Friday, May 29, 2015

Roots of Globalism

William Gilpin

We welcome back author and independent scholar from Sweden Theo Berigsen. He has written an essay about the lost historical figure, William Gilpin.  In 1861 President Abraham Lincoln appointed William Gilpin to be territorial governor of Colorado. Thus began the career of a remarkable and controversial thinker who is one of the fathers of globalism. His theories of centralized authority formed part of Lincoln's brain-trust and drove the consolidation of the South and the frontier West into one national unit.

Some writers have accused Gilpin of racism; a Eurocentric white supremacy. However, research shows that he was no more or less a racist that his sponsor Abraham Lincoln and the Northeasten interests that supported Gilpin's career.

Along with his contemporary, Karl Marx, Gilpin is certainly one of the thinkers who facilitated the internationalist concept of global empire ruled by elites. Today Gilpin would be at home with Silicon Valley technocrats, trans-national corporations, and contemporary globalists in the academic world. -ed-



The most famous expression of the heliotropic myth in relation to America was the lines by the British philosopher George Berkeley (written in 1726, but not published until 1752), Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way). Thus an element of civilizational thinking was introduced into the American dream. A German journalist, E.M. Posselt, in 1794 wrote that a new force was rising in the West, and that like an oak on a lonesome mountain, the force would grow and probably in a few generations be the arbiter of world events.

That mythology now became interwoven with Israel (America as Israel of the West). Later Herman Melville (White Jacket) would write:

"Escaped from the house of bondage, Israel of old did not follow after the ways of the Egyptians. To her was given an express dispensation; to her were given new things under the sun. And we Americans are the peculiar, chosen people - the Israel of our time: we bear the ark of the liberties of the world...God has predestined, mankind expects, great things from our race; and great things we feel in our souls."

America was to be a "city on the hill" as expressed in Mathew 5:14 ("A city that is set upon a hill cannot be hid"; note also the statement of John Winthrop in 1630 to a small band of pilgrims: "We shall be a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us."). Also the wilderness became the center in which human beings found divine inspiration and rose above themselves.

The belief in the rise of the United States was expressed by the nineteenth century painter Thomas Cole in his five large paintings The Course of Empire although the cyclical depiction of history should be regarded as a warning, not necessarily a description of the United States moving in the direction of destruction and desolation.

In 2003 the United States was celebrating the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the size of the country's territory. Some observers claim that the United States then already became an empire. It directed, however, the American view westward, to the Pacific Ocean not eastward, back to its European roots. This is important to remember, as we move further into the interpretation of the United States as the completion of civilization in the West as expressed by William Gilpin. (This author is avoiding the term empire to describe the United States after 1991 as the term remind of the pejorative "imperialism", lately of Marxist origin. Hegemon seems to be the preferable term)

William Gilpin

Territorial Governor William Gilpin (1813-1894) is widely believed to have been America’s first geopolitician and globalist. This nineteenth century writer, politician, and landowner in the West was also a civilizationalist with the vision that America would link Europe and Asia in ideas and commerce. Spreading the dream of self-government around the world America was the final civilization. Gilpin, to some extent drawing upon Alexander von Humboldt’s multivolume work, Cosmos, identified the “Isothermal Zodiac”.

It was a belt across the globe with a width around the globe of thirty degrees across the Northern Hemisphere. It passed through the oceans at their narrowest, and the continents at their widest points. The “Zodiac” was an “Axis of Intensity”. Within this axis had emerged the greatest cities and the highest civilizations. Gilpin believed that America would extend its democracy, its harmony, and its progress to the rest of the world. (to see Gilpin's Zodiac map-CLICK HERE)

Gilpin was a man of the westward movement of the United States. The West was a glorious place, so believed Gilpin, in which to live. It was only by developing that region that the American nation could fulfill the role given by God. America would link Europe and Asia in ideas and commerce. Thus the dream of self-government would be spread around the world.

Comparative civilizations and geopolitics is to a certain extent linked and Gilpin could be seen both as a comparative civilizationist and geopolitician. He was first described as the latter in an article by Bernard De Voto. 1)

"The great westerner Gilpin was born into a post-Revolutionary home in the East, which was very cultured but his career was in the West. The geopolitician and civilizationist first caught attention with a letter on Oregon written to Senator David Atchison, who included it in a report of the Senate Committee of Post Office and Roads. The Senate was so impressed that it printed the letter in 3,000 extra copies. Gilpin wrote:“Oregon is the maritime wing of the Mississippi Valley upon the Pacific as New England is on the Atlantic”

