January 27, 2014

China v. Europe: the big picture

Unified China and Divided Europe 
Chiu Yu Ko, Mark Koyama, Tuan-Hwee Sng∗ January 2013 
Abstract 
This paper studies the persistence and consequences of political centralization and fragmentation in China and Europe. We argue that the severe and unidirectional threat of external invasion fostered political centralization in China while Europe faced a wider variety of external threats and remained politically fragmented. Our model allows us to explore the economic consequences of political centralization and fragmentation. Political centralization in China led to lower taxation and hence faster population growth during peacetime than in Europe. But it also meant that China was relatively fragile in the event of an external invasion. We argue that the greater volatility in population growth during the Malthusian era in China can help explain the divergence in economic development that had opened up between China and Europe at the onset of the Industrial Revolution. 
∗Chiu Yu Ko and Tuan-Hwee Sng, Department of Economics, National University of Singapore. Mark Koyama, Department of Economics, George Mason University.  
Since Montesquieu, scholars have attributed Europe’s success to its political fragmentation (Montesquieu, 1748, 1989; Jones, 1981; Mokyr, 1990; Diamond, 1997). Nevertheless throughout most of history, the most economically developed parts of the world belonged to large empires, the most notable of which was imperial China. This contrast poses a puzzle that has important implications for our understanding of the origins of modern economic growth: Why was Europe perennially fragmented after the collapse of Rome, whereas political centralization was a stable equilibrium for most of Chinese history? Can this fundamental difference in political institutions account for why modern economic growth began in Europe and not in China? 
This paper proposes a unified explanation for this twin divergence. We emphasize the role of geography in shaping the external threats confronting continental landmasses such as China and Europe. Our model predicts when and where empires are more likely be stable based on the extent and nature of the external threats that they face. It also sheds light on the growth consequences of political centralization and fragmentation. 
Historically, China faced a large unidirectional threat from steppe nomads.

E.g., Mongols, Manchus, Jurchen, etc. coming down on horse from the northern grasslands. There weren't many steppe nomads, but they were extremely scary. And their culture was so radically different that when the Mongols conquered China, their first thought was to burn it all down and turn it into pasture for their horses. Eventually, the Chinese were able to convince the various nomadic conquerors that they would enjoy Chinese restaurants and Chinese laundries, but it was kind of nerve-racking.

In contrast, the Himalayas shielded China from the South Asian subcontinent, due east is a high desert, and Indochina is a rugged, smaller region that wasn't all that much of a threat to the vast population of China.
Europe confronted several less powerful external threats from Scandinavia, Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa. We show that if multitasking is inefficient, empires will be unstable in Europe and political fragmentation the norm. On the other hand, empires were more likely to emerge and survive in China because the nomadic threat threatened the survival of small states more than larger ones. Political centralization allowed China to avoid wasteful interstate competition and thereby enjoy faster economic and population growth during peacetime.

Hero dramatizes that ideology of centralization. The Muscovites had a similar get big or die trying ideology, as I noted in 2001. I recall reading somewhere that the Czarist foreign ministry once sent a memo to the Czar saying that they had searched through the archives and were proud to report that of the 40 wars Russia had fought, Russia had started 38 of them.

The Russians took a terrible beating from the steppe during the Mongol rule of 1300-1500, which permanently affected their national character.

Whereas the English were off on their nice island. The English had the perfect set up to eventually dominate the world politically-culturally: they didn't need to be wholly militaristic and autocratic because they had natural defenses. But they needed some degree of centralization to defend themselves from invasion: a serious but not overwhelming challenge that was conducive to building a state that was strong but not too strong.
However, the presence of multiple states to protect different parts of the continent meant that Europe would be relatively robust to negative shocks. Consequently, economic growth should be more continuous and less cyclical in Europe than in China. 
The framework we introduce has important implications for growth theory. Models of unified growth contain a scale-effect that implies that larger economies should be the first to experience modern economic growth (Galor and Weil, 2000; Galor, 2005, 2011). Our theory suggests that because it was more centralized, China was more vulnerable to negative shocks and therefore more likely to experience periodic growth reversals. As a steady increase in the stock of population is important for cumulative innovation to occur, the start-stop nature of China’s growth diminished its chances of escaping the Malthusian trap, while the European economy was able to expand gradually to the point where the transition from stagnation to growth was triggered.

I'd add a point I picked up from David Landes' late 1990s history of everything: different ages of marriage. Chinese girls seemed to marry around 18, while English girls married around 25. So, the Chinese population shot up faster, and then came crashing down when the centralized government broke down and with it the conditions necessary for supporting such a dense population per square mile.

In contrast, Europeans followed the Rev. Malthus's advice before he gave it, and tended to limit their reproduction through celibacy, temporary or permanent. So, outside of the Black Death, populations were more stable than in China.
   

77 comments:

5371 said...

Late marriage was the peculiarity of Western Europe as a whole,compared with the rest of the world, from the fourteenth century on. It is bizarre that some people write as though it was confined to England.

Anonymous said...

Re big empires and steppe nomads influence on their creation see also Peter Turchin's work (a Russian-American)

Steve Sailer said...

It's just documented better in English for us English readers (Clark's Farewell to Alms). England has been stable for so long that it has an immensely long paper trail. E.g., various county clerk type property records filed by Shakespeare might be still potentially legally relevant if a lawsuit came up tomorrow over the purchase of a piece of land in Stratford.

But England was pretty much the same as the rest of Europe, although perhaps more individualistic, less familistic. Heck, rich English don't even like having their own children underfoot, so they pack them off to boarding school at age 7 or so.

As_I_ Can said...

Christianity didn't have anything to do with it?Divine plan?

Prof. Woland said...

Several years ago I was sitting on the fifth floor of the Hotel Russia drinking scotch and staring at Saint Basil's Cathedral with Red Square, Lenin's Tomb, and the Kremlin in the background. After getting buzzed I had this sudden epiphany. Ostensibly, the Russians built it to celebrate the fall of Kazan but looking at it from that angle, what became clear to me in that instant was that it was the first real project to be built outside the Kremlin walls. They had begun expanding. Prior to that, building such a fragile church that could not be protected was asking for trouble from their Muslim Tatar neighbors. But once their bitter enemy had finally been subdued they finally felt confident it would not get knocked down.

Steve Sailer said...

Similarly, the delicate Rococo churches of the Austrian empire had something to do with the Turkish threat disappearing after 1681.

When was the last functional castle built in England?

Anonymous said...

Are gated communities the new castles?

Gordo

roundeye said...

And how do we go about testing the author's hypothesis?

Sid said...

It's an interesting idea, but I ultimately don't think it squares with what we've seen in history.

After 1453, the gravest threat to Christian Europe was the Ottoman Empire. Did they unify? No - if anything, they divided along religious lines a few generations later. Some Europeans chastised Martin Luther for dividing European Christendom, but he didn't waver.

After 1683, Christian Europe had no great external threats. They didn't unify then either.

