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Journal of World History 12.2 (2001) 489-495

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Book Review

Lords of All the World: Ideologies of Empire in Spain, Britain and France, c. 1500-c.1800

Theories of Empire, 1450-1800

Lords of All the World: Ideologies of Empire in Spain, Britain and France, c. 1500-c.1800. By ANTHONY PAGDEN. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1995. Pp. ix + 244. $30.00 (paper).

Theories of Empire, 1450-1800. Edited by DAVID ARMITAGE. An Expanding World: The European Impact on World History, 1450-1800, Vol. 20. Brookfield, Vt.: Ashgate/Variorum, 1998. Pp. xxxiii + 388. $125.95 (cloth).

In Lords of All the World Anthony Pagden compares ideologies of empire in early modern Spain, Britain, and France, almost exclusively (despite his title) in relation to New World conquest and settlement. While not unmindful of how those "languages of empire" shaped and adapted to American colonial realities, Pagden pays the balance of his attention to metropolitan intellectual debates about the morals and ideals of expansion. Within that terrain he offers valuable insight by untangling the ways elite thinkers over three centuries critiqued and legitimized imperial goals and praxis. Pagden's intellectual history is a worthy contribution to the literature on the colonization of the Americas, particularly since it is the first book-length comparison of its kind.

Pagden pursues two related objectives as he recounts intra- and inter-state debates among jurists, theologians, scholars, and philosophers. One is demonstrating that Spanish, British, and French discourses of empire evolved along distinct lines, conditioned by different political cultures, histories, and colonial contexts, even though drawn from the same roots and concerned with similar themes. The contrasts Pagden renders are most striking between Spain and Britain, with France usually portrayed as more kin to the latter. The other, farther-reaching contention, prominent in the book's second half, is that lessons from Europe's first empires significantly informed subsequent imperial ventures in Asia, Africa, and the Pacific, chiefly by instructing what an empire should not be. Pagden is more or less convincing in both endeavors, yet his parameters and focus, however defensible as a meaningful field for analysis, come with consequences, as juxtaposition to the Armitage volume below makes clear.

Pagden claims that for all their modern trappings, the three empires began largely as attempts to perpetuate the values and traditions of classical antecedents. Specifically he traces their intellectual foundations to the Roman concept of the emperor as dominus mundi--"lord of all the world"--hence his title. The Romans, according to Pagden, conceived of their imperium as both universal and singular. Roman civitas, [End Page 489] embodied in the rule of law, urban life, and "civil society," defined what it meant to be "human" and marked the limits of "the world" itself. All who remained beyond this "virtuous" and "superior" civilization were "barbarians," less than fully human, and subject to conquest to fulfill the destiny of a single human community. Early modern theorists, Pagden continues, roughly translated this dichotomy into ideas of "universal monarchy" that, among other things, added the profession of Christianity to the essential traits separating "civilized" man from lesser beings, thereby rejecting the cultural and religious pluralism that characterized the pagan empire.

Pagden demonstrates that variations among the colonial discourses were present from the beginning. Spanish intellectuals argued a tortuous succession from Rome, whose imperium, allegedly blessed by God, was bequeathed to the papacy by the (highly dubious) Donation of Constantine, and bestowed on the Spanish monarchy by papal bull, culminating in the Treaty of Tordesillas. An alternate genealogy presented itself with Charles V's election as Holy Roman Emperor, successor to Charlemagne, in 1519. British and French writers worked to undermine Spanish theories of inheritance, and instead built their own claims to Roman succession, cited their duty to evangelize, and manipulated theories of natural law to justify colonial expansion. The Spanish, infused with the spirit of the Reconquista, espoused a militarism reminiscent of Rome, were more committed to proselytizing than the British...


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