February 15, 2004

1885 and Africa's final fall

I've decided to extend the discussion of the history of Congo one post longer. This entry in my commentary on Grandpa's autobiography is about the events of 1885 - a red letter year in African history. It was the moment when Africa's fate was finally made completely subject to the will of European states. The first part is here and the second here.

In American high schools, colonialism is seen as something that started in 1492 and rose persistently to a crescendo around WWI. But, this is not exactly the way it happened. The early colonial empires were motivated by a fairly simple mercantilism. Some things were cheaper to take than to buy. Some things could only be produced in distant lands, and investments had to be protected. Some things that were purchased rather than taken travelled on routes that had to be protected with overseas bases. Trade led to dependency, dependency led to insecurity, insecurity led to taking over so that you can minimise the insecurity.

But by the middle of the 19th century, this doctrine was already known to be an economic failure. Richard Cobden - following the ground-breaking doctrines of Adam Smith - pointed out that there was nothing to gain from a colonial empire that could not have been had more cheaply with free trade. As proof, by the mid-19th century Britain's most profitable colony was the United States, a nation it had not ruled for most of a century.

Declining gains had diminished interest in new colonial ventures and Britain shifted its model of colonial administration to one with growing home rule. (As described here.) The UK even considered selling some of its less useful colonies to smaller European states. There was even talk here and there of a multi-national British union, led from London, of course.

Britain ruled the seas and prevented any other state from establishing new colonies without its consent. France was the only other nation with even close to the same level of power, and most of the long running disputes between the two had been resolved. The UK manufactured most of Europe's industrial goods and reaped the benefits of a large trade surplus. There was little for it to gain from new colonies.

Colonialism might have ended there, fading away over the second half of the 19th century because of declining returns. Both the British and French models of colonialism were creating local elites or had simply co-opted existing elites, and the movement towards local rule generally favoured them. Free trade could have replaced foreign control.

But, that's not what happened. Instead, the last three decades of the 19th century saw colonial expansion reach a fervour never seen before. Between 1876 and 1900, European control over Africa went from a paltry 10% of the continent's land mass to some 90%. At the root of this rapid expansion is the convergence of several disparate trends that might, otherwise, have had nothing to do with each other.

The first was the Franco-Prussian war - something I had never even heard of until college, and had even less understood its significance. It is one of the key events in European history - comparable, in the final analysis, to the French Revolution. This war of convenience between France and Germany started out as little more than a pissing contest between Otto von Bismarck and Louis Napoléon. The German chancellor, without the consent of the monarch or the Reichstag, had suckered the French monarch into war by creating the appearance of an alliance between Prussia and Spain. It could have been stopped at any time, by either side, with little loss. But this tragic case of testosterone poisoning continued until it did real damage. By the time it was over, Paris was under the control of radical leftists and beseiged by the Prussian army. Louis Adolphe Thiers had set up the nascent Third Republic in Versailles and Louis Napoléon was a prisoner of the Prussian army. Alsace-Lorraine - the German speaking part of France - became German territory. France was seen, not for the last time, as a declining power.

Having pushed France out of the way, the German customs union - a relatively loose free trade area - became the German Empire. Political and economic unification brought about a transformation of Germany into an industrial power. Its economy soon grew larger than France or Britain's.

Britain's decline from unrivalled power had started decades earlier. Between France's growing industries, America's rapid growth and now Germany's new dominance of high-tech chemical industries, London's global hegemony had been deteriorating even as its economy grew. The Franco-Prussian war brought this into sharp focus, especially as German rhetoric became more and more like current Chinese rhetoric: We are the future and you are the past. Germany was the original "new Europe."

The "Long Depression" - a period of intermittent deflation and business crises starting in 1873 - only aggravated this situation. Where Britain alone had once profited from free trade, international competition and technological innovation created openings for other nations and forced prices ever downwards. Gold-backed currencies could not inflate to compensate. The UK experienced its first wave of deindustrialisation and big business mergers during those years. Karl Marx' reputation grew as governments were unable to solve perenial employment crises. The end result was a global abandonment of free trade and the restoration of trade priviledges within the French and British empires. Where a few years earlier, there was no need to control a country in order to buy what it sold, this new protectionism made control once again necessary. Furthermore, newly consolidated industries all across Europe began using their size and greater influence to pressure governments to "protect" their investments in the underdeveloped world by annexing the places they had invested in.