About the postal routes, he believed it should be extended from California to the Sandwich Islands and China. The mighty agriculture and commerce of the United States would benefit but also over 600 million people of the Pacific would benefit. As a result of the letter American media in 1846 and 1847 often referred too Mississippi and Oregon offering greater riches than those of the Ganges, the Nile and other ancient civilizations. 2)
“The untransacted destiny of the American people ….is to animate the many hundred of its peoples … to set the principle of self-government at work – to agitate these herculean masses -…to set free the enslaved – to regenerate superannuated nations-…to confirm the destiny of the human race-..Divine mission! Immortal mission” 3)

Toward the end of his life Gilpin published The Cosmopolitan Railway, Compacting and Fusing Together all the World’s Continents (1890), in which can be found his “American Economic, Just and Correct Map of the World”. The Isothermal Axis is reproduced on the map with Gilpin’s Cosmopolitan Railway running north of the axis in Eurasia and south of the axis following the west and east coasts of South America. One can start the axis in the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia following it via ancient Greece and Rome cross the European continent. Then across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States (the heliotropic movement). This would exclude from the movement Indian, Chinese and Japanese civilizations. The reason would be concerning Japan and China the relative isolation of these civilizations from civilizations “in the West”.

Vaughan Cornish

A British geographer and explorer, Vaughan Cornish, is of interest in relation to Gilpin but his basic views differed somewhat. Still we need to look into the work of Cornish as an outgrowth of Gilpin's ideas.

British geographer and explorer Vaughan Cornish (1862 – 1948), was a contemporary of English geopolitician Sir Halford Mackinder (1861 – 1947). In his writings Cornish often expressed fear that the English dominions across the sea would be overwhelmed by the peoples from the outside. The British political geographer and globalist traveled much in East Asia and expressed admiration for oriental peoples. Through the years both Cornish and Mackinder had to come to terms with the decline of the British Empire.

One of Cornish's favorite ideas was that ‘strategic geography’ was to be made known to every citizen. This was very similar to the view of other globalists: to open the public mind to the geopolitical map. During the First World War there was an opportunity to bring the concept of ‘strategic geography’ to the forefront (see the Geography of Imperial Defense, 1923).

After the War the travels of Cornish were extended: Central America, North America in the west and China as well as Japan in the east. The threat to the British Empire was from non-Europeans in his view. Strategically the submarine and an immense increase in number and efficiency of aircraft would also threaten the future of the sea-lanes. A central theme was demographics and Cornish preferred families with four children to three children in the British homeland and among the settlers in the dominions.

Central to his strategic thinking was Strategic Atlas of the Oceans (1925) which was part of a wider project on choke-points (also invoked in the 1980s by US president Ronald Reagan), naval strength, and British power.

For globalists the Cornish book, The Great Capitals, (1923) is of interest. It covered the civilizations and empires such as the Graeco-Roman, British, and Chinese. They were, he pointed out, all located on roughly the same isotherms. This is the same thinking on the isotherm subject by Cornish as was Gilpin before him. This analysis would include a closer reading of Gilpin’s The Cosmopolitan Railway and Cornish’s The Great Cities. Some of Cornish’ strategic essays are availble in Vaughan Cornish, Geographical Essays (1946).


Focusing on Gilpin and Cornish, now largely forgotten, could help understand the heliotropic myth – the ancient belief that that history is a succession of great civilizations developing, like the movement of the sun, from east to west. In this myth America is the fulfillment of history, the last empire.

In the fifteenth century Columbus discovered the New World. The question in this connection is of course why the European civilization was the only one taking the gamble of traveling vast seas to find new land?

One explanation could be that Europeans rose above the pretension that they lived in the center of the world. The Chinese did not. The Europeans (and Americans) are heirs to the Jewish belief that there is no sacredness in nature and also heirs to classical logic of the Greeks, who were open to the world around them. Geographical factors also contributed. Europe had the Mediterranean Sea, which pointed westward to the great unknown ocean. It was, however, the small island, England, that brought true transfer of influence of Europeans to the West, not Spain or France, although powerful nations in their day. Many European had predicted a transfer of hegemony and influence to America; predictions that have come true.

Gilpin firmly believed in America’s role as the leading civilization of the future. It ought to be, in the humble view of this author, important to further study the heliotropic myth, its origins and possible application in the twenty first century and the globalist who are steering it.


1) Bernard de Voto, Geopolitics with the Dew on It, Harper’s Magazine, CLXXXVIII, (March, 1944), pp. 313 – 323.

2)Norman Graebner, Empire on the Pacific, A Study in American Continental Expansion (1955)

3)U.S. Senate Report No. 306, 29h Congress, 1st Session, 1846.

by Theo Berigsen