Free Book Review On Anthony Pagden’s Peoples And Empires Book Review
Type of paper: Book Review
Topic: Empire, Europe, War, History, Alexander The Great, Greece, Athens, World
In his renowned monograph, Peoples and Empires: A Short History of European Migration, Exploration, and Conquest, from Greece to the Present, scholar Anthony Pagden attempts to define the meaning and concept of empire within the European context. Pagden proffers a narrative about the greatest European empires, including the ancient Greeks, the Romans, the French, and the British, and their colonies. In order to articulate how conquerors justified their conquests and how empire profoundly changed both conquerors and the conquered, Pagden deftly explores the dichotomies that accompanied the notion of empire, including civilization versus barbarism, nature versus culture, center versus periphery, and the Self (us) versus Other (them). Indeed, Pagden begins his exploration by looking at Alexander the Great and the Ancient Greeks as the first major world empire. Pagden argues that the ancient Greeks invented the modern-day lexicon used and associated with the concept of empire so evident in travel writings and historical narratives. Indeed, the empirical knowledge gained from travel unequivocally is directly related to the capacity and dexterity of the Greeks as colonizers (Pagden 3).
Pagden invokes the philosophical theories about war proffered by Enlightenment thinkers such as Immanuel Kant in order to explore and understand the warfare and colonization by the ancient Greeks on so-called primitive peoples. Kant postulated that “human conflict was nature’s means of forcing primitive men to leave the settled comfortable boundaries of their homes. There, like grazing cattle, they might be happy, but because they were bit also anxious and active, they could not be properly human” (Pagden 4). This view of was vastly differed from the kind of warfare that “primitive,” indigenous peoples waged against one another for merely “limited or symbolic gains” (3). Kant conceived of war touted in ancient Greek literature such as Homer’s Odyssey and The Iliad. War was conducted in order to subjugate and conquer inferior peoples, which rendered empire possible. Indeed, the legendary Alexander the Great always took his copies of Homer’s epic with him during his colonial ventures. The discovery of sturdy metals fomented an environment in the Mediterranean world in which societies were able to impose themselves on the rest of the world. Steel was used to create more destructive weaponry used in warfare that also ushered in a new brand of warfare. Pagden describes this development as such: “the war machine, the capacity to transform a large body of men into a single instrument of destruction, was to prove decisive in what has come to be called the ‘triumph of the west’” (6). Indeed, Alexander the Great greatly benefitted from these novel and powerful technologies of power.
Despite its brevity, Alexander the Great’s empire was the largest empire that antiquity ever witnessed and permanently changed the world in a litany of ways and changed the trajectory of the grand narrative in European history. It is quite interesting how Pagden views knowledge and the creation of new epistemologies and intrinsically linked with the concept of empire. Indeed, Alexander the Great, who was briefly a student of Aristotle, applied the knowledge he gained regarding politics and the ideal government in order to eliminate civil war and internal conflicts between different city-states and/or different cultural groups. Monarchical governments was the preferred form of government, which Alexander learned both through his experiences fighting against the consolidated Persian Empire as well as from his teacher. Alexander the Great, who built on his father’s ambitions, exploited a weakened Persian state in order to build his empire, which enabled him to move Greek colonists to the former Persian territory without fundamentally changing the structure of the Persian Empire’s administration. The personal nature of this empire both sustained it and undergirded its downfall once Alexander died. Nonetheless, Alexander the Great was viewed as an “archetypal empire builder” for centuries whom those that aspired to gain power sought to emulate (11). Beyond his military capabilities, Alexander the Great was also deemed responsible for grafting the binary thinking that has dominated colonial and imperial justifications since antiquity. Indeed, the notion of barbarism to describe “primitive” peoples, or any peoples who did not speak Greek. Thus, Alexander conceived of the Greeks as human, and all others were rendered sub-human (13). The etiology of this type of thinking is fascinating.
Pagden, Anthony. Peoples and Empires: A Short History of European Migration, Exploration, and Conquest, from Greece to the Present. Modern Library ed. New York: Modern Library, 2001. Print.