At the same time, central Europe's newly developed states - especially Germany - increasingly sought colonies for much the same reason that China has a manned space programme today. It is simply what real global powers were expected to do. Colonies offered European states the kind of patriotic adventure that new nations - which generally lacked a common ethno-linguistic identity or grand narrative - could use to unite the public. Even the United States, faced with the closure of the frontier, ultimately found itself caught up in this new imperialism and seized Spain's few remaining American and Asian colonies in 1898.

In France's case, there was yet another reason: the restoration of a sense of French "greatness" after the defeat of 1871. It was at that point that Algeria was integrated into France as three departments rather than as an overseas colony - to compensate for the three departments lost to Germany. Most of Algeria's inhabitants were, however, denied French citizenship and the echos of this denial continue to haunt the Republic.

But there simply was no way - even in those days - to make a colonial empire profitable. The new colonies of the late 19th century were money sinks. Every new generation of European autocrat, every new prime minister in London and Paris for the next century, had a new scheme to make colonialism work. They had not caught on to what should have been obvious: conquest is financially self-defeating.

I guess the recent unpleasantness in Mesopotamia shows how very little has changed in almost a century and a half. We still have half-witted hereditary leaders in neo-classical palaces invading distant countries in the name grand political schemes, claiming that the conquest can pay for itself and then reaping benefits from patriotic sentiment while ruining their countries' finances.

Colonialism - which should naturally have been opposed by the forces of classical liberalism as a hold-over from the dark ages - quickly became a cause célèbre of the chattering classes from all parts of the political spectrum. This new imperialism, joined with the doctrines of liberal economics, proved a difficult force to resist. It ought to serve as a lesson to those who seem willing to revive "white man's burden" in the Middle East today as well as to those who see national economic salvation new markets. It justified itself in all the same ways.

First, the social:

I was in the East End of London (a working-class quarter) yesterday and attended a meeting of the unemployed. I listened to the wild speeches, which were just a cry for 'bread! bread!' and on my way home I pondered over the scene and I became more than ever convinced of the importance of imperialism [...] My cherished idea is a solution for the social problem, i.e., in order to save the 40,000,000 inhabitants of the United Kingdom from a bloody civil war, we colonial statesmen must acquire new lands to settle the surplus population, to provide new markets for the goods produced in the factories and mines. The Empire, as I have always said, is a bread and butter question. If you want to avoid civil war, you must become imperialists.

Cecil Rhodes, 1895 (quoted by Lenin in Imperialism - The Highest Stage of Capitalism)

Then, an appeal to the common wealth of man and to economic necessity:

La nature a distribué inégalement, à travers la planète, l'abondance et les dépôts de ces matières premières; et tandis qu'elle a localisé dans cette extrémité continentale qui est l'Europe le génie inventif des races blanches, la science d'utilisation des richesses naturelles, elles a concentré les plus vastes réservoirs de ces matières dans les Afriques, les Asies tropicales, les Océanies équatoriales, vers lesquelles le besoin de vivre et de créer jettera l'élan des pays civilisés. L'humanité totale doit pouvoir jouir de la richesse totale répandue sur la planète. Cette richesse est le trésor commun de l'humanité.

Nature has unequally distributed, across the planet, abundance and raw materials; and while it has placed in that continental extremity that is Europe the inventive genius of the white races, the science to use natural wealth, it has concentrated the greatest reserves of those materials in Africa, in tropical Asia, in equatorial Oceania, towards which the need to live and to create presses the spirit of the civilised lands. All humanity must be able to enjoy the wealth of the whole world. This wealth is the common treasure of humanity.

Albert Sarraut, 1931 - Grandeur et servitudes coloniales

Most compelling for the unwashed masses were always justifications built on national pride:

La colonisation est pour la France une question de vie ou de mort: ou la France deviendra une grande puissance africaine, ou elle ne sera dans un siècle ou deux qu'une puissance européenne secondaire; elle comptera dans le monde, à peu près comme la Grèce ou la Roumanie compte en Europe.

Colonisation is a matter of life and death for France: either France will be a great African power or, in a century or two, it will be no more than a secondary European power; it will count in the world for about as much as Greece or Romania counts in Europe.

