from Spain and Portugal that Europe, hemmed in on two sides by Islam, found new outlets and began its modern expansion. Portuguese voyages of discovery found a way round the southern tip of Africa in 1486 and across the Indian Ocean in 1497, thus circumventing the Turkish barrier between Europe and the farther East with its coveted spices and other wealth, formerly imported by way of Egypt. Partly the aim was the less materialistic one of striking a blow at Islam, an old enemy for all Iberians in a far more vivid sense than for Englishmen or Frenchmen. The Portuguese ‘really hoped to find a Christian ally, perhaps even a black Prester John, in Africa or Asia’; there were old legends about Christian kingdoms far away. Europe’s motives in going out into the world have often been very mixed. But once out in eastern waters the Portuguese started something like the corsair warfare was developing in the western Mediterranean, plundering and levying blackmail and seizing on carrying trade; though also with them from land to land plants, crops, as as looting. At date western and middle Asia were familiar with gunpowder, and China built very large ships, but an art of naval gunnery was was confined to western Europe and was its grand passport to East. Manpower could be hired here and there, as by all Europeans later in Asia, and where governments were weak or careless the Portuguese occupied strong points and harbours like Goa and Diu on the west coast of India; India was reunited only in the later sixteenth century after long turmoil by the Mogul conquest, and never completely.
In 1492 Columbus discovered America. He too had been seeking the East, and America, unluckily for its inhabitants. happened to lie in his way round the world. Here there were no guns to face, not even weapons of metal; the coasts lay open, and the two organized empires, Aztec and Inca, were both new and oppressive; the invaders could go much further than occupying odd harbours, which in any case would have been useless. Mexico was taken from the Aztecs, with the help of their neighbours, before 1520, and Peru from the Incas in the 1530s. Neither Spain nor Europe ever lost the intoxicating memory of these two great realms overthrown in the twinkling of an eye by a handful of white men; it cancelled the triumphs of the Turks, and gave the West a perpetual confidence in its power and its future. Military victory was followed by spiritual. It was part and parcel of Spanish imperial policy to turn its new subjects into Christians of a sort, and they offered less resistance than the Jews and Moors lately baptized in Spain. Had the conquest of Mexico come before instead of just after the conquest of Granada and the abolition of religious freedom in Spain, a different attitude might have prevailed.
Spaniards in America, like Portuguese in Asia, showed how flimsy civilized habits of conduct were when customary restraints were removed. The primitive inhabitants of the islands first occupied were treated in such a way that they died out, like some races in other empires later on. That the native civilizations vanished must have been due to their own brittleness, compared with those of Asia, as well as to Spanish destructiveness. In the densely peopled areas like Mexico population fell catastrophically, mainly through the spread of foreign diseases. Some churchmen in the colonies, led by Las Casas, and at home made honourable but on the whole ineffective efforts to protect the ‘Indians’ against the brutality of the settlers: the first of many struggles of Christian missionaries and enlightened Europeans against the behaviour of unenlightened Europeans overseas. Gaps in the labour force soon began to be filled with slave labour from Africa; modern Europe has forged many links between other continents, of which this was the most sinister. Portuguese were purveyors, and also Negroes into their own country, whose small manpower was overstrained. Thus while Moors were expelled from Iberia other Africans came in. the middle of the sixteenth century a tenth of the population Lisbon is said to have been composed of from Africa, Asia and Portugal’s American colony, Brazil.
It was an amazing demonstration of Europe’s new daring and energy when the Spaniards began conquering the Philippine islands in 1565 with a small squadron sent across the Pacific from Mexico. A link was created between America and the Far East which had important effects especially through the introduction of maize and other new crops into China. But while Philip II was winning fresh territory he was losing the northern Netherlands, and his Dutch rebels soon forced their way into the Spanish and Portuguese preserves in Asia. In 1605 they inaugurated an empire of three and a half centuries by seizing the island of Amboina from the Portuguese. On another island, Banda, the inhabitants resisted, and were nearly wiped out. It did not escape comment that the Dutch were no sooner gaining their own freedom at home than they were depriving other people of theirs, an inconsistency repeated by several European nations later on. But they were only doing to Asians what they were ready to do to their English neighbours, coreligionists and allies in their war of independence. In 1623 the English at Amboina were seized, tortured and killed.
England’s East India Company had been founded in 1600. These two rivals represented a new imperialism, not in need of any crusading motives to nerve it for enterprises in continents now relatively familiar, or of any ideology beyond that of the counting-house. The Turkish threat to Europe was receding; besides, to Dutchmen and Englishmen, Spain and the Inquisition, not Turkey and the Koran, were the menace. They had no notion of spreading Christianity in Asia; these Protestants kept religion, business and politics in separate compartments. As the natives were going to be roughly handled in either case, it may have been better for Christianity not to be compromised, as it was in America, by getting mixed up in the matter. Anglo-Dutch power in the East Indies, until well on in the nineteenth century, marked the most sordid but least hypocritical phase of European expansion.
