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McNeill, The Pursuit of Power

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The Pursuit of Power, William H. McNeill (University of Chicago Press: Chicago, IL, 1982)

Author. (1917- )
Canadian born, world historian professor emeritus at University of Chicago, served in US Army during WWII (military attaché to Greece). Great essay on the importance and pitfalls of the study of history:

Height of Cold War, prior to the resurgence of China and Japan as global economic forces

History of military and industrial advancement of Western Europe from 1000-2000 AD

Population and
a market economy
yields domination.

Central Proposition
25 – it is the hypothesis of this book that China’s rapid evolution towards market-regulated behavior in the centuries on either side of the year 1000 tipped a critical balance in world history.
258 – Thus from the 1840s onward, far more drastically than in any earlier age, Europeans’ near monopoly of strategic communication and transportation, together with a rapidly evolving weaponry that remained always far in advance of anything local fighting men could lay hands on, made imperial expansion cheap

Other Major Propositions.
4 – even though levying taxes and rents pitted the interests of rulers and landlords against those of the peasant producers, both parties had a real interest in substituting such regulated exactions for plundering.
49 – the autocatalytic character that European commercial and industrial expansion exhibited between the eleventh and the nineteenth century never got started in China.
113 – the fundamental difference between western Europe and the rest of the civilized world had manifested itself clearly and unmistakably from the fourteenth century onward, thanks to the absence of effective inhibitions against the private accumulation of relatively large amounts of capital in Europe.
117 – A well-drilled army, responding to a clear chain of command that reached down to every corporal and squad from a monarch claiming to rule by divine right, constituted a more obedient and efficient instrument of policy than had ever been seen on earth before.
145 – a growing rural population when most of the readily cultivatable land was already in tillage became critical throughout northwestern Europe … only later did comparable problems confront central and eastern Europe societies.
151 – the capacity to protect themselves and their goods at comparatively low cost was the central secret of European commercial expansion in the eighteenth century … partly from technical superiority [and] superior organization and discipline
223 – New weapons changed warfare, of course, but they were less important during the first phase of the industrialization of war than changes in transport resulting from the application of fossil fuels … the ideal of every man a soldier, characteristic only of barbarian societies in time past, became almost capable of realization
261 – the transcontinental integration of human effort attained by the 1870s constituted a landmark or world history comparable to the commercial integration of Sung China that had occurred some nine hundred years before … More than a century later we remain the heirs of this achievement, in spite of all the obstacles to the free flow of goods and services that the twin considerations of welfare and warfare have since introduced into the world market system. (Keynesian free trade!)

vii – Alterations in armaments resemble genetic mutations of microorganisms in the sense that they may, from time to time, open new geographic zones for exploitation, or break down older limits upon the exercise of force within the host society itself.
viii – A well-equipped and organized armed force, making contact with a society not equally well organized for war, acts in much the same way as the germs of a disease-experienced society

Chapter 1 – Arms and Society in Antiquity
7 – Dependence on distant supplier who were not firmly subject to imperial words of command constituted a limit upon the management of ancient empires … most of the commodities really important for maintenance of armies and administrative bureaucracies—the twin pillars of Xerxes’ and every other great king’s power—were available from within the boundaries of the state … of these, food was by far the most important.
9 – Transport and provisioning were, therefore, the principal limits ancient rulers and armies confronted
17 – Two currents of population displacement resulted from the cavalry revolution. Sporadically, steppe tribesmen succeeded in conquering one or another of the civilized lands … China, the Middle East, or Europe
20 – Whenever superior force cam to rest in the hands of a few elaborately equipped and trained individuals, it became difficult for central authorities to prevent such persons from intercepting most of the agricultural surplus and consuming it locally. “Feudalism” was the result
21 – More unmistakably than any other major event in world history, the rise of Islam and the establishment of the early caliphate proves that ideas, too, matter in human affairs and can sometimes enter decisively into the balance of forces so as to define long-lasting and fundamental human patterns.

