Chapter One is about how the British Empire came to be from an economic standpoint. In the late 1490s all the European powers were starting to create empires. Portugal had the African coast and the East Indies, Spain had meso-america, France had sugar-producing islands in the Caribbean, the Dutch were trading in the East Indies, and Venice already had an empire in the Mediterranean. Numerous people got letters-patent from the Crown and sailed to Africa and North and South America searching for gold, but failed. England’s only real option for getting in on the game was to steal gold from the Spanish. The Crown licensed “privateers” to raid Spanish shipping and loot Spanish ports, which Henry Morgan did to great renown (although the effect on the Spanish was more of an annoyance). Morgan spent his proceeds in buying a sugar plantation in Jamaica.
Imports of sugar, coffee, tobacco, and tea to England by traders became large enough that the price dropped to a level affordable by the English public, creating the first consumer economy. (Incidentally, the fact that large tariffs were charged for coffee led to the price of tea being cheaper, which led to a preference for tea.) Companies were creating for importing all kinds of materials, but it was silk and calico from India that propelled England to Empire. One can only drink so much tea and eat so much sugar, but there is no natural limit to the number of clothes, sheets, and drapes one could have. The East India Company set up warehouses in Madras and Calcutta for trading. Trading in India required currying favor with the Moghul Emperor, who could (and did) command a stoppage of trade, and since the voyage to and from India took six months, East India Company employees on the field had considerable ... liberties. Low salaries and inability to control employees led to men like Pitt doing some business for the Company and a lot of business for themselves on the side. Eventually the Company gave in, hired Pitt with the freedom to conduct side business in his contract. Pitt and his successors exploited divisions within India to slowly gain control of a large swath of India.
At the same time, the British and Dutch East India Companies were competing, primarily in the Indies. It turned out that spice consumption is elastic, so the more spice that was brought back, the lower the price dropped, decreasing profit. England and the Netherlands fought three wars over the matter, and England lost all of them. The Netherlands had innovated financially, and was able to borrow to pay for war, enabling it to field stronger armies. So the British nobility deposed James I, invited the Dutch William of Orange to be king, and he set up the Bank of England and the stock and bond exchanges. When France, which had colonies in the Caribbean, North America, India, and East Asia began attacking British interests in the 1740s, Britain used its ability to borrow money to greatly increase the Navy, which cut off French armies from contact with the outside, leading to their defeat. (However, Britain gave France back the sugar islands in the Caribbean, thus sowing the seeds for France to recover.)
Back in India, Pitt and his successors had started growing force of men to defend their warehouse-settlements to defend against France. However, they realized that they could use these defense forces as private armies, and started slowly conquering India. Over time their army steadily grew. When they defeated the Moghul Emperor, he accepted British “protection” and gave them the right to levy taxes in a large part of the country. This paid for the armies and the dividend to the shareholders. Eventually, however, the Crown took over the role of government. The armies, which kept getting larger, would pay for themselves with the next conquest, but this could not go on forever, and eventually the Indian tax-payers were stuck paying the bill (just as the British public was paying for the interests on the war loans, which went to the rich nobility).
Chapter Two discusses the human migrations that made Empire possible. The first migration was to Ireland, where English settlers were “planted” to create a crop of English to replace the native Irish. The Irish naturally were not happy about this, and the first few were destroyed. Eventually, however, one got a population large enough to survive the attack, and Ireland began being colonized. In the New World, it was difficult to find people who wanted to come to the first colony, Virginia, but that changed somewhat when it was discovered that tobacco grew well there. Even so, advertisements had to be made, and free land was given out in various colonies and at various times. Tobacco and crops were not really economically viable enough to produce a thriving colony, and it was the search for religious freedom that created the impetus for much of the migration, particularly to New England.
