This post is part of Human History series. Start with introduction.
Middle ages were most of the time just holy wars between Christianity and Islam or between different branches of Christianity. Modern ages dismissed religion in favor of science. That helped people to find new lands, make more efficient production, evolve new economic systems and start emancipation.
But science is not a replacement for religion. Scientists can tell us what they found out and then it’s up to us what we do with the information. We, humans, take that information and form ideology. Ideology is a replacement for religion. Ideology is a religion.
Religion is a combination of social-cultural system and belief in supernatural elements. For example, football belongs only to the first group, or the theory of relativity belongs only to the second group. Both cases are not religion. But Islam, Buddhism, or communism belongs to both.
For a long time, people fought for their God. Once ideologies replaced religion, people didn’t change much. Each state fought for an ideology believed by its citizens.
Britain centered around liberalism, influenced by Smith, which is based on total freedom and minimum regulations from government. This system is not perfect and is abused in extreme cases. See an example: Europeans wanted tea from China with sugar from America. Sugar plantations in America were cruel, and slaves were used for the job. They had short and pitiless lives. On the other side, China wanted silver for goods, but British companies didn’t want to use silver as a currency. Instead, companies wished to exchange tea for opium. Chines didn’t want drugs on their streets, so they destroyed goods. Companies called for free trade and asked the London government for help. Of course, as the government invested money in those companies and they didn’t want to lose it. Chinese were pushed in so-called Opium Wars to the corner by the army, resulting in allowance of opium in the Chinese market and passing Hong Kong to England’s hands.
In Germany, Karl Marx saw shortcomings of liberalism and came up with a socialistic approach where everything is shared. He argued that the capitalistic approach is not moral and not protecting people working in factories and living on wages. The solution was to give full power to the government, which will redistribute everything between citizens equally (no matter the age or sex; note that the first wave of emancipation started by Rousseau did not include women). Marx’s communism is kind of the opposite of capitalism. This ideology was picked up by a few countries but was not the mainstream right away.
In America, the United States were still plural. It was a republic of republics. Abraham Lincoln wanted to unite them, which was not an easy task. There was a conflict between northern and southern republics: southern republics were heavily dependent on slaves at sugar and cotton plantations for Europe (because slaves from Africa were more resistant than Europeans against malaria or yellow fever), whereas northern ones were pushing new moral values against slavery. South hoped Britain with liberalism will support them, but Britain decided to promote ethical values and live with smaller imports instead. American Civil War was the first modern war and also the first major war about ideologies and emancipation. North was defeated, and slavery was banned.
Besides slavery, imperialism was also seen morally reprehensible. Britain didn’t want to conquer the world anymore and wanted to help instead. It’s easier to say than do. Egypt experienced an economic boom, thanks to the American Civil War. Europeans had to buy goods elsewhere, and Egypt borrowed a lot of money from Britain and France to invest them in production. That turned bad for them once the war was over. Egypt ended with loans and no demand. Britain wanted to make sure they will not lose the money. Losing money would mean humiliation, and there was also an important canal to India. Britain invaded Egypt to save their image. Muslims threatened Egypt from Sudan, which Britain also had to invade to protect Egypt. Despite Britain didn’t want to conquer any country…
Otto von Bismarck, chancellor of Germany, was afraid of the situation in Africa and organized the Berlin Conference regulating European colonization and trade in Africa. Africa was not welcome, so it was basically a redistribution of African lands between European empires.
They had only a few options: to enslave countries (which was rejected with the new moral values), or to assimilate (which was very hard; Africa was too much behind), or to destruct (which nobody wanted), so the last option was to protect Africa from other empires, which do not share the same values.
The outcome was not perfect. For example, King Leopold of Belgium was a nice king and gave to Belgium all the best. At the conference, all countries thought his son would be the same and gave Congo under his son protection. Unfortunately, Leopold II was the total opposite of his father. He destroyed what he could for his personal gain. Everyone was surprised how Congo was devastated.
Also, Britain still occupied many places in Africa after the conference. Third of the Muslim population was living under British rule. Russia threatened the Muslim world from the other side. German Emperor Wilhelm II saw this as an opportunity. He went to Jerusalem as a Christian and friend of Muslims. Muslims with swords were massacred by Englishmen with machine guns, and Germany gave them a helping hand in this issue. Muslims liked Germans and welcomed them warmly.
New important alliances were formed, and each state had a different idea of the right ideology for running a modern industrial state. One of the challenges for each ideology is always the economy. The market was fixed by Gold standard to stay stable, but it didn’t scale. The population was growing, and people demanded more money in circulation. It led to the Long depression crisis.
In the meantime, Alfred Nobel invented dynamite to improve mining. Nobel was not happy about the misuse by the army and donated all fortune from dynamite to found the Nobel Prize. Army and navy got more new inventions, which gave to leaders reasons to think about war. People lived in relative peace for a long time; the previous main conflict were Napoleonic Wars. But it was about to change.
I will continue in the next post.