*Empire of Guns*

The author is Priya Satia, and the subtitle is The Violent Making of the Industrial Revolution.  Here is one good bit:

In fact, there were so many transitions between peace and war that it is difficult to establish what “normal” economic conditions were.  Eighteenth-century Europeans accepted war as “inevitable, an ordinary fact of human existence.”  It was an utterly unexceptional state of affairs.  For Britons in particular, war was something that happened abroad and that kept truly damaging disruption — invasion or rebellion — at bay.  Wars that were disruptive elsewhere were understood as preservationist in Britain…Adam Smith’s complaints about the costs of war, about the “ruinous expedient” of perpetual funding and high public debt in peacetime, staked out a contrarian position; The Wealth of Nations (1776) was a work of persuasion.  His and other voices in favor of pacific development grew louder from the margins.  By denormalizing war, liberal political economy raised the stakes of the century’s long final wars from 1793 to 1815, which could be stomached only as an exceptional, apocalyptic stage on the way to permanent peace.

In their wake, nineteenth-century Britain packaged their empire as a primarily civilian enterprise focused on liberty, forgetting the earlier collective investment in and profit from the wars that had produced it..

The book offers many points of interest.

Comments

Eighteenth-century Europeans accepted war as “inevitable, an ordinary fact of human existence.” It was an utterly unexceptional state of affairs.

As some dead guy once said, only the dead have seen the end of war. War is an unexceptional state of affairs. It is the modern world that is unusual.

However Britain saw the end of most war except far away involving few troops but they continued to fight what might be seen as a low level insurgency from their own criminal population. Britain saw a standing police force, no less than a standing Army, as an infringement on liberty and they opposed one for a long time. The result was that people got openly robbed by Highwaymen within spitting distance of London. So it wasn't violence that was alien to them.

Re: It is the modern world that is unusual.

The modern world has returned to the original template of wars being limited and local affairs, rather than general conflagrations that draw in whole continents or even the whole planet.

Martin van Creveld has claimed that the world is reverting to the pre-modern norm of weak law enforcement, ineffective government, routine civil violence, and the population only having what security they can provide for themselves.

I think he may have a point.

It's a little hard to credit "weak law enforcement" outside failed states given the growing power of the panopticon. It's much harder to get away with a serious crime today because off surveillance cameras everywhere and an array of evidence gathering forensic techniques undreamed of in past eras: Hence the general fall in the crime rate.

Policemen perpetrating murder, and filmed on body cams, get away with it.

An outrage, but a very rare one (in terms of percentages of the population, and even of all crimes committed).

And what'
s more, no they don't get away with it in the sense that the crime goes undetected or unsolved. In ages past it was very common for people o get away with murder as long as the crime was not witnessed and they were not stupid enough to leave any large scale physical evidence (e..g, a gun they were known to own) behind pointing to them.

"Eighteenth-century Europeans accepted war as “inevitable, an ordinary fact of human existence.” It was an utterly unexceptional state of affairs. For Britons in particular, war was something that happened abroad and that kept truly damaging disruption — invasion or rebellion — at bay."

Good point, if it wasn't for the large scale rebellion in 18th century Britain.

By denormalizing war, liberal political economy raised the stakes of the century’s long final wars from 1793 to 1815, which could be stomached only as an exceptional, apocalyptic stage on the way to permanent peace.

So somebody felt that the bloodbath of 1815 was going to be the last one? Who might that have been?

Any British citizen that died before 1914?

At least if one goes with the framing that the British basically felt that war threatening Britain was the only war to be worried about. Obviously, several wars involving the British Empire occurred between 1815 and 1914, but none of them threatened the UK to any real extent. Especially when looking at the role of Royal Navy in keeping invaders at bay after the end of Napoleon's career and before the development of aircraft able to carry a bombload.

At one point the UK had more soldiers suppressing the Luddite rebellion against mill owners than fighting Napoleon in Spain. Goes to show what the real priorities were.

And what excellent priorities they were.