Over some 230 years, Christian Europeans had only one great threat, and they didn't unite to face it. From about 1683 until 1945 or so, the gravest threat to Western Europeans was each other. That didn't unify them either.

I think the key matter is that the Chinese, for all the immense differences between the various provinces and classes, have managed to stamp out a single "Chinese" ethnicity. They think that Yunnan and Hebei being under a single ruler is the natural order of things.

Conversely, European empires are almost always artificial and strained. Even today, Germans and Greeks feel precious little loyalty and responsibility for one another.

Anonymous said...

"Why was Europe perennially fragmented after the collapse of Rome, whereas political centralization was a stable equilibrium for most of Chinese history?"

Isn't it also an ethnic issue, or do I misunderstand China? Europe has a gazillion different languages (24 officially used in the EU Parliament, at last count, though there are more, and lots of local dialects on top of that), in several different family groupings (Romance, Germanic, and Slavic are the big Indo-European groups, plus Basque, Finnish, and Hungarian which are totally unrelated to IE). On top of this, several different scripts are used. Since the fall of Rome, Europe has also had some major religious divides (Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant). In this respect, Europe is more like the Indian subcontinent, politically fragmented for most of its history until the British welded it together, than like China.

Someone who knows more than I do can tell me if I'm wrong (I know very little Chinese history), but as I understand it, while there are some ethnic and linguistic minorities in China, and there are also some major dialectical differences between different varieties of Chinese (enough to totally prohibit mutual intelligibility? I'm not sure. Anybody know?), it's still the case that over 90% of the population is ethnic Han Chinese. Granted, fear of invasion probably did prompt a greater hostility to the kind of cultural fragmentation that caused the Romans' descendants became Spaniards, French, Portuguese, and Italians, but the effect probably works in both directions- greater asabiyah prevents fragmentation, but being less fragmented in the first place also makes it easier to centralize. Chinese Empires fell apart quite frequently, but they were always able to put the pieces back together again because the underlying population was basically homogeneous. Rome fell apart, and the pieces were occupied by people who had too little in common to ever really be united under a long-term unitary state (despite the best efforts of men like Justinian, Charlemagne, and Charles V).

Tarrou said...

From my studies in early middle ages, I think the political fragmentation is largely due to outside military threats, most importantly the Vikings. The Vikings weren't as strong as, say, the later Mongols, but they were everywhere, you couldn't fight them once. Feudalism and political fragmentation on a scale just large enough to repel a Viking raid resulted. This is especially noteworthy when contrasting eastern Europe with its much larger, but more monolithic threats of the mongols and the ottomans.

Anonymous said...

Warriors of The Steppe -- a good book

http://www.amazon.com/Warriors-Of-The-Steppe-Military/dp/1885119437

Anonymous said...

Another oft-neglected factor explaining European decentralization is the presence of the supranational Papacy. It's not the most important one, but it made a difference at the margins. Most advanced states throughout history have employed some kind of union of throne and altar, in which the priestly class are carefully controlled by the king and serve to legitimize the rule of sitting dynasty (though there are counterexamples- didn't the high priests of Egypt at some point overthrow the Pharaoh and rule in his stead, or am I misremembering something?). The same thing happened to some extent in Europe (particularly so after the Reformation, when even Catholic princes could win concessions from the Pope by threatening to turn Protestant), but at least in the Latin church, bishops who got into disputes with their kings could appeal to an outside authority for support, albeit not always successfully. Something like the Investiture Controversy would interfere with any monarch's plans for centralization. On top of that, the Pope's claimed right to anoint, appoint, excommunicate, and depose secular monarchs meant that military underdogs could always attempt to cultivate Papal support as a way of strengthening their cause against stronger powers (for an unsuccessful example, read the "Remonstrance of the Irish Princes" of 1317).

dearieme said...

"due east is a high desert": I conclude that you are either an American or a woman, Steve.

dearieme said...

"Heck, rich English don't even like having their own children underfoot, so they pack them off to boarding school at age 7 or so." Indeed, but it's not an ancient tradition. Rich people would hire first a governess then a tutor for the children, before packing the boys off to boarding school at, say, thirteen. Rich people near enough to a good secondary school might use that (especially in London) rather than have the boys board.

I suspect that boarding "prep" schools for seven year olds came in on a large scale in the railway age. But I admit I'm guessing on that.

Anonymous said...

'Saint Basil's Cathedral'

First Disneyland.

A. Saxon said...

But the castles of England were built by foreign conquerors (Normans) to subdue the native English, not to protect them.

Glossy said...

"We argue that the severe and unidirectional threat of external invasion fostered political centralization in China while Europe faced a wider variety of external threats and remained politically fragmented."

At first I thought:

"This doesn't make sense. Why would a unidirectional threat be more likely to foster centralization than a variety of multidirectional threats? Wouldn't large, unified states be better, ceteris paribus, at dealing with both unidirectional and multidirectional threats?"

But then I clicked the link to the paper and discovered that it was written by economists. They're not required to make sense.

And yes, huge states have faced wide varieties of multidirectional threats for many centuries at a time. The Roman Republic/Roman Empire/Byzantine Empire, the Arab Khalifates, the Turkish (Ottoman) Khalifate, the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires.

The fact that Rome always faced a wide variety of multidirectional threats did not prevent it from being enormous from roughly 200 BC to roughly 1200 AD. And the Arab and Turkish Khalifates that partly replaced it were also huge.

"Political centralization in China led to lower taxation..."

Through what mechanism?

"We argue that the greater volatility in population growth during the Malthusian era in China can help explain the divergence in economic development that had opened up between China and Europe at the onset of the Industrial Revolution"

The Chinese don't innovate. This is probably biological. The unimaginative grind stereotype is very old. China is now experiencing the greatest economic boom in the history of the world without contributing any innovations whatsoever.

"Why was Europe perennially fragmented after the collapse of Rome, whereas political centralization was a stable equilibrium for most of Chinese history?

The answer is obvious: there has been more unity in East Asian history than in Western history because East Asians are more docile by nature than Westerners. Remember that experiment where Asian and White babies were placed in an uncomfortable position on their stomachs? White babies were more likely to flip themselves over, i.e. to seek a better future through rebellion. That's the reason. Combine it with some brains, and you've got innovation too.

"The English had the perfect set up to eventually dominate the world politically-culturally

Their political dominance was short, roughly 1700 to 1914. That's not much longer than Spain's golden age. And the cultural dominance of the English language has been even shorter than that. 1945 to present - many times shorter than France's cultural reign. If Chinese replaces English as the most prestigious language in the next 20 to 30 years, the English-language period will seem to future historians like a blip.

"As a steady increase in the stock of population is important for cumulative innovation to occur..."

This is just idiotic. Most of the innovations of the Italian Renaissance came right after the Black Death, which killed half of the population of Florence and other relevant cities.

Basically, these guys want to explain why China didn't come up with the Industrial Revolution without touching the obvious reason. They're looking for phony excuses. And they don't know anything about history, so their excuses clash with all sorts of firmly-established facts.

neil craig said...

