Titans of Geopol: Halford MacKinder
From time to time in my studies it becomes apparent that, all good intentions notwithstanding, some of my contemporaries (and indeed myself, if truth be told) have what can only be described as a rudimentary knowledge of their forebears. This state of affairs is wholly understandable, but also deplorable!
Understandable, in that the annals of geopolitics are veritably stuffed to the gills with a smorgasbord of seminal sermons – but deplorable, in that (just as with economics) many of today’s “Practical men,” who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually slaves of some defunct geopolitical theorist (with all due apologies to J.M. Keynes). In other words, it is important to know where each particular brand of geopolitical lunacy came from, in order to recognizes its continuing effect on the world at large. Given the current state of the political arena here in the United States it is perhaps even more vital that those of us with an interest in such matters readily attempt to understand which long dead theorist still appears to have their hand upon the tiller of state.
It is with this spirit of inquiry in mind that I begin a new series of posts on GeoPolichinelle – an exploration of the Geopolitician in its natural habitat. I propose to undertake a series of readings that will serve to illuminate the works of the old masters, in the hopes that actually hearing their pearls of wisdom (from the horse’s mouth, so to speak) will help students of the farce to better understand the current inanity in the public forum.
In essence, rather than just hearing what some professional academic has to say about the significance of Kennan, MacKinder, or Ratzel, in this manner I hope to bring you the unadulterated words of the masters themselves– in all their idiosyncratic, period oriented majesty – or at least, as best I can with no guarantees concerning the authenticity of translations, or pronunciations of obscure flora, fauna, and nomenclature!
We begin our adventure with, perhaps, one of the most influential pieces of geopolitical theory every written – Halford MacKinder’s “Geographical Pivot of History” – a 35 minute tour de force of early imperial dogma, wrapped up in a healthy dose of paranoia and Orientalism.
Makinder himself was not well recognized at the time – in fact this piece received very little in the way of kudos until much later on, when it was widely considered to have been a major influence on the development of US “Containment Strategy” during the Cold War. Since then, MacKinder has found his niche as one of the founding fathers of old school Geopolitics – often honored in passing, but without much attention paid to what he actually had to say. Every student of geopolitics has been assigned this piece at some point or another, and I think it is a safe bet to say that almost all of them (myself included) have, at best, glanced through the pages, skipping to the juicy part at the end where he lays out his most significant contribution to the discipline – the Heartland Pivot Theory.
Astute listeners will note that, for all his embodiment of the imperial age, MacKinder does (sort of) make a few progressive statements. He acknowledges that European civilization owes its existence to the East, that developments in transportation will have profound impacts upon geopolitics (even to the extent of a sort of proto-exploration of “containerization”), and he clearly rejects at least some aspects of geographic determinism, for as he puts it, “Nature informs, but mankind controls.” He was, in essence, an exemplar of his kind geographer.
I will say no more, dear reader, except to recommend that you consider investing half an hour of your otherwise hectic life to this voice from the past. Revel in the language, shudder at the appalling Euro-centrism, marvel at the ways in which geography rejoiced in its position as the hand-maiden of empire, but above all else, enjoy!