Modern warfare is uneconomic: what's the point of invading and subjugating a country if there are no spoils for the winner, the subjugated having been destroyed in the effort. WWI and WWII destroyed much of Europe; and the destruction of all those assets caused inequality to plummet (the wealthy had owned most of the assets). Why would the wealthy (and the captains of industry) support war if it's the wealthy who will suffer the most economically? It would be irrational. Sure, an isolated country (such as England before WWII and the U.S. before now) might imagine a benefit from waging war some place else, but if the some place else is destroyed in the process, what's the point? Germans and Austrians are often depicted as rational (thus, the Austrian school of economics), but how rational could they be for starting and pursuing a war (WWII) that they would lose even if they won (the conquered having been destroyed in the effort). Trump did not invade/bomb North Korea despite encouragement from Bolton because the destruction of North Korea and nearby countries made that choice irrational; Trump didn't want to destroy areas that are prime real estate for condos and hotels. I suppose he would distinguish a shit-hole country, but why wage war with a shit-hole country? My comment is about modern warfare. Wars in the 18th and 19th centuries to subjugate potential colonies were different: the colonies had little to destroy other than the raw materials that the colonizers were seeking, which was easily avoided. Wars to defeat the communist menace, the American motivation, were about freedom from communist oppression, not conquest and spoils, so destroying the village to save it was perfectly rational. But such wars become irrational after the target has developed weapons of mass destruction; thus, even Bolton can't create enough chaos to convince Trump to bomb North Korea. Give Trump his Noble Peace prize for putting potential profits above defeating the communist menace. And give him the Nobel Economics prize for being rational.

A minuscule proportion of the population fights in wars. There are plenty of benefits to an invasion. You're viewing the destruction ex post in perfect hindsight, ignoring the ex ante gains. For example, had England capitulated to Hitler as some MPs wanted, Hitler might have retained a great deal of Europe permanently.

Wars are not uneconomic. A steadfast opponent MAKES wars uneconomic as a deterrent or spiteful punishment. Not everyone has the fortitude to do this, and that is what the invader counts on.

A minuscule proportion of the population fights in wars.

That doesn't mean that the rest are unaffected. Japanese teen-age girls walking to school on Aug. 6, 1945 weren't in uniform and were generally unarmed.

I never argued they were and that isnt the point. The argument that war is "uneconomic" relies on cherry picked circumstances when the country invaded (or its allies) fought back and made the costs exceed the benefits. It ignores the vast majority of cases where invaders walk in unopposed or roll over scant resistance. "War is uneconomic" is the exception, not the rule. Seldom are the spoils so destroyed or denied that the costs exceed the benefits. In fact, true deterrence is built upon creating the reality or perception that war will be uneconomic. One could argue then that all the wars that did not happen when there was a desire to do so should count as evidence that war was uneconomic. Fair enough. But then don't use evidence solely of the most destructive wars. If all wars were uneconomic, ex ante, then are we to assume all invaders are irrational? And when there is no war, it does not follow that war in uneconomic because there are other motives for not having a war, I.e. achieving an acceptable result through diplomacy being the most obvious.

Can you name 5 or 6 cases of vast majority of cases where "invaders walk in unopposed or roll over scant resistance." The only thing I can think of is Russia in Crimea and parts of the Ukraine and there they had a large sympathetic population not one that was merely cowed. Russia initially overran Afghanistan in the 80's but eventually it was to costly.

And currently you have Syria and Yemen the costs are significant there.

It used to be the case that an unpopular ruler could occasionally be deposed with very little violence. Edward II, Richard II and James II were all sent packing (the first two ended up six feet under) by invading rivals with almost no serious fighting.

The statement under question was "Modern warfare is uneconomic". it was conceded that "Wars in the 18th and 19th centuries to subjugate potential colonies were different" so earlier than the 20th century war could be profitable.

"what's the point of invading and subjugating a country if there are no spoils for the winner"

The US sure found plenty of assets to loot from Germany post WWII, and those assets drove lots of new industry in the US. Russia plundered its share of assets, as well as the UK.

The fear of Stalin drove lots of investment based on the looted assets. ICBMs are one obvious industry, as well as jet engines. And Germany's autobahn as an asset became the blueprint for US highways.

Many more assets flowed out of the US invasion and occupation of Germany that drove US industrial growth giving me a 1947 boomer a great future.

The Vietnam loss produced lots of assets too, like helicopters, and lots and lots of airline pilots and mechanics, but those were created by military spending in the US.