The Austro-Huingarian Empire is a European example of invading barbarians causing threatened peoples to huddle together. And its subsequent history of ineptness suggests the greater innovation of smaller political units.

Actually the union of Aragon & Castile (themselves formed of earlier substates) owes much to the Moorish conquest of Spain - and again Catalonia(Castile) now wants out.

The union of the angle saxon kingdoms under the house of Wessex, into England was also a direct result of the Vikings.

England's population went up from about 5 million circa 1600 to 60m today so it possibly came close to the Malthusian trap - Ireland with a population today of just over 3 million, about the same as when the potato famine struck got out of the trap in a less pleasant way, but it didn't, until the 1990s, achieve much economically.

Hartmut Pilch said...

Malthus shows remarkable interest in China and particularly in the marriage age, which he did not know yet. He suspects that it must have been low and that this leads to overpopulation. Some books on Chinese history assert that dynasties regularly broke down under the pressure of population. Peasant rebel leader Zhang Xianzhong who contributed to the downfall of the Ming dynasty in the 17th century conducted mass killings in the name of Mother Nature: "heaven gave everything to man and man gave nothing back, kill, kill, kill", i.e. in an aversion against overpopulation. Btw the site isteve.com is broken. Any page it displays redirects to an URL with an obscure protocol. So I can't read the history of everything link.

Just Another Guy With a 1911 said...

"The Russians took a terrible beating from the steppe during the Mongol rule of 1300-1500, which permanently affected their national character."

Joseph Strayer said the same thing, that, basically, because of the Mongol invasions, Russia was cut off from the West for two centuries and did not share the experiences of Western Europe, ie., no feudalism, no Investiture Conflict, no Renaissance, and no Reformation; Russia turned inwards - nurtured and sustained only by its intense Orthodox faith and deep suspicion of the outsider, which ties in with Spengler's conception of Russia is a different Culture from the West - a flower cut of prematurely that yet may grow again; its Prime Symbol: the undifferentiated horizontal.

Still, it hard to undersell the effect of the Invasions in the West. It was from three sides - South, North, and East - and penetrated *everywhere*. The invaders carried off everything of worth, including slaves, destroyed whatever was left, and, in the process, killed hundreds of thousands. Saracens ran riot in Italy, took Sicily, (and held onto it until the Normans could kick them out in the 11th century); the Northmen invaded Ireland, parts of England, and eventually established their own Kingdom stretching to Brittany in the West and almost all the way down to Paris; Magyars devastated central Europe until checked by Otto I at the battle of Lechfeld. Whatever unity the Carolingians had brought after the fall of Rome was torn asunder and, from the chaos, a new political order arose that would, in fact, define the people and institutions of Europe: feudalism.

In addition, focus on invasions from the outside really underestimates the effect of Christianity under the influence of and/or directed by the Church, which, before the eclipse of the papacy under Boniface VII, is one of the keys to understanding the West (along with the growth of the Modern State from feudalism in similar, but disparate forms, in France and England). And it is telling that however warring and disparate *politically* the West may have been in its nascent (Early Medieval) period, it was unified *religiously* and, hence, culturally - to the point it was able to direct force, when called to do so by the Pope - outwards in the form of the Crusades.

Anonymous said...

The fact Koreans, Vietnamese, Mongols, Laos, and Tibetans(until relatively late) didn't become absorbed into China suggests that the key was ethnicity. Manchuria too might still exist as a separate entity had the Manchus not invaded China and made themselves rulers over China like Macedonians did with the Greeks.

Despite differences in dialect, Chinese rightly or wrongly each other as the same people. And northern Chinese and southern Chinese more or less advanced culturally at the same rate over the millennia.

But Europe had serious ethnic differences among the Germanics, Latins, Slavs, Celts, Greeks, etc. After all, the British couldn't, in the end, even digest the Irish. And the Austro-Hungarian and Soviet empires fell apart.

Also, while religion can be a unifying force, it can also be a divisive force that defies political/military solutions.
When there are political differences, a war will settle the conflict. But if there are spiritual differences, the losing side may still refuse to surrender and keep fighting as its sense of rightness goes beyond politics.
China's power was secular and political than religion-based.
So political winners settled all accounts.
But in Europe and the Muslim World, religion was closely tied to power, and so Catholics and Protestants and various sects of Islam kept fighting on and on. When you feel God is on your side, it's harder to settle the issue politically as was often done in China(and Japan). Japanese seemed to have understood this danger when it stamped out Christianity.

Also, the rate of civilizational advancement among the Europeans were very divergent. In ancient times, Latin and Greek Europe had more in common with the Near East and North Africa in terms of cultural achievement.

Also, the paganism of southern Europe was so glorious and magnificent that even the coming of Christianity dared not destroy it all and instead syncretized the new Faith with old idolatry.

But northern paganism was far less advanced and easily wiped out by Christianity. And this may have made it easier for northern Europe to come up with a purist strain of Christianity. They lost their low paganism and sought to embrace the new faith in its purity. And they never felt that the high paganism of southern Europe was theirs.
In contrast, southern Europe could never give up their glorious tradition of high paganism that had flourished long before the coming of Jesus.





Glossy said...

"Ostensibly, the Russians built it to celebrate the fall of Kazan but looking at it from that angle, what became clear to me in that instant was that it was the first real project to be built outside the Kremlin walls."

Tens of thousands of buildings, including homes, churches and shops, were built outside the Kremlin walls in Moscow before St. Basil's Cathedral. This wasn't because Moscow was safe from invasion at that time, but because it had several outer rings of walls, far beyond the Kremlin. The Kitay-gorod wall, the wall which is traced by the modern Boulevard Ring and finally the wall which is traced by the modern Garden Ring. The Kremlin walls are simply the only ones that weren't knocked down when the military need for walls disappeared.

Anonymous said...

I reject their argument out of hand. It is just another attempt to argue nurture over nature. Since we are all the same, the differences must be environmental. Like so many others, they claim the symptoms (or response) is the cause.

Glossy said...

Steve, I think that the registration of all births, deaths and marriages became mandatory all over Western Europe around the 16th century. I doubt England has a longer paper trail than France or Spain or Germany. Actually, I think I remember reading about a papal bull of the 16th century requiring universal registration of births and deaths.

As for being "less familistic", that's a general northern European trait. The least extended family-oriented, most nuclear family-oriented people on Earth are surely Scandinavians. I haven't noticed Germans being any more extended-family oriented than the English.

Anonymous said...

China is much older than Europe. By at least a 1000 yrs.

So, in another 1000 yrs, Europe maybe will catch up and become like China.
EU is working hard at it.

candid_observer said...

Of course, it's entirely possible that the Chinese are more likely to have centralized government because they are more disposed by nature to comply with authority.

Experiments on Chinese newborns showed them far less prone to cry and complain than Caucasian or African newborns.