Chapter 2 – The Era of Chinese Predominance 1000-1500
25 – New forms of management and new modes of political conduct had to be invented to reconcile the initial antipathy between military power and money power; and the society most successful in achieving this act of legerdemain—western Europe—in due season came to dominate the world.
29 – What seems to have happened was that with the improvement of transport … allowed even the very humble to specialize their production … proliferating market exchanges—local, regional, and trans-regional—allowed spectacular increases in total productivity.
31 – Yet the vigorous pursuit of private advantage in the marketplace, especially when it allowed upstart individuals to accumulate conspicuous amounts of wealth, ran counter to older Chinese values.
32 – Confiscatory taxation of ill-gotten gains always smacked of justice and retribution. The all too obvious suffering of the poor reinforced the case against the rich merchants and ruthless engrossers of the market. … such a policy might cost the state dearly by diminishing tax revenue in future years … but large-scale commercial and industrial enterprises were vulnerable to decay for the same reasons that had caused them to burgeon .. changes of tax rates or of prices paid by the government could choke off production
33 – information is too fragmentary to permit anyone to figure out exactly what happened … but it is clear that governmental policy was always critically important. The distrust and suspicion with which officials habitually viewed successful entrepreneurs meant that any undertaking risked being taken over as a state monopoly. Alternatively, it could be subjected to taxes and officially imposed prices which made the maintenance of existing levels of operation impossible.
36 – plundering armies and ruthless capitalists seemed almost equally detestable to the common people
45 – Just as the rapid growth of coke-fueled blast furnaces in the eleventh century leads someone attuned to European history to suppose that an industrial revolution of general significance ought to have followed, so the overseas empire China had created by the early fifteenth century impels a westerner to think of what might have been if the Chinese had chosen to push their explorations still further. … but the officials of the imperial court chose otherwise. After 1433 they launched no more expeditions to the Indian Ocean, and in 1436 issued a decree forbidding the construction of new seagoing ships.

Chapter 3 – The Business of War in Europe 1000-1600
64 – The merger of the military with the commercial spirit, characteristic of European merchants, had its roots in the barbarian past … the ambiguity between trade and raid was at least as old as the Myceneans.
69 – Had papal monarchy proved feasible, western Europe’s history would not have duplicated China’s bureaucratic experience, but divergences would surely have been far fewer … commercialization of organized violence came vigorously to the fore in the fourteenth century when mercenary armies became standard in Italy
78 – The fact remains that by collecting tax monies to pay soldiers who proceeded to spend their wages and thereby helped to refresh the tax base, Italian city administrations showed how a commercially articulated society could defend itself effectively. By inventing administrative methods for controlling soldiers and tying their self-interest more and more closely to continued service with the same employer, these cities altered the incidence of instability inherent in market relationships. (I think he needs to re-read Machiavelli)
80 – skills and aptitudes developed for the successful pursuit of long-distance trade … invented a new and distinctively European pattern of diplomacy and war … The system maintained strong incentives for continued improvements of weapons design.
88 – In essence, the siege gun design developed in France and Burgundy between 1465 and 1477 lasted until the 1840s, with only marginal improvements.
95 – competition among European states continued to provoke sporadic arms races … in other parts of the earth, however, the Italian riposte to cannon fire (bastions and outworks) was not forthcoming … the extent of the Mughal, Muscovite, and Ottoman empires was defined in practice by the mobility of their respective imperial gun parks
100 – The impact of a cannonade on lightly constructed ships was as catastrophic as the initial impact of the same guns on castle walls and its effect lasted much longer, since no technical riposte to the supremacy of heavy-gunned ships at sea was discovered until twentieth-century airplanes and submarines came along.
101 – Heavy guns, routinely carried by ordinary merchant ships, allowed the amazingly rapid expansion of European dominion over American (beginning 1492) and Asian (beginning 1497) waters.
102 – An important feature of European sea power in the sixteenth century was its quasi-private character.
109 – It was thus not merely the financial organization of marine enterprise but also its “frontier” character that made it self-supporting. Closer to the center of European society …. only rarely could a ruler conquer territories from which important tax income could be garnered.
114/5 – in the long run European states actually were strengthened by their involvement in the fiscal web spun by international bankers and suppliers … the tax base grew … regional specialization developed economies of scale running across political boundaries. Technological advance was hastened by the coexistence of multiple suppliers and multiple purchasers. … War and the heavy costs of waging it accelerated the entire process. … integrating human effort more efficiently than command had ever been able to do. … however much rulers and the majority of their subjects may have deplored the greed and immorality that was thus let loose upon the world.

