This book completes a trilogy that began with "Race and Culture" in 1994 and continued with "Migrations and Cultures" in 1996. All three were initially parts of a single huge manuscript that I began writing in 1982. Over the next decade, it grew to a size that militated against its becoming the one book that it was initially conceived to be.

The underlying theme of all these books has been that racial, ethnic, and national groups have their own respective cultures, without which their economic and social histories cannot be understood. Modest as this claim may seem, it collides head-on with more widely accepted visions in which the fates of minority groups are determined by "society" around them, which society is therefore both causally and morally responsible for the misfortunes peculiar to the less fortunate of these groups - though apparently not responsible for the good fortune of the more successful minority groups.
This trilogy also collides head-on with prevailing doctrines about "celebrating" and preserving cultural differences. Cultures are not museum-pieces. They are the working machinery of everyday life. Unlike objects of aesthetic contemplation, working machinery is judged by how well it works, compared to the alternatives. The judgment that matters it not the judgment of observers and theorists, but the judgment implicit in millions of individual decisions to retain or abandon particular cultural practices, decisions made by those who personally benefit or who personally pay the price of inefficiency and obsolescence. That price is not always paid in money but may range from inconveniences to death.

Explosive issues of racial difference can be assessed more rationally on an international scale and over many centuries of history, viewing other times and peoples more dispassionately than we can our own, and drawing on a wider variety of circumstances than in the contemporary world around us.


#1 Conquests and Cultures
#2 The British
#3 The Africans
#4 The Slavs
#5 Western Hemisphere Indians
#6 An Overview


"We do not live in the past, but the past in us."
        - Ulrich Phillips, "The Slave Economy of the Old South"

Conquest is a major part of that past and a major shaper of the world today. Wars of conquest have changed the language, the economy and the moral universe of whole peoples. As a result of conquests, the Western Hemisphere is today a larger region of European civilization than Europe itself. Even those in the Western Hemisphere who hate European civilization express that hatred in a European language and denounce it as immoral by European standards of morality. The history of conquests is not just about the past, it is very much about the present and how we came to be where we are economically, intellectually and morally.

While migrations have transferred knowledge, skills, technology, and economically valuable aptitudes around the world, conquests have played a more varied and ambiguous role. Where a technologically or organizationally more advanced people have conquered a people lagging behind in these respects, then conquest - like migration - has been a way of spreading the existing human capital of mankind and promoting the development of more human capital among more peoples. But, where conquerors are clearly less economically or intellectually developed than those they conquer - a common situation for centuries, during which ancient civilizations in the Middle East were prey to mounted nomadic warriors from the steppes of Central Asia then conquest has not promoted the spread of human capital, but instead has destroyed much of it where it existed and prevented civilization from spreading to militarily vulnerable areas.

While slavery existed around the world for thousands of years, and has been abolished only within the past two centuries, it tended to decline with the rise of many powerful nation-states, whose armies and navies stood between their own people and marauders from outside who might attempt to capture and enslave them. Thus the consolidation of nation-states around the world reduced the number of peoples who remained vulnerable to enslavement. The regions of the world which continued to be subjected to mass enslavement had much more in common geographically than racially. Typically these were regions whose internal geographical barriers made it more difficult to consolidate political control over areas large enough to produce powerful nation-states, able to protect their populations from marauding outsiders.

Just as slavery became a general moral and political issue in Western civilization in the 19th century, so the 'right of self-determination of peoples' became a general moral and political issue in the 20th century. In both cases, the overwhelming military power of the West stood behind these moral and political imperatives. The vitorious allies of the First World War carved up the defeated Habsburg and Ottoman empires into smaller states run by formerly subjugated peoples, such as the Poles, Czechs and Hungarians, and the various southern Slavs who were then lumped together in a newly created Yugoslavia.
The 'right of self-determination' has had a high cost. Hitler was able to pick off - one by one - countries that would have been much more difficult to conquer when they were part of a consolidated empire, thus enabling Nazi Germany to begin shifting the military balance in its own favor. Even in the last decade of the 20th century, there were still consequences from the artificial creation of new states after the First World War. Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia both came apart in the 1990s, peacefully in the first case and amid hideous atrocities in the second.

The breakup of empires seldom, if ever, restores the world that existed before conquest. The practical question is therefore not how the conquest should be viewed, either morally or politically, but what options now exist in a world irretrievably changed by the conquests of the past.

