Honestly, I think this video is the most punk rock thing I’ve ever done. I pride myself on occasionally making videos that nobody agrees with, but I think I may have really outdone myself with this one. In the series so far, I’ve laid out that my vision of what happened in the 19th and 20th centuries doesn’t exactly accord with the standard view, but I’ve been pretty delicate about it. With this one I go ahead and torch a whole bunch of historical pieties in the loudest way possible. Yes, as a title “European Empire is a Myth” is outrageous, and that’s kind of the point. This is YouTube after all, and I’ve got to take shots at virality occasionally.
At the end of the day, though, once you think about it, I hope you’ll agree that the people who will be most offended by this episode are Nazis, white supremacists, British nationalists and possibly an Oxbridge historian or two who doesn’t have a sense of humor. I think the upending of world history I do here serves a purpose. Or perhaps I’m just an asshole. You be the judge!
Video Transcript after the jump…
Ladies and gentlemen, European Empire is a myth. We hear a lot about it from both sides of the political spectrum. Some Left leaning folks like to talk about the vile white oppressors who raped and murdered their way across the world. Resurgent white nationalists across Europe and the United States actually kind of agree with this, though they tell the story differently. They, either explicitly or in thinly veiled terms, like to talk about the natural superiority of white folks and see the era of European empire as proof of the concept. Both of these groups are getting the story wrong. What they are really talking about isn’t European Empire, it’s British Empire.
Now I am not claiming that other European countries didn’t do evil stuff. They absolutely did. The Belgian Congo is perhaps the greatest example.But almost all of these crimes came in the context of the British Empire, or British world system that ran the world throughout the 19th century. The independent country of Belgium itself was set up by the British in 1831, mostly to keep a potential launching pad for invasions of England out of the hands of other European powers.I
I can guess that one big exception you may be thinking of would be the Americas. From the 1500s on, Spanish and Portuguese empires viciously exploited the coastal regions of the Americas, committing horrible crimes and introducing the diseases that probably wiped out 90 percent of the indigenous population.
If you dive into the details though, it’s clear that this story of European domination is overblown as well. It’s only in the 19th century that Europe and began to seriously exploit the interiors of the American continents. And where was all that cotton produced in the American South, and sugar produced in Brazil actually going? It was going Into the markets of the British world system that financed those American slave empires.
And for everything else that comes under the title of European Empire, the story is very, very British. The imperialist abuse of China and India’s millions, and the scramble for Africa that saw the world’s largest continent savagely carved up are all very British stories, that happened during the British Empire’s 19th century dominance. Many European countries got a slice of Africa to brutalize, but it was only the British bits that made any money.
Because the British write the history in the world’s dominant language we hear a lot about the imperial rivals they faced in the 19th century. These stories are largely bullshit. The French had large, largely economically worthless tracts of land just across the Mediterranean in West Africa. They also had a few possessions in Asia. The British controlled all of the lucrative trade routes and much of the land between French Algeria and French Vietnam.
The Russians took over much of central Asia in the 19th century but there just wasn’t much going on there in terms of trade or even people. The British had significant chunks of the trade in Russian Asia, and used Russian expansion as an excuse to swallow up much of modern Pakistan, which was significantly more valuable territory. Russian armies in Central Asia rarely amounted to more than a couple thousand people. British armies in Africa and Asia often amounted to hundreds of thousands of soldiers.
Europe was just another part of the British informal empire in the 19th century. The British miserably failed to manage it well. The German natives made a spirited attempt to kick the British out, and succeeded in ending the British Empire by losing two brutal world wars. That’s what actually happened, in the age of European Imperialism. It wasn’t some great battle between European rivals. It was a British system, with some European copycats who largely failed to free their continent of British and later US domination.
I think it’s really important to get this story right. Because the British world system was replaced by the US world system.
As the US system ages and decays it’s masters are getting obsessed with the same sorts manufactured enemies that the British did. Some of these threats, like China for example, are more credible future threats than others, but none of them are really that important yet.
Washington DC tells itself that it needs to be more worried about rivals like Iran or China than the ever accelerating mistakes that Washington DC itself keeps making. I think dismantling the myth of European Empire is an important part of correcting these mistakes. We should stop blaming others for the mistakes of the folks who have really been running the world over the past 270 years.. If you want to know more about all this, I suggest you check out my book Avoiding the British Empire available now in paperback and for the Amazon Kindle.
Thanks for watching, please subscribe, and come back tomorrow when we will lay out why World War One is the British Empire’s fault.