When land was the principle form of wealth, and precious metals after that, wars of conquest made sense: land could be ravaged but not outright destroyed. And gold is quite indestructible. In the modern world wealth is much more abstract-- and vulnerable to ruin. Outright conquest, as opposed to kid-gloves hegemony of the sort practiced by the US (and increasingly by China) makes far more sense.
A minor disagreement: even in antiquity the assets of the rich were always at risk. On the losing side they were at risk of losing their lands and fortune and maybe their lives. Even on the winning side the taxes and requisitions in kind (including of men) to fund a war could be ruinous to them unless they were fortunate enough to send a son or brother become a hero in battle and be showered with loot and lucre.

Ms. Satia is a frequent critic of gun rights relying on cherry picked and revisionist history to make her points. While pointing out instances of gun control under British common law, she is impervious to the notion that our Founders had more recent experiences than the laws she cites. The Second Amendment proceeded specifically from attempts by the British to confiscate weapons so that colonists could not resist British rule. The right to bear arms, including those in British law, were always predicated on the notion that the sovereign cannot have a monopoly on the use of force. The forms on how this principle is applied are varied and none of the more restrictive forms are binding on the US.

She has, on numerous occasions I can't find at the moment, displayed complete ignorance about guns themselves.

That a growing imperial state needed vast supplies of arms is not remarkable. Show me an empire that wasn't built upon the weapons of the day, and battles are usually won by superiority of weapons and tactics moreso than mere numbers. So innovation is also unremarkable. Ms. Satia appears to have reversed the causal chain in order to support implementation of policies she favors.

You might be thinking of this previous Monday assorted link:

https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2018/05/monday-assorted-links-154.html#comments

which linked to this:

https://news.stanford.edu/2018/05/03/war-drove-18th-century-industrial-revolution-great-britain/

Which is as ahistorical as i remembered it.

Yes, indeed. I hadn't realized I had seen that here. Or perhaps I found it on my own and it was coincidentally posted here.

I came across Ms. Satia's writings in connection with research into DC v. Heller that relied on a great deal of history. While liberals decry that case as a perversion of history, that case has been used recently in many circuits to support gun control. Either the SCOTUS meant what these courts are interpreting, in which case Heller isnt the bogeyman they say it is, or it didnt mean that and they are again revising history to suit their goals.

Any of that research available on line? Id love to see what you came up with.

So, you believe Iran providing arms to the people of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen is virtuous?

How about Saudis providing arms to Wahabist radicals in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, ....? Simple second amendment promotion, right?

Please explain how shooting up a school or church or concert isn't intended as an individual right to rebel against authoritarian government constructed society.

Government must not say everyone is equal when religious belief says otherwise. Government must not say individuals can chose their religion.

To add to your excellent post ...

British North America, especially the areas of the 13 original colonies, we're in almost continuous warfare from King Phillip's War up until Lexington and Concord. This era of American history is a fascinating area of study.

... so war is normal throughout human history, temporary peaceful geographical areas can be very productive under favorable economic conditions, and the violent, predatory establishment of the British Empire was quite profitable to the British government.

These are not new nor rare observations. Thus this new book is totally unnecessary, as is pointing it out for special praise.

The distinguishing factor here, if I interpret it correctly, is that the war industry drove the imperial aspirations and not the other way around. That is, "guns are bad."

The liberal political economy may have denormalized war, but it has been the liberal world order that has made war irrational. What's at stake if Trump succeeds in destroying the liberal world order is the likely return to normalized war.

You better stop him, rayward!

Trump's administration so far is much less warlike than Obama's. Much less.

Let's not let facts ruin a good narrative of fear.

Uh oh, TDS rears it's ugly head.

@Rayward: some war can be rational | what the hell is "liberal world order" | of all public figures in history... luv that Trump aggravates U so much personally

"......packaged their empire as a primarily civilian enterprise focused on liberty, forgetting the earlier collective investment in and profit from the wars that had produced it."

After Napoleon was defeated and before WW1, the British Empire became dovish civilian state focused on liberty.......

Did the Opium wars and the crushed uprising in India on 1857 ever occurred? The British Empire expanded during the whole 19th century and reached the maximum extension around WW1. The must have been such great diplomats.

The British kept war always over there. And in most cases, fought by other people. The British wars in India were fought with Indians doing the hard work, and British dying was a scandal.

