Are machine guns on the side of the civilized?

From Priya Satia’s recent and interesting Time’s Monster: History, Conscience and Britain’s Empire:

Evolutionary history likewise advised tolerance in the face of the mass death enabled by the new machine guns, which ended the long technological parity between Europeans and others, making it possible for Europeans to conquer Africa at least.  Robert Routledge’s popular 1876 history of science lifted Adam Smith’s language defending firearms a century earlier to assure those concerned about machine guns’ destructive nature that they favored “the extension and permanence of civilization.”  Their complexity and expense — itself testimony to European genius — ensured that they could be wielded only by “wealthy and intelligent nations.”  But for a notable substitution of “race” for “nation,” he echoed Smith’s language almost verbatim (without citation) in arguing that firearms gave a necessary advantage to “opulent and civilized communities” over “poor and barbarous races,” which were today “everywhere at the mercy of the wealthy and cultivated nations.”

Obviously the same always will be true for nuclear weapons as well, right?

The book, by the way, is especially interesting about how thinking about progress is related to views of imperialism, though note the first 100 pp. are significantly less focused than the rest of the text.


Comments for this post are closed