The Shape of Modern Europe
In the couple of centuries after 1450 Europe underwent a thorough stirring and shaking up, as if being plunged for rejuvenation into a cauldron of Medea. It was again a more radical transformation than any of the other big regions ever experienced, the stormy passage, full of changes good and ill, from medieval to modern. Internal pressures had slowly built up, and Europe’s collisions with the other continents helped to release them. One facet of the process was the Renaissance. Revived memories of antiquity, the Turkish advance, the new horizons opening beyond, all encouraged Europe to see itself afresh as civilization confronting barbarism. But the Renaissance was an affair of aristocracy and intelligentsia, confronting also their own illiterate masses, and secularism was a false dawn in an age when the masses could still only act and be acted upon through religious feeling. Social crisis, the threatened breakdown of the whole feudal order, found expression in religious schism, the strife of Reformation and Counter-Reformation. Christianity was always the religion most given to schism and persecution, because Europe was the region most subject to change, growth, social tension. The old division between eastern and western, Greek and Latin Churches was promptly succeeded by a new division between Catholic and Protestant, broadly between south and north.
Class division and class consciousness, the driving-force of modern European evolution, were contained in and regulated by the national State, now fully developed in the West. Germany and Italy failed to coalesce into nations, and fell behind. A new type of government, absolute monarchy, managed the reorganization and modernization of feudal society, and then went on until overthrown by revolution: in the 1640s in England, in 1917 in Russia. This absolutism always differed from Asiatic monarchy, because it rested on other foundations; and even at the height of Bourbon power Frenchmen could feel that they were under a sort of ‘constitutional’, not merely arbitrary, régime. But it may be asked whether the monarchs’ desire for unrestricted authority was not whetted by emulation of the Sultan, whom all Europe called ‘the Grand Signior’ much as the Greeks used to call the ruler of Persia ‘the King’. Conversely, the more a Western people progressed the more it came to think of all personal despotism as ‘Asiatic’ and degrading.
Against its enemies, Muslim and Protestant as well as fellow-Catholic, Spain and consequently the Counter-Reformation which it championed received immense reinforcement from colonial tribute. Without this Europe might have emerged still further truncated by Turkish expansion, but more homogeneous. The tribute weakened Spain later on by inducing parasitism, and by strengthening all its conservative interests, Crown, nobility and Church, against the rest. It was then the turn of southern and south-western Europe to drop behind, while the north drew ahead. Russia and Sweden were both on the horizon, but the real growing-point was the north-west. The revolt of the Netherlands against Spain was also an early version of a bourgeois revolution, and in free Protestant Holland the explosive economic force of the coming age, capitalism, was maturing. England was moving in the same direction, and these two with northern France formed the vital area, a surprisingly small part of the continent as a whole, the truly ‘European’ area in terms of future development.
National states in competition gave deliberate encouragement to the economic and technical progress that was ushering in industrial capitalism, with industrial revolution or mechanization to follow; the old cumbrous empires always stifled experiment. Protestantism changed and moved with the times, and helped to change the times, more than any religion had ever done. It was in this capacity to evolve that Europe was most unique. It grew less ‘European’ towards the east; or rather there were two dynamic Europes of the north, as well as the inert south and the Turkish south-east. How far Russia belonged to Europe was a question, as it has never altogether ceased to be. It had cast off Tartar overlordship in the fifteenth century and come together under the lead of Moscow, a defeat of Islam comparable with its expulsion from most of Spain long before. But Moscow lay four hundred miles further east than Stamboul, and morally often looked not less remote. ‘Russia is a European State’, Catherine the Great laid it down in her programme of government, but this German woman might be taken as stating an aspiration rather than a fact. A French aristocrat of the next generation habitually thought of the Russians he saw as ‘Tartars’ or savages, though he could at the same time predict a brilliant future for them. Many of the formative experiences of Europe had not been shared by this country: Rome, hierarchical feudalism, Reformation. It represented one of those borderlands, such as Macedon was to Greece, close to an elder neighbour in race and speech, but newer, cruder, and capable therefore on occasion of more rapid adaptation, of taking up ideas conceived but not carried out in the more advanced region.