Our story opens in an island not yet part of the civilization of its time, among illiterate tribal peoples, far removed in distance and culture from the glories of Rome. It begins in Britain.


"How, in the first place, did a peripheral island rise from primitive squalor to world domination?"
        - Luigi Barzini, "The Europeans"

For about one-fifth of its recorded history, Britain was a conquered country, a province of the Roman Empire - and one of the more backward provinces at that. Men from other provinces ruled over Britain, but Britons did not rule other provinces. One measure of the backwardness of pre-Roman Britain was the ease with which it was conquered by greatly outnumbered Roman soldiers and held in subjugation, despite a massive and desperate uprising in 61 A.D. The Romans were simply far better equipped and far better organized. In many other ways as well, the Romans represented a much more advanced civilization than existed in Britain at that point in history. indeed, after the Romans withdrew from Britain four centuries later, the Britons began to retrogress, and in many respects it was centuries after that before Britain regained the economic, social, or cultural levels it had reached as a province of the Roman Empire.
The history of the British Isles shows the cultural effects of conquest and imperialism in many ways. What is now England was at first the object of conquest and, much later in history, itself a conqueror - first within the British Isles and then in such widely scattered regions of the world that it was possible to say, "The sun never sets on the British Empire." There was little inkling of such historic potential in the land and people that Julius Caesar encountered in a raiding expedition on the British coast in 55 B.C. Indeed, not a single Briton's name had entered the pages of history before that time.


There was no nation of England or Britain before the Roman invasions. The island was divided among thirty tribes, who fought fiercely among themselves.

The period from 96AD to 180 has often been regarded as the golden age of the Roman Empire. It was the era of 'Pax Romana', the peace secured by the overwhelming superiority of Roman military power over any possible challenger, and by an awareness in Rome that little remained to be conquered that would be worth the cost of conquest. Symptomatic of this era was a wall built to the north of Roman Britain, to secure it against marauders from the unconquered northern region - present day Scotland. Roman Britain thrived during this era of peace, when Rome was invincible and its culture spread among the Britons. The enduring Roman contributions to the country included the building of a major port on the Thames. In Winston Churchill's words: 'We owe London to Rome'.

Germanic tribes, settled in what is now England in a number of ways. Some were immigrant settlers during Roman times. Some were invited in during the fifth century A.D. as military allies to help repel attacks from other British tribes, the Picts and the Scots (ancestors, respectively, of today's Scots and Irish). In the centuries that followed, still more Germanic invaders, notably the Angles and the Saxons, arrived, pushing many of the original Britons westward toward what is now Wales, and subjugating or annihilating those who remained.

Many of these Romanized Britons fled to France, to what is now called Brittany. In Britain itself, Christianity, Latin scholarship, and the remnants of Roman civilization in general, survived among those Britons who retreated westward and northward before the Germanic invaders.


The Norman conquest meant not simply the replacement of one king with another but a widespread takeover of land and power by Normans, a cultural revolution among the upper classes of the country, a strengthening of the power of the monarchy, and architectural revolution, and an infusion of new racial strains into an already mixed populaton. To the original Britons of prehistoric times had been added, over the centuries, the Celtic invaders of the fifth century BC, the Roman invaders of the first century AD, the Angles, Saxons and Jutes of the fift century, Scandinavians in the ninth century, and now the Normans in the eleventh century - a mixture of peoples and cultures today very loosely characterized as 'Anglo-Saxon'.

Life would never be the same, either for Britain or the rest of the world, after the industrial revolution. Englishmen introduced railroads to the rest of the world, not only by the example of railroad building in their own country, but also by themselves building and manning the first railroads in Germany, Argentina, India, Russia, and elsewhere. Railroads, in turn, were revolutionary in their social consequences. The concentrations of the world's populations along coasts and near rivers was reduced, as land transport into interior hinterlands became cheaper. This was even more of a factor with large, land-locked interiors, such as Germany, the US, Russia, than in England itself. It has been said that the characteristic 19th century economic development was 'the development of continents instead of coast lines'.

During an era when European civilization emerged as the most economically and technologically advanced in the world, Britain had the advantage of being able to share in that civilization, while being an island nation spared the country the direct ravages of wars that repeatedly disrupted and devastated the continent. Even when the British took part in these wars, they fought on other people's territory or at sea.

