Book Review: Empire Of Guns

Empire Of Guns: The Violent Making Of The Industrial Revolution, by Priya Satia

This is a book that does not quite succeed at what it sets out to do. The author adopts a somewhat Marxist approach to the industrial revolution by pointing to the centrality of the arms manufacturing and trade to the industrial revolution and thinks that this discredits the effort and makes the UK and other nations look bad for industrializing in a way that was so heavily dependent on warfare and imperialism. On the contrary, though, this vindicates at least some degree of military preparedness and imperialism as a defense for nations against others. After all, if we can rely on other nations engaging in efforts to increase their own military capacity and their economic capacity in such a way that it serves military ends, how can we avoid matching suit, lest we become prey as India did and as it is likely to do again against China unless it improves itself dramatically. The author seems not to realize the implications of the work, thinking mainly to defend one Quaker who had run afoul of his brethren as they decreased their interest in pragmatic arguments and thought of themselves as more idealistic, not realizing the complicity that society had in general for supporting imperialism and militarism in the 17th century state. But what if one need not necessarily oppose those things at all, but accepted them as part of the price for living in a dangerous world full of threats? In that case, one need not attack imperialism or militarism or the arms manufacturing trade at all. One could merely accept such things as necessary in a fallen world and be done with it.

This book is a bit more than 400 pages and is divided into ten chapters and three parts, of considerable size. The book begins with a preface and an introduction. After that the author explores the industrial life of guns (I) with a look at the state and the gun industry between 1688 and 1756 (1) as well as between 1756 and 1815 (3), looks at who made guns (2), and also discusses the relationship between the state, war, and the industrial revolution (4). After that the author discusses the social life of guns (II), with a look at guns and money, including guns as money (5), guns in arms both at home in the UK (6) and abroad (7), where the author connects the desire to limit gun manufacturing in India and other places to increase profit for arms manufacturers and to decrease their ability to resist imperialism as being related to each other. The author then turns to look at the moral life of guns (III), with a discussion of Galton’s disownment by idealistic Quakers in 1795 (8), the gun trade after 1815 (9), and the opposition to the gun trade as being based on selective memory and ignorance (10), after which the book ends with acknowledgements, notes, a bibliography, and an index.

This book tells a sprawling tale of the development of the relationship between the government of the UK and its arms manufacturers, in which dispersion to pit various manufacturers against each other to increase flexibility and control was also matched by an understanding of the limited profits involved in the trade and the ensuring that the government benefited from high quality weapons while preserving its security at the same time. The author also spends some useful time discussing the culture of guns and the fear of having an armed populace that was largely politically powerless. The contrast between the UK and the US in this regard is immensely instructive, given that America’s republican experiment has largely been preserved to this point because of its armed populace and that a populace concerned about protecting dignity and property is one that is willing to use guns not only to kill but also to intimidate. And, again, this is not a bad thing. In seeking to make an anti-gun and anti-imperial book, the author managed, by being true to the historical record, to make a book that encourages both. If this is not exactly a success as the author may view it, it does make for an interesting and very worthwhile read.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, History, Military History and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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