Chapter 4 – Advances in Europe’s Art of War 1600-1750
126 – The person principally responsible … was Maurice of Nassau Prince of Orange (1567-1625) captain-general of Holland and Zeeland
127-9 – from the pages of Vegetius … emphasize three things: the spade (made his soldiers dig themselves in) … systematic drill … regularized marching … divided his army into smaller tactical units … in this way an army became an articulated organism
141 – Once an entire army had standardized its equipment, any improvement in design became far more costly to introduce than had been the case when the weapons of dozens of different designs were simultaneously in use. … really important departures from existing designs of weapons were certain to upset established patterns of drill, training, and supply.

Chapter 5 – Stains on Europe’s Bureaucratization of Violence 1700-1789
144 – a long succession of good harvest years and the spread of American food crops, mainly maize and potatoes, to European soil had more to do with prosperity of the first half of the eighteenth century than any merely governmental action. … in the second half of the eighteenth century, sharp challenges to existing political-military patterns … one fundamental factor … rapid population growth
147 – Any human skill that achieves admirable results will tend to spread from its place of origin by taking root among other peoples who encounter the novelty and find it better than whatever they had previously known or done.
148 – The rise of such march states to dominance over older and smaller polities located near a center where important innovation first concentrated is one of the oldest and best-attested patterns of civilized history. (so what happens now that there’s no “center”)
150 – Instead of looking upon private capital as a tempting and obvious target for confiscatory taxation, as rulers in other parts of the world regularly did, the political masters of western Europe came to believe, and acted on the belief, that by setting precise limits to taxation and collecting designated sums equably, private wealth and total tax receipts could both be made to grow. (I’m pretty sure they were prone to excesses too, that’s what caused revolutions)
156 – Market behavior, in short, induced a level of efficiency that compulsion rarely could match
158-61 – By the mid-eighteenth century, four limits in existing patterns of military organization had become apparent. … the difficulty of controlling the movements of an army of more than about 50,000 … supply (of the army) … erratic and changeable patterns of personnel and administration … sociological and psychological restraints that went along with the professionalization of warfare (limiting the available scale and intensity of warfare)
172 – Artillerymen with their cold-blooded mathematics seemed subversive of all that made a soldier’s life heroic, admirable, worthy.
174 – When the vision of the possible thus united with a widely diffused dissatisfaction with existing arrangements, the kind of breakthrough that Gribeauval’s reform (of artillery) constituted became possible.
178 – the French turned to a cheaper (for the government) form of naval war, i.e. to privateering. … The English, in effect, went the opposite way, inventing an efficient centralized credit mechanism for financing war by founding the Bank of England in 1694.
179 – French warships were nearly always better built than their British counterparts, but in the last decades of the eighteenth century, the Royal Navy pioneered two important technical advances—copper sheathing for ships’ bottoms, and the use of short-barreled, large caliber guns, known as carronades.
184 – all humankind is still reeling from the impact of the democratic and industrial revolutions, triggered so unexpectedly in the last decades of the eighteenth century.