Politically, untrammelled autocracy at one end of northern Europe contrasted with the early stirrings of modern politics, and their paraphernalia of parties, elections, newspapers, in the north-west. Socially, legal freedom here, with contractual relations and wage labour, contrasted with the serfdom still prevalent in the east – in Russia intensifying down to 1800, after being introduced by the ruling class under foreign tutelage to meet the costs of modernization just when more developed countries were moving away from it. Western armies, though not always navies, were manned by volunteers, often foreign professionals; eastern more by conscripts. Conscription goes logically with serfdom or slavery, and had died out along with it in most of Asia since ancient times. It spread from east to west Europe after the French Revolution (and thence later on to Asia), while industrialism travelled from west to east; a reminder that Europe’s east was not a mere torpid hinterland, but had its own energy, its contribution to a future amalgam. It was on the cards, down to the defeat of the German army in 1918, that the future Europe would be more ‘eastern’ than ‘western’. That this did not happen was due in good measure to the ability of the north-western area to draw on the resources of other continents, as Spain had done – though not without being coarsened and worsened in various ways in the process.
There were unifying influences as well. In military technology northern Europe was all one. Economically it was a compound, representing a division of labour. Serfdom was geared to a new ‘feudal capitalism’, producing surpluses of food and raw materials for sale to western countries in exchange for manufactures and luxuries. Western liberty and progress were buttressed on two sides by unfree labour, serfdom in Europe and slavery in colonies. In terms of sentiment, the break-up of the little Latin Christendom of old days into the ‘Europe des patries’ was a stage in the growth of popular consciousness, and indirectly in the long run of European consciousness. Even in the course of fighting one another Europeans were recognizing their differentness from anyone else. As the sulphur and brimstone of the religious wars drifted away, there was a broader revival of the Renaissance consciousness of a common civilization, with rational, secular, scientific interests, much more vigorous though these might be in some countries than in others.
One aspect of the trend towards secular thinking was that colour, as well as culture, was coming to be a distinguishing feature of Europe. Part of the Christian world now lay beyond the Atlantic, but any kinship felt with it would be with Spanish colonists, as offspring of Europe, not with Indians as converts to Christianity. It was an important element in Europe’s collective consciousness that its peoples all looked much alike. If Swede and Neapolitan differed, it was not more than northern and southern Chinese, less than northern and southern Indian, and there was every physical gradation in between. Between east and west physical though not social similarity was even closer. Europeans gave the impression, to themselves as well as to outsiders, of being one race. That Magyars or Basques spoke, like Turks, languages not of the European family was something Europe was hardly conscious of before the nineteenth century, and in any case counted for far less than physical appearance. In odd corners of the continent remnants of very primitive peoples could still be found; the Highlanders whom Dr Johnson met were nearly as alien to him as the Tahitians he read about. Yet a Highlander taught English and the minuet was at once European. Apart from a sprinkling of new African arrivals, only Jews and Gypsies, both of Asiatic origin, represented elements sometimes felt to be intrusive to Europe. In general all Europeans could intermarry, if not prevented by class or cult. Royalty always intermarried.
Europe and the World : The Seventeenth-Century Interval
While the new Europe discovered itself, most of the outside world it had discovered was being given a breathing-space. Spain and Portugal, the pioneers, were in decline by 1600; Holland and England were both small; all of them were chiefly occupied at home, and with Europe’s incessant wars. The Thirty Years’ War, and the conflicts of Louis XIV’s epoch that followed, were European civil wars, and meant a respite for other continents, as the war of 1914–18 did later. They were, on the other hand, stimulating military science and spirit to a point where Europe would be crushingly superior to the rest when they did meet. A Brussels tapestry of the late seventeenth century depicting the Four Continents displayed Europe’s emblems as a victory monument and a pile of pikes and guns, lances and drums. At least its feuds meant, fortunately for itself and the world, that there would not be a united Europe going out to conquer the other continents. Napoleon brought this possibility near at one moment, Hitler at another.
Africa, the weakest, was not left alone. The Islamic lands had been drawing slaves from it for many centuries; like them Europe wanted not African territory but African men and women. They were wanted for all the parts of America where intensive cultivation was growing up, and most of all for the West Indian islands whose sugar plantations became in the eighteenth century the richest colonial prizes, much fought over by Britain and France. Elsewhere expansion was chiefly into the nearly empty spaces of northern Asia and America, whose accessibility carried the northern countries of Europe further into the lead. French, English and Dutch settlers were moving into north America above the limits of Spanish occupation. Russian explorers and trappers were drifting across Siberia towards the Pacific. Russia was the first country to open diplomatic relations with China – in Latin, of all languages, because there were Jesuits at Peking as interpreters. A shipwrecked Japanese was brought to court to be scrutinized by Peter the Great.
