Europe has never been a matter of boundaries alone. “European civilization has entered into the truth, into the plan of Providence”, as the historian-statesman François Guizot put it. “It advances according to the ways of God. That is the rational principle of its superiority.” Borders themselves – the Sava River, the Bosphorus, the Urals – were always negotiable. Because it stood for so much more than mere territory, Europe’s nineteenth-century Powers had no difficulty universalizing their values in its name. Backed by their temporary but highly impressive technological and military superiority, they were able to impose the emergent rules of their state system on the rest of the world as the epitome of civilized order.

Guizot’s paradigm blossomed into a story of global progress under European guardianship. In law and in war, the Victorians and their successors held fast to the idea of a single “standard of civilization” that marked Europe (and honorary members like the North Americans) out from barbarians and savages. Africa and Asia’s shortcomings they attributed to biology, or to the pernicious impact of ossified religious and political traditions. Either way, there was, as the twentieth century dawned, nothing innocent about the concept of civilization, and it was impossible to separate it from the Eurocentric character of the world and the international system that had evolved with it.

more from the TLS here.