Myths of military revolution: European expansion and Eurocentrism

06 Nov 2017

This article critiques explanations of the rise of the West in the early modern period premised on the thesis that military competition drove the development of gunpowder technology, new tactics, and the Westphalian state, innovations that enabled European trans-continental conquests. Even theories in International Relations and other fields that posit economic or social root causes of Western expansion often rely on this “military revolution” thesis as a crucial intervening variable. Yet, the factors that defined the military revolution in Europe were absent in European expeditions to Asia, Africa, and the Americas, and conventional accounts are often marred by Eurocentric biases. Given the insignificance of military innovations, Western expansion prior to the Industrial Revolution is best explained by Europeans’ ability to garner local support and allies, but especially by their deference to powerful non-Western polities.