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  • Alan Macfarlane on the Decline of the Ottoman Empire

    Posted by Chicago Boyz Archive on February 8th, 2007 (All posts by )

    A nice short summary touching on the main points about what does and does not provide a sufficient basis for a modern civilization.

    And here he is on Venice and the riddle of modern wealth and liberty.

    If you go to this page you will find that Macfarlane has put an enormous number of videos onto You Tube. I have only scratched the surface, but this is clearly a treasure trove of good material.

    Those of you who prefer text to video can find an enormous amount of interesting material on his web page.

    Prof. Macfarlane writes in convincing fashion about many of the issues which we have been discussing on this blog: the rise of the modern world, the role of technology in social change, the centrality of liberty to the rise of the West, the key role of England and the English-speaking countries in the modern world (though he does not use the word Anglosphere), the critical role of civil society and free association, the cultural and social and legal foundations of modernity.

     

    16 Responses to “Alan Macfarlane on the Decline of the Ottoman Empire”

    1. Jonathan Says:

      Excellent. Thanks for posting these links. I need to recreate the blog’s list of permalinks for essays and other canonical documents and now videos.

    2. Captain Mojo Says:

      Wow, his site has all kinds of great stuff. Seems, luckily for us, the good professor isn’t afraid to dabble in new media…

      I’ve only read Riddle, so I’ve got a lot of catching up to do with the rest of you guys in terms of Macfarlane’s works.

    3. Phil Fraering Says:

      I found it interesting that he didn’t emphasize, at least in the video embedded in the post, the role of religion, but that he did point out the historical role played by the Mongol conquest.

      (I also find it interesting that he compared the Ottoman Empire to those of Spain and France in the same time period).

      The role of the Jannisaries is probably worthy of more study; while they did provide (for a while) a mechanism for the Sultan to have a military force of his own, rather than that donated by various tribes and clans (and therefore potentially of divided loyalty), it depended on either conquering new peoples to pay tribute in the form of children, or relying on lower castes (already subject to other forms of discrimination) providing their children as well.

      Run out of newly conquered areas or dhimmis and suddenly you have problems with your imperial system.

      (Also, of course, even though they don’t have blood ties of their own, the Jannisaries could eventually evolve into a quasi-tribal/clan based system of their own, which although I’m not too familiar with the situation, I seem to remember that they did.)

      ——————————

      A related question I’ve been wondering about… we keep talking about the nation and tribalism… I was wondering, are the Igbo/Ibo a tribe?

      What about the Scots?

      Scotland has been a nation-state in the past, and the Igbo/Ibo tried to become a nation-state in recent history…

      I’m partly asking because the Nigerian delta is beset by tribally based violence today, but it doesn’t seem to be based on the same sort of “tribalism” they had in the Biafaran War.

      I’m trying to get a clearer picture of the various definitions.

    4. Lexington Green Says:

      “the good professor isn’t afraid to dabble in new media…”

      To the contrary. He has a positive relish for new media. And he is prolific both in text and video. Lots of good stuff.

    5. Lexington Green Says:

      Captain, the one you really need to read next is Making of the Modern World. The bad news is it is out of print and used copies cost literally $100 or more. The good news is, he has put pretty much the whole book on line as pdfs. Go to this page on his website and look at the chapters about F.W. Maitland and the chapters about Yukichi Fukuzawa, and you will have it. Very, very good stuff. As good as it gets, actually.

    6. zenpundit Says:

      Phil wrote:

      “Run out of newly conquered areas or dhimmis and suddenly you have problems with your imperial system.”

      The Ottomans did not have problems here -they simply continued to draw on Balkan Slavs, Greeks,Hungarians, Albanians, Circassians, Armenians,Russians, Ukranians, Georgians and other Transcaucasians sent as tribute by their Crimean Tatar vassals. At times Balkan peasants would willingly give sons into the Jannissaries because they became favored not only as elite soldiery but as imperial bureaucrats and officials. More trustworthy in the Sultan’s eyes than Turkish grandees.

      “(Also, of course, even though they don’t have blood ties of their own, the Jannisaries could eventually evolve into a quasi-tribal/clan based system of their own, which although I’m not too familiar with the situation, I seem to remember that they did.)”

      You might be thinking of the Egyptian Mamelukes – a different Ottoman slave-soldier caste that evolved into the vassal rulers of Egypt.

    7. Phil Fraering Says:

      Well, I hate doing this, as I don’t think they’re that reputable a source, and it’s subject to change, but from Wikipedia:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jannisary

      The Janissaries started accepting enrollment from outside the devshirmeh system first during the reign of Sultan Murad III (1546-1595) and completely stopped enrolling devshirmeh in 17th century. After this period, volunteers were enrolled, mostly of Muslim origin…
      …By the early 18th century Janissaries had such prestige and influence that they dominated the government. They could mutiny and dictate policy and hinder efforts to modernize the army structure. They could change Sultans as they wished through palace coups. They made themselves landholders and tradesmen. They would also limit the enlistment to the sons of former Janissaries who did not have to go through the original training period in the acemi oğlan, as well as avoiding the physical selection, so of lesser military value…
      …Eventually Mahmud II sought to get rid of the Janissaries altogether. Their abuse of power, military ineffectiveness, resistance to reform and the cost of salaries to 135,000 men, many of whom were not actually serving soldiers, or even still alive, allowing the commander to still claim the money with their pay tickets, had all become intolerable…

      The article then goes on to briefly describe The Auspicious Incident.

      In retrospect it appears I was wrong about the Ottomans “running out of Dhimmis,” although I would like to see one day a graph of the estimated population (as both a fraction of the total population, and in absolute terms) of Christians in Syria and Lebanon over time in the Ottoman Empire.

