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Free markets and representative government combined to create unprecedented wealth since 1800. During the 20th century, three major conflicts were won by the coalition better representing those two traits.
“Seapower States: Maritime Culture, Continental Empires, and the Conflict that Made the Modern World,” by Andrew Lambert examines the roles maritime cultures play fostering progress. Lambert holds that nations depending on seapower must necessarily favor free trade and possess representative governments.
He examines five nations that became world powers through embracing maritime culture and seapower: Athens, Carthage, Venice, the Netherlands, and Britain. All five gained power through trade — and more importantly, exchange of ideas. He argues they achieved this because all five had decentralized, representative governments made up of people whose livelihood depended on trade. This allowed the best ideas and the best leaders to rise to the top.
He also examines the major rivals of each state — continental powers favoring a strong central government with a command economy set by that government: Persia and Sparta against Athens, Rome against Carthage, Imperial (and later Revolutionary) France against Venice, the Netherlands, and Britain. He explores the wars fought between the rival piers and what led to victory or defeat in each case.
Lambert differentiates between seapower (controlling the sea and trade on it) and naval power (possessing a strong navy). Continental powers can build and sustain strong navies (as did Rome and Russia in examples given in his book) and even defeat seapowers with their navies. But while seapowers use their navies to protect trade, continental powers use their navies to project land power. Rome invaded Africa, and Russia used its fleets to flank Sweden and the Ottomans.
He also examines sea states, nations which developed seapower, but didn’t become dominating nations. These include the ancient Phoenician cities of the Levant coast, Rhodes, and Genoa.
Lambert argues what makes seapower states dangerous to continental states is they foster innovation. This is destabilizing, as new technologies often undermine the authority of central governments. “Seapower States” offers insight into the direction the modern world may take due to tensions between liberty and centralization.
“Seapower States: Maritime Culture, Continental Empires, and the Conflict that Made the Modern World,” by Andrew Lambert, Yale University Press, 2018, 424 pages, $30
I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.