Published on June 19, 2019 by Benjamin J. Montoya

Basic Books, 1998 | 512 pages

A Brief Book Summary from Books At a Glance

By Benjamin Montoya


Editor’s Note: With this “Bonus” Book Summary we continue our series on culture-related issues that are of interest.


About the Author

Thomas Sowell has taught economics at Cornell, UCLA, Amherst and other academic institutions, and his Basic Economics has been translated into six languages.



The story of conquest and culture is a highly complex story. Who has conquered who throughout history? Why has one culture conquered another? What lessons can we learn from both the conquests and the cultures? Consider this masterful and insightful telling of this larger history to learn more.


Table of Contents

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


Chapter 1: Conquests and Cultures

One might assume that the two related topics of “conquests” and “cultures” have a simple, one-to-one cause-and-effect relationship. Perhaps one culture is more powerful than another, so it takes over. That would be a rather simplistic view of what has happened throughout history.

One general principle is that cultures that are in contact with one another usually influence one another in some way. This can happen in conquest, migration, and commerce. Things are interchanged between the peoples and, at times, that leads to conquest.

Throughout history, conquests have happened in a variety of ways for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is the more powerful culture and people group taking over another. Other times it has been the less powerful people group taking over a more powerful group due to infrastructure and organizational issues. Usually there are a variety of causes, so it is not so simple to point out one thing as the cause.

There are factors in the conquests that are variables. Weather has proved to be a variable that have greatly affected the outcome of conquests. In fact, weather has been known to turn the tide of certain key wars like WWII. Technological developments have played a determinative role. The layout of the land has proved to be an important factor in some conquests.

There have been numerous conquests done for religious purposes. Many of these conquests have been violent and resulted in countless killings. Others have been non-violent and merely the result of one culture being taken over by another, e.g., how the Ottoman Turks became Christian.

One of the common features of countries that have been taken over is the consolidation of state power.

Thus slavery was ended in the Philippines, for example, only after the American conquest of the islands, which did not simply replace the pre-existing authorities with new ones, but replaced them with a more powerful government in firmer control. In the Indonesian islands as well, the advance of Dutch power marked the retreat of slavery. More generally, the spread of Western imperialism in Asia during the nineteenth century was the principal factor in the decline of slavery there. In Africa, slavery remained resistant on into the twentieth century, but here too it was the consolidation of European power that forced back the frontiers of slavery.

When cultures conquer another, the outcome of the relationship has varied. Sometimes cultures have been exiled. Other times the new power sets up outposts within the country. And still yet, other kinds of migrations may take place, e.g., certain races removed and/or enslaved.

There is much more that can be said about conquests and cultures. The focus of this book will be as follows. “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.” This book will consider four specific conquests and cultures as a way to answer this larger question.


Chapter 2: The British

Britain has an important history to consider. In the ancient world of Greeks and Romans, the country did not exist. It was merely a collection of groups and a conquered country at that. In fact, the term “Anglo-Saxon” is one that arose because of the diversity of the people groups there. How, then, did it rise to its place of prominence today?

First, part of the reason why British has become what it is today is because of its location. Because it is a nation that is right on the water, they were able to export goods to other nations in a way that others could not. In our current day of having a variety of ways to transport goods, this may seem like a trifle. But in a day that preceded the construction of railroads, this was no small advantage. Their production of iron, steel, coal, and textiles all boosted their economy. Plus, their distribution of these materials via steam engines made a tremendous difference. Before when people tried to cross the ocean waters, the numbers of deaths and illnesses were catastrophic. Steam engines drastically changed that, making it much safer. Similarly, the development of a railroad system allowed the British to export even more—all kinds of food that had only been available to the rich before like tea, coffee, sugar, etc. This industrialization ended up playing a massive role in several different countries.

Second, Britain also rose to where they are today because of their governmental system. This point is related to the first because it allowed for the possibility of the first point.

What the British had earlier than many other peoples was a framework of law and government that facilitated economic transactions. The arbitrariness of despotic government gave way in Britain to a de facto separation of powers, first between lords and king and then between king and parliament.

Third, the modern governments that allow their citizens to be free owe a debt to the governmental structure that began in England.

While many other countries copied 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 of 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.

Fourth, the British have been the primary reason why freedom still exists today. The British have demonstrated their courage and resistance in the face of dictators like Hitler who tried to destroy the nation. They did not lose hope despite the ongoing onslaught of bombings. This demonstration of their courage gave the larger world hope that Hitler could be defeated. Hitler wanted to remove freedom from the world. The British would not stand for that. Part of their passion from freedom stems from their insistence on the separation of powers in their own government. But this had not always been the case. There used to be numerous kings that ruled over different parts of England. . .

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Conquests And Cultures: An International History

Basic Books, 1998 | 512 pages

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