Tag Archives: nationalism

The Victorians: Empire and Race

Prof. Richard J. EvansVia Gresham College, a series of lectures on the Victorian era by Professor Richard J Evans FBA. Below is the episode on Empire and Race:Watch Brothers (2015) Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

Science and religion came together to help shape the attitudes of the British and Europeans towards the rest of the world, whose inhabitants were increasingly regarded as socially inferior and spiritually ignorant. This lecture looks at how these ideas framed the growth of overseas Empire in the latter part of the nineteenth century, how Britain and those European states that possessed colonies governed them and what were the consequences for politics and ideology at home, above all in the growth of the Social Darwinism, racism and extreme nationalism that led to the end of the ‘Victorian’ era in the First World War.

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Other lectures in this series, The Victorians: Culture and Experience in Britain, Europe and the World 1815-1914, include:
Time and Space
Art and Culture
Life and Death
Religion and Science
Gender and Sexuality

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Niall Ferguson: Civilization: Is The West History?

A 6-part documentary series from the UK’s Channel Four in which Niall Ferguson asks why it was that Western civilization, from inauspicious roots in the 15th century, came to dominate the rest of the world; and if the West is about to be overtaken by the rest. It accompanies his book Civilization: The West and the Rest.

Niall Ferguson (.com)Ferguson reveals the killer apps of the West’s success – competition, science, the property owning democracy, modern medicine, the consumer society and the Protestant work ethic – the real explanation of how, for five centuries, a clear minority of mankind managed to secure the lion’s share of the earth’s resources.

Competition: The first programme in the series begins in 1420 when Ming China had a credible claim to be the most advanced civilization in the world: ‘All Under Heaven’. England on the eve of the Wars of the Roses would have seemed quite primitive by contrast.

Science: In 1683 the Ottoman army laid siege to Vienna, the capital of Europe’s most powerful empire. Domination of West by East was an alarmingly plausible scenario. But Islam was defeated: not so much by firepower as by science.

Civilization Cover (Amazon)Property: Professor Ferguson asks why North America succeeded while South America for so many centuries lagged behind. The two had much in common (not least the subjugation of indigenous peoples and the use of slavery by European immigrants), but they differed profoundly on individual property rights, the rule of law and representative government.

Medicine: The French Empire consciously set out to civilize West Africa by improving public health as well as building a modern infrastructure. Yet in other European empires – notably Germany’s in southwest Africa – colonial rule led to genocide. What was the link from medical science to racial pseudo-science?

Consumerism: Today the world is becoming more homogenous and, with increasingly few exceptions, big-name brands dominate main streets, high streets and shopping malls all over the globe.

Work: The sixth element that enabled the West to dominate the rest was the work ethic. Max Weber famously linked it to Protestantism, but the reality is that any culture, regardless of religion, is capable of embracing the spirit of capitalism by working hard, saving, and accumulating capital.

An on-line version of the documentary was in this spot, but as can be expected, it didn’t take long to be removed from YouTube.
Other official sources: Channel 4,

You can also watch his lecture Empires on the Edge of Chaos on fora.tv (from ABC’s Big Ideas) or The Ascent of money: An evolutionary approach to financial history from Gresham College.

Another thematically related lecture: Ian Morris: Why the West Rules – For Now

Update: Does Islam Stand Against Science? (The Chronicle of Higher Education)
A contrary view of Ferguson’s output: Pankaj Mishra reviews ‘Civilisation’ by Niall Ferguson

American Exceptionalism

American ExceptionalismThe Washington Post recently touched on the fascinating topic of American Exceptionalism, since it appears to be increasingly used as a distinction in American politics as to who is a patriot and who isn’t (which of course is hardly a new battle). It certainly is comical to see some people drape themselves in it as if it were a good thing. To wit, the WaPo article starts off with:

Is this a great country or what?

“American exceptionalism” is a phrase that, until recently, was rarely heard outside the confines of think tanks, opinion journals and university history departments.

But with Republicans and tea party activists accusing President Obama and the Democrats of turning the country toward socialism, the idea that the United States is inherently superior to the world’s other nations has become the battle cry from a new front in the ongoing culture wars. Lately, it seems to be on the lips of just about every Republican who is giving any thought to running for president in 2012. (…)

That the average American thinks their country is the greatest country in the world shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has encountered one either in cyberspace or in real life. It’s greatness (or superiority) is extolled remarkably often even in casual conversation, even though, as is claimed in the introduction to the concept in Wikipedia, some would argue that is not meant to express superiority:

American exceptionalism refers to the opinion that the United States is qualitatively different from other nations. Its exceptionalism stems from its emergence from a revolution, becoming “the first new nation”, and developing a unique American ideology, based on liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism and laissez-faire”. This observation can be traced to Alexis de Tocqueville, the first writer to describe the United States as “exceptional”. Although the term does not imply superiority, some writers have used it in that sense. To them, the United States is a “shining city on a hill”, and exempt from historical forces that have affected other countries.

In the 1960s “postnationalist” scholars rejected American exceptionalism, arguing that the United States had not broken from European history, and had retained class inequities, imperialism and war. Furthermore, they saw every nation as subscribing to some form of exceptionalism. (…)

Certainly some rather notorious examples of other nations with very similar thinking (i.e. that their particular god was on their side and/or had a special purpose for their nation) aren’t very difficult to find in history.

Continue reading American Exceptionalism