It was easy to give away land in the early years, but the colonies did not need not more landowners but tradesmen and craftsmen, who frequently could not afford the ticket to come. Furthermore, as the 1700s wore on, between rents and poor harvests many people in the British Isles were impoverished, and selling themselves as indentured servants in the colonies was a last option. So the Viriginia Company and others offered to pay for the trip in exchange for around seven years of slave labor. Somewhere around 10 - 20% died within a year of disease. In the Jamaica it was even worse, and it got a reputation as a place where you did not want to go. Plus, they ran out of land to give the indentured servants when they were freed. So they started importing true slaves from Africa.
Slavers would sail from England to Africa, where they would induce the Africans to sell their countrymen. (Sometimes the sellers were themselves sold by others.) They would take these to Jamaica, where one had to be constantly buying slaves to replace the ones that died, and to the American Colonies. In Jamaica a number of slaves escaped, calling themselves the Maroons, and evaded the British army for years. Eventually the British decided they could not win, so they made a deal: we will declare you free if you stop accepting runaway slaves. It worked well, and the Maroons refused to take runaways.
In a side note, Ferguson observes that John Newton, who wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace” had his conversion before becoming a slaver. For nearly a decade he captained slaver ships, while at the same time refusing to have business meetings on Sundays. Eventually he came to feel that it was wrong. It seems surprising that one could live with such large cognitive dissonance, but he and his contemporaries unconsciously rationalized it by believing that blacks were obviously an inferior race.
By 1770, the slave trade from Africa to the Caribbean supplied the sugar and tobacco plantations with workers. The American colonies supplied them with food. And the sugar and tobacco, much of which was sold to the European Continent, kept England supplied with Profit. The American colonies were somewhat economically lackluster, certainly nothing like England’s economy. However, in contrast to England, the colonies had very little taxes (and the taxation law the led to the Boston Tea Party was, in fact, a substantial reduction of tax on tea), and the average income in New England was almost as much as in England. So the colonists could very well have been some of the wealthiest people in the world. The problem was that Britain prided itself on liberty, but the colonies were refused any say in their governance. It really was not economics that caused the American Revolution, but the principle of self-government. Their revolution succeeded partly because France was tying up England’s forces at the time, so it could not devote its full energy to putting down the rebellion. But it also succeeded partly because many British, including people in government, sympathized with the colonists and thought that they had a very valid point. By 1835 the “American experiment” was clearly as success, leading some in Britain to worry that Canada might decide to make a go of it themselves. Parliament sent the high-living Earl of Durham and a few others to Canada, and a few years later they returned with the Durham Report, which recommended that the colonies be given “responsible government,” that is, government responsible for themselves. The recommendation was adopted throughout the Empire, which is what the American colonies wanted in the first place.
The other large part of the Empire was Australia. Originally founded as a penal colony, where, due to a high value for property rights, petty theft would get one sent 16,000 miles to do time. One of the early wardens of New South Wales, Lachlan Macquarie, thought that prisoners could be reformed if they were given a way to sustain themselves after they had done their time. So in addition to return to England, released prisoners could get 30 acres of land. He also intentionally built civic structures. He was successful, and many of the former prisoners became upstanding citizens and even wealthy businessmen. (He tried to apply the same ideas to the Aborigines, but since they had a value system that valued other things than land and houses, it totally failed, whereupon he decided that they were not civilizable and therefore inferior, and they were hunting close to extinction.) So what was once a penal colony became a bustling colony of rehabilitated prisoners. It was so successful that they petitioned Parliament to stop “transportation,” and under the principle of “responsible government,” England agreed and stopped sending prisoners there.
Chapter Three discusses how Evangelical Christians changed the face of the Empire, but also expanded it. It began with Zachary Macaulay, during his governorship of Sierra Leone, where was appalled at the whippings of the slaves, and found it incompatible with his Christian beliefs. He returned to England and worked at repatriating slaves that had been freed, but eventually ended up at Clapham, where there were like-minded men, such as William Wilberforce. The Quakers had argued that slavery violated “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” as early as the 1680s, and the sentiment spread with the Great Awakening in the 1740s, with the northern states outlawing slavery starting in 1780. The House of Commons even passed a bill phasing out the slave trade in 1788, although the Lord’s defeated it. The “Clapham Sect” used grassroots methods to stir up support for the cause, and the slave trade was outlawed in 1804. (Some say that the slave trade ended because it was unprofitable, but the evidence seems to be the opposite, that it was ended despite its profitability.) British ships now enforced a ban on slavery, getting even the Spanish, Portuguese, and French to agree to the ban. The Clapham Sect continued its efforts and slavery itself was outlawed in all British possessions in 1833.