      OTOH, please check out the section on the various revolts the Jannisaries carried out. At the very least, I’d like to know how accurate it is, given that it’s Wikipedia.

      Also, I have been worrying a lot about history, and about how what you don’t know about history isn’t necessarily as bad as what you think you know that’s wrong.

    8. zenpundit Says:

      I am perusing Lord Kinross on the question of Janissaries -there is a large amount of information on them his The Ottoman Centuries, too much to list here.

      Exclusive recruitment of Christian slaves was abolished by Murad IV (no date given, I infer 17th century) when admission to the elite corps became coveted by ambitious Muslims, which coincuded with legal changes ending slave status and permitting marriage, which had been going on informally for so long that the Janissaries had become intertwined with landowning and mercantile classes. Their political loyalty and military effectiveness appears to have gone into decline at this stage, not unlike the Roman Praetorians.

    9. Dave Schuler Says:

      Is it possible to develop a modern society without usury (lending money at interest)? To me this would seem to have been a major obstacle for the Ottoman. And, since Islam lacks a central authority, there will always be radical imams ready to make a name for themselves by denouncing (and inciting violence against) any accommodation that scholars devise to circumvent the proscription.

      I suspect that this was part of the problems for Spanish and French empires as well. Check the timing of the expulsion of Jews from Spain and the expulsion of Huguenots from France.

    10. Phil Fraering Says:

      And, since Islam lacks a central authority, there will always be radical imams ready to make a name for themselves by denouncing (and inciting violence against) any accommodation that scholars devise to circumvent the proscription.

      There’s more than that going on. By playing fast-and-loose with what constitutes ursury and what doesn’t, the legal authorities undermine substantially the rule of law with response to, for instance, lease agreements or payment-over-time.

      I don’t know if it happened back in the Ottoman Empire, but I’ve heard of this happening in modern times.

    11. Daniel Nexon Says:

      Anyone interested in Ottoman state formation and why it looked so different from the European route should read Karen Barkey’s classic, Bandits and Bureaucrats: The Ottoman Route to State Centralization.

    12. Lexington Green Says:

      I’ve got Kinross on the shelf.

      Must … get … more … time … to … read … .

      I have added Daniel’s suggestion to my list.

    13. joseangel Says:

      When Ferdinand and Isabella expelled the Jews from Spain, in the same month and year of Columbus’s expedition to America, many Sephardim Jews found a new home in the Ottoman Empire, which had captured Constantinople only 40 years before and was trying to challenge Venice and desperately needed good financiers and traders to compete, they got it with the Jews and helped them supporting the return to Palestine in return.

      The Spanish were highly suspicious of Sephardim Jews because they had helped finance the Caliphates in Spain for centuries and they were afraid that allowing them to stay could eventually bring the moors back. Spain got many new colonies and gold and wealth in America, which made up for the loss of good financiers and traders and entrepreneurs they lost when the Jewish left, somehow many of those Sephardim Jews also helped Amsterdam became a mayor financial center in later years, so while Spain financed the construction of their great Cathedrals with American gold, the Jews financed Cathedrals in Amsterdam and France and England with their wealth and good banking skills. Eventually, Spain’s colonies in American got their independence and Spain’s source of gold and wealth begun to decline greatly helped by and their corrupted and nepotic empire.

      Macfarlane’s account of the decline of the Ottoman Empire is delightful as he centers on the experiences mankind can learn from those events.

      I never saw it that way, and so it was very refreshing, and it also gladdens me that Macfarlane clearly shows that there can only be one way for nations to prosper, in freedom and democracy. However I have always admired the Ottomans, because I think that for all their shortcomings, they still managed to build an empire in what is perhaps one of the hardest and most conflictive regions to build a civilization in the world, at the doors of Europe and very close to Russia, next to Iran, and Syria also.

      Long ago they took over Constantinople, while Venice and the west chose to look the other way, and in doing so they also allowed a powerful and fearful empire to dangerously sit at their gates, Christianity and the west almost lost Greece, but the Ottomans also inherited the conflicts and constrains of this restless region that the Constantines had to continually endure because of their strategic geography.

      Yet they managed to survive until our very days, leaving their own footprint in Europe, the Balkans and the Middle East. Eventually fighting Britain and other strong enemies who tried unsuccessfully to invade them. and becoming an important ally of the United States in the cold war. Today, that nation is the only secular democracy and are
      as complex as a society can be, large Muslim population and a state in friendly relations with Israel.

      After the Reconquista, Spain benefited from the internal divisions and conflicts and the Muslims and the decline of the Caliphates, and even invaded Morocco eventually, the whole northern Africa was never a threat to the Spanish Crown after the glory days of El Cid. In their borders with France, they weren’t facing a mortal ethnic enemy either, same can be said for France, and even in their wars against England, we cannot said they were of an ethnic nature, as has always been the case in the Anatolia region.

    14. zenpundit Says:

      “I’ve got Kinross on the shelf.”

      I’d be surprised if you didn’t, Lex. ;o)

    15. Lexington Green Says:

      I can buy ’em a lot faster than I can read ’em. In fact, as my capacity to buy ’em has increased over time, my ability to carbe out time to read ’em has fallen.

      Thus do the gods mock us.

    16. zenpundit Says:

      ” I can buy ‘em a lot faster than I can read ‘em. In fact, as my capacity to buy ‘em has increased over time, my ability to carbe out time to read ‘em has fallen.”

      Me too. It’s a pleasant curse but a curse nonetheless.

      Ah, bibliomania, the gentle madness…..