The European Inheritance - Vol. 1

The European Inheritance - Vol. 1

The European Inheritance - Vol. 1

The European Inheritance - Vol. 1

Excerpt

The nineteenth century was the great age of European expansion. For 300 years, following the voyages of Columbus, Da Gama, and Magellan, the shadow of the European hegemony had been moving across the oceans. For ten generations hardy explorers, traders, and colonizers had been hoisting sail in the harbours of the Old World to lay the broad foundation for empires overseas. Not until the nineteenth century, however, when western science 'put a girdle round about the earth', did the Europeans come into the plenitude of their imperial heritage. Their aggressive superiority and spectacular conquests eclipsed all historical prologues, though limited precedents might be found, for instance, in the spread of Hellenistic culture after the fourth century B.C. But Hellenistic civilization was circumscribed by its Mediterranean environment, whereas the hegemony of the modern Europeans expanded until all the continents of the earth yielded them some form of advantage. Between 1815 and 1914 the world entered a new era of global integration under the compulsion of western technology, an era that might, without undue exaggeration, be termed the European age. Before the nineteenth century closed European civilization dominated or impinged upon every segment of the globe, and all important groups of the world's population had taken the imprint of occidental culture or endured its pressure.

For the peoples of Europe the period between 1815 and 1914 was an era of such remarkable progress at home that it half- blinded them to the ever widening influence of their economy overseas. It was a period unmarred by any long or seriously debilitating wars, a century during which the cumulative energies of Europe could be turned to constructive enterprises, and surplus capital and population could find profitable outlets in other continents. Each generation enjoyed an increase in wealth and comfort, a widening of economic opportunity, an improvement in the standards of nutrition, health, and sanitation. With each decade new advances in technology speeded the mechanization of industry, new cities reared their anarchic skylines, new levels of production were attained in the factories and the mills. But the most significant indexes of progress were neither political nor economic; they were demographic. Throughout . . .

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