In a movement that started about the same time as the anti-slavery movement, the Victorians were eager to bring Civilization (by which they meant not only the light of the gospel of Christ, but also British culture and British values) to the Heathen. Previously the natives were used, robbed, or killed, but their culture was left alone, possibly even studied. Victorian Evangelicals aspired to Improving the condition of the Native, and that meant that all the African superstition would need to be replaced. It was not very effective initially. Dr. Livingstone signed up as a missionary, and worked for seven years with one half-hearted convert. He tried a different tribe with even less results—they enjoyed imitating his sermons and Bible readings and mocking him. So he gave up traditional missionary work and decided that one could not convert those who one did not know even existed, so he became an explorer; it seemed to suit his personality much better.
Livingstone soon encountered the other African slave trade, where Africans were sold to Arabian and Portuguese slave traders, and shipped to Zanzibar, where they would be sold to middle-eastern countries where they would be worked to death. Livingstone was appalled when he arrived in Zanzibar and experienced the slave markets. He perceived the problem being that selling members of your tribe was easy money for the leaders, even though it did not actually lead to real wealth. The resources of central Africa could be used growing sugar, cotton, coffee, as well as mining for iron and gold, but central Africa lacked a way to efficiently move these resources. So Livingstone spent much of the rest of his life searching for a river passage through Africa. Unfortunately for him, such a passage does not exist, but he kept trying with his iron constitution and determined will. (A few years after he died, the British fleet forced Zanzibar to agree to stop the slave trade, so Livingstone won in the end.)
In India, the East India Company had consciously followed a policy of cultural non-interface, judging that it would be bad for business. But, bolstered by the former East India Company director Charles Grant, who had become a Christian and joined the Clapham Sect, Evangelicals campaigned for missionaries to India. Their efforts were aided by the British aversion to three aspects of Indian culture: female infanticide; the alleged cult of assassin-priests called “thuggee” (Thugs); and the practice of self-immolation (“sati”) of widows onto their husbands funeral pyre. When the East India Company’s charter came up for renewal in 1813 they were successful in forcing the Company to accept missionaries. The Indians, however, perceived that the missionaries were trying to change their culture, and resisted. Ultimately resentment rose to such a level that, combine with other grievances like pay, the Indian Army revolted in the Indian Mutiny. Evangelical leaders called for a sort of revenge: the barbaric nature of the Indian religions made it necessary to kill by the sword. For entirely pragmatic reasons, the army brutally suppressed the revolt, with many alleged atrocities. The leaders of India were proved right that meddling with the culture creates instability, but the Evangelicals thought that the problem was that Christianizing had started too late in the colonization process. The British government disagreed with their solution, and made cultural non-interference the policy of government. The East India Company was also wound up and direct rule instated.
India is the topic of Chapter Four, which begins by noting that technological change in the nineteenth century made the Empire more cohesive and governable: the world dramatically shrank as the steam boat reduced travel time over water, railroads extending from Europe to Asia and India reduced travel time over land, and the telegraph (complete with undersea cables) reduced communication time. As an example, when Emperor Theodore of Abysinia imprisoned all the British subjects he could get his hands on, the British put together a “butcher and bolt” operation that sent over 30,000 men of the Indian Army, a similar number of animals, and a prefabricated harbor, lighthouse, and railroad to Ethiopia and freed the hostage with no British casualties within a matter of three months. The British Navy enabled British policy. The Navy intercepted slave ships from Africa and returned them. The Navy was sent to Brazil in 1848 with the result that Brazil passed a law ending the trade in 1850. The Navy attacked China to enable the sale of opium.
