Europe is, to a large extent, the crucible of world development. Certainly, Asia and the regions of the Middle East are significant too, but Europe is the birth of a Western culture that has spread throughout the globe and affected the world in numerous ways. For this reason, European studies are central to any academic curriculum program. As specific to the U.S., Europe is particularly important since not only has Europe birthed the U.S. But many of its citizens stem from there, the cultures are closely linked, and the U.S. conducts a large part of its trade with Europe. For these reasons and more, it seems to be important that Europe and its development should be the first region addressed in a World Regional Geography course.
The following essay elaborates on the significance of European contributions to world development by tracing key points of European history through feudalism to globalization and neoliberalism. The essay concludes with a brief explanation of why I feel that Europe and its development should be the first region addressed in a World Regional Geography course.
Feudalism in Europe
Feudalism, to some extent, still exists today in certain countries. It is the simple idea that a certain class of people must work for the living standard of another, and that there is the give-an-take between the two classes with the 'higher' status providing privileged protection and support of the lower class. In its most essential form, it refers to the manorial system of the peasant working the lands and property of the noble (a construct that persisted in Russia until comparatively recently). An elaboration of this concept extends to the citizens supporting the monarchy, and the population supporting clergy and Pope.
Feudalism originated in the 8th century under the Carolingian dynasty when Charles Martel granted his nobles tracts of land from which they could gain income to support his army. This fiefdom signified an act of homage where man received something from a 'higher' source obligating him, in return, to recompense the gift. A relationship of sorts, too, was created between lord and vassal. Soon after, a recognized hierarchy developed where monarchs subcontracted land to nobleman and barons who, in turn, hired people to work on the land. Each was responsible to the master on top and proceeds from the land fed into the master's income. Heading this hierarchy was the Pope.
By the end of the 10th century, the entire continent was Christian and the Pope, overseeing this vast mammoth of feudal network, ensured that territory and wealth passed between a few landed, favored players who were wealthy and influential. Retainment of this system resulted in wars (where feudal disputes were resolved by battles) and arranged marriages (in order to justify dynastic claims to a territory). By the 12th to 15th century, however, the influence of the pope was gradually being replaced by that of the various kings and the fiefdom was disintegrating. Originally meant as a system whereby the vassal would supply man for the army, feudalism soon disintegrated into one where the noble / pope (and clergy) / monarch received income instead. The system became increasingly corrupt with higher classes maltreated and manipulated the lower. Fiefs became hereditary weakening the relationship between fief and lord, whilst religious institutions became notorious for their grasping nature.
In the end, feudalism wandered off into two directions. There was centralized monarchy at the one end where kings, such as William I of England, used feudalism to reinforce his position at the top of the pyramid by distributing conquered territory to his followers. On the other end existed anarchy where protests generated movements such as Martin Luther's Reformation (which was protest against the excesses of the Church) and, later, Marxism that attempted to eradicate the excesses of the bourgeoisie and replace the imbalancement of feudalism with an equal class structure.
Feudalism remained a powerful force in Europe until the mid-to late 15th century when it dissipated into the alleged Rights of Monarchy. Feudal rights of France, Germany, Austria and Italy were abolished by Napoleon and the French Revolution in the 18th century (History World; online.)
The effects of feudalism and the battle against feudalism have been enormous. They resulted in the call for egalitarianism that followed the French revolution as well as the tenets of the American Constitution that attempted to build a new world based on democratic principles. Different forms of constitutional governments emerged from European feudalism, and the rights of the people, as opposed to that of one particular ruler, became emphasized. If not for our poor experience with feudalism, we may not have the reactionary results of contemporary democracy and insistence on human rights.
Europe and globalization
Scholars are only now beginning to acknowledge the huge effect that Europe has had on globalization. Starting in the 1980s, it was Europe that enabled financial globalization through the rules of the EU and the Organization of Economic Development and Co-operation (354). The euro was another factor that had a huge impact on globalization by its becoming a successful reserve currency and by its, thereby, making Europe a significant world player.
Europe, too, has become a major spokesman in global trade largely due to the fact that they own a vast network of interrelated tract that depends on one another for their existence. The World Trade Organization (WTO) is only one of the organizations, so influential in this modern age that Europe created. It is the WTO that established international conventions of trade that included creation of rules for adjudication, set of rules for penalizing violations, and resolutions for implementing trade liberalizations (largely in regards to emerging countries). The EU, in short, has made its clout and pressure felt mainly by its regulatory policies that impose regulation on international trade and commerce (Wade & Jacoby, 356). Finally, the EU is the largest market in the world and, as such, it serves not only as significant force but also a model for other regions to follow. By making its own social and legal terms, the EU sets the terms and levels of economic openness in the world that are so exemplary leading to a globalization that is 'Europeanized' simply because many other regions model Europe's example (Wade & Jacoby, 2002). By the end of the 1980s, it was only sociologists who spoke of globalization. Today, 'globalization' has become a colloquialism and a great deal of its influence is traced to Europe (Polzer, 2000).
Europe and neoliberalism
Largely condemned today, the term 'neoliberalism literally stands for concepts such as economic liberalizations, free trade and open markets, as well as the privatization of nationalized industries, deregulation, and enhancing the role of the private sector in modern society. All of these came into existence via the operations of the EU (Taylor & Jordan, 2002). These constructs, therefore, are largely a European invention.
The most sympathetic treatment of neo-liberalism may be that by David Harvey (2005) who defines the term as being:
in the first instance a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being [that] can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets and free trade.(p.9)
Neoliberalism can be viewed from two aspects. On the one hand, it is primarily economic since it deals with factors such as reducing trade barriers and enhancing capital mobility. On the other hand, it is fundamentally political since it emphasizes the centrality of individualism. Both constructs are a creation of the EU, hence a European innovation (Maselnik, 2011)
Europe and the EU
Discussion of Europe's effect on globalization and neo-liberalism has led us to the centrality of the EU as a key player in European significance. The EU not only introduced the euro that had a huge impact on globalization by its becoming a successful reserve currency and by it's, thereby, making Europe a significant world player but it also resulted in organizations such as the Organization of Economic Development and Co-operation and the World Trade Organization.
It is the WTO that established international conventions of trade that included creation of rules for adjudication, set rules for penalizing violations, and established resolutions for implementing trade liberalizations (largely in regards to emerging countries).
The EU is a unique economic and political union of 27 member states which are located primarily in Europe. Important institutions of the EU include the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, the European Council, the Court of Justice of the European Union, and the European Central Bank. The ERU has developed a single market whilst its policies aim to ensure the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital. Legislation also extends to maintaining common policies on trade, agriculture, fisheries and regional development. The EU has developed a role in external relations and defense through its Common Foreign and Security Policy. Finally, the influence of the EU has been established internationally through its diplomatic missions and its presence at the United Nations, the WTO,…