Interest in the outer world at large was nourished by travellers’ tales, missionary reports, accounts from Spanish America and other colonies. One expression of such interest was the collecting of exotic curiosities. The Tradescant family collection now in the Ashmolean Museum had a printed catalogue as early as 1642, and included Red Indian hunting-shirts, Turkish slippers, Indian daggers. One has only to compare the cock-and-bull stories that Othello told Desdemona – and that Shakespeare may have taken as seriously as Raleigh took similar nonsense in America – with the matter-of-fact travel-tales of Defoe, to see how knowledge had accumulated in a little over a century. Othello had one foot in the world of Sinbad the Sailor, Captain Singleton in the world of the Morning Post.
Today when Europe is no longer in the lead it is tempted to think, or to agree with others, that the civilization it was incubating was no unique property of its own but a stage of progress that other regions were moving towards. India on this view would have had cotton-mills, Japan would have come by submarines, whether Europe had brought them or not. This is of course possible, but may be regarded as exceedingly unlikely on any time-scale of centuries rather than millennia. An intricate set of interacting factors is required to bring about any significant historical transition, and there is small sign anywhere else (most perhaps in Japan) of anything like the complex of material and psychological forces then at work in north-west Europe. No other part of Europe itself could have made an Industrial Revolution. It is even doubtful whether any Asian country would have modernized itself by imitation of the West, if not forced by the West to do so as India, Japan, China all in different ways were.
At some earlier points the meeting of Europe with other civilizations had been friendly and promising. Queen Elizabeth’s contemporary Akbar, greatest of the Mogul emperors, was eager to meet English envoys or Italian missionaries, and hear their ideas. He was at the head of an empire strong enough to command respect, still expanding, and as a result self-confident, and interested in other people’s religions and artillery. In Japan too, where Europeans – Portuguese, then Dutch and English – had been coming since 1542, Iyeyasu who in 1603 founded the new Tokugawa dynasty of Shoguns, or feudal overlords, had the same kind of omnivorous interest. But for many reasons the meeting of minds between East and West was broken off, or petered out. Missionaries in the Far East were, then as later, in close league with European governments capable of hostile designs. Most other Westerners had no ideas to offer, and few goods that the East wanted, so that they were always tempted to take what they could by force. Their irruption, and their firearms, worsened the disorderliness always endemic in Asia. This intermediate period was plagued by a vast swarming of pirates over the seas of the world, a state of nature on the waves, the result of wars and social dislocation and the endeavours of Europeans to break into one another’s colonies. Western freebooters, or the half-caste Portuguese who infested the Bay of Bengal, rubbed shoulders, or exchanged broadsides, with Arakanese, Malay, Chinese buccaneers. Some Robin Hoods among them started a model settlement in the Indian Ocean which they christened Libertaria: few joined them.
In addition, Asian governments were often less confident now, less inclined to expose their subjects’ loyalty to foreign contagion. More receptive than India or China because smaller, and an island, Japan was likewise first and most vigorous in reaction. In 1637 began a savage persecution of missionaries and their numerous converts, and Japan was sealed off for two centuries, except for the small peep-hole of the Dutch warehouse allowed to remain at Nagasaki. It was to become a European gibe at the mercenary Dutch that they consented to humiliate themselves and perform the annual trampling on the cross that Gulliver narrowly avoided when he landed in Japan from Laputa. With the Manchu conquest in the 1640s China came under alien rule, and the new government embarked at once on a policy of exclusion, actually depopulating a long stretch of the southern coast, ostensibly to repel pirates but really, it must be suspected, to keep the restive southern Chinese from contact with the outside. China was thus insulated, while its rulers, barbarians at the outset, turned back into the blind alley of inner Asia to subdue Mongolia and eastern Turkestan. A few Jesuits at Peking provided the sole point of contact, as the Dutch traders did in Japan; they were tolerated for their astronomy, useful to official calendar-makers, but the converts they made soon got into serious trouble with the authorities.
India was never under such effective control as China, and its rulers cared little about sea or coast; but with Aurangzeb in the later seventeenth century, before the Mogul empire fell into confusion, Akbar’s open-minded eclecticism was abandoned in favour of narrow Islamic orthodoxy, anti-Hindu and impervious to any fresh ideas from outside. Turkey and the other great Muslim power, Persia, which had a national revival in the early sixteenth century under the new Safavid dynasty, were both most receptive when strongest; but both were soon drying up. Forced on to the defensive in Europe after a second failure to capture Vienna in 1683, Turkey began to be pressed back by Austria and Russia, and to fall into a more negative mood, a siege mentality. All in all, during the interval between Europe’s first and later bursts of expansion Asia’s biggest countries were curling up like hedgehogs, failing to realize how Europe’s technology was going ahead and how much they needed to learn from it. Their failure was deepened by their increased isolation from each other, partly through their own introversion, partly because the seas were controlled by Western ships or flayed by pirates. No great merchant fleets came to India from Ch’ing or Manchu China, as they had come in the time of the previous Ming dynasty. Turkey and Persia, Persia and India, still had contacts, but these mostly took the form of forays with old-fashioned armies or, from Persia, of old-fashioned poets.
