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A Brief History of International Relations

The World Made Easy

Kathleen Brush

The world does not need to be complex and confusing. It can be made simpler so that the business, political, social, and economic implications of global news briefs beaming across televisions and electronic devices can be easily grasped. Key to this is knowing that a five-hundred-year competition for global supremacy between the Chinese, European, Islamic, and Russian empires only ended in 1945. When it did, the world had 57 independent nations. After all empires were dissolved in 1991, there were 193, and each nation carried histories of empires in the form of conquest, religions followed, languages practiced, diversified populations, repressive rule, and histories of discrimination. A Brief History of International Relations: The World Made Easy explores this history of global conflict to contextualize and simplify the often perplexing relations between nations and empires.

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Chapter 11. Social Hierarchies—Institutionalizing Discrimination: Aftermaths of Empire


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Aftermaths of Empire

Monarchs didn’t fret about ruling increasingly diverse populations because they were hierarchically ordered. Everyone knew their place, and there was little tolerance for those that forgot it. In the Islamic empires Christians, Jews, and Hindus accepted their subordination to Muslims. In Europe’s colonial empires, Africans and Asians accepted the superior position of Europeans. In the Russian Empire, Muslims and Jews knew they had lower social positions than the Eastern Orthodox. None of them liked it; subjugation is not like ice cream.

Heredity was a primary determinant of a person’s level on a social hierarchy.1 Rulers bred rulers. All rulers of the Ottoman Empire came from the House of Osman. Nobles also bred nobles. Some empires permitted some self-made men to enter the nobility, but generally, social immobility was established at birth. The rulers and nobles formed an inherited privileged oligarchy, and the masses were their inherited unprivileged subordinates. Women were a special category because they inherited a subordinated status to men at every level in every empire.2

When empires conquered lands, they turned hierarchies’ upside down. A wealthy conquered hereditary “noble” could be converted to a penniless landless peasant. A peasant- or prisoner-conqueror could become noble-like with extensive land holdings. The alteration of social hierarchies following ← 107 | 108 → conquest was one reason wars of conquest could be so bloody. There was plenty to lose, like freedoms, privilege—a cornerstone...

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