India was able to field the reliable army that was sent to free the hostages because of changes after the Indian Mutiny. Queen Victoria declared that the government in India was not to change the culture or religion. But there were architectural changes too: the narrow streets of Lucknow were widened so that the new cantonment of soldiers in the center could have a clear path for their artillery. (The residents were removed from the city, and forced to pay for it by paying a tax to re-enter after the demolishing/rebuilding was complete.) The patronage of the East India Company was replaced by an elite force of British Civil Servants who governed the country, helped out by a larger force of Indian natives. These were educated in the British fashion and became fairly British in thinking. A rigorous examination for both British and Indians (and in theory the Service was open to both, equally) was to ensure rule by “the ultimate academic elite: impartial, uncorruptable, omniscent.” There were never more than 1000 long-term employees of the Service, which ruled 400 million people, the ultimate in efficiancy. During summer the Civil Service removed itself to the mountains of Simla, 7000 ft high and 1000 miles from the stifling hot plain of Calcutta. There were parties, athletics, and of course, flirting with other men’s wives, who were sent to more livable climes while their husbands toiled in the heat of Calcutta.
The plan to create pro-British Indians by educating them was paying fruit, and there was beginning to be a desire on their part to be treated equally. While there were Indian judges and White judges, only the White judges could judge cases of White people, for instance. In 1880, Gladstone appointed Rippon as Viceroy (whom the Queen had doubts about, in part due to his conversion to Catholicism). Rippon immediately set about proposing a bill that would bring equality to the Indian civil servants. While there were only about 1000 civil servants, there were quite a few more British merchants and manufacturers, who had an economic interest in maintaining the status quo. They agitated, many racist remarks were made, a great talk was made of how Indian men would rape English women (never mind that English men had no problem visiting Indian prostitutes and even frequently marrying Indian women) and the bill was defeated. The lesson for the educated Indians was that the British might talk about equality but would not actually do it.
India was the linchpin of the British Empire, and it needed to be ruled. The Tory civil servants dreamed of a retirement to a pastoral, hierarchical England that no longer existed; they also were attracted to the idea of a hierarchical India, where the British ruled the Raj’s who then ruled the people, as they had done traditionally, an idea the author calls “Tory-entalism.” Viceroy Curzon, the height of Tory-entalism, was enchanted with the idea of traditional Raj’s in traditional garb with traditional culture, but it was traditionalism that was surface-only, because he they had no power (something the princes resented), which lay in the civil service and Anglocized Indians educated in British ways. Macaulay had “called into being” an Indian elite, but Curzon rejected them, creating the nationalistic movement.
British rule of India has been criticized for many things, one of which is extracting wealth from India. However, while not minimizing the problems with British rule, the Empire was beneficial in a lot of ways for India. The British trade surplus drained only 1% of Indian GDP per year, compared to 7 - 10% per year that the Dutch drained from Indonesia. By 1914 Britain had invested £400 million (a much more substantial sum back then). They increased the irrigated land from 5% under Mughal rule to 25%, created a coal industry, and increased the number of jute spindles by a factor of ten. They introduced quinine and forced vaccinations of smallpox (despite unwillingness from villagers), and saw an 11 year increase in life-expectancy. Indian incomes were virtually flat, and many worked as indentured servants making goods for the Empire. However, would they have been better off without the British Empire? The elites that the British had overthrown lost their income of 5% of GDP, but the rest of Indians saw their share increase: village economy rose from 45% to 54% of GDP. The other possible empires would have likely had a worse result, and it not certain that India would have prospered under Mughal leaders; China was not prospering under Chinese rulers by the nineteenth century.
