Fr. Ernesto, aka Fr. Orthoduck when he is less serious, has written an interesting speculation based on history and musings. It well could be as he describes below. You can find his blog, mostly serious inquiry into theology, orthodox history, and items of the moment, on my blogroll.
Adventure, pioneering is held in high esteem–because, as a wise reformer on old Earth once said, it keeps the adventurers far away from home. — Elizabeth Moon. “New World Symphony,” Moon Flights. Ed. Marty Halpern. San Francisco: Night Shade Books, 2009.
This phrase in a science fiction book set Father Orthoduck to thinking. It is not the first time Father Orthoduck has heard a thought of this type. Back in 1990, he had the opportunity in Cochabamba, Bolivia to hear of some sociological studies done by Jesuit scholars at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú. They said that the discoveries of Cristoforo Colombo (Christopher Columbus) could not have come at a better time for the Spanish monarchy. The almost 800 years of war, known as La Reconquista (the Reconquest), between the Spanish and the Islamic invaders had come to an end. The final piece fell in place when the Emirate of Granada was reconquered by King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile. For those of you ardent femenists, the war was actually launched by Queen Isabella with the help of her husband in 1482. Spain was not fully united at that time, and though the two were indeed married, each was a Head of State in his/her own right.
The Treaty of Granada, the final surrender, happened in 1491. However, this placed the Kings and Queens of Spain and Portugal in a delicate situation. After a war of such length, you can imagine the large size of the armies and navies in those kingdoms. Many only knew how to be in the armed forces and would not have been fit for peaceful employment. The danger of rebellions when that many people are armed and know war is very high. At just this time is when Colombo comes asking for travel funds. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella had money in the treasury which they were no longer forced to spend on war, and so they invested it with high hopes of commercial return. Instead, what they got was a new continent.
This provided a rather handy solution. What do you do with all those younger sons of nobles? What do you do with commoner soldiers who have no trade? Why, you ship them all off to this New World to conquer it in the name of the Kings and Queens. And so they did. Many younger sons who would not have inherited the estate upon their father’s death now ended up with estates far larger than anything which their father had owned in old Spain. Even commoner soldiers ended up with more property than they would have had in old Spain. On top of old that, money flowed back into Spain and made Spain, for a while, one of the richest countries on Earth.
A similar, but less violent process happened with England, and somewhat with France. England was still seething from the Reformation. The Elizabethean Settlement did not sit well with all English people. The struggle between the more Catholic party and the more Calvinist party kept tensions running high in old England. They, too, could have ended up in a continual semi-civil war. The Cromwell period showed just how bad it could get if the wrong party was able to assume power. And so, for the English as well, allowing their adventurers to freely leave to the New World was a winning situation. On the one hand, people like the Puritans and Roman Catholics could set up their own colonies, in New England and in Maryland. Quakers could be given yet another tract of land, Pennsylvania. And, excess unruly prisoners could be forcibly transported overseas, first to Georgia and then to Australia. Note that Georgia was not founded as a penal colony, per se, but it certainly benefitted from the “worthy poor” who were released from debtor’s prison to the transport ships, and, yes, to prisoners forcibly transported.
And so, England got rid of its extremists and became the profitable moderate country that it has remained to this day. The continuing opening to further adventures, as the British Empire advanced, kept the home country both stable and financially well-off.
It should be noted that France did not go that route and ended up with both the bloody killing of the Huguenots in the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572, and the bloody French Revolution. Though France held Quebec, it never held it tightly and never used its colony the way that both the Spanish and the British did their colonies, as a steam release valve for their countries. It was not until later, in its North African adventures, that France achieved something of that release valve. By 1831 they establish the French Foreign Legion which certainly allowed many men to recover from incredibly bad life decisions.
But, it did set Father Orthoduck to thinking. Where are the relief valves for the adventurers today? He suspects that this is part of the reason for the growth of extreme sports in this country. But, he still wonders whether it would be good for our society to have such a valve. He wishes that the space program had panned out rather than turning into another inefficient bureocracy. And, having been a missionary, Father Orthoduck quite understands the pull to go out and take chances. Had the space program done what it should and expanded to the moon, why Father Orthoduck might have volunteered to be one of the moon chaplains. One never knows.