From West Hunter:

"White babies started to cry more easily, and once they started, they were more difficult to console. Chinese babies adapted to almost any position in which they were placed; for example, when placed face down in their cribs, they tended to keep their faces buried in the sheets rather than immediately turning to one side, as the Caucasian babies did. They briefly pressed the baby’s nose with a cloth, forcing him to breath with his mouth. Most white (and black) babies fight this maneuver by immediately turning away or swiping at the cloth with their hands, and this is reported in Western pediatric textbooks as normal. While the average Chinese baby would simply lay on his back, breathing through the mouth, accepting the cloth without a fight."

http://westhunt.wordpress.com/2013/03/16/dan-freedmans-babies/

Where cause ends and effect begins is pretty much anybody's guess.

But never underestimate Nature.

Anonymous said...

One other reason for European decentralization does come to mind: Water. Of Europe's 50 or so countries today, only 14 or 15 are landlocked (less than 30%). Out of China's 34 official provinces, a brief glance at a map suggests that 23 or so (almost 70%) are landlocked (I was counting quickly, so I could have missed a couple either way). In general, it's much easier to conquer a rebellious city when the inhabitants can't resupply by sea. The same exposure to the sea and navigable rivers that made Europe so vulnerable to the fast, shallow-draft ships of the Vikings probably also made it harder to maintain centralized authority. Certainly, the British Navy gave a lot of badly-needed help to everyone fighting against the overlordship of Napoleon.

Glossy said...

"Actually the union of Aragon & Castile (themselves formed of earlier substates) owes much to the Moorish conquest of Spain - and again Catalonia(Castile) now wants out."

Catalonia is Aragon.

Anonymous said...

Contra geographical determinism:

http://socialevolutionforum.com/2012/09/29/why-europe-is-not-china/

jody said...

the chinese built a wall that mostly worked.

the communists built a wall that mostly worked.

maybe they had more in common than we thought.

the US refuses to build a wall that will mostly work, and so probably won't be around much longer, on historical timelines.

james wilson said...

Tocqueville and Hayek observed the very same thing about Chinese dynastic succession. When Chinese civilization would rise to a certain point (beyond what Europeans had secured), administrative centralization would take over and stall advances until the Chinese no longer understood the process by which they had made those gains. Repeat endlessly.

Anonymous said...

Even if England and the rest of Western Europe share similarities in age of marriage, what about Steve's previous posts on the different family types that can be found, i.e. "absolute nuclear family," "egalitarian nuclear family," "authoritarian," etc.?

http://isteve.blogspot.com/2012/07/absolute-nuclear-families.html

http://isteve.blogspot.com/2012/02/was-beowulf-and-empty-nester.html

Svigor said...

This contrast poses a puzzle that has important implications for our understanding of the origins of modern economic growth: Why was Europe perennially fragmented after the collapse of Rome, whereas political centralization was a stable equilibrium for most of Chinese history?

Might just be my HBD bias, but I always think behavioral genetics explains the difference; Europeans are just more uppity and fractious than East Asians. Once Rome was overthrown, most of Europe had been off the farm, and set about the long, slow process of re-creating advanced civilization themselves. Nobody had the Roman advantage anymore, because pretty much everyone had been subject to advanced civilization long enough to absorb many of its lessons.

Can this fundamental difference in political institutions account for why modern economic growth began in Europe and not in China?

I think we've plowed this ground sufficiently here, but to reiterate, I think Europeans have an innovation edge, at least, under the circumstances of the time (i.e., low-hanging fruit). Europeans aren't as content to go with the flow as East Asians. I think the institutional differences and the history of innovation both reflect the same, or overlapping, set of behavioral genetic differences.

I think a big part of my scepticism concerning the non-HBD explanations is that they all seem to assume that Europe would've been like China if not for this circumstance, or that, which trips my BS alarm; do Europeans, psychologically, really seem like the sort? They don't to me. They're still only a fraction of the way to a unified Europe now, and the whole project seems to be very much in doubt in the long term.

When was the last functional castle built in England?

Gunpowder complicates the question. Cannon made the previous styles of fortifications obsolete.

Anonymous said...

There's a board game called Britannia, whose premise is that players play as the various people groups that invade Britain from the Roman invasion up until about the Norman invasion. Playing that makes it hard to take seriously the claims that Britain is safe from invasion because of its seas: historically, no, invasions have happened a lot, and the sea is just an inconvenience.

Now, the fleet as a wooden wall- that I believe. (And that leads to centralization!)

Limey said...

The gaps between the languages and cultures of European countries are significant, and often vast.

This is essentially the same nonsense argument that I repeatedly encountered during my time studying European languages at university in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The department had an overwhelming pro-EU bias and the meme that cropped up time and time again was: "why can 50 states join together to form a United States of America, but a similar number of European states can't join together to form a United States of Europe?". The answer is because the European states in question are different countries, each with age old histories and enmities. There are European nations that would sooner die than be subsumed in any fashion by their bitter enemies next door.

If anything, China (excluding imperial possessions such as Tibet and Xinjiang, and even then...) is more homogeneous still than the (historical) USA, so the comparison with Europe is even weaker and more nonsensical.

Europe has done all the coalescing it is likely to do. The Anglo-Saxon kingdoms eventually aligned into a nation-state called England, the various German polities took even longer to form a united state, which even now is a loose federation. The story of Italy is similar, and there is a real chance that that counhtry might sunder in two in the near future. Spain and France are empire states with permanently want-away peripheral regions. Yugoslavia ought to have had a chance of becoming some sort of homogeneous state, but look what happened there. And so on, and so on. Just because European countries are small compared to the USA or China, it does not follow that it is their destiny to become federal states in a USA- or China-sized megastate. I find it astounding that anyone who spends even a few minutes looking at European history can fail to understand this.

Anonymous said...

"I reject their argument out of hand. It is just another attempt to argue nurture over nature. Since we are all the same, the differences must be environmental. Like so many others, they claim the symptoms (or response) is the cause."

You're going too far. But there may be a genetic basis. It could be Asians are more docile and go along with whomever has the power.
Compare Maoist communism and North Korean communism with European communism. Even Stalinist communism wasn't THAT crazy.
Look at Japan since WWII. Docile puppy of the US.
Look at Latin America. Natives are an something-like-an-Asiatic people, and the Spanish elites have been able to rule over them for a long long time.

Anonymous said...

A few other things to note:
1) Europeans are naturally more ornery than East Asians.
2) Chinese at least share a common written language.

Those factors make Europe harder to unify than China.

Anonymous said...

After 1683, Christian Europe had no great external threats. They didn't unify then either.

Over some 230 years, Christian Europeans had only one great threat, and they didn't unite to face it. From about 1683 until 1945 or so, the gravest threat to Western Europeans was each other. That didn't unify them either.


NATO might be an example, under the unidirectional threat of the USSR.

Anonymous said...

One thing about China, it had no cultural contenders to its culture. The biggest cultural contender to enter East Asia was Buddhism from India, but Buddhism was a non-tribalist and universalist doctrine, so it didn't pose a cultural or tribal threat to East Asia. As it was just an idea, its concepts could be absorbed by China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, etc. without any of them losing their cultural essence.

