Technology – Centralization – Empire

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    Dr Jewell

    What about technologies roll in the centralization of power over this 3000+ year history?

    At first I’m thinking the simple domestication of horses leading to the early empires. Then all the way up to the printing press feeding this wave of nationalism (based on common language) and manipulated for propaganda (eg Elms Dispatch). And through the industrial revolution with trains, planes, automobiles to move troops and radio to feed propaganda.

    Knowing that the printing press also distributed Luther’s 95 thesis it just seems 1 way communication to many (newspaper, radio, tv) favored the state. Hopefully Internet changes that or I can’t you this question.

    Your thoughts? Other examples? I know of Tyler Cowens paper but is there anything else to read along these lines?

    Thanks for the enlightening lectures and work.


    Jason Jewell

    Jim, it seems to me that the relationship between technology and centralization depends on the cost of the technology, the thing that determines who has access to it. When a new technology is introduced, often it’s so expensive that only the upper class and State has access to it, so that helps centralize power. But then as the cost of the technology falls and more can acquire it, the process can be mitigated or even reversed.

    Jared Diamond is a big name in this area among popular historians. I’m not a big fan of his work because he takes a hard materialist interpretation of everything (i.e. ideas don’t really matter), but he writes well.


    I never thought about the cost or barriers to entry. Have recently heard the radio was a big cause of WW2. Allowed FDR Churchill and obviously worse extent Hitler, broadcast propaganda from their bunkers using their slick tongues tapping into jingoism. You mentioned in lecture 37 that Hitler was given a radio platform after being convicted of revolt, amazing.

    My awakening moment came while living in Britain, reading local papers (different worldview in English language) and stumbling across 2 historians debating how to have kept the British empire. After fierce debate they both agreed that Churchill should have kept the Americans OUT of the war and let the Germans and Russians mutilate each other. Then stated the Russians actually won the war since 6 of them died for every 1 western allied soldier. And this was post ’07 RP presidential run where I couldn’t wrap my mind around the anti war argument. Also seeing a Jap girls skin melting off in Paris museum changes things. We are sheltered from those stats and images. Indoctrination via (semi) good intentions.

    Have read some Diamond, will read some more. Ideas do matter and this forum helps clear up the airwaves.

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