- There were a number of similarities between China under the Han and the Roman Empire. Why do you think that was so? Was it simply historical accident? Do those aspects of empire imply some sort of empire-building process common throughout the world? Why or why not?
China and Rome were both land empires, based mostly on agriculture, as were all other empires before the industrial revolution over the last 200 years. These two empires developed along similar lines even though they had no contact with each other, given the extremely slow communications and travel times of that era. They all seem to have had very similar caste systems, with slaves and peasants at the bottom, an aristocratic-military caste and an emperor or king at the apex (Adler and Pouwels, 2008, pp. 169-70). Both the Han and the Roman emperors also claimed to rule by divine right, which was also the norm in the past, although their religious practices were very different. It just seemed to be the common assumption in the past that these large land empires could only survive if they were held together by the military or some other type of authoritarian system. Certainly there was no concept of democracy in the Han and Roman Empires, which if it was thought of at all was regarded as suitable only to city-states or countries with very small territories (Adler and Pouwels, pp. 173-75).
- You have studied about China, where a huge empire was formed, and you’ve read about several other large empires. Yet, Southeast Asia never solidified into a single unit. Why do you think that never happened? Is there anything in Southeast Asian history or culture which prevented such unification?
These countries all had very different languages and ethnic groups which were frequently in conflict with each other. In Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Burma, these mutual antagonisms have persisted down to the present. They have all fought each other many times in history, bit no single power in the region was ever able to unify all the others under its control. Of course, the Roman Empire was created out of a variety of ethnic and linguistic groups as well, and these rebelled from time to time, but the Romans were able to crush most of these over the centuries, at least until the empire in the West finally disintegrated and was overrun (Adler and Pouwels, pp. 260-61). In Southeast Asia, China was the great superpower that always threatened to incorporate the smaller states into its empire. Indeed, the Vietnamese fought China for centuries and were never really conquered. They may have adopted certain aspects of Chinese culture and Confucian values, but at the same time resisted overt political and military control. There is still a great fear of China among the smaller states of Southeast Asia today, which is why they seek counterbalancing alliances with outside powers like the U.S., even though they have never been able to unite even into some type of common federation to resist the Chinese.
- Feudalism was the principal organization during Europe’s Middle Ages. How would you compare European and Japanese feudalism? How did the lives of the European feudal serfs compare to the lives of the Japanese peasants? What comparisons or contrasts can you make between the Japanese samurai and the European nobility?
Japanese feudalism had a great deal in common with the European variety, which was noticed at once when the Europeans first made contact with Japan in the 16th Century. To Europeans, the samurai with their honor culture looked very similar to medieval knights (Adler and Pouwels, pp. 268-70). They both put a premium on loyalty to one’s overlord, and were quick to fight duels if they were offended or insulted in some way. Before the 19th Century, though, Japan’s emperors were basically figureheads while the real power rested in the hands of the shogun. Westerners were also very familiar with this type of feudal baron or warlord, which was also a common type in the Asian countries. These were military strongmen who crushed their rivals and regularly engaged in various plundering and looting expeditions. Japan’s feudal-agrarian economy was also quite familiar to Westerners, along with its rigid and hierarchical caste system and most of the population consisting of poor and illiterate peasants (Adler and Powels, pp. 251-53). In both cases, the majority of the population lived in small villages and owed rents and labor services to their feudal masters, who controlled the land. This system did not really change in Japan until the democratization that occurred after the end of World War II in 1945.
- Political theory underwent radical change during the Renaissance with the new model of the State. How was this new theory different from medieval political organization? How do nations today fit the Renaissance model? How would you compare Machiavelli’s ideal prince to modern rulers?
