Do you wanna build an empire?

In Sapiens, Harari argues, “Money has been essential both for building empires and for promoting science” (305). Capitalistic investments are necessary for discovering and conquering lands to expand an empire and science is the tool to accomplish this. It began with the various leaders of Europe investing in exploration. Harari uses Christopher Columbus as an example of this. Columbus went to various monarchs in Portugal, Italy, France, and England before Spain agreed to loan him ships to find a new trade route to East Asia. Colobus discovered America and its rich resources on accident which lead to the Spanish conquest of the Americas (316-317). The European sociopolitical systems of progress and expansion held by the monarchs of Europe in the Modern Era encouraged systems of credit for explorers to essentially conquer the world (317). It was necessary to develop ships, compasses and other navigation tools to make exploration easier, so that is where science played a part. The Industrial Revolution exploded because of the need for more materials and energy for mankind to utilize (336). All three elements (capitalism, empires and science) were needed together to help make western Europe “master of the ‘Outer World’” (280).

I agree with Harari that progress played a pivotal role in linking science, empire and capitalism. As Harari points out there is the big question of why western Europe became the global hegemonic powerhouse for hundreds of years. Why didn’t China, India, or the Middle East with all the resource they had use capitalism, exploration, and science to their advantage? Harari points out that the sociopolitical systems of these other regions did not think along these capitalistic and imperialistic lines. For kings and generals of Europe mechanism was crucial (316). This idea of progress can be seen in Europe expansionism and the connection between these elements resulted in the Industrial Revolution.

1 thought on “Do you wanna build an empire?”

  1. I don’t remember which part of the book it came from, but after the discussion in class on Tuesday, it feels relevant to mention how religion was also as a factor in how Europe became such a dominant force. Given that Christianity is monotheistic, and the most prominent religion in that part of the world, and most other regions which were not Christian had multiple deities, the result was that, in general terms, the polytheistic religions were more ready to accept someone believing in another or different god than the monotheistic Christianity, and thus, felt no need to “destroy” people who had a belief system which differed from theirs, because it didn’t actually clash with their understanding of their religion.

    Obviously, that’s not the only factor, nor is it really the most important when talking about the connection between science, capitalism, and empire. But, it does give some insight into how different empires interacted with each other, particularly when considering wars.

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