Paul Leroy-Beaulieu, 1882 - De la colonisation chez les peuples modernes

But easily the worst were the ideological justifications sold to the intellectuals, the upper class, the people expected to know better. They bear a haunting resemblance to recent discourse in the West:

Le pays qui a proclamé les Droits de l'Homme a, de par son passé, la mission de répandre où il le peut les idées qui ont fait sa propre grandeur.

A nation which has adopted the Rights of Man has, as a historical charge, a mission to propagate wherever it can the ideas behind its own greatness.

Albert Bayet, 1931 - Declaration to the International Congress on the Rights of Man

In carrying out this work of civilization we are fulfilling what I believe to be our national mission, and we are finding scope for the exercise of those faculties and qualities which have made of us a great governing race. I do not say that our success has been perfect in every case, I do not say that all our methods have been beyond reproach; but I do say that in almost every instance in which the rule of the queen has been established and the great Pax Britannica has been enforced, there has come with it greater security to life and property, and a material improvement in the condition of the bulk of the population. No doubt, in the first instance, when these conquests have been made, there has been bloodshed, there has been loss of life among the native populations, loss of still more precious lives among those who have been sent out to bring these countries into some kind of disciplined order, but it must be remembered that that is the condition of the mission we have to fulfil.

Joseph Chamberlain (British Colonial Secretary, 1895-1903) - The True Conception of Empire

The African coast was quickly occupied by one colonial power after another, leaving only the distant inland territories unclaimed by anyone but their inhabitants. Although the coastal kingdom of Congo had long been in contact with Europe, the inland areas in the Congo river basin were inaccessible by boat. Many ships had entered the river with the intent to explore inland, but all had failed. You see, there is a series of waterfalls and rapids on the Congo river, starting about 150km inland and stretching another 150km further. The "dark heart" of Africa was one of the few remaining unexplored territories in the world in the 1870's, and more and more people, of a variety of nationalities, were trying to map it out. The first to do so in a serious way was David Livingstone, travelling inland from east Africa rather than the Atlantic coast, and the man famously sent in 1878 to find him, Henry Morton Stanley. Livingstone had set out in search of the origin of the Nile, but instead found the upstream part of the Congo.

Stanley's own words point to the degree that fantasy drove the "scramble for Africa" that followed:

There are forty million people beyond the gateway of the Congo, and the cotton spinners of Manchester are waiting to clothe them. Birmingham foundries are glowing with the red metal that will presently be made into ironwork for them. [...] And the ministers of Christ are zealous to bring them, the poor benighted heathen, into the Christian fold.
Stanley, you see, saw Christianity as an "epiphenomenon" of colonial rule, much as neoliberals are inclined to see democracy as an epiphenomenon of free trade. He was apparently deeply concerned about the souls of Africans, which is somewhat ironic since he spent the last years of his life failing to dodge the charge that he wasn't very concerned about Africans' lives.

This opening of central Africa, in conjunction with new treatments for malaria, made a European advance into Africa possible. Until that time, there were no secure European colonies on the continent beyond South Africa and a few coastal enclaves. It was this fantasy of new markets and modernist ideological expansionism that pushed Europe into Africa.

This was the "scramble for Africa" that left Britain, France and Germany in control of so many unlikely and unprofitable places. There was a growing potential for conflict between European powers over competing claims, so the German chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, convened a conference of all of Europe's powers as well as the United States to fix colonial borders all across Africa. You can read an English translation of the resulting declaration here (only the original French is binding). The Berlin Conference is a key event in African history because it established most of the borders on maps of Africa today. If modern African states cut across ethnolinguistic lines and are ravaged by ethnic civil wars, the particiapants at the Berlin Conference bear much of the blame.

The General Act of the conference established several important things. First, it abolished the slave trade once and for all. This declaration made little difference because the slave trade had already been abolished. Portugal was the last state to do so, finally ending chattel slavery in its African colonies in 1878. By 1885, Brazil was the only nation in the world where chattel slavery of the classical sort was still legal, and it disappeared before 1890. This interdiction, along with provisions concerning the sale of alcohol and the promotion of missionary activity, were little more than humanitarian fig leafs for what was really a giant land-grab.