Gulliver was a satire on how Europeans thought of and behaved to others, as well as on humanity as a whole. After his homecoming the traveller was told that he ought to have notified the English government of all his discoveries, but he felt no wish to enlarge European domination, too often merely ‘a free license given to all acts of inhumanity and lust’ – starting with a boat-load of pirates landing somewhere, killing some people, setting up ‘a rotten plank, or a stone, for a memorial’, and getting a free pardon for their services to the empire. What was known about the earlier history of the Spanish American empire confirmed such criticism. Las Casas’s book on The Destruction of the Indies had been translated into many languages, partly but not only for purposes of anti-Spanish propaganda. Similar crimes were heard of from Bengal after the fateful skirmish of Plassey in 1757 put it at the mercy of the East India Company. Adam Smith thought of Europe as the magna virum mater, the mighty mother of men, and of the European character as uniquely capable of grand designs. That the result of its conquests for the peoples subdued by it had hitherto been unmitigated evil seemed to him too obvious for argument. Europe’s crimes had indeed been, and were to be again, as gigantic as its achievements, and some of them as unparalleled.
At home inside Europe, too, aggression and bloodshed were too common. In the later eighteenth century thinking men were in a chastened mood over the spectacle of its blighting wars, which often seemed to have no reason but royal ambition. Anti-war feeling grew in France and Europe after the Seven Years’ War of 1756–63, when Canada and the French foothold in India were lost to Britain; and in Britain and Europe after the War of American Independence, which brought on another European conflict. The mood was strongest among the French. They had no new possession like Bengal to make up for what they had lost, and as their belated revolution of 1789 drew nearer they were conscious of how far they had fallen, politically and economically, behind the English. Many of the most perceptive travellers of the age were Frenchmen, whereas Dutchmen and Englishmen in Asia were apt to look at native peoples with boorish contempt or indifference. Frenchmen could look at Asians as interesting foreigners, instead of looking down on them, because France owned no colonies worth mentioning in Asia until the later nineteenth century.
This was not unconnected with the fact that in Europe Frenchmen were the leading spirits in the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. One feature of it was a willingness to recognize civilizations outside Europe as fellow-members of a human family, equal or even superior to Europe in some of their attainments. The Philosophes thought, or liked to think they did; as citizens of the world, bounded by no narrower frontiers than those of all humanity. In material achievement Europe was not yet vastly ahead of the most advanced countries of Asia, though already further ahead than most men realized. Asia was known to have its barbarians, its illiterate masses, its swarms of beggars, but so had Europe. What these intellectuals of an aristocratic society were predisposed to look for and to admire was something resembling themselves, a class of men of enlarged minds and sympathies benevolently guiding ordinary mankind.
There was nothing of the kind in neighbouring Turkey, which was only too much like unreformed Europe, warlike and unintellectual. But far away in little-known China there did appear to be a class of enlightened men, occupying a higher station than in Europe – with power to direct and control, not merely advise, as intellectuals always feel they ought to have. On the strength of Jesuit reports from Peking, somewhat rose-coloured in complexion, the Celestial Empire was taken almost at its own valuation, as a model of how a vast region could be peacefully guided by a high-minded administration. Tranquil and unwarlike, it made an attractive contrast with army-trampled Europe. Even its exports, tea, silk and porcelain, breathed the blandness and suavity of its supposed life.
In a more modest way China enjoyed a vogue in tea-drinking England too. When Goldsmith wanted to expound the creed of reason and benevolence he took as his mouthpiece an itinerant Chinese sage, who had seen many lands and learned ‘to find nothing truly ridiculous but villainy and vice’. All civilization was one at heart, just as savages everywhere had only ‘one character of imprudence and rapacity. England was more concerned with India, and for a time the Brahmin was looked upon as a personage of the same order as the scholar-magistrate of China. Sterne was surprised to see a monk at Calais with a noble, lofty countenance – ‘but it would have suited a Brahmin, and had I met it upon the plains of Indostan, I had reverenced it’. Brahmins were supposed to be the repository of a profound philosophy; their learned language, Sanskrit, was being studied and vastly admired, and its affinities with the classical languages of Europe revealed. Lord Monboddo convinced himself that the Greeks got their language from Egypt, which probably got it from India. It was only eight years after Plassey when Sterne saw his monk. As the occupation of India proceeded, familiarity bred contempt, both because the average Brahmin was not after all a very admirable being, and because his English masters were no longer in a humour to admire anything Indian. In Asia at large Englishmen rummaging in search of profits were coming to see it more crudely, but in some ways more realistically, than the French theorists. A novelist out to extol the hard-working bourgeois decried the lounging English aristocrat as one of a great fraternity of drones including ‘the monks of every country, the Dervises of Persia, the Bramins of India, the Mandarines of China and the Gentlemen of these free and polished nations’.
