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Book Review


Abernethy, David B. The Dynamics of Global Dominance: European Overseas Empires, 1415-1980 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000). ISBN 0-300- 09314-4. 524 pp, $35.00.


     In The Dynamics of Global Dominance, Stanford political science professor David Abernethy accurately answers Immanuel Wallerstein's call to forget about the principles of nineteenth-century social science  in undertaking an intellectual-political task to reconsider the latest five-century history of a substantively rational world in Max Weberian sense. From the Portuguese conquest of Ceuta in the early 15th century to the Independence of Zimbabwe in the late 20th, Abernethy produces a moderately working analysis on why the European overseas empires rose, sustained, and fell eventually. Preceded by Charles Tilly and D. K. Fieldhouse, Abernethy deals with the paradigms of how the rulers of European countries that occupy less than two percent of the world territory dominated overseas colonies and shaped the modern world order. His main objective is to demonstrate the destabilizing consequences of globalization. 

     Abernethy scrutinizes European overseas empires almost exclusively and confines his definition to formal empire that of the metropole and colony, as Patrick Manning notes in another review of his work. (African Studies Review, 45, 2002, 94) By means of a multi sector thesis that splits public and private sectors of Europe and similarly those of the colonies, Abernethy talks about a clash between European colonizers to expand and the colonized to counteract. Throughout five consecutive phases of imperial expansion and contraction (expansion 1415-1773, contraction 1775-1824, expansion 1824-1912, unstable equilibrium 1914-1939, contraction 1940-1980), Abernethy sees European overseas empires reach global domination so complete in the twentieth century that seemingly no power might challenge it. Including the period that Abernethy calls ýunstable equilibrium" during which time the imperial territorial configuration suspended when powerful actors attempted to both invigorate and enervate it, European domination underwent sporadic expansion and contraction. His work is, thus, an analysis of consecutive ups and downs in the history of global dominance and its dynamics.

     In Abernethy's perspective, European empires succeeded in reaching out to overseas colonies and global hegemony largely due to their interrelated but autonomous sectors in government, business, and religion. Overseas dominance rested mainly on government and administrative apparatus while business and religion played a secondary role in its formation. In his opinion, therefore, empires were not stepping stones of capitalism or Christianity. Supplemented by their technological and geopolitical skills, the European states could win over their Arab and Chinese rivals, explore new routes and ways, and become overseas empires. Although a thorough explanation is made of the European expansion and contraction, readers familiar with Middle and Far Eastern history may expect to find a better interpretation on the involvement of non-European actors in the process of European empire building as well as their reflexive reactions to the rise of European supremacy. Furthermore, the imperial systems emerged in various non-European theaters such as the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East, the United States in the North America, Russia in Asia, or Japan in the Far East have been sacrificed in his Eurocentric study. Another part that would be an excellent addition to his study is the racial and gender issues that have evolved into a major field of study for social sciences in the last few decades. His color and gender blind study, in this sense, appears out of date and may not help college teachers or their students in their study of the past as far as current debates are concerned. 

     Abernethy finds the reasons for European overseas expansion in such various factors as shared and competing features of Western Europe, non-European initiatives and perceptions toward the Western expansion, technology, capitalism, and religious intentions. At the end, he assumes the colonialism as a ýself-defeating enterprise" and war as the main ýcatalyst" for the emancipation of colonies. In this analysis, India and British North America appears as models in setting themselves free from the colonial yoke. As for war as a way to independence, the Seven Years War is given as an example  paving the way for American independence, although, it first buttressed British imperial claims in the New World. His final analysis deals with the ýMoral Evaluation of Colonialism." Along with political, economic, and social ends; a profound result of colonialism was a global re-peopling, i.e. large scale redistribution of the world's peoples (on which he agrees with the findings of major scholars of demography and migration).

     Abernethy's points will appear familiar to the colonialism specialists. His narratives do not bring new light to the history of European colonial expansion. His first person narrative, which presents an innovative approach in the field, drives the reader into the reading but may distract some readers as well. In addition, the mathematical formulas that he uses to explain relations as those between the colonizers and colonized may not appeal to many readers who may think them unnecessary. But with his overall analytical approach engrained in such writing style, his work will appeal to college and graduate students and may give a hand to teachers in need of supplementary titles for their world history and/or civilizations classes.

     Abernethy's Global Dominance provides sometimes analytical and sometimes descriptive, but often provocative, insights into the  history of  overseas empires from the fifteenth century to the twentieth century. He is still not a trailblazer, in this reviewer's opinion, but his work definitely makes him a great scholar successfully creating a survey of a long and hotly debated history of colonialism. His integrative analysis of recurring dynamics of European global dominance is recommended especially to the teachers of world history and the history of international order. When taken with William H. McNeill's The Rise of the West,  Paul Kennedy's The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, and Giovanni Arrighi's The Long Twentieth Century (to supplement on the era during which Global Dominance has some flaws); it may also be useful to the curious nonprofessionals that inquire about the roots of modern day's global political karma.



Emrah Sahin
McGill University


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