Chapter 3 - Halford Mackinder "The Geographical Axis of History"

3.1 Scientist and politician

Sir Halford J. Mackinder (1861-1947) is the brightest figure among geopolitics.

Having received a geographical education, he taught at Oxford since 1887, until he was appointed director of the London School of Economics. From 1910 to 1922 he was a member of the House of Commons, and in the interval (1919 1920) the British envoy to southern Russia.

Mackinder is known for his high position in the world of English politics, the international orientation of which he greatly influenced, as well as the fact that he belongs to the most daring and revolutionary scheme for interpreting the political history of the world.

On the example of Mackinder, the typical paradox characteristic of geopolitics as a discipline is most clearly manifested. Mackinder's ideas were not accepted by the scientific community, despite his high position not only in politics but also in the scientific community itself. Even the fact that for almost half a century he actively and successfully participated in the creation of the English strategy in international affairs on the basis of his interpretation of the political and geographical history of the world could not make skeptics recognize the value and effectiveness of geopolitics as a discipline.

3.2 Geographical axis of history

Mackinder's first and most striking presentation was his report The Geographical Axis of History (9), published in 1904 in the Geographical Journal. In it, he outlined the basis of his vision of history and geography, developed in subsequent works. This Mackinder text can be considered the main geopolitical text in the history of this discipline, since it not only generalizes all previous lines of development of “political geography”, but formulates the basic law of this science.

Mackinder argues that for the State the most advantageous geographical position would be a middle, central position. Centrality is a relative concept, and in each specific geographical context it can vary. But from a planetary point of view, in the center of the world lies the Eurasian continent, and in its center is the "heart of the world" or "heartland". Heartland is the concentration of the continental masses of Eurasia. This is the most favorable geographical base for control over the whole world.

Heartland is a key territory in a more general context within World Island. Mackinder's World Island includes three continents Asia, Africa and Europe.

Thus, Mackinder hierarchizes planetary space through a system of concentric circles . In the center is the "geographical axis of history" or "axial area" (pivot area ). This geopolitical concept is geographically identical to Russia. The same "axial" reality is called heartland, "earth of heart."

Next comes the "inner or marginal crescent" . This belt coincides with the coastal spaces of the Eurasian continent . According to Mackinder, the “inner crescent” is the zone of the most intensive development of civilization . This is consistent with the historical hypothesis that civilization arose initially on the banks of rivers or seas, the so-called " Potamic theory “It should be noted that the latter theory is an essential point of all geopolitical constructions. The intersection of water and land spaces is a key factor in the history of peoples and states. This topic will be specially developed by Schmitt and Speakman, however, it was Mackinder who was the first to derive this geopolitical formula.

Next comes the more external circle : “outer or insular crescent”. This zone is entirely external (geographically and culturally) relative to the mainland mass of the World Island (World Island).

Mackinder believes that the entire course of history is determined by the following processes. From the heartland’s center, a constant pressure of the so-called " sushi robbers ." This was especially clearly reflected in the Mongol conquests. But they were preceded by Scythians, Huns, Alans, etc. The civilizations flowing from the "geographical axis of history", from the innermost spaces of heartland, are, according to Mackinder, "authoritarian", "hierarchical", "undemocratic" and "non-commercial in nature." In the ancient world, he is embodied in a society like Dorian Sparta or Ancient Rome.

From outside, from the regions of the "island crescent", pressure on the World Island is carried out by the so-called "rob the sea" or "island inhabitants". These are colonial expeditions originating from the non-Eurasian center, striving to balance the ground impulses originating from the inner limits of the continent. The civilization of the “outer crescent” is characterized by the “commercial” character and the “democratic forms” of politics. In ancient times, the Athenian state or Carthage differed in such a character.

Between these two polar civilizational-geographical impulses lies the zone of the “inner crescent”, which, being dual and constantly experiencing the opposite cultural influences, was the most mobile and, thanks to this, became the place of priority development of civilization.

History, according to Mackinder, geographically rotates around the continental axis. This story is most clearly felt precisely in the space of the “inner crescent”, while “frozen” archaism reigns in the heartland, and in the “outer crescent” there is some civilizational chaos.

3.3 The key position of Russia

Mackinder himself identified his interests with those of the Anglo-Saxon island world, i.e. with the position of the "outer crescent." In such a situation, he saw the basis of the geopolitical orientation of the “island world” in the maximum weakening of heartland and in the maximum possible expansion of the influence of the “external crescent” on the “internal crescent”. Mackinder emphasized the strategic priority of the "geographical axis of history" in world politics and formulated the most important geopolitical law:

The one who controls Eastern Europe dominates the heartland; the one who dominates the heartland dominates the World Island; the one who dominates the World Island dominates the world.

(Democratic ideals and reality) (10)

At the political level, this meant recognizing the leading role of Russia in a strategic sense. Mackinder wrote:

Russia is as strategically central in the whole world as Germany is in relation to Europe. It can carry out attacks on all sides and be subjected to them from all sides except the north. The full development of its railway capabilities is a matter of time.