Also, Buddhism was passive. It didn't really produce much in the way of crusading zeal, as with Christians and Muslims who sought worldly power as well as the spiritual. Islam can pose a cultural threat because, despite its universalism, it requires all Muslims to live the Islamic lifestyle rooted in Arabic traditions of diet, dress, marriage, and etc. And in areas of China where Islam took root, Chinese have lots of trouble, especially in the NW.
I suppose Tibet poses a problem too even though it's Buddhist. But it could be because in Tibet, unlike in most other Buddhist-influenced nations, a form of theocracy developed where politics, culture, and religion became one. Buddhism became the very essence of every aspect of Tibetan life.
In Japan, Vietnam, Korea, and China, Buddhism was a religion, sometimes favored by the state, sometimes disfavored by the state. But Buddhism was not the essence of the culture and politics. But then, Tibet could be a special case because Buddhism became the very heart and soul of Tibetan politics, culture, and identity. And that's been difficult for Chinese to deal with. If Buddhism were only a religion in Tibet, it might have been gotten rid of and replaced by something else. But in Tibet, Buddhism is the very character of Tibetan culture and nationalism, even more so than the Catholic Church was for Poland during the Cold War. Buddhism became nationalized and theocraticized.

Among the Chinese at least, vast numbers of Han folks shared the same language(at least in written form) and same sense of history, greatness, and culture. Also, there was continuity in Chinese power and greatness. China wasn't merely the source of greatness but its bearer from long long ago to even today.

It was different in Europe. The greatest source of Western civilization was Greece, but Greece declined in power and only its cultural influence came to matter. And then later Rome fell as well, and only its cultural legacy mattered. So, even though there was a continuity in the Western tradition, there wasn't a continuation of Western power. Greece and Rome became has-been powers, and their ideas were better used by OTHER European folks. Even though other European folks admired Greece and Rome, they knew their own cultural origins and identity were different. They wanted the ideas and the arts, not the identity itself.

Anonymous said...

Now, if Rome had firmly conquered all of Europe and then forced all Europeans to accept Latin as their primary language and see themselves as part of the Roman realm, and if such a thing had lasted over a 1000 yrs, maybe a kind of unified Europe would have developed. But the Roman empire swallowed up too many diverse peoples--many of them outside Europe--, and it divided into two between the Italian side and the Greek(Byzantium)side. And the Northern barbarians, though quelled, were never totally conquered, and then they conquered Rome.
If northern Barbarians above China generally ruled territories at the periphery of the Chinese empire, most of Western Europe had always been more barbarian than civilized during Roman rule. Outside Roman Italy, most of Europe were inhabited by Germanic, Celtic, Slavic, and Hunnish barbarians who sometimes came under Roman rule but never enough to feel truly Roman themselves. So, when China was conquered by Mongols, it was like 100 barbarians conquering 1000 civilized folks, and the latter would eventually swallow up the barbarian folks. But in the case of the fall of Rome, it was like 1000 barbarians flooding 100 civilized folks. Thus, Rome never had a chance to create a truly unified Europe. Too many barbarians over too much territory. And even when Romans did Romanize some barbarians, the latter still didn't feel Roman.

Han Chinese might have spread across China like Anglos spread over the Americas--though over a much longer time period. A small number of 'homogeneous' people with strong sense of identity spreading out over a vast territory. Thus, even Anglos in the West felt as one with Anglos in the East. And Russians likewise feel Russian whether in Moscow or east end of Siberia. They were united not only by ideas/culture but by blood and identity.

But Romanism tried to spread over non-Roman folks. Though the ideas spread, the barbarians never felt they were Romans themselves--just like Mexicans in the SW, even as they learn English and American ways, still don't feel as American as apple pie but as Mexican as Chile de rellenos or some such. It's like Alexander spread Hellenic culture all over, but the conquered peoples never felt Greek and so most of the Hellenic influences just vanished in most of the Near East and Orient.

Maybe an extreme mix of ultra-universalism and ultra-tribalism led to fragmentation of Europe. In contrast, Chinese civilization was neither ultra-univeralist nor ultra-tribalist. Chinese didn't have something like Christianity that filled them with spiritual pride. In contrast, Europeans fervently came to believe 'God is on our side'. You'd one think such a feeling would unite all Christians, and theoretically it could have. But practically, it also meant that every side thought, "God is on our side", and so it made them far more contentious. (Consider one of the most violent wars in China was due to introduction of Christianity. The Taiping Rebellion.) And even though Christians and Muslims worshiped the same God--more or less--, they were both filled with 'God is on our side' mentality, and so the two worlds could never see eye to eye. And in the West, Catholics and Protestants could, at best, tolerate one another than agree with one another. So, paradoxically, ultra-universalism may have kept Europe divided.

Anonymous said...

But there was also greater tribalism in Europe because, unlike China, Europe was never totally conquered-and-unified into a single entity with same language and historical sense. Romans might have done it but they failed. So, the various barbarian kingdoms in Europe maintained their independence and became civilized while maintaining their own power and autonomy. The exception was vast Russia that kept on expanding but only because of the vast empty expanses to the east, which despite the horrible Mongol invasion--a fluke in history--, meant that Russians could stretch out almost indefinitely without much resistance or trouble.

Chinese tribalism was less extreme because Chinese mostly felt secure as the Middle Kingdom. So, they felt 'generous' in sharing their culture with other less civilized folks and were flattered that the lesser states paid tribute to China. It felt like a mother hen with its chicks.

Anonymous said...

Someone who knows more than I do can tell me if I'm wrong (I know very little Chinese history), but as I understand it, while there are some ethnic and linguistic minorities in China, and there are also some major dialectical differences between different varieties of Chinese (enough to totally prohibit mutual intelligibility? I'm not sure. Anybody know?),

Many of the various Chinese dialects are less mutually intelligible than European languages which are classified as separate languages. The written language is mutually intelligible though.

Anonymous said...

England's population went up from about 5 million circa 1600 to 60m today so it possibly came close to the Malthusian trap - Ireland with a population today of just over 3 million, about the same as when the potato famine struck got out of the trap in a less pleasant way, but it didn't, until the 1990s, achieve much economically.

Ireland's population was around 8 million at the time of the potato famine.

Anonymous said...

Glossy,

Parts of Germany were historically less dominated by the nuclear family. You've made a number of other sweeping statements in this thread that are just not true.

Since you're interested the topic, let me recommended going through the archives at HBD Chick's blog (http://hbdchick.wordpress.com/). She's a well-informed and engaging writer, and has a lot to say about the historical family systems in different parts of Europe.

Anonymous said...

At first I thought:

"This doesn't make sense. Why would a unidirectional threat be more likely to foster centralization than a variety of multidirectional threats? Wouldn't large, unified states be better, ceteris paribus, at dealing with both unidirectional and multidirectional threats?"


A persistent, singular, unidirectional threat incentivizes the different threatened groups to band together against he common enemy. A variety of weaker multidirectional threats that don't threaten every group or every group equally doesn't necessarily incentivize banding together. It may incentivize some of the interior groups to ally with one of the multidirectional threats.

Anonymous said...