For all the snobbishness of British society, its aristocracy was not sealed off from the mundane, practical, economic concerns of the nation, as were those of many other societies, where a hereditary aristocracy hindered or stifled the spirit of enterprise. The prosperous and educated classes were a functional factor in commerce and industry, as well as in agriculture, letters, law and politics.

With its take-off into the industrial age, England emerged from centuries in the shadow of continental European powers and left a lasting imprint on the world, greater than that of any other nation since the days of the Roman Empire. Indeed the worldwide scope of the British impact was far beyond anything possible in Roman times. However, having set in motion the industrial revolution and spread its technology world wide, Britain in the last decades of the 19th century was faced with the international competition of rapidly growing industrial rivals.

This loss of world leadership in industrial output was perhaps inevitable, given that Germany, the United States, and other industrializing nations had much larger populations than Britain. However, Britain was overtaken not only in gross output but also in output per worker. It lost its lead in technological innovation.


A common characteristic of Celtic peoples, both on the continent of Europe and in the British Isles, was their inability to unite into forces of national dimensions, even though they covered vast areas that today constitute several nations.

From the mid-18th to the mid-19th century, a disproportionate share of the leading British intellectual figures were either from Scotland or of Scottish ancestry - including Adam Smith, Robert Burns, Walter Scott, James Watt, James Mill, John Stuart Mill and Thomas Carlyle. Scotland also produced Britain's leading intellectual journal, the 'Edinburgh Review'. The dominance of the Scots in British intellectual life was akin to that of the Jews in other countries. Moreover, the Scots were not merely pre-eminent in Britain. In their golden age, during the last half of the 18th century, Scottish intellectuals as a group were among the leading intellectuals in European civilization. The achievements of the Scottish enlightenment were all the more remarkable for originating in a small country.

Around the world the Irish have been especially successful in fields requiring insights into human relations - politics, writing, law, labor union leadership - rather than fields requiring mathematical, scientific or entrepeneurial aptitudes. The organizations skills of the Irish, developed while maintaining their own underground religious and secular institutions in Ireland, proved to be a major factor in their advancement to leadership positions in labor unions and in urban politics, whether in Britain, the United States, Australia or Canada.

Whether in the US, Britain or Australia, Irish politicians tended to be concentrated on the left - but the pragmatic left, concerned with obtaining immediate, tangible benefits for their working class constituencies, rather than an eventual reconstitution of society along ideologically-defined lines.

Most of the white population of the American South as a whole came not only from what has been loosely called the 'Celtic fringe', but also from that fringe at a particular time and a particular stage of its cultural evolution... the fringe of British civilization from which they came was notable not only for its poverty and backwardness, but also for its lawlessness and violence.

For centuries, sharp differences between the behaviour patterns of white Southerners and white Northerners (especially New Englanders) were commented on by contemporary observers of American society and by scholars alike, in terms faithfully mirroring sharp differences seen in Britain between those from the main part of England, on the one hand, and the Irish, the Welsh, the Ulster Scots, and the 'borderers' on the other.
These cultural differences between American Northerners and Southerners extended from work habits to violence, cleanliness, alcohol consumption, inventiveness, food preferences, music, morals, and attitudes toward time, business and education.


British history is by no mean confined to Britain, for no other nation has had such a large and enduring role in shaping events, institutions, and the fates of other peoples around the world. Much of the world today, including the United States, is still living in the social, cultural, and political aftermath of Britain's cultural achievements, its industrial revolution, its government of checks and balances, and its conquests around the world. Many fundamental concepts of law and government, and the traditions that make them viable, originated in Britain, as did much of the technology that made the modern world possible.

The human costs - and benefits - of the British Empire were enormous and incalculable, Slaughters and even atrocities were not lacking, nor was hypocrisy or arrogance. Racism often accomplished imperialism, but the British treatment of the Irish and the Boers suggested that a white skin did not provide immunity from the traumas accompanying conquest. Alongside this, and in no way offsetting it, but cimply co-existing with it, was the spread of British technology, economic organization, law, and the English language that became a lingua franca not only within the vast British Empire but also among peoples who were never part of that empire. In short, Britain shared the moral evils of conquerors in general, but what it contributed to the empire and the world was uniquely its own.