At the opposite end of the scale from the polished idler was the Noble Savage, another figure who haunted that age, and another compound of its open-mindedness and self-deception. It too originated in France, with Rousseau’s essay of 1753 on Inequality, and it too suited the mood of a middle class pining for ‘freedom’, a Europe burdened with its own complexities. Commonly the ordinary man, in or out of Europe, was regarded as a born Caliban, only redeemable by paternal control. But perhaps on the contrary what he was suffering from was too much control, too much artificiality and class division. If so, man in his primitive condition might be expected to exhibit naturally the virtues that civilized men had to toil painfully for. The idea went through many metamorphoses, and Noble Savages turned up in all sorts of places, like the lost tribes of Israel; at this stage the Red Indian was a favourite candidate. Another English, novelist had a hero reared among Red Indians, though (like Tarzan) heir to a noble estate in England, who brought back with him from the forests their simple and natural good feeling. Disillusionment soon crept in here too. Again Europe might partly have itself to blame, by its interference with other peoples; but at any rate primitive man was to prove as little able to resist European brandy as India or China to resist European batteries.
The Nineteenth Century : World Domination
Between 1792 and 1815 Europe was engrossed with the wars of the French Revolution and Napoleon, and most of it was cut off from the outer world. Russia went on foraging eastward, and Britain, to make up for the loss of its American colonies and its exclusion from Europe, had a free run of everyone else’s colonies, besides pushing on in India. Britain thus got a long lead over all rivals, which it kept through the century. The wars were followed by a second and greater loss of European power abroad, the winning of independence by Spanish America and the peaceful severance of Brazil from Portugal. In this case too the absence of European unity was important. Three countries had helped Washington to defeat George III; and when Ferdinand VII of Spain begged for combined assistance against his rebels, and Alexander of Russia was eager to strengthen the Holy Alliance by giving it, Britain had its own motives for frustrating the scheme.
Europe had lost two empires, but the European race had lost nothing, and the other continents now seemed positively to invite attack. Their feebleness must have done as much as European ambition to cause fresh empires to spring up. Asia had to all appearance lost the faculty of self-renewal. Obstacles that retarded technology in Western lands like Spain were exaggeratedly present there: rigid ideologies and social patterns, governments suspicious of change, absence of a bourgeois middle class. Westerners impregnated with their new ethos of change, progress, energy, invested Commerce with the same divine right that monarchy formerly claimed, and were irresistibly tempted to resort to force. They could feel that by doing so they were doing right, as the French Revolutionary armies marching over Europe and carrying liberty on their bayonets had felt. To knock down decrepit régimes was to liberate peoples from the crushing burden of their past. In the first stage of European expansion Spain and Portugal thought of making a return to benighted regions for what they took from them, by giving them Christianity. Now there was again a feeling that expansion ought to have some ideal purpose, a goal beyond sordid greed, which came to be expressed in the phrase ‘civilizing mission’. Backward lands would be given civilization, in return for the products wanted by Europe; Christianity might be part of it, though a subsidiary one. The idea of Europe’s ‘mission’ dawned early, but was taken up seriously in the nineteenth century. Turkey, China, and the rest would some day be prosperous, wrote Winwood Reade, one of the most sympathetic Westerners. ‘But those people will never begin to advance … until they enjoy the rights of man; and these they will never obtain except by means of European conquest.’
The idea was not entirely fallacious, but Europeans in Asia or Africa, like French armies in Europe, more than half falsified it by their other, more squalid motives. This happened all the more blatantly because often official Europe was preceded by private adventurers, rude pioneers of free enterprise, who hung on the skirts of decaying kingdoms or pressed into the wide areas where there was little settled rule. They might be under loose authority of distant governments, as in Siberia or on the American prairies; or bodies of men acknowledging some rough authority of their own like the Boer trekkers in south Africa. Some were individuals who took service with one faction against another, like the Frenchmen from Pondicherry who helped the last dynasty of Vietnam to get into the saddle, or the Americans employed in China against the Taiping rebellion, who dreamed of a principality of their own. Worst of all were the men under no kind of authority, successors to the buccaneers of the previous age. Piracy as a full-time profession was being left to Malays and other races, but these Europeans were pirates, traders, grabbers and settlers, by turns.
