Mackinder and British Imperialism

  • Created by: sikemi__
  • Created on: 31-05-21 13:42

Mackinder in context

  • Coming into a period that was the peak of British imperial pride in second part of 19thC
  • British imperial anxieties (1880s-1900s)
    • Other great states were catching up to Britain in terms of the Industrial Revolution and started threatening imperial ambitions
    • Rivalry with Russia - the 'Great Game' - struggle of dominion over Central Asia and the Caucasus. Mattered to Britain because at that time, Central Asia was seen as the gateway to India
    • Rivalry with Germany - 'Dreadnoughts' - Germany was industrialising at great speed under Bismarck who was making successful diplomatic moves to obtain colonies. Germany committed to expanding influence through their Navy, leading to an arms race with Britain whose power was largely based on having the strongest navy in the world
    • Rivalry with USA - Mackinlay's Tariffs - USA was in an industrial boom, building railways quickly and large navy. Mackinlay put tariffs in place to protect US market from British exports
  • Tariff reform and imperial federalism
    • British intellectuals and politicians tried to create a movement to reinforce and boost British Empire
    • Most influential was led be Joseph Chamberlain - tariff reform
    • Claimed that Britain should have tariffs rather than free trade to create special markets that would favour British Empire's industries and bring bettwe political union
    • Also discussed federalism and spoke of an empire that would create democratic structure and devolve powers to dominions but also have central power - the 'Anglosphere' - by giving position of equality to Canada, Australi and South Africa, Britain would secure a new wave of industrial growth and navy power (relying on these nations so that Britain can remain the strongest sea power)
    • Only applied to Anglo-Saxon race - India not included (racial commonwealth?)
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Background to Mackinder's writings

  • Two famous papers - one on the scopes and methods of geography and one on the physical basis of poltical geography (seeing if they were linked)
  • Wrote about how the environment determined human history - physical features enable or constrain a society e.g. a sea can cause an island nation that doesn't use boats to be isolated. Used this approach as a way to look forwards and backwards...
    • Forwards - looking to future e.g. Britain's stability as an empire depends on understanding its physical geography to exploit it
    • Backwards - looking at history and trying to understand conflicts between different groups of people related to physical features i.e. how physical features explain why cities such as Dehli and Calcutta appeared where they did and how cities which explotied their environment thrived in relation to others
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Mackinder - Britain and the British Seas (1902)

  • Suggests that British Isles have two essential chaarcteristic - insularity and accessibility
    • Benefitted in early phase of history when Europe was engaged in constant warfare and movements of people - less resources had to be devoted to military effort and invasions were less likely
    • Once seafaring became easy, islands such as UK had an advantage compared to more continental places to participate in a conquest of the worlds and an expansion of commerce based on a race to access the Americas
  • Also suggested that imperial advantage was a product of access to coal - 'the Industrial Revolution of English history could not have been accomplished without the Hercynian Revolution of Geology'
    • Britain was destined to be powerful as it had all of the conditions to rise to power so did so naturally
    • This depiction erases the violence that might have been involved in these procesess and also the fact that other countries had risen to power too, so perhaps the advantage isn't purely down to physical geography
  • Was basically linking physical geography to political geography and history - fact that Britain's rise to power was due to physical geography.
  • Also expressed anxieties about a nation state losing its power by no longer using its geogaphy intelligently
    • 'The activities of the British people depend ultimately on the resources of Britain itself, on the fertility of its soil and the energy stored in its coal. But for more than a century past, owing in some degree to the security of insular position, the industries have been developed on a scale out of all proportion to the agriculture, and Britain is no longer a self-sufficing organism' (1902)
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Mackinder - The Geographical Pivot of History 1904

  • A new, geographically based version of world history
    • Stated that all phases of human history worldwide have been dominated by two different sorts of power - land and sea power
    • Land power - connected to pivot area which was around the Eurasian Steppes (heartland) which had a tendency towards despotism and militarism that other forms of power didn't have
    • Sea power - based on inner/marginal crescents which had good capacity for agriculture and access to the sea so had better resources to support greater numbers of people and become more populous
  • Stated that age of sea power was coming to an end - with railways being used more, ships would be replaced as vessels to wage war and for commerce - continental powers would have advantage to create empires and even overthrow British Empire
  • Reaction to works of Alfred Mayhan - disagreed with him by saying that sea power was coming to an end
  • Also a reaction to Russo-Japanese War which was the first war in the 19thC where a European power with a modernised army was beaten by a non European power, showing Mackinder the power of the Russian Empire to move armies from Eastern to Western front
    • Also suggested potential of Japan to become a rival to British imperial ambitions by colonising China
  • Suggested that centre of the British Empire could move from GB to Canada as they had better resources and potential for natural productivity and manpower, and could support a greater population
  • Very Eurocentric and tactical!
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Mackinder's geopolitics after the Great War

  • In 1910's Mackinder's view was challenged by the fact that Russia and GB entered into an alliance
  • Alliances culminated with WW1 where the allies won and the Russian, Ottoman and Austrain Empires shattered
  • Paris Peace Conference led to discussion about how to create nation states out of these empires while securing a balance of power that would mean another war wouldn't occur
    • Wilson argued for self determination but founders of Empire e.g. Mackinder did not favour this and claimed that despite best intentions with self determinism, what was critical was to get the balance of power right to prevent rival empires from rising and going to war - Democratic Idealism. This also criticised ideas of liberalism (laissez faire which he saw as surrender and fatalism), nationalism (war happened as Germany thought they were losing in Darwinian competition between states) and Bolshevism ('social suicide), all of which he believed would lead to a cycle of idealism, disorder, famine and tyranny
    • This is where the heartland thesis came up - don't allow any great power to emerge that is based on uniting land mass of Eurasia or GB will be threatened
    • Suggested that instead, they should 'contrive to secure some equality of opportunity for national development' (1919)
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The War Cabinet and South Russia 1919-20

  • Mackinder was sent by the War Cabinet to South Russia to assess what strategy British should take in the Civil War
  • Given competiting priorities
    • Anti Bolshevism
    • Anti Interventionism
    • Trans Caucasian Oil
    • Black Sea access
  • Failed mission - didn't focus on other non European British interests
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Interwar geopolitics

  • Geopolitik School of Haushofer said Mackinder inspired him to think about strategic prospects for Germany and idea that Germany should ally with another European power
    • H also saw M's writings as a suggestion for Germany to ally with Japan as a rising sea power that could challenge British Empire and support of the US
    • Geopolitik became famous then infamous following the rise of the Nazi party as Hitler took supposed legitimacy for Germany's imperial and aggressive policies from Haushofer's work (suggested in 'The Demon of Geopolitics')
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American inheritors - Bowman vs Spykman

  • Saw M's ideas as useful resource of strategic information about foreign policy and to think about how geographical realities might underpin choices in foreign policy
  • Bowman - The New World - adapted Ratzel's ideas into ideas about economic lebensraum; possibility of American commercial empire based on economic dominance
  • Spykman - The Geography of Peace - adapted M's ideas about geographical pivot of history into theory about heartland and rimland; ideas became important in framing American pre occupation with rise of USSR as a new world power to contend with
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