Thursday, May 12, 2005


TO RULE THE WAVES, is a somewhat Neocon-flavored book about the history of the British Navy published by Harper Collins. Max Boot raves about it on the jacket cover and the author, Arthur Herman, likes the British Empire as a model to follow, a very Neoconnish fad these days. Given this orientation, what the book says about the development of capitalism is significant. Herman is certainly no anarchist opponent of capitalism, quite the contrary. However, the information he provides is more backing for Kevin Carson's excellent analysis of the history of capitalism, The Iron Fist Behind The Invisible Hand

The Royal Navy really began with Captain John Hawkins during the Elizabethan Era. Hawkins was one of the first English slave traders. This sort of sets the pattern for what is to come. Herman repeats over and over, that the English economy was built by the Navy - which, of course, means the state.

Move ahead to the 17th Century. According to Herman, " The Dutch had turned themselves into a formidable naval power in order to keep their overseas trade. The English did the opposite. It was their rise as a naval power... that allowed them to become a major trading power." By 1660, "... the navy itself was a crucial part of the kingdom's economy." As but one example, "England's entire forest industry was in the hands of the navy."

By 1700 the navy, "presided over the largest industrial organization in the world." and "Britain's iron industry had begun by making guns for the Royal Navy."

The slave trade, developed and protected by the navy, offered "fantastic profits", expanding from 7000 Africans in 1650 to 70,000 in 1750, with half of these freighted in English ships. The slave trade "...also grew a lucrative export business to Africa." Through the use of slave labor, sugar became a key industry in both England and America, being the major impetus of economic development in the latter. "By 1700, the W. Indies replaced England as the biggest market for colonial merchants, thanks to the demand for sugar."

It was only natural, " the mercantile interests... all recognized that their future depended on the success and strength of the Royal Navy."

At the end of the 18th Century, England fought and defeated Revolutionary France. Out of "...the wars of the French Revolution grew Britain's economy as never before. Trade boomed in 1798-1802, as the navy's control... opened new key markets for the goods of the Industrial Revolution." The Navy blockade of European ports during the Napoleonic Wars, "... would set the economies of European rivals, including France, back by more than a generation, thus ensuring that Britain would emerge as the leading industrial power." Thus, "war had given Britain the biggest economy... in the world."

In this manner, the Royal Navy (and thus the state) imposed the domination of capital upon the world. By winning the Napoleonic Wars, "Britain had made the defining social element the ownership of property... (of which Herman means ownership by a tiny wealthy minority, natch.) ...its foundation was the Royal Navy's historical role as defender of... its overseas trade."

Indivisibly linked to this economic power was the British Empire which expanded rapidly in the late 19th Century. This empire " would not have existed without the Royal Navy." This "new world order", Herman's actual words, no less, "would have quickly flown apart" without the navy.

Finally, there is an interesting contemporary aspect with the Oil War in Iraq. In 1912 the Royal Navy began to switch to oil to power its battleships as a way of avoiding the need to stop and take on coal. This change in fueling "made building petroleum reserves a priority." The Navy then "bought a controlling share in Anglo-Persian Petroleum Company." Hmm...

Yes, its so nice to see capitalism developing autonomously thru free markets and the 'unseen hand'. What! Do you see any statism? I don't see no statism. There ain't no state, nobody here but us free enterprisers!


Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Great review, Larry! As you say, it's pretty awkward when the same people who talk about "free trade" and "free markets," are praising a global superpower for imposing the "world market" by force. People like Boot and Barnett who cream in their jeans over empire need to get their talking points straight with those who deny that any empire exists.

6:39 PM  

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