They spread far and wide, round Africa, among the Pacific islands, and gave the world a picture of Western civilization very much like the picture of Islam that Arab slave-dealers gave. Yet Europe’s conviction of being the only really civilized region was becoming so strong that even its offscourings, these Ishmaels of the seven seas, carried it with them, and were fortified by it in their lawlessness. Whatever a white man did must in some grotesque fashion be ‘civilized’. An opium smuggler, who could not help feeling shocked when he saw the ‘shrivelled and shrunken carcasses’ produced by the drug, landed on one occasion on Formosa with his men, had a fight, burned a village, plundered a junk, and removed its ammunition because ‘there was no knowing how much they might yet require, before the natives were brought into submission to our superior civilization’. Ruskin complained that some of the bigger men who had been selling opium at the point of the cannon were buying respectable estates in England.38 At the end of the century the whole mob of adventurers had an apotheosis in King Leopold of the Belgians, building a private empire in central Africa with blood and iron.
India itself, the Mexico and Peru of the modern world, and the bridge between earlier and later imperialism, was acquired by a joint-stock company, whose morals before it was gradually brought under public control were not much better than the vagrant trader’s with his glass beads and gun. It was a startling illustration of how haphazard, how unthinking, was Europe’s approach to the world, in spite of the civilizing mission. Only by slow degrees was reckless plundering tempered by something closer to the better ideals of the Roman empire, so much a part of western Europe’s education and consciousness. The conquest of India, spread over the century from Plassey to the Mutiny, was the main stride towards European domination of Asia, and most of the others followed from it. British power there radiated from India; other territories were taken with the help of Indian troops, often at the expense of the Indian tax-payer. Psychologically the effect was even greater. Wherever else the Briton went he felt and spoke as representative of the power at whose feet crouched a hundred million Hindus; he saw other ‘natives’ as so many crouching Hindus in different disguises.
So much of Britain’s attention was drawn off to the East that from the fall of Napoleon in 1815 to the Anglo-French Entente of 1904 it was more often than not an absentee from European affairs, except for Palmerstonian games of bluff to amuse middle-class voters and, more seriously, engagement in the tangle of Turkish problems that were known as the Eastern Question. If Russia was sometimes held to belong rather to Asia, and Africa was humorously said to begin at the Pyrenees, Britain often appeared to belong to all the other continents more than to Europe; or appeared to itself, with its growing family of White colonies, a continent of its own. Empire meant for Britain a turning away from the rest of Europe as well as a turning towards the rest of the world. It was through most of the century Turkey’s prop against Russia, and in 1902 it set a new precedent – followed later by Hitler – by an alliance with Japan.
France and Russia were Britain’s chief rivals. Both looked alternately, as Spain had done, inward on Europe and outward on the world. Between Russia and Britain there was a trail of jealousies and recriminations from the Black Sea to the Pacific. Quarrels arose almost everywhere between France and Britain. Napoleon would have liked an empire beyond Europe too; after his Egyptian campaign of 1799 the East always fascinated him, as the grandest field of action for men like Alexander or himself. But he and France were faithful to the tradition of Louis XIV, and put Europe first. After Waterloo the French began to pick up crumbs in Africa for consolation; again after 1870, when Europe was bestridden by its new Colossus, the German army. Even then French interest in colonies had to be nursed by assiduous propaganda, chiefly by financial interests, and the old belief that power or influence outside Europe was something second-rate never entirely faded.
Hardly any European countries had significant connections, other than imperial, with any continent except America. Towards the end of the century, the ‘age of imperialism’ proper, a craze for annexations seized on everyone who had any chance, and Italy, Germany, Belgium all got shares, with the USA joining in. Individual businessmen were obviously doing well out of colonies; nations were easily tutored into believing (nearly always mistakenly) that they could do equally well, especially when they saw that all their neighbours believed it. The civilizing mission was now all the rage, whereas in earlier years it had often been rejected as too expensive. It was easiest of all to believe that what was good for Europe must be even better for the ‘natives’. By now the white man had worked himself into a high state of self-conceit; but all through the century his reaction to any natives who tried to reject the blessings of civilized rule was that of Dr Johnson to the rebel Americans: ‘They are a race of convicts, and ought to be thankful for any thing we allow them short of hanging.’
Only those countries were able to cling to their independence that already had some national tradition and consciousness, besides some advantage of size or situation. Turkey had the rudiments of nationhood, partly from intercourse with Europe, though only at the end of the Great War did a true Turkish nation crystallize out of a lost Ottoman empire. Persia hung on precariously; but neither of these two made much internal progress, and practically all the rest of Islam, with its medley of peoples and its non-national structure, went under. It kept its identity by wrapping itself round and round in religion, as Hindu India under Muslim rule had done, thus falling still further behind. Africa, nibbled at from early in the century, was swallowed up entirely in the final scramble, with the exception of the ancient and mountainous kingdom of Abyssinia. It was in the Far East that nationality was best developed, and there modern nationalism could be grafted most successfully on to it, and modern technology adopted. Japan alone accomplished this in any radical way before 1914. China owed its survival partly to its vastness, though this helped to make it a slow and painful learner compared with Japan. But China’s national unity was another factor, which delayed armed attack on it until 1839 when the conquest of India was almost at an end. In the Far East there was also the advantage that rival Western ambitions counteracted one another. Siam owed its survival to this.
