What has the United States ever done for us? Can you imagine a world without NASA, Mickey Mouse, or McDonalds? It’s a fairly mind-boggling hypothetical to get our heads around, if for some reason those Brits had won the revolutionary war and the United States had never been formed. That’s what we’ll look at today, in this episode of the Infographics Show, What if the USA never existed?
Rather than imagine a USA that somehow remained a wilderness inhabited by hunting and sometimes warfarin tribes, we’ll try to imagine an alternate history based on if there had been no American revolution.
One of the reasons the Brits were defeated was the fact that its forces were placed all over the world. As empires do, it was playing a real-life game of Risk. According to the recent history book, “The English and their History”, writer Robert Tombs states that the British army could have easily defeated the revolutionaries, but that would have meant taking a major risk regarding its other colonies. If we believe Tombs, we can at least take this hypothetical show seriously.
Even if the land was still under British rule, we have to imagine that there would still be a lot of discord in the nation. There would be a huge economic disparity, and the north would have most of the money. The British, still rightly paranoid about the rise of the rest of Europe, would have a hard time persuading settlers in the new world to stay with them. The French would be the main threat.
Had the American Revolution not happened, perhaps the French revolution would also not have happened. The writer Thomas Paine may still have written Common Sense, but perhaps more people in our alternate history tended to think the Brits had more of it. If that was the case, Paine may not have been so fired up about the French Revolution, as he couldn’t have defended an ideology of freedom and democracy under the influence of the American Revolution. Paine would have likely been arrested in America and executed for treason. The question is, would the Brits have sought a fairer way of living for citizens in their colonies, or would it only be a matter of time before there was a revolution against them? The world surely would have been a worse place without The Rights of Man, but it’s likely someone would have written them.
Britain would be very powerful and very rich, much to the chagrin of the French. The French would likely build a stronghold in the USA as it already had French Louisiana. Perhaps there would be some consolidation between the French and Brits, and due to no revolution, there would likely have not been a Napoleon and both the French and the British would have been a tad ruthless and aristocratic.
How the world would have been divided up is too much to speculate, but it would have been very different. It’s likely Germany would still have waged a war in Europe anyway, and possibly with France and Great Britain at each other’s throats, Germany would have come out better. But for now, let’s stay with Britain and British culture as globally dominant.
It’s likely human rights and personal freedom would have taken much longer to manifest in the world, mainly because Britain was, and still is, very much a class culture. There would have been a kind of Platonic high-class/low-class separation of society, and for some poor folks, no chance to live the British Dream and enjoy ‘the pursuit of happiness’.
But British hegemony would not have meant disaster in terms of how everyday society works. The strong European nations would still have created fairer forms of democracy, while science and the arts would have still evolved. Europe had always been the powerhouse of science, industry, philosophy, and so no America wouldn’t have thwarted societal progression. We must remember, though, that many of the technologies we have today were created or vastly improved because of the world wars. And that includes computer technology. The first computer was actually invented by a Brit called Charles Babbage. So, while we may not have had a Silicon Valley, computer industries would have still taken off around the world.
One thing that may have been different is how and why we use computers. America is a country of individualism, so perhaps the fact Facebook was created there isn’t that surprising. The fascinating documentary ‘Century of Self’ focuses on how advertising companies and also the government in the American past could engineer consent and manipulate what they called ‘the herd’ by making them identify with products and ideologies using psychological manipulation. America firmly put the ‘self’ into society, and it virtually created public relations and advertising. Without America, perhaps the self would never have been so important, and we would still be living in societies that embrace collectivism more. While individualism would still have taken root in Europe, it’s likely consumerism and self-identifying with our products and brands, may have not been quite the same. We might not have had a culture where being liked can happen at the push of a button, or one in which a ruler is in love with Twitter.
We might also ask what would have happened if those class conscious Brits would have been defeated by Fascist or Communist nations. Karl Marx wrote that the communist utopia could not exist before capitalism finally imploded, and the USA has been to some extent the greatest conduit of capitalism. Without the USA, democratic ways of life could have been severely at risk. We could also ask if, with unhindered New Capitalism and neo-liberalism, which are very American, we are consuming our way to self-destruction? European dominance may have not included the Big Gulp and Big Pharma lobbying arms.
Or, would British global dominance, or French, or Russian, or Chinese, have been any different? One thing we can tell you, is that if the USA had never existed, you wouldn’t be watching this. But would something similar have been invented, and would you have had the freedom to discuss some of the things we’ve mentioned today? Would we have had the specter of ‘fake news’ or even the technology for big brother to know we are reading it? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!