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4.0 out of 5 stars Review of 'Lords of all the World', 21 Nov 2010
This review is from: Lords of All the World: Ideologies of Empire in Spain, Britain and France C.1500-C.1800: Ideologies of Empire in Spain, Britain and France, 1492-1830 (Hardcover)
Pagden's book `Lords of All the World' is an analysis of the different ideologies by which the Spanish, British and French viewed their American Empires and the changes these ideologies underwent over the centuries. This title itself is therefore misleading as the book makes only occasional and very brief references to the African and Asian Empires of these European Powers. Pagden makes the claim that the European Empires have two distinct histories - the first being the colonization of America and the second being the occupation of Africa and Asia. While the time periods of these conquests do overlap he views them ideologically as separate expansions therefore justifying his focus purely on the Americas in this book.

The opening chapter `The Legacy of Rome' focuses on the ideology of Imperium created by the Roman Empire. As Pagden points out "Imperium romanum has always had a unique place in the political imagination of western Europe" (pg 11). Pagden claims the idea of civitas held great appeal to the western powers who viewed Roman law and order as a model to emulate. As one of the largest and most enduring empires in history, Rome's example seemed to the western World something worth emulating. Furthermore it was via the Roman Empire that Christianity was able to undergo its first major expansion and the ideas of an all-embracing Christian world first came into being. Pagden cites contemporary writers of the time such as Dante putting forward the notion of "a single human civilization" (pg 26) bound together by Christianity as an ideal by which the leaders of the time should aspire to.

This moves us on to the second chapter `Monarchia Universalis'. This is the idea of one all-encompassing Kingdom of Christendom ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor. At the time of the discovery of America the Spanish monarch fulfilled this role. The Emperor's duty was to protect Christendom and to extend Christianity until the world was united under one Emperor and one religion. After the discovery of the Americas this duty was extended to the new continent and a papal bull was past granting the continent to the Spanish. Consequently the Spanish American empire was founded under the claim that it was an evangelizing mission with the authority of the papacy. Pagden points out that the French also used this excuse to further territorial conquests and that even the earliest English sources make reference to the `obligation to convert the heathen to the faith' (pg 35). Pagden's point appears to be that the main ideological reasoning in establishing the American empires was to `Christianize' the new world.

However Pagden points out that a mission of conversion did not sit well with many theorists at the time. It seemed too extreme to seize another's lands merely because they were not of the same faith. In his third chapter `Conquest and Settlement', Pagden examines an extensive range of contemporary writers such as Vitoria, Vattel and Fajardo, who put forward a number of other theories and reasons as to why the continued conquest of the Americas was justified; examples of this being the right of settlement of unused lands and the claim that the land is uninhabited if it is not cultivated. This justified colonizing North America in its entirety since all the native peoples were nomadic and largely did not practice cultivation. Others rejected the notion of conquest altogether. They claimed the only legal means by which lands could be taken would be if the indigenous natives freely gave or sold them. Still others denied that there was any right to expansion at all since it involved breaking the natural boundary of the ocean that God had created. In this way Pagden reveals the wide range of opinions and theories present during the initial expansions into America.

Further chapters `Expansion and Preservation' and `Metropolis and Colony' examine the ideological differences the different Empires had in the way they were constructed and run. Pagden then uses these methods to explain the empire's relative successes and failures within the Americas. The Spanish Empire, with a centralized government back in Spain aimed at the acquisition of precious metals such as gold and silver, was economically very weak. The desire and dependence on Bullion led to the failure of the state since it created inflation and a decline in the manufacturing industries. The conquistador attitude of war and constant expansion, whilst successful in conquering territory, proved far less successful in consolidating these lands and running them productively. Britain meanwhile gave its colonists a measure of autonomy resulting in more productive colonies. Only when the British started trying to restrict their subjects did they suffer the loss of the 13 colonies. The French system was again different in giving its subjects more independence and encouraging integration with the native population. This was still a more centralized top down rule than the British system, which Pagden claims contributed to the loss of almost all French American Colonies in the Seven Years War.