Far more substantial was the provision that European holdings on the African coast must actually be controlled and administered by the holding power, otherwise their claim was void. This was the legal mechanism used to deny Portuguese control of Kongo. Thus, the Berlin Conference put an end to the last vestiges of the old Kingdom of Kongo by rejecting Portugal's claim over it. Most of the south was transfered to Portugal as part of its Angolan territories and most of the north to France. In between was a narrow corridor of land along the north bank of the Congo river and the immense inland basin.

France had reached the limits of what it could claim by taking control of the north bank of the river beyond the impassable waterfalls, exploring it overland from Libreville in what is now Gabon. Britain considered claiming the whole territory on the basis of Livingstone and Stanley's nationality, but decided that this inaccessible jungle colony was not worth the price of occupation. Even Germany, in its rush to respectability as an international colonial power, declined to make a claim to it. Not a single European power was willing to take this immense country, seeing it as a hopeless money loser, but each in turn was dead set on frustrating all the others. Britian backed the Portugese claim to keep the French out. Bismarck didn't care who got the colony, as long as it wasn't France or Britain.

This is where the tiny Kingdom of Belgium enters our narrative.

In 1865, Belgium's first monarch - Leopold I, born Georges Chrétien Frédéric de Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield, the youngest and most successful son of the very powerful Duke of Saxe-Coburg - passed away at his castle in Laeken. He had fought on both sides in the Napoléonic wars and had come out of it having demonstrated his military and political competence. He was offered - and turned down - the Greek throne when it became indepedent. When Belgium separated from the Netherlands in 1830, he was offered the throne as roi des Belges - a job with good pay, plenty of prestige, and virtually no power.

Nonetheless, Leopold parlayed his position as symbolic head of state into a lifetime as a power broker across the continent. He married the daughter of the French king Louis Phillipe d'Orléans and had four children, three of whom reached adulthood. He married his daughter to the French supported Habsburg claimant to the Mexican throne, Emperor Maximillian. He married off his kinfolk into all the key royal lines of Europe, including setting up his cousin Queen Victoria with his nephew, Albert de Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

He was also a very forward looking monarch and an astute diplomat. He pressed for the construction of continental Europe's first railway - between Brussels and Mechelen - in 1835. When most of Europe went up in flames during the revolutions of 1848, he managed to keep his tiny nation free of trouble, even though his own father-in-law lost the French throne.

This political stability and technophilia attracted capital to the kingdom. Belgium also enjoyed an unusual natural benefit among European states - large deposits of easily accessible coal and iron. Coal and iron was the cutting edge of high-tech in those days, and what Silicon Valley was a few years ago, Belgium was then. In the late 19th century, Belgium had a GDP per capita higher than any other nation in the world and as a consequence, at the time of Leopold's death in 1865, Belgium had become an industrial center and technological powerhouse with influence far out of proportion to its size.

The second Belgian king, Leopold II, was not like his father. Where Leopold I combined diplomacy and charm with what a later founder of a political dynasty would call "that vision thing", Leopold II was subtle and devious. His father actually described him as "sly like a fox." Leopold II didn't need to build up his state the way his father had, he just inherited it. Junior wanted more. He wanted an empire that he could call his own.

Conquering Europe was not an option. In the century and a quarter between Napoléon and Hitler, no one even tried. Leopold II was pretty good at politics, but he wasn't in that league. Besides, in the days before the Treaty of Rome, controlling Belgium didn't mean you controlled that much.

But, seeing all his neighbours name themselves Empress of this and King of that, Leopold thought he could have a colonial empire of his very own. He also had unrealistic dreams of the wealth to be gained from colonies. He tried a number of schemes over the years to get Belgium a colonial empire. He had looked into buying Borneo, or an Argentine province, or renting the Philipines, or taking over Japan, along with a series of other schemes that went nowhere.

Belgium, you see, was a constitutional monarchy. The king had no real power. He could plead, he could influence, he could even scandalise, but without the consent of parliament, Leopold couldn't do a damn thing. The Belgian parliament, content to run a small, unthreatening high-tech enclave, wanted nothing to do with this colonial nonsense.

It might have stayed that way had it not been for this unlikely dispute over the Congo basin. No one wanted to control the inaccessible core of Africa, except for one man, Leopold II of Belgium. Not even the Belgian parliament wanted the colony. Lacking the support of his own nation and bent on acquiring his piece of Africa, Leopold devised a plan of Pinky-and-the-Brainesque audacity.

