, , ,

At some point in the 19th century, eight states controlled the vast majority of the earth’s surface and population (over the course of the century they lost ground in Central and South America but gained it in Asia, Africa, and North America). The eight consisted of four kingdoms and republics in the former Western Roman Empire (France, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom), two kingdoms which saw themselves as successors to the East Roman Empire (Russia and the Ottoman empire), one genocidal settler republic (USA), and the Middle Kingdom (Qinq China).

Academics in the USA spend a lot of time and paper marvelling about this fact and trying to explain why it occurred. They don’t talk a lot about the decolonization of Central and South America in the 19th century because what happened afterwards does not suit the triumphant story they want to tell.

At a random year in the 16th and 17th century, six dynasties controlled most of the population of the world and a large fraction of its territory: Ming/Qing in the Middle Kingdom, Mughal in South Asia and Afghanistan, Safavid in Iran, Ottoman, Rurik/Romanov in Russia, and Hapsburg in Europe and the New World.

Of the six, the first-rank powers were China, the Mughals, and the Ottomans, and the other three did their best to live in between while committing a little piracy here and delivering silver to the big boys there. Only one of the six was based in the former Western Roman Empire.

You can tell the story of the past 500 years in terms of the Rise of Atlantic Europe (and its genocidal settler states). But you can also tell it as an age of imperialism. And if you are ever, ever tempted to tell stories about how Your People were Special and Destined for Greatness from the Beginning, whether those stories are about Catholic marriage laws or made-up GDP statistics or “Freeedooom!!!” ask yourself if you would tell the same story in Delhi, Istanbul, or Beijing in 1600.