The final chapters examine slavery within the Empires, the rise of the USA and the independence of the former European colonies. It attempts to explain why they (especially the United States) succeeded in their struggle for liberty. The final Chapter `From Empire to Federation' focuses on the importance of commerce and how that was the principle aim and overarching ideological concern of the empires and freed colonies by their entry into the 1800s. This utterly superseded the ideas of Christian ideology and universal monarchy by which the empires had been founded.

Pagden's work incorporates theories of colonization and Empire from an extensive range of contemporary sources originating from all three countries described in his book. He does not allow himself to be restricted chronologically as writers from different ages are interspersed throughout his text. His wide range of sources and differing opinions give strength to his arguments.

Pagden's opening arguments that the first major expansions were to emulate Rome and expand the boundaries of Christendom are accurate but perhaps incomplete. In the opening stages of his book I feel he fails to adequately address economic and social conditions and the impact these may have had on the ideologies of Empire. The idea of the expansion of Christendom is important but perhaps overstated and it seems Pagden merely regurgitates contemporary imperialist propaganda. He argues that `Christianization' is almost the sole cause of initial expansion. As an approach I find this too simplistic.
With regards to the Western empires at the end of chapter three Pagden claims `none appeared able to shed the legacy of the ancient world' (pg 102). I find this conclusion quite accurate. Up to this point Pagden has put forward a sustained case that the inhabitants of Europe could not move beyond the idea of expansion of their realms and religion. He points out that while there were some dissenters and differing opinions the majority of theorists were putting forward different arguments justifying this expansion. The Roman ideal of a large united empire bound by one ruler, law and religion had been seized upon by the Western European psyche and most intellectuals sought to justify rather than deny it.

The in-depth analysis of the different ideologies of each empire, especially on how they were organized, is impressive. Pagden structures his chapters into parts with each part generally focusing on one of the three empires or perhaps a comparison of two of them. This gives the reader a very clear idea of each empire's specific and very different ideologies and avoids what could easily become a very confused muddle.

His conclusions about the Empires gaining liberty from their European home states and the acceptance of this liberty by Europe seem more based in historical fact then theory and I agree with this. His analysis of the slave trade also appears quite accurate and well sourced. Pagden's final conclusion that commerce became the fundamental aim of the Empires and the States that were born out of these empires appears quite solidly argued and well sourced and I accept his final assessment.

However Pagden is guilty of occasionally making quite ambitious assumptions. He claims that `only the United States could imagine for itself a world role' (pg 198) as a reason for its global success as opposed to the other newly formed American countries. I perceive this to be an invention by the author seeking to explain why, in hindsight, the United States became a successful world-player while others did not. The idea that only the United State and none of the other former European colonies could imagine for itself a world role seems implausible. I propose any newly formed state after gaining liberation can and did imagine for itself a world role; this just failed to materialize in any meaningful way.

Furthermore Pagden's frequent usage of Latin, French and Spanish quotation often with no translation can be at times frustrating to a monolingual reader. Translations of the more complex foreign phrases would make this text more accessible for the casual reader. Despite this the writer puts forward an elegant set of arguments and theories regarding the European Empires within the Americas. To anyone with an interest in European or American history or the Ideology of Empire this book is a fine resource.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic, 19 Sep 2003
By 
Killian (the Netherlands) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Lords of All the World: Ideologies of Empire in Spain, Britain and France C.1500-C.1800: Ideologies of Empire in Spain, Britain and France, 1492-1830 (Hardcover)
it does exactly what it says on the tin and provides an overview of the individual organisms known as the Spanish, British and the french empires between 1492 and 1830. i was afraid that the subject would be written on a level too acedemic for the average lay-historian but within minutes of opening the front cover i realised how acessble the book was. shocking, educational and generally fantastic are the only words which come to mind, and i recommend it to anyone interested in some mental stimulation in the historical genre
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