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20160416 Why Europe Conquer the World


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The main idea of this book is that European countries due to their political history that included constant relatively low intensity and low cost to rulers wars developed what author calls the Tournament model that basically represented an open and competitive market for military activities, that, as markets normally do, was extremely beneficial to creating effective and efficient military goods and services superior to any that other regions could provide.


Chapter I. Introduction

Here author posits a question: how come that Europe, which was well behind of countries like China in just about everything in 1500 practically conquered the world including China by 1900? He looks at typical answers: diseases and gunpowder technology but finds it inconvincible enough to look for additional causes. He suggests that huge military advantage that allowed such a feat came from specific European way of multiple low stakes military conflicts that he calls the Tournament. This Tournament allowed for honing technology and fighting methodology to such superior level that non-European countries could not compete.

Chapter 2. How the Tournament in Early Modern Europe Made Conquest Possible

The first point in supporting the Tournament idea is statistics of frequency of wars and expenses on military presented in a couple of tables:



At the same time an important factor was low cost of war for rulers supported by this data:


Correspondingly from economics point of view the Tournament could be considered as market competition for military technology and, as usual, such competition led to decrease in price and increase in quality. This point is supported by example with handguns:


Author summarizes key points of the Tournament model as following:


Another couple of tables demonstrates increase in productivity of military labor and decrease in cost of military equipment relative to non-military goods:



Chapter 3. Why the Rest of Eurasia Fell Behind

This is an analysis of competition: what are the reasons why China, India, Russia, and Ottomans fall behind? The answer author provides: various deviations from the Tournament model: small frequency or different character of wars and consequently failure to stay at par with Europe technologically.

Chapter 4. Ultimate Causes: Explaining the Difference between Western Europe and the Rest of Eurasia

This is a more detailed look at causes, starting with geography: Europe was less not more mountainous than China so it could mountains could not explain higher levels of political fragmentation. Similar analysis provided for low relevance of shorelines. Neither kinship ties between rulers could be considered as a valid explanation. The inference author eventually comes to is that the culprit was political and ideological history of Europe, especially Christianity’s separation of church and state with consequent reformations and religious wars. Probably the most important, albeit not necessary preordained result, was the failure of any of European powers to achieve dominance leading to the continuing Tournament unlike China where dominance of winner removed urgency from the needs of military development.

Chapter 5. From the Gunpowder Technology to Private Expeditions

This is an interesting quirk on European military dominance. It relates to 2 very important features: gunpowder technology and private military colonial adventures. It seems to be the keys to European success: gunpowder because it is very susceptible to technological improvement and tend to have tremendous force multiplier effect practically substituting quantity of people with firepower; while privateering in colonization allowed to do it cheaply, effectively, and with minimal bureaucratic overhead as it is normally done in any private industry. Author also looks at counterfactual speculation of some European country becoming a hegemon, practically eliminating the Tournament and making Europe not different from unified China and consequently incapable to conquer the world.

Chapter 6. Technological Change and Armed Peace in Nineteenth-Century! Europe

In this chapter author traces the decrease in militancy of European countries in XIX century. He does it analyzing use of world “glory” in French and British publications of this period that decreased dramatically. At the same time improvement in military technology and growth in military expenses was continuing unabated. During this period the world conquest was practically completed with just about any landmass divided between European countries.

Chapter 7. Conclusion: The Price of Conquest

In conclusion author discusses price of conquest and eventual clash between European countries of WWI and WWII that led to collapse of European powers and disappearance of their colonial empires. He also once more revisits and rejects other explanations of Europe military dominance such as geography and culture, reaffirming his believes in validity of the Tournament and gunpowder model.


I think it is a nice and quite convincing presentation of reasons for European dominance. I believe, however, that one of the most important reasons for European dominance was underrated in author’s model. This reason is relative freedom to act that was and still is a very special characteristic of European or more widely Western cultures. Author partially touches it in discussion of private colonizing activities, but not sufficiently in my opinion because without this relative freedom not only private companies that colonized world on behalf of European countries would not exists, but also military technology would not developed or stalled as it did happened in big bureaucratic states such as China or Russia. I think it would be fair to say that European conquest of the world was a product of European relative freedom to act in pursuit of wealth whether by obtaining some overseas plantation or producing cheap and highly marketable guns.



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