Thursday, October 1, 2009

Age of Empires

In the videogame Age of Empires III, you start out as a colony in an isolated part of the world. Once you make your workers gather wood and food etc. you can level-up. After enough level-ups you become a real empire and start pwning everyone else with your military and economic power.

I think this is a good analogy for the time period which starts where Abu-Lughod left off in Before European Hegemony and continues through Hobsbawm’s account of the later stages of the “long 19th century” (1789-1914). Hobsbawm calls the later years of this period the Age of Empire (1875-1914).

Hobsbawm notes that these empires were able to become powerful because they were economic hegemonies. They used colonies for raw materials, then they used their developed industries to manufacture goods or refine raw materials, then they profited from selling these products.

Undoubtedly Hobsbawm’s writing is Marxist-bent, as he almost always describes the social classes in the Age of Empire as either bourgeoisie, petty-bourgeoisie, or proletariat, and he primarily contrasts these classes. I think it is interesting that these social classes can also be (relatively) applied to the general class/nation make-up of the world at the time. Hobsbawm says that there were developed countries and there were dependent countries, much like there were bourgeois and proletariat. The dependent countries were largely exploited by the developed countries. Clearly the Western countries were the developed and the non-Western countries were the dependent. This is a great contrast from the 14th century world-system.

Now it seems like the old developed countries are close to being joined by the old dependent countries. I wonder what the consequences of this might be. What happens when all countries are developed?

-Stefan Larson

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