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The Age of Empire, 1875-1914

de Eric Hobsbawm

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1,64879,309 (4.05)11
THE AGE OF EMPIRE is a book about the strange death of the nineteenth century, the world made by and for liberal middle classes in the name of universal progress and civilisation. It is about hopes realised which turned into fears: an era of unparalleled peace engendering an era of unparalleled war; revolt and revolution emerging on the outskirts of society; a time of profound identity crisis for bourgeois classes, among new and sudden mass labour movements which rejected capitalism and new middle classes which rejected liberalism. It is about world empires built and held with almost contemptuous ease by small bodies of Europeans which were to last barely a human lifetime, and a European domination of world history, which was never more confident than at the moment it was about to disappear for ever. It is about Queen Victoria, Madame Curie and the Kodak Girl, and the novel social world of cloth caps, golf clubs and brassieres, about Nietzsche, Carnegie, William Morris and Dreyfus, about politically ineffective terrorists, one of whom, to his and everyone's surprise, started a world war. With the AGE OF EMPIRE, Eric Hobsbawm, Britain's leading historian of the left, brings to a dazzling climax his brilliant interpretative history of 'the long nineteenth century'.… (més)
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Esta obra mostra como é fundamental conhecer o último quartel do século XIX e o século XX até ao início da I Guerra Mundial, (A era do Império) para compreender a génese do mundo em que vivemos.
A revolução industrial já estava há muito em marcha antes do início deste período, tal como a liberalização da sociedade, mas foi neste período que se formou o capitalismo global, que os países mais avançados se democratizaram, que o socialismo se tornou em mais do que uma força de oposição, que as ciências se tornaram realmente modernas. Foi ainda neste período que se romperam com tabus do passado, que nasceu o nacionalismo, o ocidente se descristianizou e se iniciou o movimento de emancipação das mulheres. Todos estes aspectos são abordados de forma magistral por Hobsbawn, que tenta ser tão abrangente quanto possível.
Hobsbawn sabe tornar os temas abordados interessantes, mesmo que alguns o sejam menos. Como única nota negativa, algo que já tinha sido evidenciado nas obras anteriores, Hobsbawn conhece mal a história da Espanha e ainda pior a de Portugal. Num livro que aborda os impérios colonias, diz muito pouco sobre o português. Num livro onde a questão do nacionalismo é central, não pode ignorar o caso único da nacionalidade lusa. Finalmente, como pode escrever um livro tão extenso como este, sobre o imperialismo e com estas balizas cronológicas, sem nunca referir o Congresso de Berlim e a divisão de África. São falhas como estas que mancham uma grande obra e ainda por cima tão abrangente como esta. É por esse motivo que não a posso classificar com cinco estrelas. ( )
  CMBras | Mar 13, 2022 |
An authoritative history of the end of the long nineteenth century by one of the great historians. Eric Hobsbawm redefined the nineteenth century as lasting from the French Revolution to the start of the Great War, and in The Age of Empire he sets out the final 40 years of that long century as European powers built their empires, scrambled for Africa, indulged in the Great Game and moved inexorably towards the Killing Fields of France, Belgium, the Dardenelles et al. ( )
1 vota MiaCulpa | Jul 19, 2021 |
Hobsbawm writes impeccably, but I find his perfectly formed sentences turgid in aggregate. Of course, one does not read Hobsbawm for his prose but for his brilliant ideas. His understanding and sympathy for all strata of European society (and this is at heart a European history) are refreshing. Like Braudel, this is an analysis of the effects of economics on civilization rather than a chronicle of political events. It's impressive that the chapter on the origins of the First World War barely mentions the Kaiser, that colorful but irrelevant figure. ( )
1 vota le.vert.galant | Nov 19, 2019 |
A nice summary, but way too to the left. ( )
  leandrod | Feb 10, 2015 |
As good as his 'Age of Capital' was, this is even more impressive, perhaps because more happened which can be written about easily. The previous book in the series is a description of the triumph of capitalism and the bourgeoisie, which is fascinating but almost impossible to write about. This one has more in the way of discrete events, which make for better reading, but should be viewed in the context of the earlier book. ( )
1 vota stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
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But if progress was so powerful, so universal and so desirable, how was this reluctance to welcome it or even to participate in it to be explained? Was it merely the dead weight of the past, which would gradually, unevenly but inevitably, be lifted off the shoulders of those parts of humanity which still groaned under it? Was not an opera house, that characteristic cathedral of bourgeois culture, soon to be erected in Manaus, a thousand miles up the River Amazon, in the midst of the primeval rainforest, out of the profits of the rubber boom whose Indian victims, alas, had no chance to appreciate Il Trovatore? Were not groups of militant champions of the new ways, like the typically named cientificos in Mexico, already in charge of their country’s fate, or preparing to take charge of it like the equally typically named Committee for Union and Progress (better known as the Young Turks) in the Ottoman Empire? Had not Japan itself broken centuries of isolation to embrace western ways and ideas – and to turn itself into a modern great power, as was soon to be demonstrated by the conclusive proof of military triumph and conquest?