Machiavelli envisioned a Prince or military dictator who would expel the Austrians, French and Spanish and reunify the country for the first time since the era of the Roman Empire. For a time, he saw Cesare Borgia as the type of ruler who would be cunning and ruthless enough to carry out this task. His ideal type of king or monarch would be a realist who thought in terms of power politics rather than morality, and would be a highly skilled diplomatic and military operator who would keep his word only insofar as it was in his self-interest and would dispose of rivals without mercy. As it turned out, though, Italy and Germany were not united until the 19th Century, although Machiavelli would certainly have held a leader like Bismarck in high regard. In this new theory of the state, which was first put into practice in France and England, the monarchy would centralize its control over a large territory, defeating all the smaller feudal barons and warlords who controlled their smaller principalities. They would either be bought off or destroyed by the standing armies under the control of the Prince. All the people within this new type of state would speak the same language and have their same national loyalties, and all this remains the basic concept of the modern state (Adler and Pouwels, p. 311). Modern rulers in the West generally have to at least put on a show of being more democratic than Machiavelli’s strongmen, and at least pretend to be more concerned with human rights, although in foreign policy they still follow the same type of realist principles. One major change that has occurred since Machiavelli’s time is that the forces of international capitalism often undermine the authority of the sovereign state, which he would not have been able to predict since capitalism was still in its infancy in his time.
- The term "Reformation" comes from the root word "reform". When looking at the tremendous changes which occurred during the Protestant Reformation, why do we not describe it as a revolution rather than as reform? What is the difference between these two terms?
For Martin Luther, Erasmus and the other early leaders of the 16th Century Reformation, the original goal was literally to “reform” the Catholic Church. They did not intend to establish rival church at first, but merely make the ‘one true church’ more like the original one described in the New Testament. For example, the reformers had only the two sacraments of baptism and communion rather than the seven that the Catholic Church had invented. They would have eliminated the Pope as the head of the reformed church, allowed priests to marry, translate the Bible into the national vernacular and hold church services in the local languages rather than Latin (Adler and Pouwels, pp. 318-19). Some reformers would have gone even further in a more radically decentralized direction, like John Calvin and John Knox replacing all bishops with synods and church councils, or even allowing each parish to appoint its own ministers. In the end, the Catholic Church rejected most of these reforms at the Council of Trent, though, and from the 1560s and 1570s it was clear that the Protestant churches would be permanently separated. To be sure, this type of Protestantism that eliminated the power of Rome was quite suitable to many European monarchs like Henry VIII, who declared themselves the heads of their own national churches (Adler and Pouwels, pp. 320-22). In the end, Protestantism proved very compatible with the new ideas of nationalism and the nation state, even if this had not been the original intention of the early reformers.
- List the basic characteristics of 17th century absolutism. What examples of absolute rule can you identify in 20th century history? Explain to what degree these regimes have the same characteristics.
Absolutism meant that the new nation states of the 17th and 18th Centuries would be under the centralized control of monarchs, like the Tudors and Stuarts in England, the Bourbons in France or the Hohenzollerns in Prussia. They generally suppressed the power of local territorial barons, magnates and warlords in their territory and limited the powers of the aristocracy, although this caste remained very important in the bureaucracy and the control of the military into the 20th Century. These rulers insisted that there would be one unified legal system in their domains, one standing army under their control, and one common national language (Adler and Pouwels, pp. 325-26). They were very authoritarian in not permitting parliaments, legislatures or national assemblies of nobles and commons, and these hardly existed in most European countries before the revolutions of the 19th and 20th Centuries, nor were the people allowed to vote for their rulers. England was one important exception to this pattern, however, since the Stuart monarchs were finally overthrown in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and Parliament declared itself sovereign rather than the king (Adler and Pouwels, p. 329).
Authoritarian rule of this type continued to exist in France, as well, at least up to 1870, and in Germany until the creation of the Weimar Republic in 1919. Fascist regimes like those in Italy in 1922-45, the Third Reich in 1933-45 or Francisco Franco’s Spain in 1939-75 all had the same type of authoritarian features, particularly in their strong, centralized powers under the leadership of a dictator and their contempt for voting, democracy and popular rule. They were all ruled by strongmen, of course, even though Hitler, Mussolini and Franco were all from the lower classes originally rather than a royal or aristocratic background. They all inherited the traditions and the military and bureaucratic machinery that had been created in the past in these countries, although they were also more efficient and ruthless in modernizing and streamlining the modern dictatorship and police state.
Adler, P.J. and R.L. Pouwels (2008). World Civilizations, 6th Edition. Wadsworth Cengage Learning.