To understand how the West has acquired so much wealth and power, and the route it has taken towards world domination, it is useful to look at history in broad, global terms. Around 1600, some of the richest parts of the world were in the East – China, India, Indonesia and Japan. The pre-modern world’s trade routes remain a good indication of the flow of material wealth from the East through to the Eastern Mediterranean, trickling to Europe via Venice and other Italian city states. The notion of a world or global power is a more recent concept even though colonial and imperial power formed part of the ancient world – from Egypt’s pharaohs to the Persians and the Romans.
After 1600 however, with the creation of monopolistic European trading companies, the ancient patterns of wealth and power altered. By 1800 India had already been impoverished through European intervention and by 1850 so had China. Instead of the West buying Eastern products, trade had been reversed and the East began buying Western products. Power and wealth had swung from the Eastern side of the world to the Western side. So how did power and wealth first move from the East to the West? How was it fought over in the two World Wars? And, is it now moving back again to the East?
I first became interested in these question as a young man. I left home at nineteen, with no historical knowledge of the world and having failed most exams at school. The two previous years had been spent trying to find my way in the city of London as a representative of Unilever, selling margarine. Nothing seemed to work, so with my sister’s advice I left Europe. My mother gravely said to me on leaving, ‘Always remember darling, you are British – we are an honourable people. Never forget this.’ With these words ringing in my ears I set off to Israel and then India, where I came across gross poverty on a scale I had never imagined. If my people were so honourable, as my mother had intoned, why had we left India in 1947, at its Independence, in such poverty? Everyone I asked had no answers.