“Until recently,” writes Charles Maier in this important book, “we could take territory for granted.” For Europeans and Americans—the unstated “we” in Maier’s observation—that condition no longer exists. Where political spaces and the borders that surround them were once “protective and offered security and belonging,” usually without much in the way of “self-conscious effort” or reflection (at least on the part of the citizens who inhabited them), territory has become a matter of intense, often unsettling concern (1). In Once within Borders: Territories of Power, Wealth, and Belonging since 1500, Maier seeks to explain the origin and history of these concerns, drawing not just on the European and North American history referenced in his opening statement, but the history of lands (and their inhabitants) around the world, including China, Mughal and British India, the Ottoman Empire, Meso- and South America both before and after the Spanish conquest, and Africa. Territory, it turns out, has a history. So do its discontents. Because people are multidimensional beings, occupying space is part of the human condition, but the way people occupy space, especially the political space known as territory, has varied widely. Although Maier acknowledges other kinds of territoriality, his principal concern is with “two spatial imaginaries”: spaces of empires and spaces of states (15). Of the two, spaces of empire have the longer history, a point that Maier illustrates with examples from the empires of Greek, Hellenistic, and Roman classical antiquity, China under the Han and Qing dynasties, the Mongol realms of Chinggis Khan and his successors, Aztec-dominated Mexica, and the post-1500 overseas empires of Portugal, Spain, England, France, and the Netherlands. Despite this far-flung diversity, imperial spaces everywhere tend to be “fuzzy” (40), with irregular, blurred, and fluid frontier zones. Their rulers also depend on varying accommodations with the lands and oceans (and the people who occupy them) under their often-nominal dominion. Crucially, the spaces of empire are vulnerable. For this reason, they inculcate feelings of vulnerability in the rulers who possess them, and empires that produce such spaces tend to develop in antagonistic, competitive “systems” with other empires (32). States, on the other hand, have fixed, more clearly demarcated boundaries, and their territories typically appear to be more secure. In early modern Europe, the classic expression of state-based territoriality was the hexagonal border fortress associated with Louis XIV of France’s gifted engineer Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban. The Mughals also fortified their borders during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as did the Chinese—most famously along the Great Wall, which the Ming rebuilt to fend off Mongol raids. Despite facing obstacles from autonomous subjects, rulers of early modern states also aspired to greater authority over their lands and peoples than was possible in imperial spaces. The aspiration was evident in the post-Reformation push by both Protestant and Catholic rulers in Europe for religious uniformity within their respective dominions, as well as in the absolutist theories of Thomas Hobbes and Jean Bodin. Wherever possible, Maier argues, rulers of states sought to monopolize the answers to the economic question of who had the right to own property, the political question of how people within their territory would be governed, and the moral question of how they would behave. Although the spaces of states and empires were (and are) distinct, the two spaces often coexisted under the same sovereign. In the case of the British Empire, the metropolitan Kingdom of England, a state with historically clear, highly articulated borders, expanded from the late 1500s into a much vaster, constantly fluctuating periphery, though the line between center and periphery remained fixed. In the great land-based empires, on the other hand, say, Muscovy and the Russian Empire or Qing China, the boundary between state and empire was more fluid. Either way, the vulnerability and competitiveness inherent in imperial space often produced a corresponding commitment within the state’s space to what Michel Foucault called “governmentality,” that is, the drive to develop and make more intensive use of the state’s territory and people (77–78). Initially, the goal of such efforts was to maximize the “power” of the state—the first of the three “territories” in Maier’s title—by increasing the metropolitan revenue available for imperial expansion. To this, eighteenth-century physiocrats and the agrarian reformers who succeeded them in Europe and the Americas added unlocking the economic potential of the countryside. Into the final decades of the nineteenth century, repealing tariffs, surveying and drafting cadastral maps, enclosing common lands, freeing serfs, ending slavery, and limiting or abolishing entail all spoke to the state’s growing capacity to increase the “wealth” of its territory, the second element of Maier’s territorial triad. Finally, in Europe and the Americas, the democratic category of the citizen replaced the uneven authority and differentiated subjects of the early modern state, giving rise to a more capacious and uniform idea of “belonging,” the third territory in Maier’s triumvirate. Together, the three iterations of territoriality shaped the concept of territory with which we still live today. Although all three iterations first appeared in states’ metropolitan heartlands, imperial powers did not hesitate to export them to their peripheries. In densely settled spaces like India, the Ottoman Empire’s Syrian and Palestinian borderlands, and central Mexico, the attempt to master territory spread through top-down agrarian reforms designed to free land from anti-commercial, collectivist, often feudal restraints. For the serfs and peasants whom the reformers hoped to liberate, the result was often impoverishment and immiserization, even as landholders found ways to adapt to the new market-based order. Elsewhere, the new ideas of territoriality arrived with European and creole settlers who moved onto the arable, sparely populated lands of Russia, Canada, the United States, Australia, southern Africa, and the Argentine Pampas. Wherever settlers went, states assisted them with liberal land grants and, from the second third of the nineteenth century, the construction of long-distance railroads. Meanwhile, as the scramble for Africa took