As soon as Henry Morton Stanley returned from his expidition, Leopold recruited him as front man for a humanitarian organisation, the Association Internationale Africaine. He started immediately running about Europe making a case why he ought to get the Congo. In London, he pointed to his commitment to free trade and how he was, above all, not French. In Berlin, he emphasised how his rule kept both France nor Britain from gaining new ground in Africa. In Paris, he played up support for French claims to the north bank of the river and said that should he one day abandon his claim, naturally the territory should become French. He played on Portugal's role in the slave trade to shore up support from the left in America and Europe's more liberal nations. Better Leopold, he claimed, than Portugese slavers.

In the end, the 1885 Berlin conference turned control over the basin to Leopold's humanitarian organisation. Leopold, not as the King of Belgium but in his personal capacity, had his colony. He immediately set out devising a system of holding corporations and false fronts comparable to Enron in complexity, all licensed by his personal control over the this humanitarian charity, to rule the Congo basin as his personal property.

Thus, the Congo Free State was born. Voltaire described the Holy Roman Empire as "neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire." In the same sense, the Congo Free State was neither Congo, nor free, nor a state. It encompassed only a small part of the former kingdom and a vast area outside of it. It was not a state - rather, it was the personal property of King Leopold II. And it certainly was not free.

The Congo Free State from an 1890 map

Posted 2004/02/15 14:35 (Sun) | TrackBack

Very interesting material. I've enjoyed these Congo posts a great deal.

One incidental point - isn't "epiphenomena" a plural form, the singular being "epiphenomenon"? Unless that's how neoliberals actually use it. (Pedantic, I realise, but if one can't be pedantic here...)

Posted by: Tim May at February 16, 2004 0:53

Thanks, Tim. I made the change. Had it just been "phenomenon" I probably would have caught it.

Posted by: Scott Martens at February 16, 2004 9:14

Good stuff, Scott. Just out of curiosity, what is some of your source material on this stuff? I've been reading off and on Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost, and have been getting increasingly interested in the topic.

On a similar note, W. G. Sebald has an excellent, poetic, stream-of-consciousness chapter inspired by these events in The Rings of Saturn.

Posted by: Brad at February 16, 2004 11:30

"Colonialism - which should naturally have been opposed by the forces of classical liberalism as a hold-over from the dark ages"

To a limited extent it was in Britain; the Liberal party split over the issue, with the Liberal imperialists ultimately joining the Tories.

I don't think this was echoed significantly elsewhere (prove me wrong by all means), but to the extent that colonialism = imperialism + protectionism, and protectionism benefits the emergent economy more than the established one, that's not surprising.

Posted by: chris at February 17, 2004 9:40

Chris - between 1815 and 1860, there was no French colonial expansion except in Algeria. Spain lost virtually all its colonies, Portugal lost Brazil and gained nothing new and the Dutch barely kept control of Indonesia. Britain did very little conquering and subjugating. There were no other colonial powers.

French expansion in Algeria was a financial nightmare from the start. The 1827 war was engineered to prop up Charles X, and as soon as news of victory reached Paris, the liberals overthrew him.

Of course, now they were stuck with the place and appointed a parliamentary commission to deal with it. French parliamentary commissions have a long history of being just full of dumb ideas. Like the more recent Stasi commission, they investigated the situation, said that the government's policies were a complete catastrophy, advised the government to get better policies, and then went on to propose policies that served diametrically opposite ends to those they claimed ought to be the goal of any new policy. France kept Algeria.

The further they got into the country, the harder it was to back out. Once there were French investors there, their assets had to be protected. Protecting investments was always classical liberalism's soft spot. Algeria wasn't so much an exception as the forerunner of the post 1870 colonial rush. For the next three decades, new colonies were strickly out of the question.

France's next conquest wasn't until 1859, when Napoleon pulled the same stunt (I'm in political trouble, so let's invade somebody) by taking over Cochin China. There too, almost every reputable liberal in the country was dead set against it and France only kept the place because of the influence of the Catholic church - which wanted to protect Catholic converts from local rulers who viewed them (fairly accurately) as a the forefront of a potential European invasion.

France didn't get back into colonial expansion as a policy until William Henry Waddington became prime minister in 1879, and arch-neoimperialist Jules Ferry took over the foreign affairs ministry. (Yes, France had a British prime minister. No, I don't really get it either.)