In the course of their rivalries Europeans exchanged many hard words, and sometimes abused each other in order to please a non-European people An Englishman in Haiti was indignant at the ‘John Bull with the large and taloned hands, the creation of the French caricaturists’. An Englishman in China, no admirer of that country, declared that China was ‘certainly far more civilized than Russia’. Russians deplored Britain’s parasitic rule in India, directed as one wrote to ‘profit and not civilization’. They might all sympathize with one another’s ‘rebels’. But when it came to any serious colonial upheaval, white men felt their kinship, and Europe drew together. In 1857 its sympathies were mostly with Britain against the Indian sepoys; it heard of course only of atrocities on one side. In 1900 there was united military action to put down the ‘Boxers’ in China. Above all, and very remarkably, despite innumerable crises over rival claims the European countries managed from the War of American Independence onward to avoid a single colonial war among themselves. (The Crimean War was fought partly in and because of Asia, and in the Russo-Japanese War Britain was a sleeping partner.) To this degree Europe had grown more solid than in its earlier days of chronic colonial wars, and better able to come before the world as one civilization.
Meanwhile, thanks in part to the resources it drew from other continents, it was able to expand in another way, building up its population to an unprecedented height without running into serious famines except at its two wretched extremities, Russia at one end, Ireland and Spain at the other. Facility of emigration was another safeguard, and the USA, free from Britain, attracted emigrants from all lands and became a second Europe instead of, like Australia, a second Britain. When its overseas members are counted in, it can be estimated that the ‘white race’ grew from about twenty-two per cent of the earth’s population in 1800 to about thirty-five per cent in 1930. In terms of wealth and power it grew by comparison with the rest infinitely more.
Of fourteen sovereign states in the Europe of 1914, excluding the Balkans, eight had – and a ninth, Spain, had until lately had – considerable possessions outside. In many indirect ways the entire continent shared, as Adam Smith had pointed out long before, in the colonial contribution to trade and wealth. In the realm of knowledge, too, exploration and research in a dozen fields enriched the common stock. But though retarded nations like Spain or Portugal might plume themselves on belonging to Europe and sharing in its triumphant progress, grave inequalities within Europe, as well as between Europe and the rest, were being accentuated. As a class the rich grew richer far more quickly than the poor became less poor; as a nation France drew further ahead of Spain, Germany of Russia.
Europeans of superior countries thought of inferior Europeans and non-Europeans in not very different terms. Travellers described their journeys through Spain, before the railways, as if Madrid were somewhere near Timbuctoo. Stereotypes such as the Englishman’s image of Paddy the Irishman, a feckless nimble-tongued fellow at whom one felt a mixture of amusement and impatience – or of the Italian as an organ-grinder with a monkey – provided ready-made categories for Burmese or Malays to be fitted into. And if the ‘native’ on occasion reminded the Englishman of his’ familiar Paddy, Paddy might sometimes remind him of the native. Lord Salisbury, the Conservative leader, supporting coercion in Ireland, said that Irishmen were as unfit for self-government as Hottentots. Ireland was subject politically and economically to England, Italy through much of the nineteenth century to Austria. Down to 1918 a large proportion of Europeans occupied a more or less colonial status, differing only in degree from that of the Asian or African countries that were being annexed. There is a story of the Austrian representative saying to the Hungarian, when the Hapsburg empire was transformed into the Dual Monarchy in 1867, ‘You look after your barbarians, and we’ll look after ours’ – meaning the Czechs, Serbs and so on. Treatment of these subject minorities was not always gentler than in colonies outside, and must have been roughened by the habits formed by Europe’s ruling classes in dictating to the other continents.
It could be expected that unfree Europeans would have some fellow-feeling for the colonial peoples. Occasionally they did. Irish employees in Scotland Yard are said to have aided Indian nationalists to smuggle their literature. But in general ignorance or indifference, or ‘European’ feeling, prevailed. Ireland took a share in the rewards by helping to conquer and manage Britain’s empire. It was as a socialist, much more than an Irishman, that James Connolly denounced the empire and its war in 1914.
In the years of drift towards the catastrophe of 1914 nationalist movements against Europe were gathering up and down Asia, while others, and the socialist movement, struggled against the established order at home. At the zenith of its physical power in the world, Europe was at the nadir of its moral capacity to lead it, or even to reform itself.