Looking back at history, geography, and climate: Why did colonialism happen in the way that it did?

Thanksgiving is a lot of things to a lot of people. I’ll be talking to my family back in the U.S., which will be nice, but I’ll also be reflecting a bit on the legacy of colonialism. I’ll have a post up tomorrow about Thanksgiving (and a video about it that I think is worth watching), but ahead of that I wanted to share a couple videos from the Youtuber Lonerbox. White supremacy is present in any discussion of colonialism, but it’s sometimes a bit hard to pin down what that term means. This isn’t the whole of it, but modern white supremacy has a couple versions of “might makes right” running through it. The first is the notion that the fact that European nations were able to achieve such violent dominance over so much of the world, is proof that those people deserved their power. The second is a bit more subtle, and it’s the idea that white people are more capable than other races. In a lot of ways, this is just a roundabout way of saying the same thing, but it moves a step back from justifying the violent conquest, to saying “look at all the wonderful things about the world that white people built”, and the flip side of “look at how terrible things are in countries run by non-white people”.

It’s not always spelled out that explicitly, but in both cases, it’s the claim that white people are destined to rule the world, and that “fact” is made manifest by the events of history. And so the question arises – why did things play out in the way they did?

Why, for example, didn’t Africa colonize Europe?

This video leaves some questions unanswered, and it contains a couple factual errors and misconceptions, so Lonerbox ended up putting together a follow-up that I think makes a good companion piece.

When we think about the way the world is today, and how we got here, I think it’s important to realize how much of human history has been shaped by the accidents of geography and climate.


  1. billseymour says

    One thing that jumped out at me in the first video was when he gave a quotation from Adam Smith and said that Smith was echoing Marx.  Isn’t that a bit like saying that Confucius was echoing Mao?  It seems like his chronology is a bit off there.

  2. says

    I’ll quibble a little bit – he said Smith was “taking the side” of Marx, which I took to mean that Smith’s stance is more similar to Marx’s than to people like Sargon of Akkad, Dave Ruben, and the various other far-right folks who call themselves “Classical Liberals.

    It’s a claim about ideological similarity, not chronological attribution.

  3. billseymour says

    OK, point taken.  I thought “taking the side” referred to a “side” that already existed.  I guess I was reading too much into it.

  4. brucegee1962 says

    I am wondering why there wasn’t any mention of Jared Diamond, since his Guns, Germs and Steel goes into incredible detail on some of the questions he is asking here like Middle Eastern agriculture and the north-south vs. east-west expansion.

  5. says

    @brucegee – My guess would be that Diamond was left out as part of the effort to include sources that self-styled “classical liberals” couldn’t object to, rather than leaning heavily on one particular modern book.

    I could imagine a number of reasons, though, so I dunno.

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