Nevertheless, the failure or refusal of most inhabitants of the world to live up to the example set by the western bourgeoisies was rather more striking than the success of the attempts to imitate it. It was perhaps only to be expected that the conquering inhabitants of the first world, still able to overlook the Japanese, should conclude that vast ranges of humanity were biologically incapable of achieving what a minority of human beings with notionally white skins – or, more narrowly, people of north European stock – had alone shown themselves to be capable off. Humanity was divided by ‘race’, an idea which penetrated the ideology of the period almost as deeply as ‘progress’, into those whose place in the great international celebrations of progress, the World Expositions …, was at the stands of technological triumph, and those whose place was in the ‘colonial pavilions’ or ‘native villages’ which now supplemented them. Even in the ‘developed’ countries themselves, humanity was increasingly divided into the energetic and talented stock of the middle classes and the supine masses whose genetic deficiencies doomed them to inferiority. Biology was called upon to explain inequality, particularly by those who felt themselves destined for superiority.

And yet the appeal to biology also dramatized the despair of those whose plans for the modernization of their countries met with the silent incomprehension and resistance of their peoples. In the republics of Latin America, inspired by the revolutions which had transformed Europe and the USA, ideologues and politicians considered the progress of their countries to be dependent on ‘Aryanization’ – i.e. the progressive ‘whitening’ of the people through intermarriage (Brazil) or virtual repopulation by imported white Europeans (Argentina). No doubt their ruling classes were white or at least considered themselves so, and the non-Iberian surnames of European descent among their political elites were and are disproportionately frequent. But even in Japan, improbable though this looks today, ‘westernization’ seemed sufficiently problematic at this period to suggest that it could only be successfully achieved by an infusion of what we would today call western genes…
Yet imperial triumph raised both problems and uncertainties. It raised problems insofar as the contradiction between the rule of metropolitan ruling classes over their empires and their own peoples became increasingly insoluble. Within the metropoles, as we shall see, the politics of democratic electoralism increasingly, and as it seemed inevitably, prevailed or were destined to prevail. Within the colonial empires autocracy ruled, based on the combination of physical coercion and passive submission to a superiority so great as to appear unchallengeable and therefore legitimate. Soldiers and self-disciplined ‘proconsuls’, isolated men with absolute powers over territories the size of kingdoms, ruled over continents, while at home the ignorant and inferior masses were rampant. Was there not a lesson – a lesson in the sense of Nietzsche’s Will to Power – to be learned here?

Imperialism also raised uncertainties. In the first place it confronted a small minority of whites – for even the majority of that race belonged to those destined to inferiority, as the new discipline of eugenics unceasingly warned … – with the masses of the black, the brown, perhaps above all the yellow, that ‘yellow peril’ against which the Emperor William II called for the union and defence of the west. Could world empires, so easily won, so narrowly based, so absurdly easily ruled thanks to the devotion of a few and the passivity of the many, could they last? Kipling, the greatest – perhaps the only – poet of imperialism welcomed the great moment of demagogic imperial pride, Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, with a prophetic reminder of the impermanence of empires:
    Far-called, our navies melt away;
    On dune and headland sinks the fire:
    Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
    Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
    Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
    Lest we forget, lest we forget.
Pomp planned the building of an enormous new imperial capital for India in New Delhi. Was Clemenceau the only sceptical observer who would foresee that it would be the latest of a long series of ruins of imperial capitals? And was the vulnerability of global rule so much greater than the vulnerability of domestic rule over the white masses?

The uncertainty was double-edged. For if empire (and the rule of the ruling classes) was vulnerable to its subjects, though perhaps not yet, not immediately, was it not more immediately vulnerable to the erosion from within of the will to rule, the willingness to wage the Darwinian struggle for the survival of the fittest? Would not the very wealth and luxury which power and enterprise had brought weaken the fibres of those muscles whose constant efforts were necessary to maintain it? Did not empire lead to parasitism at the centre and to the eventual triumph of the barbarians?

Nowhere did such questions sound a more doom-laden echo than in the greatest and most vulnerable of all empires, the one which in size and glory surpassed all empires of the past, and yet in other respects was on the verge of decline. But even the hard-working and energetic Germans saw imperialism as going hand in hand with that ‘rentier state’ which could not but lead to decay. Let J. A. Hobson give word to these fears: if China were to be partitioned,
    the greater part of Western Europe might then assume the appearance and character already exhibited by tracts of country in the South of England, in the Riviera, and in the tourist-ridden or residential parts of Italy and Switzerland, little clusters of wealthy aristocrats drawing dividends and pensions from the Far East, with a somewhat larger group of professional retainers and tradesmen and a large body of personal servants and workers in the transport trade and in the final stages of production of the more perishable goods: all the main arterial industries would have disappeared, the staple foods and manufactures flowing in as tribute from Africa and Asia
The bourgeoisie’s belle époque would thus disarm it. The charming, harmless Eloi of H. G. Wells’ novel, living lives of play in the sun, would be at the mercy of the dark Morlocks on whom they depended, and against whom they were helpless. ‘Europe’ wrote the German economist Schulze-Gaevernitz, will shift the burden of physical toil, first agriculture and mining, then the more arduous toil in industry – on to the coloured races, and itself be content with the role of rentier, and in this way, perhaps, pave the way for the economic and later, the political emancipation of the coloured races.