Despite its enormous size and diversity, the British Empire did not remain at its zenith for long, as history is measured. From the late Victorian age, when African territories began to be acquired, until the post-World War 2 era, when independence came to India in 1947 and then spread rapidly to other parts of the Empire around the world over the next two decades, was a span of less than a century.

The military power that made imperial Britain more dominant on the world scene than any nation before or since was based on its economic pre-eminence. The British Empire followed rather than caused that economic predominance, and the empire played a remarkably small role in the British economy.
While Britain's overwhelming naval power and military strength made an empire possible, the incentives to create such an empire came from a variety of sources, of which economic gain was only one, and not necessarily the over-riding one. Prestige, politics, and religion were also factors. British missionaries were not only a social influence abroad but also a political force at home - a force sometimes on the side of imperial expansion and sometimes a force against abuses of the conquered peoples. The greatest abuse of all - the slave trade - was ended as a direct result of the political influence of evangelical Christians in Britain, who were connected with missionary work in Africa.

In narrowly economic terms, counting the costs of conquest and administration against the profits and taxes extracted from the colonies, together with other economic pluses and minuses, Britain as a whole did not benefit economically from the colonies. Individual investors might make fortunes but the British taxpayers bore the heavy costs of maintaining the empire.

Britain's economic impact on the colonies was far greater than the colonies' impact on the British economy. It was not simply that the conqueror brought more advanced technology to the conquered lands. The conquered people were themselves better able to use the existing land, with existing technology, more effectively because food, for example, could now be grown in fertile but militarily indefensible areas where it would have been foolhardy to plant before. The security and stability of British colonial governments also made possible large scale immigrations of foreign peoples, bringing new skills, talents and energies - the Chinese to Malaya, the Indians to East Africa for example - as well as similar internal migrations, such as those of the Marawis in India, and the Ibos in Nigeria.

By the late 20th century, English was spoken by more people - about 1 billion - than any other language in the world. For peoples whose own native languages had no written literature, the English language opened vast new cultural horizons, encompassing not only the entire thought of the English-speaking world in medieval and modern times, but also much of the leading literature of the rest of the world, from ancient times to the present, available in English translations.


Freedom, wherever it exists in the world today, owes much to developments in Britain. These include not only the historic evolution of a free society in the United Kingdom itself, providing political models for other societies around the world, but also Britain's key role in destroying the international slave trade in the 19th century, and its crucial role when the survival of freedom was threatened in the early and dark days of World War 2.

While the kings of England retained enormous perogatives for hundreds of years after the Magna Carta, they were increasingly confronted by Parliament, which was a powerful counterweight because of its control of taxation. The fact that Britain was an island, dependent for its military defense primarily on its navy, meant that for much of its history large standing armies were unnecessary and unknown, and were regarded with great suspicion. Since navies are not usable for domestic oppression like armies, both the government and the people were spared the dangers long inherent in standing armies.

A second landmark in the evolution of English government were the series of armed stuggles between Parliamant and king in the 17th century, punctuated by the beheading of Charles I in 1649 and the flight of James II in 1688, in the face of uprisings against him and defections from his own supporters. At the heart of these events were the attempts of successive Stuart monarchs to wield more arbitrary power than Parliament were prepared to tolerate.
Far more important and of enduring consequence than the changing of monarchs that followed was the 'bill of rights' proclaimed under the new monarchs, William and Mary, seeking to consolidate support for their newly established reign. Law was made supreme, with the king no longer empowered to remove judges... judges' appointments could no longer be revoked, except for misconduct, and that could only be done by Parliament, which was itself removable by the electorate. This was part of a more general restructuring of government to produce greater freedom and religious toleration, as well as the rule of law. Beyond the bill of rights itself, but in the same spirit, freedom of the press from prior censorship was instituted in 1695.
All these things, which are no so much taken for granted, can be taken for granted only because the British pioneered in their development.

Because Britain was an island nation, the revolutionary doctrine that people had rights which kings could not override was able to be fought out - and won - within the British Isles, without effective intervention from other monarchs on the European continent, to whom such doctrines were an obvious threat.

Freedom must be distinguished from democracy, with which it is often confused. The British people had many rights that were lacking in much in Europe, and in most of the rest of the world, long before they acquired the franchise with which to control the government. Few of the Members of Parliament were elected by popular vote prior to the Reform Act of 1832. Yet freedom of speech, separation of powers, the right to a jury trial, and the other hallmarks of a free society existed in Britain for generations before then.