Chapter 6 – The Military Impact of the French Political and the British Industrial Revolutions 1789-1840
185 – the fundamental disturber of Old Regime patterns in both France and England in the last years of the eighteenth century was probably population growth
187 – British-French divergence unquestionably had geographic roots
198 – speed of march, strategic concentration, and aggressive tactics on the battlefield became the hallmarks of the French armies
199 – In this simple but effective fashion the French government went far towards relieving the social instability that had triggered revolution in the first place. Under the Directory, the mass of young men who had been unable to find satisfactory careers in civil occupations before the revolution were either successfully absorbed into the work force at home or living as soldiers at the expense of neighboring peoples, or else more or less gloriously dead.
204 – Plundering to make good deficiencies of supply from the rear simply intensified the hostility of the local population.
209 – The most impacted regions of the British Isles each found a reasonably effective solution to the problem of growing rural populations: the Highlands by enlisting in the army, Ulster by sending a proportion of its workforce overseas, and southern Ireland by shifting from pasture to tillage. …. The new pattern of poor law administration allowed rural laborers to survive seasons of dearth simply by remaining where they were.
209-11 – expanding opportunities for economically productive work in commerce and industry … factory hands, transport workers, and service personnel … subsidies to allied governments allowed continental officials to buy British goods … both the absolute volume of production and the mix of products came from British factories and forges, 1793-1815, was profoundly affected by government expenditures for war purposes
215 – however unpopular British financial and commercial superiority became among the peoples of the European continent, it was resented far less sharply than French military superiority and economic exploitation were by those compelled to support and obey French armies of occupation.
217 – a system that reserved officer rank for educated men smacked too much of class privilege … the French officer corps became a group of hard-bitten veterans, among whom a disdain for book learning and ideas of any sort prevailed. Anti-intellectualism in the Russian, British, and Austrian armies was almost as intense. … The creation of the Great General Staff between 1803 and 1809 provided an organizational stronghold within the Prussian Army for intellectually vigorous officers.
219 – Although a strongly aristocratic bias again became dominant among the Prussian officers after 1819, a heightened professional competence, especially among staff officers, and residual reliance on a civilian reserve remained as heritages from the age of reform
221 – Like the warheads of Congreve’s rockets, armed manifestation of popular will were hard to control.

Chapter 7 – The Initial Industrialization of War 1840-84
224 – The pioneers sometimes sought private profit, sometimes the welfare of the poor, and sometimes more efficient warfare. But all three pursuits ran parallel and with increasing power to affect human behavior.
225 – The pell-mell development of steamships did not at once alter the way navies were managed.
227 – For the next twenty years, important technical advances continued to come from the French side of the Channel. … But Great Britain’s greatly superior industrial capacity made it relatively easy for the Royal Navy to catch up technically and surpass the French numerically
230 – To take on such a behemoth (Russia) and yet prevail was quite a feat for the French and British expeditionary forces in the Crimea. Their success depended on superior supply. … The siege of Sevastopol was a rehearsal in miniature for the Western Front of World War I. Trench systems, field fortifications, and artillery barrages became decisive.
235 – With automatic machinery, however, once new jigs had been made, hundreds of thousands of guns of a brand new design could be produced in a single year. An entire army could be reequipped about as quickly as soldiers could be familiarized with the new weapon.
237 – Mass production thus came to Europe’s small arms business between 1855 and 1870 as a direct by-product of the Crimean War.
241 – A global, industrialized armaments business thus emerged in the 1860s.
243 – Railroads, in fact, allowed armies of a hundred thousand and more to fight for years while drawing supplies from hundreds of miles away. Such feats, quite impossible in any earlier age, demonstrated once again the vital importance of industrial capacity for waging a new kind of war.
253 – Obviously, mass mobilization was the basis of Moltke’s success. … Speed, mass, and momentum, in turn, depended on skillful use of railroads … numbers required an army of conscripts reinforced in time of war by reservists … machinery for the mass production of small arms had made the cost of equipping vast citizen armies affordable. … reservists called back to duty for a few weeks or months found something enormously exhilarating about … running risks, experiencing hardship, and testing personal prowess … consequently, warfare shed most of its sinister meanings among the immediately ensuing generations
254 – military chain of command preserved a human pattern of unquestioning submission to a social superior … paradoxical as it may sound escape from freedom was often a real liberation, especially among young men living under very rapidly changing conditions
256 – Larger and larger armies, built around a system of short-term conscription followed by a period of service in the reserves, came to dominate the scene on the continent of Europe.
257 – An amazing fact of world history is that in the nineteenth century even small detachments of troops, equipped in up-to-date European fashion, could defeat African and Asian states with ease.
260 – As far as western Europe was concerned, therefore, by about 1850 … prosperity, free trade, and private property attained greater plausibility than before or since.

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