People of same race/culture/language spreading out over a vast territory will create a far more stable order than the case of many different peoples(along racial, cultural, and linguistic lines) that come under the same ideas and political domination.

Even across vast territories--US, Canada, Russia, Australia--, people with common race/culture/language will stick together. That explains the lack of animus between US and Canada, both Anglo-created entities. And even after the bitter war between UK and Colonies, they remained the closest nations. And North and South and West and East still stuck together in America despite wars and differences cuz they were all Anglo-dominant. This may be changing because de-racinated northern whites now identity more with Jews and immigrants and because southern whites might not be able to fend off the black tide(and brown tide)much longer.

At any rate, China may be a case of a more-or-less homogeneous or homogenized people spreading out from a core out across a vast territory rather than a set of ideas spreading across people of very different cultures and languages. If much of China had been inhabited by Mongols, Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Philipinos, maybe a stable China never would have formed even if a Chinese dynasty gained political dominance over them. It's much more difficult to convince people of different ethnic identities that they should feel as one with the people who have power over them. It's like Japanese said a lot of stuff about Asian co-prosperity sphere, but their subjects never lost the sense that they were being ruled by a foreign people.

Austro-Hungarian Empire was small compared to the Russia or United States, but it was very unstable because it imposed imperial rule over very different ethnic groups.
And the USSR broke up along ethnic and national lines.

Yugoslavia is an interesting case. Croats and Serbs have so much in common, and yet they came to fight bitterly whereas people as different as Greeks and Poles get along just fine in the US. But then, Serbs and Croats fought over rights rooted in ancient history whereas ethnics who came to American felt they were starting in a new world along the lines set forth by Anglo-Americans.

Anonymous said...

I reject their argument out of hand. It is just another attempt to argue nurture over nature. Since we are all the same, the differences must be environmental. Like so many others, they claim the symptoms (or response) is the cause.

Physics is even more "nature" than biology i.e. it's a more fundamental part of nature than biology. To the extent that geography and state competition dynamics reduce to spatial physics, they are arguably more about "nature" than "nurture".

Anonymous said...

"China is now experiencing the greatest economic boom in the history of the world without contributing any innovations whatsoever."

The innovation game has gotten much tougher. If China had gotten in the modernization game earlier, it might have been a player in the innovation game.
But today, science and technology are so advanced that unless you're at the cutting edge of the cutting edge, you aren't gonna make a difference.

Consider Thomas Edison. He was a very clever man but not a genius. Back then, he could tinker with stuff with good ole American pragmatism and make a real difference.
Today, Edison would might make something sort of neat, but he's not gonna be at the cutting edge of innovation. You have to be really smart with math, computers, and etc.... which is why, even in America, the centers of innovation get narrower and narrower.

Maybe the Chinese get this. Maybe they don't. At any rate, they know they have to catch up first before getting into the innovation game.
So, their education is geared toward learning than innovating.

Anonymous said...

"Joseph Strayer said the same thing, that, basically, because of the Mongol invasions, Russia was cut off from the West for two centuries and did not share the experiences of Western Europe... Russia turned inwards - nurtured and sustained only by its intense Orthodox faith and deep suspicion of the outsider."

Yes and no. While the Mongol invasion cowered the Russians and made them suspicious and less open than Westerners, the invasion--and other craziness--also made the Russians more spontaneous, wild, and free-spirited. Though Russians came to fear barbarism, they also came to glorify in it, especially as it was robust Russian barbarian warrior spirit that eventually drove back Mongol barbarism and the Muslims.

And even though Russians went through hell from Mongols, they experienced the Mongols as a passing storm. The real long-term threats to Russia came from the Muslim South and Christian West. Teutonic Knights were hellish too(at least in ALEXANDER NEVSKY).
And Polish-Lithuanian empire sought to carve out more territories in the Ukraine. And later, there was that thing with Napoleon, communism(a Western European idea), and Hitler, and now, there's stupid WWG.

There was no guarantee that Western Europeans were filled with goodwill when dealing with Russia. Many sought to gain control and dominance over Russia--and Russian elites lost connection with their own people when imitating the often decadent fashions of Western elites. So, while the Mongol invasion certainly was hell on earth, it might also have had the effect of, oddly enough, preparing Russia from protecting itself from Western incursions, which, in times would come, would be far more frequent.

While some of Russia's worst times were during its opposition to the West, they were also when Russian power grew the most. Stalin closed off Russia but turned it into a mighty power.
In contrast, Gorbachev and Yeltsin tried to deal with the West but fell under the sway of swindlers who only looted Russia in the 90s. The Western attitude(along with Jewish attitude) is that russians are a bunch of barbarian boors. They look upon Russians as Anglos looked upon Indians: dummies who would sell Manhattan for a bean necklace or give up entire territories for a box of whiskey.

And such a swindle nearly happened in the 90s. The West wasn't trying to help Russia but only pretending to. It was trying to gain domination over it. And same now, with this vast concerted effort to push WWG on Russia.

Barbarian soul is both Russia's curse and blessing. As a curse, it turns them into drinking brawling lunatics. As a blessing, it keeps their warrior soul alive against the preening aristocratic or neo-aristocratic machinations of the West to turn Russia into a paradise for 'lawyers in love'.



Anonymous said...

Russians are European rednecks who won't bend over to the NWO.

Anonymous said...

Because of Russia's vast size and potential, the West never tried to help it in good faith.

What Napoleon said of China also applied to Russia.

And given the rise of Russia as a great power that swallowed chunks of Poland and then ruled over nearly all of Eastern Europe during the Cold War, the West had a right to worry.

But Russians also had the right to worry about Western 'goodwill' since the West never wanted Russia to become a great power.

ben tillman said...

Political centralization in China led to lower taxation....

Is that even theoretically possible? The whole point of centralization is to distance the rulers from the ruled so that exploitation can be maximized while resistance is minimized.

As Tainter wrote, the fall of the Roma Empire resulted in the largest tax cut in history.

Steve Sailer said...

England's most recent Malthusian famine trap almost slammed shut in 1942: if they couldn't stop the U-boats from sinking so much food, they'd be starved into surrender.

Just Another Guy With a 1911 said...

"Steve, I think that the registration of all births, deaths and marriages became mandatory all over Western Europe around the 16th century. I doubt England has a longer paper trail than France or Spain or Germany. Actually, I think I remember reading about a papal bull of the 16th century requiring universal registration of births and deaths."

Don't underestimate the English predilection for record keeping, which, at the end of the day, derives from the feudal obsession with property, the basis for production of goods, and taxes/ fess levied on said goods from time immemorial

The first thing William the Conqueror did was the Domesday Book. Then, under Henry I, one generation later, England saw the specialization of the curia (basically the king's informal advisory panel, prior to the development of the Royal Household) into two branches: judicial and financial (the Exchequer). The name Exchequer derives from the table (designed like a checker board) to keep track of the sheriff's (shire-reeve) accounts. Anyway, the Exchequer kept records which kept on what are called "Pipe Rolls." Straight up, whilst only 1 pipe roll from the reign of Henry 1 exists, there is a CONTINUOUS series from 1154 to the 18th century.