While many other countries copied the British systems of law and government, those that succeeded in creating similarly free governments were largely those that came from the same tradition - the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand - for the historical experiences that were distilled into powerful traditions were essential to the functioning if the legal and political institutions themselves. While these institutions could be copied by anyone, the history and traditions behind them could not be synthesized, and it was these intangibles that made the tangible institutions and structures work.


"In understanding Black Africa, geography is more important than history."
        - Fernand Braudel, "A History of Civilizations"

In a strictly geographical sense, all the peoples on the continent of Africa are Africans - from the whites of South Africa to the Arabs of the Mediterranean states - but the term has in practice come to refer primarily to the indigenous peoples of Africa below the Sahara, to black Africans. The basis for this focus is not simply racial but historic, cultural, and geographic as well. As with the British, the Slavs, and others, the influence of geography in Africa has not been simply in its effects primarily on things - natural resources or economic prosperity, for example - but on people. More specifically, the effect of geography in making cultural interactions more difficult has been particularly striking as between the peoples of sub-Saharan Africa and the outside world, as well as among themselves.

To their north is a desert more vast than the continental United States and to the east, west, and south are the Indian, Atlantic, and Antarctic oceans. Moreover, the smooth coastline of sub-Saharan Africa has offered few harbors which ocean-going ships could enter and in many places the shallow coastal waterways have meant that large ships could not get near the shores. Ironically, for centuries much of the world's international trade was carried in ships that sailed past West Africa on their way between Europe and Asia around the southern tip of the continent. Seldom did they stop. Partly this was a result of wind and ocean currents that made return trips between Europe and sub-Saharan Africa difficult or not economically feasible in the era of wind-driven ships, at least until far greater knowledge of those currents and of alternative routes developed.


"In eastern Europe, successions of regimes have been trying for a thousand years and more to impose a viable political hegemony on the scores of ethnic and national groups in the area, invariably in vain."
        - Forrest McDonald, "Geographic Perspectives in History"

The Slavs of Eastern Europe have been both conquerors and conquered. Indeed, they were once part of a chain reaction of conquests in medieval Europe, as successive invaders from Central Asia drove portions of the Slavic population before them out of the Ukrainian steppes into the Balkans and into what is today East Central Europe, where the Slavs in turn forced the Celtic and Germanic populations farther west. In the later Middle Ages, Germanic invaders drove the Slavs back east of the Oder River. To the south, Slavic invaders in the Balkans drove the Vlachs before them and forced them up into the hills and mountains of the region. At various periods of history the Slavs have also lived as conquered people under the Mongols, the Germans, the Bulgars, the Ottoman Turks, the Habsburg Empire, and - not least - under the rule of other branches of the Slavic peoples. Russian hegemony extended over Poles and Ukrainians, for example, as well as over non-Slavic peoples in the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Baltic.

Nations that were once great empires - Poland, Bohemia, Hungary - later found themselves subjugated by countries that had been nothing by comparison with themselves: Austria, Prussia, and Russia. Galling reversals of fortune such as these added the bitterness of history and the outrage of lost glory to contemporary grievances among the peoples of Eastern Europe in general and among the Slavs in particular. The melange of fragmented peoples which made up the Habsburg Empire, as well as the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire, added intergroup frictions to national longings for reunification with compatriots living under some other conqueror's heel. All of this combined to make Eastern Europe, during much of its history, a powder keg of ethnic violenace.


"The American continents existed geologically, much as we now know them, before the first human crossed over from the Eurasian mainland. If the Americas only became an environment with that migration, they also became a very different environment with the arrival of Columbus and the Spaniards. But if the New World was a different environment for the Europeans than it had been for the Indians, it was also a different environment for the European invaders than their homelands of Spain or England."
        - Edward Whiting Fox, "History in Geographic Perspective"

The various indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere have been no more alike in their economic, cultural, military, or other achievements than the various peoples of Europe, Asia, or Africa have been. Some Indians bartered but others used money, kept accounts, and had sophisticated trading networks. Although some Indian tribes lived in tents, much like the nomads of the Middle East or Central Asia, others created buildings, monuments, and cities. When the Spanish conquistadores entered the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán in 1519, they found a city larger than Seville, from which many of the Spaniards had come.

