As established in class today, although India, the Middle East and China were significantly ahead of Europe both technologically and politically throughout the time period from 1000-1500, all three had situations that prevented them from expanding both their empires as well as their concepts about law and human rights throughout the world.
Into that void steps the major underdog that was Europe. Through a series of remarkable events, Europe comes to dominate world trade and influence the worldwide concept of human rights and, to a lesser extent, law itself. Let’s break this down, step-by-step:
1. Feudalism begins to die
-As people become more mobile and begin to trade with others around the world, they see opportunities to make a better life. The average peasant starts to realize that there’s more to life than farming all day for no money and eating dirt every night.
2. Money begins to flow into Europe, and the Bourgeoisie is Born
-As Europe begins to see money flow into it (once China shuts out everyone, it had to go somewhere), individuals start building up bigger bank accounts. Peasants have more opportunity to make money and become part of a higher class: the middle class, also known as the Bourgeoisie. The middle class has two things working for it that the peasants did not: money and time. They have the money to afford a decent life, and the time (because they don’t have to work 24 hours a day) to think about why they don’t have a voice in government simply because they’re not related to a noble. More importantly, they have the time to do something about it.
3. European Governments Start Funding Exploration Throughout the World.-Say what you want about the European kings, but each one was in a pretty desperate competition with his neighbor kings to gain or keep his power. Thus, when the opportunity arose to explore other areas of the world in the hopes of making huge amounts of money, many of them jumped on it. And who was there to take the risk of exploration and split the money made with the kings? Poor folks who were itching to get into the middle class.
4. With Time and Money, the Bourgeoisie Get Restless
-This new middle class had time to spend talking with their bourgeoisie friends about how they had money, they had intelligence, yet they didn’t have any power. As more and more of them came to realize this, a few men decided it would be a good idea to write some of these things down: Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau were three guys who decided that it would be a good idea to write out all the things that people like them deserved just because they were born human. Thus, a somewhat universal concept of human rights is born. These books are read by thousands of people through Europe (thank you, printing press), and people begin to want action. Its no wonder why the French Revolution (and their Declaration of the Rights of Man) isn’t far off.
5. Don’t Forget About Those Colonies
-At the same time, European kings have sponsored hundreds of trips to places all around the world in the name of making a little cash for the kingdom. The Europeans who are in these areas get hold of the writings of guys like Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, buy into them and discuss them with the native peoples in the lands they’re not inhabiting. The people in these native lands (America, Africa, India, Asia) think these ideas aren’t so bad either, and the beginnings of a universal concept of human rights and law has begun.
So, in five steps, the world has gone from “Europe as punching bag” to “Europe as legal center.” This bridges the gap between the legal codes present throughout the ancient world to the legal codes, beliefs, and controversies present in the modern world. However, its important to remember that this progress opens up a whole new set of controversies for the modern world in regard to the law and its place in the world.