E18: Conclusions

There are few corners of the world where the mariner will find no lighthouses. In Asia, an extensive network exists today because European imperialists built the basic infrastructure. The gift of lighthouses was an integral part of this new style of empire building. Nations whose people live in fear from abroad do not build lighthouses. The building of lighthouses parallels the extent to which a civilisation or culture believes it has progressed. Thus, it was only when the Roman Empire exceeded a critical size and reached a strong level of internal security that it moved into an era of lighthouse construction. Similarly, it is a measure of the success of the British Empire in bringing peace and stability to a large part of the world that it was responsible for the building of so many lighthouses in its dominions. Indeed, the growth of lighthouses in Asia directly parallels the degree of growth and stability attained by the British Empire in the second half of the 19th century. Although the French held similar ambitions, and contributed to the lighthouse infrastructure, the comparison is slight when made against the British achievements. Though some of the world’s finest lighthouses were built in France by the French, they were always second to the British in the export of lighthouses. As Ferguson writes, “In the twentieth century too [the British Empire] more than justified its existence, for the alternatives to British rule represented by the German and Japanese empires were clearly far worse. And, without its empire, it is inconceivable that Britain could have withstood them.” By the time that Britain was called upon to defend itself, an extensive lighthouse infrastructure had already been created.