The story I’m telling in today’s video is a bit reductive. It must seem crazy, or even a little racist to try to boil all of history down to the actions and power of two Atlantic empires, the British and the American. I am aware that this vision of history is easy to argue against. But as weird as it is, I think it’s definitely saner than the standard view. The 19th and the second half of the 20th centuries are often described as if they were stable systems, governed by agreement, or at least peaceful competition between great powers. The longer I look at these issues, the more convinced I become that that’s not really what’s going on. The stability in both systems was underpinned by hegemonic power. British in the 19th, American in the 20th. The implications of this are rather grim. Looking at history this way doesn’t flatter the British or the Americans, it heaps guilt on them. That’s why British and US propagandists are so obsessed with the idea of competition.
Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there. Everything we are told about the past 270 years of history is wrong. Well not exactly wrong, but skewed in a way that makes everything look more complicated and mysterious than it actually is.
Have you ever heard of Globalization and Industrialization? These are probably the most important forces that have shaped the past quarter millenium. These forces, among others, have been present for quite some time, but it’s only relatively recently that they have all gone into overdrive. These phenomena are typically described as abstract, mysterious things that just sort of happened.
In fact Globalization and Industrialization aren’t just things that happened to the world. They are things that were done to the world, first by the British Empire, and now by the US empire. The past 270 years are the first era where we can say that the whole world really does have one overarching story.
Back before the 1750s the histories of say India and Northern Europe were more distinct things. Sure the world was always connected by things like diseases and certain trade goods, but empires could rise and fall on one continent without really impacting other continents that much. Since the 1750s we have all lived under a world system that has linked all of us more and more tightly as the years wear on.
World history has functioned as a single unit since the 1750s. Barring some kind of apocalypse that’s the way things are going to be for the rest of the human story to come. This series, and the book I wrote, are an attempt to learn the lessons of the past 250 years, and avoid repeating some of the disastrous mistakes that have been made already. The book goes into a lot more detail, but for this video, lets simplify radically.
This whole 270 year span can be divided up quite neatly. There was the British era, and now there is the American era. The British era spanned from more or less 1756 down to exactly 1914. The US era began after 1945 and continues down to this day, though at the current rate of decay it could peter out by the end of the 2030s. Both of these eras were challenged in their beginnings. The French fought the British in a series of wars up until 1815, and the US cold war with the Soviets lasted more or less from 1945 to 1989. With 2020 hindsight however, it’s clear that both the French and the Soviets were fighting a losing battle from the start.
Over the past 270 years first the British and then the US had every geographical, technological, financial, and even ideological advantage imaginable. The rest of the world was just playing catch up. I have been studying US Empire and the British Empire for years now, and they are both a lot more powerful than is commonly known.
These two periods are some of the most eventful in world history. The British period saw the spread of the Industrial revolution, with steam ships, railroads and telegraphs spanning the whole world. The US period has seen further technological revolutions, and a hyper intensification of the globalization we already saw during the British period. For some reason we are still encouraged to see these changes as distinct from any country, even though it was mostly British gun ships that blew open every market in the 1800s, and mostly US companies that has driven the world system into everybody’s pocket in this century.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that almost all political development since 1750 everywhere, has to some extent been a reaction to either the British Empire or the US Empire. The British ran the world until 1914, and the US has run it since 1945.
What I am interested in, and what we should all be interested in is this gap in the middle here. Between 1914 and 1945 no one was in charge. The result was two world wars, massacres, genocide, and the first nuclear obliteration of cities. We hear a lot about a few horrors of this period but don’t really grasp how wide spread the slaughter was. Even places that weren’t on the front lines, like India and some parts of the Middle East, experienced mass starvation because resources were sucked up by the war effort. This period of time in world history was truly apocalyptic.
There are libraries full of books on how we got to that disastrous point, but I think they tend to be too tight in their focus. They look at the months or a decade or two leading up to World War One, instead of looking at the full arc of the century before it. The question of why a world of growing prosperity fell into a multi-decade apocalypse is a lot more complex than just the stupid choices of a few bloodthirsty aristocrats in 1914.
This isn’t just an academic question. We’re now at a point when the US control of the world is obviously slipping. Not as much as advertised, but significantly. If US Empire is ending, we really need it to go more peacefully than the British empire did. And by we, I don’t just mean US citizens, I mean everybody in the world. This planet is a lot more interdependent and fragile than it was back in 1914. Another world war type event wouldn’t kill tens of millions, it would kill hundreds of millions, or even billions.
So we’re talking about pretty important stuff here! Tomorrow we’ll turn to why the British Empire fell, and we’ll start to try to draw out the lessons the United State should follow to avoid the next catastrophe.
Thanks for watching, please subscribe. If you want to get the more in depth analysis of all these questions, check out my book Avoiding the British Empire, available now in paperback and on the Amazon Kindle.