There were multi-storied dwellings built by some of the Indians in the American southwest, centuries before the Europeans arrived. One four-tiered complex covered such a large area that it remained the
largest apartment complex in North America until the nineteenth century. Stone masonry was also highly developed by the Maya, the Incas, and the Aztecs, among many other skills, both urban and agricultural.


"...the rich and the poor countries were not constantly the same ones; the wheel did turn."
        - Fernand Braudel

Because this chapter concludes not only this book but also a trilogy that began with "Race and Culture" and continued with "Migrations and Cultures", it will attempt to summarize the entire study of which this is a part and to consider, against that background, the role of ideas, the role of race, and the role of cultures in the unfolding of history. First, however, we need to confront the most blatant fact that has persisted across centuries of social history - vast differences in productivity among peoples and the economic and other consequences of such differences.


Huge differences in wealth-production have been the rule, not the exception, for thousands of years of recorded history - even though, as Fernand Braudel pointed out, the particular nations and peoples that were rich and those that were poor were not constantly the same. In ancient times, for example, the Greeks and the Romans were vastly more economically advanced than the Scandinavians or the Britons, while their respective positions have been reversed in recent centuries, as has the relationship between the respective economic positions of China and Japan. Nevertheless, the reality of great disparities has persisted through all these changes, much as a river persists, even though the water which constitutes it changes constantly as it flows on into the sea.

In the late 19th century, just three countries - Britain, Germany, and the United States - produced two thirds of all the manufactured goods in the world. By the late 20th century, it was estimated that 17% of the world's population produced 80% of its total output. Esoteric theories seeking to explain why the world's income is so unequally distributed, as if there were some central pot from which wealth was being ladled out in a discriminatory manner, often ignore the plain fact that real income consists of things that are produced and that much of this real income is not distributed at all, but is consumed where it is produced.

In 1994, it was estimated that the 36 millions 'overseas Chinese' scattered around the world produced as much wealth as the one billion people living in China itself.

While it is hardly surprising that such large productivity differences are associated with similarly striking differences in income and wealth, this mundane fact deflates widespread beliefs that, among both nations and individuals, the rich are rich because the poor are poor, that what is involved is primarily a transfer of wealth, rather than differences in creation. Imperialism has often been depicted as a process by which one country grows rich at the expense of another. While this can and does happen in particular instances, if 'exploitation' theories were as widely applicable as supposed, then the dissolution of empires should lead to rising standards of living among the formerly conquered and presumably exploited peoples. Yet history repeatedly shows the opposite happening.

Such facts are far more consistent with the economic consequences of differences in productivity, based on differences in cultural capital, than with theories of exploitation. Even economically-motivated imperialism, and economic motives have by no means been the sole motives for conquest, has not always sought to acquire existing wealth but often, especially in modern times, to acquire resources that would produce wealth with the technology of the conqueror, even if these same resources had not made their current owners wealthy. Thus gold in South Africa and oil in the Middle East brought on the conquest of people whose own developed wealth and standards of living were modest at best. This is not to say that there has never been any direct extraction of pre-existing wealth from conquered lands and people. Clearly the wealth of the Incas attracted Pizarro, for example. Yet the international transfer of pre-existing wealth still does not go very far in explaining why some nations are rich and others poor today.

Morally reprehensible behavior has been all too widespread among all branches of the human race, rather than being localized in those who happened to achieve greater success in conquest or in economic activities.


Striking changes in productivity among peoples can often be traced to transfers of cultural capital from others - from the English to the Scots, from Western Europeans to Eastern Europeans, from China to Japan in an earlier era, or from the Islamic world to Europe in medieval times. Such transfers do not represent mutually cancelling gains and losses, for knowledge is not diminished as its source when it spreads to others.

The importance of human capital had been confirmed in very different ways, at various periods of history, and at levels ranging from the individual to nations to whole civilizations. In the middle of the 19th century, John Stuart Mill pointed out the implications of the fact that nations have made apparently miraculous recoveries from the physical destruction of war. The later examples of dramatic economic recoveries by Germany and Japan after being devastated in World War II are not unique. What is crucial to Mill's argument is that the knowledge of how to build replacements is far more important than the physical things in which that knowledge is embodied at a given moment. So long as that human capital is not destroyed, the physical destruction can always be repaired or replaced.

There is also what might be called negative human capital in the form of attitudes which prevent or impede the performance of economic tasks that people are otherwise quite capable of performing, both physically and intellectually.