Such were the bad dreams which disturbed the sleep of the belle époque. In them the nightmares of empire merged with the fears of democracy.
Manipulation in the crudest sense was still easy. One might, for instance, place strict limits on the political role of assemblies elected by universal suffrage. This was the Bismarckian model, in which the constitutional rights of the German parliament (Reichstag) were minimized. Elsewhere second chambers, sometimes composed of hereditary members as in Britain, voting by special (and weighted) electoral colleges and other analogous institutions put brakes on democratized representative assemblies. Elements of property suffrage were retained, reinforced by educational qualifications (e.g. additional votes for citizens with higher education in Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands, and special seats for universities in Britain). Japan introduced parliamentarism with such limitations in 1890. Such ‘fancy franchises’, as the British called them, were reinforced by the useful device of gerrymandering or what Austrians called ‘electoral geometry’ – the manipulation of constituency boundaries to minimize or maximize support for certain parties. Timid or simply cautious voters could be put under pressure by open ballots, especially where powerful landlords or other patrons watched over the scene: Denmark maintained open voting until 1901, Prussia until 1918, Hungary until the 1930s. Patronage, as American city bosses knew well, could deliver voting blocs: in Europe the Italian Liberal Giovanni Giolitti proved to be the master of clientelist politics. The minimum age for voting was elastic: it ranged from twenty in democratic Switzerland to thirty in Denmark, and was often raised somewhat when the right to vote was extended. And there was always the possibility of simple sabotage, by complicating the process of getting on to electoral registers. Thus in Britain it has been estimated that in 1914 about half the working class was de facto disenfranchised by such devices.
But could not the loyalties of the masses be acquired without expensive social policies which might cut into the profits of entrepreneurs on whom the economy depended? As we have seen, it was believed not only that imperialism could pay for social reform but that it was also popular. As it turned out, war, or at least the prospects of successful war, had an even greater built-in demagogic potential. The British Conservative government used the South African War (1899–1902) to sweep away its Liberal opponents in the ‘Khaki election’ of 1900, and American imperialism mobilized the popularity of guns successfully for war against Spain in 1898. Indeed the ruling elites of the USA, headed by Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919, President in 1901–9), had just discovered the gun-toting cowboy as symbol of true Americanism, freedom and native white tradition against the invading hordes of low-class immigrants and the uncontrollable big city. That symbol has been extensively exploited ever since.
But was not the stability of this marriage between political democracy and a flourishing capitalism the illusion of a passing era? What strikes us, in retrospect, about the years from 1880 to 1914 is both the fragility and the restricted scope of such a combination. It was and remained confined to a minority of prosperous and flourishing economies in the west, generally in states with a lengthy history of constitutional government. Democratic optimism, a belief in historical inevitability, might make it look as though its universal progress could not be halted. But it was not, after all, to be the universal model of the future. In 1919 the whole of Europe west of Russia and Turkey was systematically reorganized into states on the democratic model. Yet how many democracies remained in the Europe of 1939? As fascism and other dictatorships rose, the opposite case to Lenin’s was widely argued, not least by Lenin’s followers. Capitalism must inevitably abandon bourgeois democracy. This was equally wrong. Bourgeois democracy was reborn from its ashes in 1945, and has since remained the favourite system for capitalist societies sufficiently strong, economically flourishing and socially unpolarized or divided to afford so politically advantageous a system. But this system operates effectively in very few of the more than 150 states which form the United Nations of the late twentieth century. The progress of democratic politics between 1880 and 1914 foreshadowed neither its permanence nor its universal triumph.
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Full title (1987 American ed.): The age of empire, 1875-1914 / E.J. Hobsbawm
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THE AGE OF EMPIRE is a book about the strange death of the nineteenth century, the world made by and for liberal middle classes in the name of universal progress and civilisation. It is about hopes realised which turned into fears: an era of unparalleled peace engendering an era of unparalleled war; revolt and revolution emerging on the outskirts of society; a time of profound identity crisis for bourgeois classes, among new and sudden mass labour movements which rejected capitalism and new middle classes which rejected liberalism. It is about world empires built and held with almost contemptuous ease by small bodies of Europeans which were to last barely a human lifetime, and a European domination of world history, which was never more confident than at the moment it was about to disappear for ever. It is about Queen Victoria, Madame Curie and the Kodak Girl, and the novel social world of cloth caps, golf clubs and brassieres, about Nietzsche, Carnegie, William Morris and Dreyfus, about politically ineffective terrorists, one of whom, to his and everyone's surprise, started a world war. With the AGE OF EMPIRE, Eric Hobsbawm, Britain's leading historian of the left, brings to a dazzling climax his brilliant interpretative history of 'the long nineteenth century'.

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