Colonial powers stripped those cultures they intended to exploit of heritage, pride, and self-identity

I came across Europe and the people without history by reading a citation about it in Karolyn Smardz Frost (2007).

The citation notes that Eric Wolf (1982) “demonstrated how colonial powers stripped those cultures they intended to exploit of heritage, pride, and self-identity” (Frost 2007, p. 355).

That’s an apt description.

Wolf describes specified political and economic factors at play during early European warfare. He describes a process, of political consolidation under central kingships, that required two things.

It required the ability to extract tribute to pay for war, and the ability to develop a war-making potential commensurate with the task of political consolidation.

The author describes three ways these abilities could be developed.

One involved external expansion against enemy powers, leading to the seizure of surpluses from other lands.

A second involved discovery of resources (home-grown or acquired as booty) to sell to merchants in exchange for needed goods or credit.

A third involved the enlargement of the royal domain, the area from which a king could extract direct support without the interference of intermediaries.

Seizure of external resources was a strategy favoured by the Iberian powers of Portugal, Leon-Castile, and Aragon in their reconquest of Muslim Spain. Another application of this strategy took the form of the Crusades, carried out by the kings of France and England after their initial consolidation of power starting in the 1100s.

The stated purpose of the Crusades was the reconquest of the Holy Land. On another level, however, Wolf remarks, “the Crusades were efforts to consolidate incipient political systems through an attack on greatly weakened enemies.”

With regard to the Crusades, and their role in history, this February 2012 New York Times article is of relevance.

Democratic amnesia

With regard to the erasure of memory, elements of such erasure are evident within the culture of the West itself. In Climate wars (2012, p. 1), Harald Welzer suggests it is helpful to look closely at legacy of European colonialism, which includes what he describes as a ‘democratic amnesia’:

“The pitiless brutality  with which early industrial countries satisfied their hunger for raw materials, land and power, and which left its mark on whole continents, cannot be seen in the landscape of the West today. The memory of exploitation, slavery and extermination has succumbed to democratic amnesia, as if the countries of the West had always been as they now are and their superior wealth and power were not built upon a murderous history.”

Welzer continues (p.2):

“Whereas the past symmetrical history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has been translated into luxurious living standards in Western societies, its violent still weighs heavily on many parts of the second and third worlds.  Quite a few post-colonial countries  have never made it to real statehood, let alone achieved prosperity; many have continue to experience the old exploitation under different conditions, and the signs often point towards further decline rather than significant improvement.

” Climate change resulting from the insatiable hunger for fossil fuels in the early industrial countries hits the poorest regions of the world hardest –  a bitter irony that flies in the face of any expectation that life is fair.”


An Aug. 14, 2019n Guardian article is entitled: “Point Comfort: where slavery in America began 400 years ago.”


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