Friday, November 25, 2005

Another pocket guide to the abbreviated history universe

Peoples and Empires: A Short History of European Migration, Exploration, and Conquest, from Greece Tothe Present
Pagden, Anthony

Another pocket guide to the abbreviated history universe

Pagden has thirteen listed titles here (known) alone on his area of specific expertise, namely inter-empire history from the earliest days to the present.

That said, these little pocketbooks of the modern libraries chronicles are accessible entries to more developed treatises; however the more shortly-run, the longer it appears one can wait for derivative reading selections. What Pagden writes is the history of the world in less than two hundred pages, no pictures, that would slow down the magic-carpet ride. Actually it is a roller-coaster, high altitude glimpses of world history, and the low rumblings of racing thunder, a little like swooping amazon satellite images of the world, reading this is like flying with the condors.

If you want to sweep down and really have a full taste of the riverine salmon, you have to dig into the bibliography, and it is at fifteen pages, supplemented with a full cast of characters and empirical figures of variable repute. First, there is the dabbling about in the Greeks. Very little wandering takes place among the likes of Titus, it is all a hopping and jumping into Alexander the Great. I am surprised Pagden did not abbreviate to "Alex the Big G" for brevity's sake, and piercing detours into Sparta and Thebes, we are presented the uncomfortable beds of defeat at Issus for the Persians and Mesopatamians soon paving the ways to the subcontinent. So Alexander is crowned King of the Conquerors and Empire Builders of All Empire Builders.

Then the reader is raced in a fast beaked ship far before red-fingered dawn into the Italian ports of Roma, poking and brooding over Julius the Ides of March Caesar. The spitting and reining of arisot-cats, the hauling in and feasting upon of much girth in taxes, Virgilian golden age-ism and the waving of fronds, all held in the wise graspings of truths by Cicero and his nodding converts. So stands and falls the Romans in their over-aweing propensity to bloat and bubble over in enterprise, laws, regulations, an empire crumbling in upon its own over-awed illustriousness and forum.

Augustus and Constantine figure in their heavy blood-lettings to maintain the golden rules on things and thinking, but finally it all shatters into an enclave ravaged by Saracens and Marmalukes in the bitter sieges and rapacious fall of Constantinople to the Muslim hordes. A tipper of Holy Roman Emperors is poured over this lovely souffle and a thicket of European Kings sally forth to dance like ginger bread men upon the swimming foxes of continental European intrigue. Charles of Burgundy has the finest icing in his Half-happening-Hapsburg Empire. But the festering sores appeared in the plagues of Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and British exploits to crab and spice the inner continental wheels of fortune.

The Haps found few opportunities to better Prince Henry, Prester John, Magellan, and the big Columbe, that man with a funny, funny hat. Certainly not as flat as the Rhineland. Given to him by Charles the Fifth. Christian world order, or as Annie Lennox so well termed, "The Missionary Man" came to the fore, an age of encomenderos, real "lovers of the rigours of religion" with far too few Montesinos or Las Casas, but far too much Philip, the Spanish crashed following eighty years of gold wars, followed by a Lutherian rebranding of the entire evangelical enterprise. Commerce became the new motto for world peace, as it appeared clear, from the Beguines to the Diderots. But intercolonial fidgets and squabbles continued to pop up nearly anywhere rival Europeans swarthed about.

Suddenly it seemed everyone had an axe to grind splitting a new morality which purged itself on the likes of Hastings. His leading attackers being Burke-ish in nature. Suddenly the British self-decidely implied, "All of the Queen and we" know best. So they decided to abolish slavery, at the befuddlment and bemusement of their West African suppliers. So Diderot's vision finally included the slave and effectively ended the trade globally by 1870. Then the French implicated as they tend to do even today, that the earth was borne with "Noble Savages" and struck out upon Tahiti to prove it.

Even Captain Cook was informed of serious hints on the conduct of fair treatment of native peoples to lead British imperialism in an attempt to do everyone else a real favour of civilisation. So racism reared its white, pretty, superior head in the likes of Gobineau (The little goblin), even J.S. Mill had a hand in working pompous magic in labelling Ango-Saxons as hard working, and southerners as lax, lazy, latins. A great froth and fuss about the eminence of the Aryans, or even the existence of an Aryan race courtesy of the likes of Lord Curzon, and Bentincks's "all bent" ideas flourished.

The buffet of justifications of British Empire roused the blood of good aryans everywhere in civilising the perceived heathens and federalizing the pre-literate, and pre-industrial cultures of the world's fetid swamps, border lands, and scrub deserts. At the same time relieving them of any spare commodities. A certain resistance to colonial rule erupted in many nations, namely China, India, and other long past servlings to the British croner. All European nations either bankrupted themselves out of their imperial holdings through European wars, or bloodied many dissenters until they ran out of bullets and will to win the unwinnables.

The heathens have taken to home rules with mixed results all around. Pagden finally eulogizes the entire concept of nation itself with a whistlestop at globalisation, which is hardly a threat in such terms as remarked by Ian Clark. Pagden's fears of omnipresence as an outstripping of local flavours are rushed, and there is ample evidence that standardization does not implicate diminishment of specific cultural distinctiveness. It might appear imperialistic to even suggest so.

Pagden translates empire in an express train of narration. It is a good trip overall, and hints that for all of its flaws, imperialism has neither yet withered nor died in the West or the East. It remains a dirty little thought in the backs of many cultural precepts. So take breaks reading this book. And think about what you might read next after the ride ends.

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