(Geographical axis of history) (11)

Proceeding from this, Mackinder believed that the main task of Anglo-Saxon geopolitics is to prevent the formation of a strategic continental alliance around the "geographical axis of history" (Russia). Consequently, the strategy of the forces of the "external crescent" is to tear off the maximum number of coastal spaces from the heartland and put them under the influence of "island civilization."

A shift in the balance of power towards the" axial state "(A.D. of Russia), accompanied by its expansion into the peripheral spaces of Eurasia, will make it possible to use huge continental resources to create a powerful navy: so close to the world empire. This will become possible if Russia the threat of such development will force France to enter into an alliance with the overseas powers, and France, Italy, Egypt, India and Korea will become coastal bases where the flotillas of external powers will moor to disperse the forces of the "axial range" in all directions and prevent them from concentrating spend all their efforts on creating a powerful navy.

(Geographical axis of history) (12)

The most interesting thing is that Mackinder did not just build theoretical hypotheses, but actively participated in organizing international support for the Entente to the "white movement", which he considered an Atlanticist trend aimed at weakening the power of pro-German Eurasian Bolsheviks. He personally advised the leaders of the white cause, trying to get the maximum support from the British government. It seemed that he prophetically foresaw not only the Brest Peace, but also the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact ...

In 1919, in the book Democratic Ideals and Reality, he wrote:

What will happen to the forces of the sea if one day the great continent politically unites to become the basis of an invincible armada? (13)

It is easy to understand what exactly Mackinder laid in the Anglo-Saxon geopolitics, which became the geopolitics of the USA and the North Atlantic Union in half a century, the main tendency: by any means impede the very possibility of creating a Eurasian bloc, creating a strategic union of Russia and Germany, geopolitically strengthening heartland and its expansion. The steady Russophobia of the West in the 20th century is not so much ideological as geopolitical. Although, given the connection between the civilizational type and the geopolitical nature of various forces highlighted by Mackinder, one can obtain a formula by which geopolitical terms are easily translated into ideological terms.

“Outer Crescent” liberal democracy; the "geographical axis of history" is undemocratic authoritarianism; "inner crescent" intermediate model, a combination of both ideological systems.

Mackinder participated in the preparation of the Treaty of Versailles, whose basic geopolitical idea reflects the essence of Mackinder's views. This agreement was drawn up in such a way as to secure the character of the coastal base for naval forces (Anglo-Saxon peace) for Western Europe. At the same time, he envisioned the creation of limitrophic states that would separate the Germans and the Slavs, in every way preventing the conclusion between them of a continental strategic alliance, so dangerous for the "island powers" and, accordingly, for "democracy."

It is very important to trace the evolution of the geographical limits of heartland in the writings of Mackinder. If in 1904 and 1919 (respectively, in the article "The geographical axis of history" and in the book "Democratic ideals and reality"), the outlines of heartland coincided in general terms with the borders of the Russian Empire, and later the USSR, then in 1943 in the text " A round planet and the conquest of the world "(14) he revised his former views and removed from the heartland'a Soviet territories of Eastern Siberia, located beyond the Yenisei. He called this sparsely populated Soviet territory "Russia Lenaland" by the name of the Lena River.

Russia Lenaland has 9 million inhabitants, 5 of whom live along the transcontinental railway from Irkutsk to Vladivostok. In the remaining territories, less than one person lives on 8 square kilometers. The natural wealth of this land is wood, minerals, etc. are practically untouched.

(The Round Planet and the Conquest of the World) (15)

Withdrawal of the so-called Lenaland from the geographical borders of heartland meant the possibility of considering this territory as a zone of the "inner crescent", i.e. as coastal space that could be used by the "island" powers to fight against the "geographical axis of history." Mackinder, who actively participated in organizing the Entente intervention and the “white movement”, apparently considered Kolchak’s historical precedent, which resisted the Eurasian center, to be a sufficient basis for considering territories under its control as a potential “coastal zone”.

3.4 Three geopolitical periods

Mackinder divides the entire geopolitical history of the world into three stages (16):

  1. The pre-Columbian era . In it, peoples belonging to the periphery of the World Island, for example, the Romans, live under the constant threat of conquest by the forces of the "heart of the earth." For the Romans, they were Germans, Huns, Alans, Parthians, etc. For the medieval oikumena, the golden horde.

  2. The Columbian era . During this period, representatives of the “inner crescent” (coastal zones) set off to conquer the unknown territories of the planet without encountering serious resistance anywhere.

  3. The Post-Columbian era . Unconquered land no longer exists. The dynamic pulsations of civilizations are doomed to collision, drawing the peoples of the earth into an universal civil war.

This periodization of Mackinder with the corresponding geopolitical transformations brings us close to the latest trends in geopolitics, which we will consider in another part of the book.