Every French worker's association was against colonialism by 1840, and French liberals - like the old Parti Republicain - were at least against expansion until the Franco-Prussian war.

Posted by: Scott Martens at February 17, 2004 14:51

Very good and comprehensive survey of the issue, enjoyable reading too. Just to add some thoughts:

But by the middle of the 19th century, this doctrine was already known to be an economic failure. Richard Cobden - following the ground-breaking doctrines of Adam Smith - pointed out that there was nothing to gain from a colonial empire that could not have been had more cheaply with free trade. As proof, by the mid-19th century Britain's most profitable colony was the United States, a nation it had not ruled for most of a century.

Well, I wouldn't overlook the fact that Asia had been pretty much either conquered or dominated by this time. The UK's other great jewel - India, played an important role as well; since by the 1870s it was only the artificially manipulated BoP surpluses with her colony in India that allowed Britian to offset what otherwise would have been a deficit with other key economic regions such as the US. As the 19th century grew to a close, this increasingly became more important, especially as the strength and credibility of sterling and the Gold Standard rested on Britain not having to make any such adjustments and reaping both the ability to raise credit easily on the London financial market - the epicentre of the then global credit market (much like NY is today) and through 'invisibles' on the trade account. One could also perhaps argue, like some economic historians have begun to of late; that de-industrialisation in Asia was necessary for the manufacturing rise in Western Europe and Britain in particular as it was only be re-ordering the greater productive capacities and institutional arrangements in important and dynamic sectors like the textile industry of the 18th century after colonisation; that productive capacity and industrial output shifted from Asia; which had the dominant share of global output in this period to Europe. But this is a more controversial argument.

You can see this by looking where the British colonies in Africa fall; they almost all are at key point where ships docked or where there were strategically important harbour facilities - as in South African, Sierra Leone, Ghana or were expanded to protect the Suez Canal and route to India - Egypt, Sudan, and the headwaters of the Nile going up to Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. Only some denser internal settlements like Nigeria, fall outside this schema - there was a great exchange in the Commons; when the French were expanding across West Africa rapidly and the Opposition went wild demanding to know why Britain was not taking a more aggressive stance on the whole issue. The Tory PM at the time (I forget who it was) leaned over a map of Africa and derisively sneered "Well, let the French have the desert and the light soils; we will control the areas of heavy settlement and important ports".

Britain ruled the seas and prevented any other state from establishing new colonies without its consent. France was the only other nation with even close to the same level of power, and most of the long running disputes between the two had been resolved. The UK manufactured most of Europe's industrial goods and reaped the benefits of a large trade surplus. There was little for it to gain from new colonies.

True, but part of the argument which historians and economists use is that the main gain here from colonisation to Britain wasn't a direct static transfer of resources; given that free trade would benefit it as well but simply to pre-empt other late industrialising economies in Europe; who would have cut the British out from markets by imposing the same tariff barriers that they had done in the Continent (and behind which they were rapidly industrialising) on the colonies - so Britain ironically pushed imperialism and colonisation in the greater design of ensuring free trade continued, rather than the reverse. Calculations of net benefit from this though can still be questioned; even with restrictive assumptions; economic historians using the latest National Incomes series devised by Crafts estimate that this could have added at most 7% of GDP in the period from 1870-1914. Of course there might have been significant non-quantitative economic benefits that would otherwise have been lost; but it would be difficult to say how important they would have been compared to the benefits of not having to maintain colonies and imperial policies.

Also I am not so sure about the disputes between France and the UK being resolved by this time - remember the stand-off at Fashoda in the 1890s; French and British armies came pretty close to fighting here. Indeed Bismarck had very cleverly prevented any alliance from emerging between France and Britain and up to the early 1900s any European war seemed likely to find these two at war with each other. It was a cornerstone of Bismarck's foreign policy to prevent any d?tente between the two old antagonists; he correctly perceived that any alliance here would be very damaging to Germany and while Britain remained aloof from France, German power on the Continent was assured. To this end he was very careful to avoid any move that would be seen as expanding German naval ambitions in a manner threatening to British interests so as not to upset the English and push them closer to the French - so much so that this was only reversed when the Kaiser effectively sacked him and changed the course of German external policy, rather unwisely as Bismarck had foreseen.

