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Friday, July 11, 2008

Commerce as a means of spreading civilization

Commerce as a means of spreading civilization. Discuss.

There are several ways in which civilization has been carried from one country to another, and so spread all over the world. One method has been conquest; when a civilized nation, like the ancient Romans, has subdued a barbarous race and introduced the arts of civilization among them. Another has been due to the desire to establish some particular religion in a foreign land, which has led zealous missionaries of Buddhism, Christianity and Islam to penetrate, at the risk of their lives, into savage countries. Such religious missionaries have brought not only their religion, but also the civilization of their own countries, to uncivilized people. But one of the most potent factors in the spread of civilization has been commerce.

In ancient times, Egyptian traders probably brought civilization to Crete and the Aegean Islands, where a high form of civilization flourished 2000 years before Christ. Probably trade, through the Phoenicians, carried that civilization to Greece, and to all lands round the Mediterranean Sea. It was not only Roman arms, but also Roman commerce, that civilized many nations under Roman sway; and later, it was not only the military power, but also the commerce, of the Arabs, that brought Eastern civilization to many land, and to Europe.

In more modern times, it was trade that led the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French and the English to India and the East. The English came at first to India simply as traders, and it was their East India Company that introduced Western civilization into India, Burma, Ceylon and the East Indies.

The opening up of Africa in the 19th century was due mainly to these forces: missionary effort represented by David Livingstone; exploration, represented by Henry Stanley; and commerce, represented by merchants who went to Africa to make money by trading with the natives. An entrance for Western civilization into Japan, also, was first found by commerce.

Civilization, whether it was a Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Arabic, or modern European, has no doubt been a blessing to the savage and backward races it has reached. But it often brought a curse with it, when it was introduced to savages, the vices as well as the depraved ways of life and material civilization to the more highly cultured races. And this is the chief evil connected with the spread of civilization by commerce; for traders do not act from any philanthropic motive, but go to foreign lands simply to make money.

This is why the spread of civilization by missionary effort, or even in some cases by conquest, has been better than the spread of civilization by trade. Zealous missionaries whether of Buddhism, Christianity, have had a more truly civilizing effort on savage races than traders. And when the ancient Romans subdued a barbarous race, and admitted them to Roman citizenship, they probably did them less harm than some unscrupulous traders would have done.