National and group pride and identity have often been assumed to be positive, if not essential, factors in advancement. Yet some of the most remarkable examples of rapid advancement have come from peoples painfully aware of their own backwardness and ashamed of it, for example, the spectacular advancement of the Scots in the 18th century. A century later, the same phenomenon occured halfway around the world, as Japan emerged from its self-imposed isolation with widely expressed feelings of inferiority to the Western world. Conversely, pride in ancient achievements can keep a nation or people tied to obsolete technologies and resistant to changes needed to catch up with contemporaries. As historian Arnold Toynbee put it, 'those who have succeeded once are apt, on the next occasion, to be found resting on their oars'.

Human capital must not be confused with formal education, which is just one facet of it, and still less with the growth of an intelligentsia.

Historian AJP Taylor had said that the first stage of nationalism 'is led by university professors' abd that 'the second stage comes when the pupils of the professors get out into the world'. Whatever the actual sequence, the intelligentsia have played a central role in promoting intergroup and international animosities and atrocities, and in trying to artificially preserve, revive or fabricate past glories.


Perhaps the most important thing to understand about history is that it was lived under constraints very different, and generally much narrower than the constraints of today... the scope of human volition was too circumscribed to allow much of history to be explained as simply the putting into effect of various ideas and ideologies, however much ideas and ideologies may preoccupy intellectuals of a later era.

Neither freedom nor slavery were the results of ideas or ideologies. Freedom began to emerge when governments were too fragmented, too poorly organized, ot too much in need of voluntary cooperation to prevent its emergence. That was the situation in parts of medieval Europe, where a politically fragmented continent had numerous local rulers who needed the economic resources being produced by prosperous towns and cities, in order to finance their own wars of aggrandizement or to protect themselves from others' wars of aggrandizement.

Along with economic freedom, political freedom developed, again largely as a way of attracting and keeping economically productive classes.


Race is a biological concept but it is a social reality. In a society where most people are blends of various races, there may nevertheless be sharp dividing lines, with people on one side of those lines being called 'black', for example, and other on the other side being called 'white', even if a geneticist or an anthropologist would reject this dichotomy.

Recognition of differences between these races in capabilities and orientations is often called 'racism', as if that somehow invalidated the observations about group differences, or turned it into a more subjective perception. But to insist that such group differences be ignored, either in causal explanations or in policy formulations, is as dogmatic as the insistence that genetics must be the reason for such differences.

The argument is that, when intergroup differences remain after taking various economic and social factors into account, these remaining differences must be attributed to the favored residual factor - whether that factor is genes or racism. At the beginning of the 20th century, the residual factor to be credited (or blamed) was race. At the end of the 20th century, the residual factor was racism. Both factors need careful attention, not automatic acceptance, and that careful attention must begin by defining what the terms mean.

Racism is a term not only used very loosely by many, nut also a term for which a more precise definition is not easy to achieve. In various usages, the term applies to the ideas of (1) those who have animosity toward people of another race, (2) those who believe that people of another race are genetically inferior, (3) those who believe in discriminating against people of another race, out of sheer self-interest, and (4) those who believe that members of another race or ethnic group are less capable, or have undesirable traits, as of a given time, even if for non-genetic reasons. Those who believe all these things at the same time provide the clearest examples of racism. But all four notions need not go together and often do not.
What of those who believe that other races are intellectually or otherwise inferior, but take a benevolently paternalistic attitude toward tgem? If such well-meaning believers in genetic inferiority are to be considered racists, even if they favour giving largess or preferential treatment toward those considered inferior, then animosity is no longer part of our definition. What about those who wish to discriminate against another race for purely selfish reasons, such as the early 20th century white organizers of an anti-Japanese immigrant movement in the US, on precisely the ground that the Japanese were such able, intelligent and resourceful competitors that whites could not maintain their own higher living standards in open competition with them, but required the help of special legal protection. If acknowledgement of superior capability in racial or ethnic groups who are targeted for discrimination is to be included as 'racism', then opposite assumptions are being encompassed by the same word.

The tendency to dismiss all unfavorable conclusions about any group as racism as prejudice, stereotype, or other manifestations of ignorance overlooks the fact that often those with the most unfavorable opinion of a group are those in closest contact with them, while those with a more favorable view know them less well and often from a greater distance.


Return to Thomas Sowell index, or Site homepage.