But the issue is really not England v. France. In fact, one of the curious characteristics of feudalism was that is what we would consider *public* power was invested private hands (various local lords) and only slowly devolved into the hands of the a central administration, as an adumbration of the Modern State (evolving first in France with ballis/seneschals as royal plenipotentiaries in rotating appointments to prevent the establishment of family power.)

In both England an France, the resolution of matter pertaining to marriages and wills (which involve the basic disposition of wealth in medieval society) were, for a very long time, held in the Church and *not* secular courts; Church records do exist prior to the 15th century.

The end result is that we know *a lot* about our, i.e, Western history, which opens us up to a lot of attack; it's written down, not lost in the mists of time.

There is and episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" where Spike admonishes Buffy and/or Xander for being all apologetic regarding the destruction of some Indian tribe and points out the fact that the basic building block of history is one tribe defeating in another.

I mean, no nation owns in property in fee simple, but the West has been assiduous in its record keeping, which allows other cultures to bludgeon us for sins that are shared by all mankind.

Anonymous said...

Russians are European rednecks who won't bend over to the NWO.

And Serbs, and Turks, and Albanians, and Armenians, and Bulgarians.

Anonymous said...

As Tainter wrote, the fall of the Roma Empire resulted in the largest tax cut in history.

ROMA Empire? Perish the thought!

Anonymous said...

Is that even theoretically possible? The whole point of centralization is to distance the rulers from the ruled so that exploitation can be maximized while resistance is minimized.

It's possible, especially if you have an ideological agrarian conservatism and try to maximize the agrarian self-sufficiency of your subjects, as was generally the case in China.

Anonymous said...

"Tocqueville and Hayek observed the very same thing about Chinese dynastic succession. When Chinese civilization would rise to a certain point (beyond what Europeans had secured), administrative centralization would take over and stall advances until the Chinese no longer understood the process by which they had made those gains. Repeat endlessly."

This was true of all civilizations before the rise of Europe(mostly Northern Europe)from the 17th century.

Egyptians rose to great heights, stalled, and then fell.
Greeks rose to great heights and then fell. Persians the same. Romans the same. Byzantium empire the same. Ottoman empire the same. Mayans the same. Moghuls the same. Various hindu empires the same.

But then, a combinations of factors made a genuinely revolutionary breakthrough in Europe that finally broke out of the cycle of rise and fall and rise and fall. West just kept on making progress upon progress to the point where progress increased exponentially.

So, it's not a west vs east issue, but modern west vs everyone else issue(even most of western history).

Why did the breakthrough finally happen in Northern Europe? I guess any number of factors.

Anonymous said...

Experiments on Chinese newborns showed them far less prone to cry and complain than Caucasian or African newborns.

That may have something to do with it, but note that the same study tested Navajo babies as well, and the Navajo babies were even less prone to cry and complain than the Chinese babies. The American Indian tribes were quite fractious.

Mike said...

What is the point of such a "study". No one can possibly know. Today its fashionable to explain things through external factors like geography and invasions and ignore things like genes and national personality profiles.

It's incredible to me how many unproven assumptions about what factors account for growth this study is based on.

Really what an utterly futile intellectual exercise!

At the end of the day the differences between Europe and China are mysterious. We certainly haven't come close to understanding them, and might never (because, you know, not everything is explainable despite our shallow American optimism that it is). Personally, I think the best explanation is that Europeans went through some kind of genetic shift that made them more creative and intelligent than Chinese (a shift that hasn't quite reversed itself, but seems to be in the process of doing so. Not in the sense that Asians are becoming creative - I see no evidence of that - but that Europeans are losing whatever edge they had here. It's not quite yet gone though). I think this far more likely based on current science than that geography or fragmentation accounted for anything. But what do I know? It's impossible for me to know.

The best thing to do is step back, avoid reductionism of every kind, and look at the macrotrends embodied in history, and guess that the patterns the Chinese and the Europeans have manifested in the past 2 millenia are probably deeply grounded in biology not geography and will likely persist. Greece displayed the same pattern as modern Europe, and Rome was far from a mono-ethnic centralized state like China but was more like an example of ethnic fragmentation within the framework of an empire. Roman unity was not like Chinese unity.

Why? It's mysterious, we don't really know. We need to understand a ton more about human nature before we can know, and we might never understand that.

Glossy said...

"A variety of weaker multidirectional threats that don't threaten every group or every group equally doesn't necessarily incentivize banding together. It may incentivize some of the interior groups to ally with one of the multidirectional threats.

OK, but we can also say that in the unidirectional scenario the groups located right next to the threat (for China this meant the northern provinces) feel much more threatened than the groups located far away from the threat. If a polity is large enough and its one and only enemy lacks ballistic missiles, why would all of its constituent groups feel equally threatened in the unidirectional scenario?

In a polity that's constantly threatened from many directions (think of the Byzantine Empire) many widely-separated constituent parts (sometimes the entire perimeter) feel a need for strong national defense.

Anonymous said...

A good friend of mine who was born and raised in China expressed pride when he informed me that despite several civil wars that wiped out a third to half of the population, China still has the largest population on the planet. This suggests to me that China’s biggest threat comes from within rather from without.

Anonymous said...

"The fact that Rome always faced a wide variety of multidirectional threats did not prevent it from being enormous from roughly 200 BC to roughly 1200 AD."

I guess my history books lied to me, because I thought the Roman Empire ended around 500 AD.

"The Chinese don't innovate. This is probably biological. The unimaginative grind stereotype is very old."

Paper, moveable type, natural gas drilling, the compass, gunpowder. . .

Yes, total lack of innovation.

Anonymous said...

"But northern paganism was far less advanced and easily wiped out by Christianity. And this may have made it easier for northern Europe to come up with a purist strain of Christianity. They lost their low paganism and sought to embrace the new faith in its purity. And they never felt that the high paganism of southern Europe was theirs. "

Is this why many week-days are named after Germanic gods and holidays have northern European pagan origins?

Anonymous said...

"Is this why many week-days are named after Germanic gods and holidays have northern European pagan origins?"

Look, sports teams and towns are named after American Indians, but is American Indian culture a factor in America?

Much of southern European pagan culture survived through architecture and literature.
But most of northern European pagan culture was wiped out as 'witchcraft'. The prose and poetic edda survived only because certain parts of Iceland remained pagan. They were utterly destroyed in Europe proper.

Glossy said...

"I guess my history books lied to me, because I thought the Roman Empire ended around 500 AD."

Your history books were of the K-12 and HIS 101 variety and they must not have been supplemented by much extracurricular reading. Anyone with a bit of curiosity about Western history would know that the Byzantine Empire never called itself the Byzantine Empire. It got that name from a German historian writing in the 16th century. During its entire history the thing you know as the Byzantine Empire called itself the Roman Empire. The transfer of the capital to Constantinople in the early 4th century did not change either the name or the nature of the state. Because of this there was a Roman Empire on the map until 1453. I wrote "to roughly 1200 AD" in the comment you quoted because the Roman Empire never really recovered from the 1204 sack of Constantinople by Venetians and other Westerners. It eventually regained sovereignty, but was never again a factor in big-time politics.

