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The Spread of European Culture Essay

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Updated: Sep 5th, 2022

Nowadays, western cultures are the most widely spread ones all over the world. However, there are numerous explanations of the European culture’s domination. These reasons include social, economic, cultural, religious, and agricultural factors. Besides, there are many theories that prove various causations for the development of states. For instance, Immanuel Wallerstein’s world-systems theory, created in the 1970s, argues that the ability of European states gain an advantage from the rise of capitalism led them to world dominance (Wallerstein 563). This hypothesis could be counter-argued by Halford Mackinder’s Heartland theory that emphasizes the importance of the geopolitical concept in the process of the formation of the states (Mackinder 310). The current paper discusses some reasons that promoted the expansion of European culture around the world after the 15th century. Additionally, it provides an outlook to the World Systems Theory and Dimond’s book “Guns, Germs, and Steel”.

The spread of European culture began in the early 15th century with the commencement of the Age of Discovery. Explorations were guided by the strive to acquire political weight through the conquering of new territories, develop new trading routes, and propagate Christianity. Discoveries became possible due to the advancement in technologies of shipbuilding and the invention of the magnetic compass. Additionally, Europeans possessed superior military weapons that enabled them to subdue the residential population of newly revealed lands.

However, there is no common opinion on the reasons why European civilization became more technologically developed than any other. From the perspective of world-systems theory, the shift from the feudal economic order to the capitalistic one was a driving force for further development. The transition happened because the feudal economy entered a period of depression, along with the slowdown of agricultural productivity. The profit-oriented private ownership of industry characterizes capitalism that replaced the previous economic system. The Embracement of this economic order allowed Europe to recover from the damage caused by the feudal system and establish industrial production. Technological progress enabled Europeans to control newly established trade routes and territories. In that way, states of Europe managed to accumulate wealth and power faster and outrun other countries.

At this point, the book “Guns, Germs, and Steel” should be considered. As well as the world system theory’s author, Wallerstein, Diamond does not pay much attention to the connection between the culture of the states and their level of development. What is more, to some extent, economic order could be considered as a cultural peculiarity of a state. Nevertheless, culture includes more features than only the system of economy. According to Diamond, Eurasian superiority is not rooted in the intellectual, genetic, or political background (10). Instead, the writer argues that the speed of societal and cultural development depends on the geographical position (Diamond 10). Diamond proves his argument comparing the mental ability of New Guineans and Europeans. He states that even though people in New Guinea are more genetically advanced, they, for a long time, remained “technologically primitive” in contrast to the population of Europe (Diamond 22). Thereby, agriculture, geography, and pathogens are supposed to be preconditions that determined the development of civilizations all over the world.

The significance of agriculture lies in the fact that some states possess such species of animals and plants that could be domesticated. For instance, grains in the region of Eurasia were more nutritious, more abundant in protein, and could be stored for a longer time than tropical fruits (Diamond 126). In addition, the territory of Europe and Asia was inhabited by domesticated animals that could be used in the transportation of bulky goods. This feature made trade more convenient since large livestock like horses could transfer commodities over a great distance, while the animals in Australia and Oceania did not have such capacity.

The importance of geographical position stems from the previously mentioned criteria. The disposition of animals and plants species varies in different climate zones. Besides, the vast territory of Eurasia implies that there is more space to feed the animals and raise crops. People in Eurasia also had more space to migrate, trade, and develop agriculture. The massive scale of the Eurasian territory is connected with the appearance of a large number of states divided by some natural barriers. This fact motivated states not to stagnate in the development since more influential and more technologically advanced countries could quickly suppress the weaker ones.

The role of germs is rather unexpected and connected not with the emergence of states but with their survival. It is widely known that the vast majority of indigenous populations of the newly discovered territories died out because they had no immunity to the illnesses of the Europeans. Therefore, the locals were substituted by the colonizers, and this led to the spread of European culture.

The two theories discussed above explain why European states became the most powerful and developed ones. All the expeditions and circumnavigations became possible due to the advanced vessels and other technical issues. However, the journeys were driven by such incentives as the thirst for knowledge, glory, and the conviction on the necessity to spread Christianity. Talking about the first-mentioned reason, during the epoch of the Renaissance in Europe, the scholars gained the ability to explore a wide variety of fields and scientific areas. The researchers were curious to understand how the globe looks and therefore committed scientific expeditions. They strive to obtain glory and become the most prosperous state, motivated Portugal, and Spain to compete in the colonization of the African and Atlantic region. The promotion of religion was nothing new in the world’s history and, in the case of Europe, was not the root cause of the exploration of the new territories, but rather an addendum to other factors.

The argument of Diamond about the unimportance of culture seems to be prudent and proved by the examples drawn from history. From his theory, it could be inferred that Western civilization had become so progressive only due to luck to be located where it is. Undoubtedly, Arabs had a high culture that immensely influenced the world in the early centuries; however, their geographical position prevented them from overtaking European success. Through the book, Diamond manages to convince that culture is an additional feature that influences the development of states. What is more, that is geography that affects the way people communicate, create society and culture. Nevertheless, it could be argued that Diamond writes about the early periods of the evolution of the states, while culture starts to matter later.

To sum up, it is impossible to figure out only one primary reason that led to the current state of affairs and the world order. All the factors considered in the paper should be taken in conjunction. Geography, agriculture, germs, competition among states, and their culture are closely interconnected. At particular stages of development, some criteria matter more than others; still, none of them could be omitted.

Works Cited

Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs, and Steel. The Fates of Human Societies. W. W. Norton & Company, 1997.

Mackinder, Halford J. “The geographical pivot of history”, The geographical journal, vol. 170, no.4, 1904, pp. 298-321.

Wallerstein, Immanuel. “The West, capitalism, and the modern world-system”, Review (Fernand Braudel Center), vol. 15, no. 4, 1992, pp. 561-619.

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