500 Years of European Colonialism
The History of the Triangle
By Mikael Hertig
When did it really begin?
I will propose that EU celebrates the 500th anniversary of colonialism in 2020. It is just as precise as the age of any slave. Young or old? It is a matter of usefulness. According to development of modern human rights the right to look at black people either as animals or humans as at a distinctively lower stage than white Europeans also was a stage of European civilization1.
Colonialism in its modern form definitively was driven by both technical skills and innovation. The quality of shipbuilding and using wind power for sailing was at a very high stage. The experimental approach to the world and the curiosity driven expeditions of Colombus and Vasco da Gama as well as the Vikings to find new continents or sail routes were preconditions – sine qua non – to the development of colonialism.
Maybe however the most important invention was the gun. Until Europeans invented the gun powder was just fun. With the gun it was easy to control other tribes where the Europeans wenr ashore. As power and succes in its core is a question of control.
It has become rather common to combine colonialism with the idea of slavery. However, slavery is a much older invention. It is merely a tradition in organization of a society. By any means what is the real difference between lord and farmer and having slaves? The idea of bringing a territory under control by exercizing power over its inhabitants is no way new.2
Of course, the first brilliant idea of colonialism is to move the slaves to another place from where they cannot flee: For instance an island.
But the real breakthrough definitely was the answer to the challenge: ”Now we have the slaves, now we have brought them to an island from where it is almost impossible to flee, what shall we use them for?” Of course, the idea of having farmers as slaves or migrants now adays to work in agriculture is so relevant also today3. No, the real brilliant idea of slavery on distant islands is the business model, combined with modern shipping and logistics. The whole industry, ship yards, construction, planning, aption of a ship for trnasport of slaves, rum and sugar, all these definitely are the ground that modern Europe is built on. Invention, technical skills, innovation, business models – all that developed under the European kingdoms. Of course, part of all that also was dependant on military strategy and thinking: How to conquer territories from your neighbours? Should you have your own troops, or is it possible to just pay them and let them rape and plunder? Of course, without Macchiavelli much of this could hardly have happened.
The feudal and royal organization was by no means any obstacle for the progressive development of the business model. As exploitation amd extravitism is the core of the business model, financing the royal court and warfare is a part of the logic of colonialism.
Neither the French revolution nor the US independence declaration stopped colonialism. Instead of serving the royal courts, colonialism was, as I understand it, now run by private enterprise in cooperation with the governments.
The newer trends during enlightenment was to establish colonies and settlements in order to control the foreign territories. Thjs might look as a return to the old model. Neverttheless, from an European view establishing of colonies was a part of the adventurous expeditions discovering the world. The process was to identify new territories and examining what the territories and how the inhabitants might be used in upcoming new business models.
Thus, in the simple form the 500 years of African slavery together with colonizatio.n and postcolonization is worth celebrating.
Of course, this should be done with arrangements in the most central cities: Bordeaux, Copenhagen, London, Sevilla and of course Lissabon. But without arrangements in the Caraibia the whole thing might loose the point, as well as the celebrations should be held in Africa.
Maybe some intrigous people might think there is not so much to celebrate. I think they are wrong. First of all: at the time the colonial actions were taken they were considered more than just justified. That those of us supporting human rights consider ourselves so advanced compared with historical attitudes to other people owe our rebel ancestors in topics as christianity, egality, socialism the deepest respect for all that they trying to let the world be a better place for all human beings.
1Look eg at Montesqieu. xxx
2Thukydides and the dialogue Athens and Melosians
3The abuse of migrants in Southern Italy should be described here