hold during the mid-1880s, the European powers mapped and agreed on borders to demarcate territorial limits for the last of the world’s great unbounded continents. By 1890, in a transformation whose momentousness struck writers as diverse as the Italian political economist Achille Loria and the future president of the American Historical Association Frederick Jackson Turner, the age of “free land” was over (176). In the book’s final section, Maier examines the “territorial obsessions” that seized all the great powers—including, increasingly, Japan—during the early twentieth century (232). Although the frontiers of Turner’s imagination were now closed, empires continued to vie for relative advantage on both land and sea. The flash points included West and Central Asia, where Britain and Russia faced off in the Caucasus and Himalayas; the high seas, where Britain confronted challenges from Germany and, potentially, the United States; and the lands of the Ottoman Empire. Increasingly, the European powers also looked to the poles, and worked to craft legal regimes for Antarctica and the Arctic Ocean. The resulting tensions famously helped precipitate the cataclysm of the two world wars. To make sense of this newly bounded world, Europeans and Americans created a new discipline called geopolitics, which associated certain kinds of territory with particular varieties of power and political attributes. On one side stood Anglo-American writers like Alfred Thayer Mahan and Halford J. Mackinder. In a widely read article from 1904, Mackinder hypothesized an inevitable clash between the Eurasian heartland, or “World Island” as he called it, and the maritime “rimlands” that surrounded it (236–243). Once the preserve of the Mongols and the nomadic empires of Central Asia, the world island was now controlled by Russia and Germany and as such was a space of autocracy and autarky. Surrounding it were the rimlands, which included the Western Hemisphere, as well as the coastal and island peripheries of Europe, Africa, and Asia. These formed a zone of democracy and free enterprise, with Britain and the United States serving as its natural protectors. Germans responded with their own geopolitics based on “‘spaces’ or Räume”—ambiguously bounded zones within which a great power enjoyed preeminent influence (237). One of the most influential thinkers to emerge from these debates was the right-wing Catholic legal theorist and Nazi apologist Carl Schmitt, who organized the world around a plurality of Räume, each under the effective domination of a power like Germany. In such a world, the enemy of public law and order was not Hitler’s Reich, whose ambitions, Schmitt claimed, were “limited,” but the Anglo-Americans and their commitment to unfettered trade and universal liberty. Schmitt’s “plurality of states and empires,” writes Maier, with well-placed skepticism, “sounded almost cozy” (252). Because of its Nazi associations, geopolitics languished in Europe and the United States after 1945. In place of seeing geography as destiny, Americans, in particular, adopted a more instrumental approach to the discipline, using spatial analysis to tackle questions such as the confrontation across the Arctic ice cap between NATO and Soviet bloc forces, urban planning along the Boston-Washington corridor, and GIS (geographic information system) mapping of social, economic, and demographic trends within particular localities. After moving briskly through a discussion of these developments, Maier turns to the challenges that have arisen to the very idea of territoriality since the end of the Cold War. Growing pressure from large-scale immigration, both within the European Union’s Schengen area and along the border between Mexico and the United States, has played a huge role in this process. So has the emergence of a socially bifurcated sense of territoriality, as members of the knowledge economy question the utility of both the nation and national borders, while the traditional working class seeks to shore up both. And the global scourge of terrorism has underscored the porousness and vulnerability of borders everywhere, whether in Baghdad’s Green Zone or Lower Manhattan. With characteristic judiciousness and thoroughness, Maier gives each of these challenges its due. Only then does he turn to the question of whether “we”—meaning, again, Europeans and Americans—are still territorial beings. The answer is yes. “For now,” he writes in the book’s concluding sentence, “even those who transplant themselves, whether from desperation or opportunity, for work or for love, remain still within borders” (296). Once within Borders is an extraordinarily impressive book. Although pitched to an Anglo-American academic readership, Maier draws on work in German, French, and Spanish, which gives the book a breadth that a less linguistically adept scholar would be hard pressed to achieve. As is often the case with world history, the analysis foregrounds the agency of great powers, with the powers of Europe and North America—the “we” in Maier’s first-person interjections—taking pride of place. Some readers will be more troubled by that conceit than the author seems to be. In the copy I received, there were also a surprising number of copyediting errors, with missing periods, parentheticals that lack the opening or closing punctuation, and occasional misspelled words. Hopefully, the editorial team at Harvard can fix those before the book appears in paperback, as I have no doubt it will. One final observation is in order. In its capacious erudition and sprawling scope, Once within Borders is very much a book for other historians. In a moving tribute to his late wife, the great historian of revolutionary America Pauline Maier, who died before the book was finished, Maier writes, with a mixture of wonder and admiration, of her gifts of narration, her empathy for her protagonists, and her ability to communicate “with a wide public that loved her work” (xiii). Those are, without question, the marks of a great historian. So too is the capacity to bring together material from the far-flung corners of the discipline, to distill those insights into a multifaceted but coherent whole, and in so doing to shed new light on the transcendent questions of the day. By that measure, Charles Maier also belongs among the greats. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press.
The American Historical Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Feb 1, 2018
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