Britain's decline from unrivalled power had started decades earlier. Between France's growing industries, America's rapid growth and now Germany's new dominance of high-tech chemical industries, London's global hegemony had been deteriorating even as its economy grew. The Franco-Prussian war brought this into sharp focus, especially as German rhetoric became more and more like current Chinese rhetoric: We are the future and you are the past. Germany was the original "new Europe."

Yes, I think by 1870 this decline can retrospectively be seen to be apparent. By the 1890s it was obvious to many contemporaries as well; the Daily Mail ran a scare campaign (sigh, even in those days there were up to no good!!!) for its readers when it encouraged them to go into their kitchens and turn their appliances, utensils etc. upside down to see which country they were made in - the idea being to show how dependent Britain had become on manufactured imports and the declining competitiveness of British goods in the marketplace. The 'Made in Germany' scare campaign; like today's media blitz against 'asylum-seekers' had a deep impact. One could also compare it with the "Rising Sun" fears about Japan in the 1980s.

In France's case, there was yet another reason: the restoration of a sense of French "greatness" after the defeat of 1871. It was at that point that Algeria was integrated into France as three departments rather than as an overseas colony - to compensate for the three departments lost to Germany. Most of Algeria's inhabitants were, however, denied French citizenship and the echoes of this denial

I am too ignorant of internal French politics at this time - but wasn't there also some manoeuvring by the French military eager to makeup for the loss of the Franco-Prussian debacle, and also careerism to accelerate promotion amongst the ambitious officer cadre; combined with a desire to increase their standing vis-?-vis civilian politicians in the policy-making apparatus?

There was also some loose talk about the hoary old chestnut of riches across the Sahara, what Phillip Curtin memorably described in an article as the "Lure of Bambuk Gold" - of course historically much Gold did come from parts of West Africa; like Guinea (hence the name of the unit of currency used from the Middle Ages) but most of this was only mined during off-peak agricultural seasons as a subsidiary activity by local populations which faced virtually zero opportunity costs for their labour. When the French did come and start mining this gold on a commercial basis, with modern mining methods, the small dispersed deposits were highly uneconomical, with large marginal costs of extraction and these mines never turned a profit. In an eerie way this kind of gold-driven expansion, created a whole set of other problems later on in Southern Africa.

Posted by: Conrad Barwa at February 18, 2004 1:28

Scott, if you're not either in graduate school or writing alternate-history science fiction by the next time I'm in Brussels, I'm going to have to hurt you.

Posted by: Cosma at February 18, 2004 15:45

Cosma - I'd invite you to tell my boss so, but I'm afraid he's not of too different an opinion. I've had this lingering fear that he was going to can me because I might just go back to grad school. But, we got our research grant yesterday, so I feel reasonably secure. However, it means I'm committed to the firm for a while. Unfortunately, I may have to choose between a car that I need badly right now and grad school in 2005. The wife is pushing me to ask for a raise. (Lennart, if you read my blog, you don't want my wife to have to come to Haasrode to ask for a raise.)

As for writing science fiction, well, there is a post coming soon on that topic.

Conrad - Fashoda was, what, 1897? In the period from the Congress of Vienna to the Waddington election there weren't a whole lot of disputes between France and Britain, at least not serious territorial ones. My point was that before neoimperialism got underway, there weren't a lot of long running disputes between the two. Afterwards, there was all kinds of griping.

Yes, the French military under the Third Republic firmly believed in the social value of warfare. Not big wars (unless you were sure to win them and get lots of glory or if the enemy was Germany) but little wars, like this Iraq thing the US has gotten into. Just enough to keep the public behind "our troops" and just enough actual death to keep the soldiers on their toes and make promotion a real option.

I'm not sure that I made the narrative's time frame quite clear enough at points. The picture I'm trying to paint is something along the lines of "From 1815 to 1870, Britain and France were at peace, the British navy ruled the seas so no one could really get new colonies except France, and free trade was the order of the day in the UK and among progressive political currents everywhere." Bismarck's games in the aftermath of 1871 and during the "long depression" make sense in that context. It's him - somewhat indirectly and far from alone - that I'm blaming for the mess that followed.

I'm tempted to repeat Cosma's advice and ask when you're getting a blog?

Posted by: Scott Martens at February 18, 2004 17:25

I'm agreed entirely about the need for Conrad to get a blog.

Posted by: Randy McDonald at February 19, 2004 18:54
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