The expansion of the Empire into Africa, the subject of Chapter Five, came about via the Maxim gun. This was the first reliable machine gun, and was first put to use when Cecil Rhodes decided to invade Matabeleland for its gold, and turn it into Rhodesia. Rhodes founded the de Beers company, although his financing was through Rothschild, who actually owned more shares. In addition to being rich, he aspired to be an imperialist. He founded the Rhodes Scholarship in his will, suggesting that Rothschild (his executor) take the Jesuit charter and substitute “English Empire” for “Roman Catholic Church.” The Matabele bravely charged Rhodes’ small army, and were mowed down by the gun.
England bought the Egyptian Khedive’s shares of the Suez Canal when Egypt went bankrupt in 1874, in an attempt to gain an edge over other European powers. They owned 44%, so not a majority, but the the dividends turned out to be substantial, guaranteed by the Khedive. France and England floated a loan and installed an international government. The Khedive dismissed in 1879, so France and England deposed him. But a military coup replaced the Khedive’s son, and with the French being busy with internal conflicts, Britain needed to act on its own to guarantee the dividend, so it invaded, quickly conquering the country. Britain assured the European powers—repeated 66 times between 1882 and 1922 that the situation was only temporary. But England needed Egypt because it was on the road to India. Certainly having France on their road would not do. From Egypt, England extended its territories southward via Maxim gun to South Africa.
British statesman began envisioning a “Greater Britain” of closer relationships with the Dominions. The cost of defending the Empire was paid by Britain, not the colonies, but even so, only added up to 2.5% of GDP. Still, the several million British who emigrated to the Dominions were generally better off economically from lower taxes. The large overseas income enabled Britain to import much more than it produced, and it traded all over the world. Since free trade benefited Britain, it strongly encouraged free trade throughout the world. The lessons of history were not lost on the British elite, however—Empires tended to fail. To avoid that, Chamberlain began to encourage closer ties with the colonies to create a Greater Britain that would unite the empire by culture, rather than just power.
The Maxim gun worked great against tribesman, but when the other side also had the gun, things did not go so well. The Boers, whites descended from Dutch settlers at the Cape, had skirmished with the British before, moving northward to get away. The settled on a land that turned out that have lots of gold. The Boers were unwilling to cooperate, so the British decided that they must lose their independence, and invaded. For several months the invaders (led by Boy Scouts creator Baden-Powell) were besieged at border town, but when they were finally relieved, the Boers switched to guerilla tactics. So the invaders rounded up their women and children into concentration camps and burned their houses. The Boer War had a similar effect on Britain as Vietnam did on the US. 45,000 men died (mostly of tropical disease rather than enemy fire), the country spent large amounts of money, in order to protect the private little East India Companies created by wealthy people like Rhodes and Rothschild. Added to this was the distaste of the internment camps, and public sentiment was against the war.
By the turn of the century, England reached a detente with France, having swapped territory and claims on territory in 1904. They were slow to recognize the rise of Germany. In 50 years the German population and economy went from being smaller than England to being larger. Germany began to want a larger role in world affairs, and started building a navy big enough to limit Britain’s movements if it did not want to imperil its colonies; this it estimated as 2/3 the size. Meanwhile, the British officers had allowed some amount of decadence to set in, and while the Ministry of Defence noted that the navy continued to be larger than the German navy, they failed to understand the purpose of the German navy. Furthermore, they committed to defending France, which now began to look like it might lead costly commitments on the Continent if it did not actually deter Germany from war.
Chapter 6 talks about the ending of the Empire. By the twentieth century it is clear that, as far as empires went, the British empire was the better to live under. The Belgian occupation of Congo exploited the natives in a gross abuse of human rights. The French took native land quite in contrast to their rhetoric of universal citizenship. After a native group resisted the Germans, they gave an order to shoot on sight (later withdrawn). The Russian empire was not kind to the Poles, and the Japanese empire brutally suppressed a Korean rebellion. Even worse, the Russian, German, and Japanese empires of the 1930s killed millions of people. If the British did not defend their empire, clearly their subjects were going to be worse off. Yet, the cost of defending it also killed it. So the Empire did not end because the years of oppression proved too much, but rather because of the cost of fighting far worse empires.