As I started to write this, I thought l might be being too pedantic but then I realized when has that ever stopped anyone on the Internet?

So anyway the 1857 war of Independence was fought against the East India Company not the British Empire.

Victoria was crowned Empress of India and the Company nationalized as a result of reforms in the aftermath of this war and such acts were supported by the liberals of the day.

Opium wars: waged to liberalise (opium) trade and open up ports.

Perhaps the most libertarian war?

I’m sorry but given who write the blurbs for this book — e.g. Pankaj Mishra, whose animus towards the West is well known — I am afraid I don’t trust the contents (even though I’m literally judging it by its cover).

As for the claim that the author is award winning, well, that carries little weight with me until I know what the award is. Also, amongst academics award giving is widespread, not unlike grade school where prizes are distributed to “participants”.

“In their wake, nineteenth-century Britain packaged their empire as a primarily civilian enterprise focused on liberty, forgetting the earlier collective investment in and profit from the wars that had produced it.“

So, they learned from their mistakes and they improved things, but it was still their fault? Right. Because insufficient acknowledgment of their prior warmongering privilege.

Um.
1) Lets just recall that the Gunpowder Empires of Islam: the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal empires, predate British Expansionism. Britain just used Sail not Horses, and gave us science, accounting, rule of law, and the industrial revolution rather than Islamic illiteracy and despotism.
2) There cultural, institutional, and religious reasons that India was conquered by every passing band of malcontents with little more effort than jumping up and down like the opening scenes of 2001 a Space Odyssey.
3) That the Indian Academy blames everything on the English without consideration that there is an equally high chance India would be second between Africa and Arabia, has failed to keep pace with China, and appears to be regressing politically.
4) That the Indian Academy has nearly as big a problem with historical pseudoscience as Russians do with Conspiracy, the Chinese do with edibles, and the Africans do with Magic.
5) Mishra is as much of an anti-western Propagandist as were Derrida, Freud, Boaz, and Marx.

Islamic civilization tended toward literacy due to the central importance of the Qu'ran. The very existence of an established written standard which is the only official canonical text (translations are not valid in Islam) has created a standard Arabic language over a very wide geographic area even though the spoken dialects have gone their way almost as much as the Romance languages have diverged from Latin and each other.

I think you have a *selective* definition of literacy.
Even at present, 40% of muslims are still illiterate (unable to read), those that are literate (able to read), do not in fact read anything, publish anything, translate anything of substance whatsoever.
India currently has something around 70% literacy, but they manage to read, publish, and conduct research.
So "literacy" can refer to the ability to read but act to read only one book, or one can act to read many books. Of those books one can choose to read historical, technical, and scientific or literary, aesthetic, and philosophical, or mythological, supernatural, and theological.

The medieval Caliphate was also one of the world's great mercantile cultures. You don't have a large prosperous merchant class without that class being fairly literate and numerate, at least in practical matters. There's good reason to think that Islamic literacy rates (in the core countries) exceeded those of Europe up until the end of the Middle Ages when printing began to make books more common in Europe.

Yup, the Brit's bestowed many gifts upon their conquered people's, including, but not limited to:

1. The English language, a defacto international language.
2. PA government
3. Modern science
4. Industrial revolution

.
.

Is this meant to imply that Britain's wars ended in 1815? That would be news to Harry Flashman. Also to the assorted Indians, Afghans, Chinese, Sudanese, Boers, Arabs, Zulus, etc. who encountered British arms between 1815 and 1914. This passage makes no sense to me.

The major, existential wars over European supremacy yes.

That's not what the quoted passage is saying. It says that that eighteenth century Englishmen accepted war as endemic. That is probably true, but most eighteenth century wars were not major, existential wars. Only the Napoleonic wars fall into that category. The quote then asserts that the nineteenth century was different, which is clearly false. Britain fought just as many wars in the nineteenth century as in the eighteenth, the only difference being that they were a little farther away and that most of the opponents were non-white.

"how rational could they be for starting and pursuing a war (WWII) that they would lose even if they won (the conquered having been destroyed in the effort)": wildly wrong. They hoovered up Czechoslovakia and France with very little destruction; ditto the Low Countries and Denmark.

Even when they turned on their Russian allies what they wanted wasn't going to be destroyed: arable land and oil fields.

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