Survival Of Empires


Twenty First Annual Darwin College Lecture Series 2006


Lecture 1   :   20 January


Paul Kennedy

Yale University




This lecture will begin by discussing the appropriateness of the connections between Darwin, survival, and Empire. It was of course the vulgarised versions of Darwinian thought about "the survival of the fittest" that proved so compelling to politicians and publicists in the late-19th/early-20th age of imperialism. Struggle was natural, and everywhere. Countries were either rising or falling. There was no standing still in the era of the Scramble for Africa, the Spanish-American War [1898], the Russo-Japanese War [1904-05], and the unprecedentedly bloody First World War. Slightly later, Darwinian struggle moved to fresh heights [or do we mean depths?] in the age of Fascism and Nazism.

But how, then, were Empires to survive? The overwhelming answer seemed to be, through ORGANIZATION - through the harnessing of all of the resources of metropolitan society, and not just its military, naval, colonial, technological and financial resources, but much else besides. Empire was an organism, and if one part of the body was weak, the rest would suffer too. So the spotlight of the Imperialists shone fiercely upon education, culture, national health, youth, food supply, the imbuement of patriotic values, the protection of the language. If one failed to take the necessary and proactive measures which they urged, then the Empire's days were numbered, because there were always newer, rising Powers (Germany, America), some of which might organize themselves better than you did. In consequence, Darwin's discussions of natural selection, or of randomness and even accident, were rarely if ever considered.

The theme of organizing Empires for survival in this first Darwin Lecture may prove useful to at least some of authors of the later lectures in the series. To the imperial propagandists, a number of whom founded the "National Efficiency Movement" around a century ago [see G. R. Searle's book of that title], protecting culture, language, health, were component parts of the grand struggle for survival in the world at large.

Many of the examples employed in this lecture will relate to the policies for survival employed by the British Empire from Darwin's time to the end of the Second World War, but it will also include remarks upon other Empires (Rome, Spain, the USA today).



Paul Kennedy is currently the J. Richardson Dilworth Professor of History and Director of International Security Studies at Yale University, and internationally known for his writings and commentaries on global political, economic and strategic issues.

Born in June 1945 in the northern English town of Wallsend, Northumberland, Professor Kennedy obtained his B.S. at Newcastle University and his doctorate at the University of Oxford. He is a former Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton, and of the Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung, Bonn. Professor Kennedy holds many honorary degrees and fellowships, including that of the Royal Historical Society, the American Philosophical Society and the American Association of Arts and Sciences. He was made Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 2000 for services to History and elected a Fellow of the British Academy in June 2003.

Paul Kennedy is on the editorial board of numerous scholarly journals and writes for The New York Times, The Atlantic, and many foreign-language newspapers and magazines. His monthly column on current global issues is distributed world-wide by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate/Tribune Media Services.

Professor Kennedy has co-edited two large collections of papers relating to contemporary strategic issues: the first, entitled The Pivotal States: A New Framework for U.S. Policy in the Developing World, was published by W.W. Norton in 1999; and the second, entitled From War to Peace: Altered Strategic Landscapes in the Twentieth Century, was published by Yale University Press in November 2000. He contributed a chapter to The Age of Terror, an edited collection published by the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization in response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

Professor Kennedy is the author and editor of fourteen books, including Strategy and Diplomacy, The Rise of the Anglo-German Antagonism, The War Plans of the Great Powers, The Realities Behind Diplomacy, and Preparing for the Twenty-first Century. His best-known work is The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, which provoked an immense debate upon its appearance in 1988 and has since been translated into over 20 languages. In 1991 he edited a collection entitled Grand Strategies in War and Peace. He helped draft a report for an international commission on "The United Nations in its Second Half-Century," which was prepared for the 50th Anniversary UN debate on how to improve the world organization. He has just completed a book on the evolution of the UN, entitled The Parliament of Man: The Past, Present and Future of the United Nations, to be published in spring 2006. 

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