World War One started due to miscalculations on both sides. The German army was considerably larger than the British army, so they did not take them into consideration much. Germany also allied itself with Turkey and persuaded the sultan to declare jihad against Britain and its allies, which had half the population of Muslims living within their borders. The British Navy was not as strong as they had assumed just by their numerical superiority. They were never able to destroy the German Navy, although they did wipe out its merchant marine. German machinations among the Arabs were ineffective, though, because they had nobody who understood Arab culture. By contrast, Britain had men like Lawrence of Arabia, who could blend in with Arab culture and not be seen as an outsider. Also, Britain raised a sizeable army from the colonies. The Indian Army distinguished itself, and even Gandhi said that it was every man’s duty to come to the aid of Britain. In Africa, though, due to lack of railways and roads, men had to be used to haul supplies, and while only 3500 British soldiers died, over 100,000 native soldiers died, many through tropical diseases.
The aftermath of the war resulted in the elites loosing confidence in the Empire, although it was still popular with the commons. The cost of defending the Empire began looming large. Repayment of debts to other allies consumed half the budget. Returning to the gold standard at the overvalued 1914 rate caused a decade of deflation. The war had surfaced new technology that needed to be invested in, but that was a cost that was repeatedly postponed, partly because the main threat to the Empire seemed to be from within: Irish nationalists and Indian nationalists were increasingly violent. (The response by the British military was harsh, but people like Churchill loudly proclaimed that shooting civilians was “not the British way” and the offenders’ careers were over.)
Britain did not suffer from the Great Depression nearly as much as the U.S. and Germany. In 1931 Britain discovered that devaluing the pound from the gold standard would not cause the dominions to switch to the dollar, as had been feared, and it created a block of fixed exchange rates within the Empire, but floating without. Voters were became okay with protectionism, and “imperial preference” increased the flow of trade. (Keynesian deficit-spending was not the reason, because although his book came out during the Depression, deficit spending did not occur until later.)
Hitler admired the British Empire because it oppressed inferior races, although he regretted that they were not willing to take it all the way. And he repeatedly offered a tempting promise: simply vacate certain colonies and return the war reparations and there will be a respecting peace. Some, like Chamberlain, were tempted, but men like Churchill saw through it, that ultimately Hitler wished to reduce England to slavery by insisting little by little on weakening steps: get rid of the navy (“disarmament”), get rid of the naval bases, etc. And at the beginning of World War Two, the British armies in Singapore and Hong Kong became actual slaves by the Japanese.
From the beginning of the war Churchill saw the U.S. as essential in winning it; the Empire could not do it by itself (owing to failure of preparations over the previous thirty years). But the American creation mythology was based on winning independence from the oppressive British, which meant that Americans could not stomach directly ruling over another people. So in 1913 when there was a coup in Mexico, the American representative in London, Walter Page told British Foreign Secretary Edward Grey that if things got bad enough, they would send troops to force the Mexican to vote for proper leaders. When Grey asked what they would to if that failed, Page responded that they would continue the procedure for as long as necessary. As Ferguson says, “anything, in other words, but take over Mexico—which would have been the British solution.” So while the Americans helped Britain, they made it clear that they were not fighting to preserve the Empire, and indeed, they thought the Empire should be dissolved into “trusteeships” on a path to independence. The political elite found it hard to accept that losing the Empire was the price of victory. But the problem was that the Empire was broke and it was the Americans that had the money and could dictate the terms. So, realizing that they were not wanted, and did not have the force to stay, they got out as quickly as they could, frequently too rapidly, causing ethnic warfare in India and “bequething to the world the unresolved question of the new state of Israel’s relations with the ‘stateless’ Palestinians and neighbouring Arab states.” The Empire took three centuries to build and three decades to demolish. “In the end, the British sacrificed her Empire to stop the Germans, Japanese, and Italians from keeping theirs. Did not that sacrifice alone expunge all the Empire’s other sins?”
