Geography is Destiny

With Ian Morris

Ian Morris returns to The Commonwealth Club for an online discussion of his latest research into the deep history of the human race. In the wake of Brexit, Morris now tackles the 8 millennia history of Britain’s relationship to Europe as that relationship keeps changing in the context of a continually globalizing world.

When Britain voted to leave the European Union in 2016, the 48 percent who wanted to stay and the 52 percent who wanted to go each accused the other of stupidity, fraud and treason. But the Brexit debate merely reran a script written 8,000 years earlier, when rising seas physically separated the British Isles from the European continent.

Morris describes how technology and organization have steadily enlarged Britain’s arena, and how its people have turned this to their advantage. For the first 7,500 years, the British were never more than bit players at the western edge of a European stage, struggling to find a role among bigger, richer and more sophisticated continental rivals. By A.D. 1500, however, new kinds of ships and governments had turned the European stage into an Atlantic one. With the English Channel now functioning as a barrier, England transformed the British Isles into a United Kingdom that created a worldwide empire. Since 1900, however, Britain has been overshadowed by American, European and Chinese actors. But Morris says that in trying to find its new place in a global economy, Britain has been looking in all the wrong places. The great question for the 21st century is not what to do about Brussels, but what to do about Beijing.