Anyone who knows anything about history would know that Gibbon's History of Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (one of the most famous history books ever written) covered the period to 1453. He placed the final fall of Rome in 1453. And he was right to do that.

"Paper, moveable type, natural gas drilling, the compass, gunpowder."

Gunpowder only became important after Europeans perfected fire arms. If that never happened, it would have remained an utter triviality to this day, something mostly associated with kids' games and never mentioned in any world-historical discussions.

The first European mention of the compass post-dates the first Chinese mention of it, but there's no evidence of borrowing. These might well have been independent inventions.

Gutenberg is thought to have come up with printing on his own, but later than the Chinese.

If you want to compare these inventions with space flight, nuclear energy, DNA, computers and other Western inventions and discoveries, go ahead. Up until relatively recent times the Chinese didn't even know most of what Euclid and Archimedes knew about geometry and mathematics. They still wouldn't have known that stuff if not for contact with Westerners.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it double-times-good that Europe has all those nations, languages, and cultures that developed into so many wonderful, DIVERSE entities? Why Europe seems downright VIBRANT.

Anonymous said...

Glossy, it's true the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine Empire lasted until 1453, but I wouldn't call it "enormous" once it lost its African and Syrian provinces in the 600s. Reduced to the Balkans, Anatolia, and parts of Southern Italy, it was in arena just a large European state, and it caught a pretty bad case of the dwindles as time went on.

Anonymous said...

Is this why many week-days are named after Germanic gods and holidays have northern European pagan origins?

Plenty of American states are named after Indian tribes....

Anonymous said...

If a polity is large enough and its one and only enemy lacks ballistic missiles, why would all of its constituent groups feel equally threatened in the unidirectional scenario?

Mobile, nomadic pastoralist invaders attacked and overwhelmed large swathes of territory. They didn't just engage in plodding trench warfare or something.

Anonymous said...

Is that even theoretically possible? The whole point of centralization is to distance the rulers from the ruled so that exploitation can be maximized while resistance is minimized.

That's not always the case. Centralization can also minimize the exploitation of local rulers by weakening them.

Anonymous said...

Europe was historically more unified that we think. The case could be made that in the era of Crusades, Catholic Europe was in fact a single large nation, with the Pope being the head of state of Europe. This is the was medieval people themselves actually thought. They didn't think that the Roman Empire had fallen, and they would have said that just as there had been different simultaneous emperors at various stages of the ancient Roman history, so there were different kings in different parts of Europe in their time, and they were all like brothers and united under the spiritual leadership of the Pope. Who could declare wars and organize military expeditions abroad (the Crusades), make and depose local rulers within his domains, make decisions about this and that, and there were Europe-wide organizations such as the knights templars, and even William the Conqueror had taken England in the name of Papal authority, and so on and so forth.
And I suspect that China was not as unified as we think she was. I remember reading somewhere about its fragmentation and the quasi independence of local entities in this or that era. Of course the Chinese write their own history the they want it to be and they like to exaggerate the unity of all thing under their sun. Internal wars are considered rebellion and civil wars. But of course you could say that wars within Medieval Europe were rebellions and civil wars also. The wars between Guelphs and Ghibellines were a civil war within the holy Roman Empire which was but a province of Catholic Europe. The 100 years war was a civil war within France which itself was a province of Catholic Europe. And of course France and the Holy Roman Empire themselves were like Russian dolls too. In general political entities during much of history and much of the world were like Russian dolls. Speaking of "unity" and "fragmentation" can be a bit tricky.

Jerry said...

As many others have said earlier--this theory holds no water. Europe never unified because linguistic and national diversity emerged early. Romance, Germanic, and Slavic... how do you unify that? In China, the written language is consistent and unifying despite the presence, to this day, of mutually unintelligible regional dialects. In Europe, Latin never achieved this role beyond the church. As to why this was so--perhaps patterns of prehistoric migration (the Hungarians as a late case, also the gypsies), perhaps greater geographical diversity in Europe (the isolation of France, Spain, and England; the Alps and Pyrenees as the crucial border controls for Spain, France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria; the multiple river systems, while China has only two), and a completely unexplored dimension of political personality or the ethnic psychology of politics--how was it that Italy managed to preserve dozens of semi-independent city-states and regions into the 19th century? How did countries like Liechtenstein or Luxembourg or Andorra survive?

Further, Western Europe was able to develop and grow precisely because it was not unified. England was protected and out of it, but so were France and Spain (after it pushed out the Muslims). Look at the map--France is a hexagon with only one flat and exposed part, bordering the ever so threatening Belgians. While SE Europe absorbed successive waves of Tatar and Muslim invasions (Hungary subjected to the Muslims into the 18th century, and Serbia even longer), the West engaged in internecine conflicts, wars of succession, religious schisms... the fact that Europe did not unify had everything to do with the narrow conception of self-interest of those who could have done the most to define Europe: the French and the English... this pattern of narrowness continues today, when 50% of the EU budget goes to agriculture subsidies, at the insistence of the French, and when the Brits want (not entirely unreasonably) to be rid of the entire EU project and go off alone.

Anonymous said...

The exception was vast Russia that kept on expanding but only because of the vast empty expanses to the east, which despite the horrible Mongol invasion--a fluke in history--, meant that Russians could stretch out almost indefinitely without much resistance or trouble.

A fluke in history? Umm...no. The expansion of Russians to the East is the historical fluke. For all known history, it has been the other way round: Indo-Europeans, Scythians, Huns, Avars, Turks, Hungarians...the Mongols were just the last in line.

Sid said...

"NATO might be an example, under the unidirectional threat of the USSR."

In part, yes. But there were more than a few Europeans who considered NATO, after its founding, to be an American imposition on Europe, and there were cases when European countries tried to untie themselves from NATO and negotiate with the Russians separately.

Anonymous said...

"A fluke in history? Umm...no. The expansion of Russians to the East is the historical fluke. For all known history, it has been the other way round: Indo-Europeans, Scythians, Huns, Avars, Turks, Hungarians...the Mongols were just the last in line."

I'm not saying Russia wasn't later attacked by various bandit groups.
My point is the Mongol invasion of all of Russia was a fluke--as was its invasion of China and Persia.

It was a fluke because Mongols were a nomadic group of bandits. They didn't have the numbers or organization to hold their empire permanently or build any long-lasting political order.
Once Russia consolidated and became centralized, there was no way Mongols could invade Russia again. Mongols were a passing hurricane. A horrible one but not a permanent reality. They continued to harass Russia at the periphery, but after the fall of the Mongol empire, they could never take Russia, China, or Persia again.

On the other hand, once Russia consolidated into a centralized civilization, they could easily take all of Siberia, and they've held it ever since. Now, that's no fluke.
Mongols only had terror on its side. Russians have had organization and sustained logistics on its side.