Ferguson concludes by discussing the economic impact of the British Empire and the impact and possible future of the American economic empire. Ferguson argues that the Empire did not impoverish their colonies, but rather, enriched them. The world would not have had a much free trade in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were it not for the Empire. Furthermore, the Empire provided the stable structure in which capital investment could get a return, and so capital was invested there. Investing in Argentina (a de facto colony) was risky, but investing in an actual colony was safe. While the Empire lasted, relative incomes of people in the colonies tended to converge towards that of the motherland. It has only been afterwards that they have diverged. In 1955, per capita GDP of Britain was seven times that of Zambia but in 2003 it was 28 times, so the disparity is not a result of the Empire but of independence. In fact, of the seven principles of ideal growth economies listed by economic historian David Landes [1) secure rights of private property to encourage investment; 2) secure rights of personal liberty and protection from crime, tyranny, and corruption; 3) enforce contracts; 4) stable government with publicly known rules; 5) responsive government; 6) honest government with no rent-seeking; 7) moderate, efficient, ungreedy government to prevent government soaking up social surplus], the Victorians espoused all but 2 and 5. In fact, the official reason for not giving some colonies “responsible” government was that they were not yet ready, and it was their job to get them ready. And a survey of former colonies found that capital in former British colonies was significantly better protected than in French colonies.
The “experiment” of running the world without the British Empire is not an obvious success. The world has since fragmented into many and smaller states, many along ethnic lines, and many which are inefficient as independent states. Western liberalism is under threat from Islamic fundamentalism. “In the absence of formal empire, it must be open to question how far the dissemination of Western ‘civilization'—meaning the Protestan-Deist-Catholic-Jewish mix that emanates from modern America—can safely be entrusted to Messrs Disney and McDonald.” After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Tony Blair gave a speech that, if you changed the words a little bit, could sound like he was espousing an Empire. Robert Cooper called it for what it was, and said that since imperialism is a bad word and in any case, there are no imperialists willing to do the job, the world needed a cooperative, economic empire, namely the European Union.
Today America has brands that do business all over the world (reminiscent of the East India Company), and military bases located in roughly the same spots as the British coaling stations. American late-twentieth century military action has largely been surgical strikes, similar to the “butcher and bolt” operations of the Victorian era, except that the gunboats fly. The Empire developed because of the constant temptation to replace informal control with formal control; the incentives are still the same to tempt America the same way. And America can afford it: Britain had 8% of world GDP and spent 3% of GDP on its Empire; America has 22% of world GDP and spends 3% of the military. But perhaps America is not of the imperial type. Unlike Britain, which exported people and capital, America imports people and capital, owing to their desire to come. America sees itself responsible for global affairs, but cannot stomach colonialization, responds to a crisis by invading, holding elections, and leaving. “... the Empire that rules the world today is both more and less than its British begetter. It has a much bigger economy, many more people, a much larger arsenal. But it is an empire that lacks the drive to export its capital, its people, and its culture to those backward regions which need them most urgently and which if they are neglected, will breed the greatest threats to its security. It is an empire, in short, that dare not speak its name. It is an empire in denial. The American Secretary of State Dean Acheson famously said that Britain had lost an empire but failed to find a role. Perhaps the reality is that the Americans have taken our old role without yet facing the fact that an empire comes with it.” (381)
Empire is a great history. Ferguson breaks three hundred years of history into pieces which have a distant flavor, purpose, and direction (even if perhaps unrealized by the original actors in the story). He weaves expertly from one narrative into the next, blending economic analysis with personal anecdotes and military history. He highlights the key personalities, key events, and key economic realities in explaining the motivations behind the Empire and the mechanics and political pressures that caused it to come into being. He deals fairly with the Empire, neither papering over the racism and atrocities, nor burying the many benefits of the Empire. At the end you will go away with a rich understanding and appreciation for the Empire, and, even if you are a member of the current American de facto Empire, a little sadness when the sun finally sets on the British Empire.