Geopolitical Thinkers: James Fairgrieve

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James Fairgrieve (1870-1953) was a British geographer and teacher who in 1914 wrote Geography and World Power (published in 1915), a work that sought to show how geography “controls” history. Fairgieve studied at the London School of Economics from 1903 to 1910, obtained a London University certificate in geography in 1912, and lectured on geography at the London Institute of Education.

Fairgrieve’s importance to geopolitics derives from his concept of what he called the “great land mass of Euro-Asia-Africa,” which four years later Sir Halford Mackinder would call the “World-Island.” Fairgrieve noted that Euro-Asia-Africa was surrounded by a “stream of ocean.” European explorers, Fairgrieve wrote, discovered “the oneness of the ocean” which held the “keys to world commerce.” Fairgrieve reviewed the struggles for power among the Dutch, Portuguese, Spaniards, and the British sea powers. He wrote about the benefits of Britain’s insular position in relation to the Old World. Fairgrieve also noted that the “great plain of the world” included the “steppeland” and Central Asia—what he called the “central land of Euro-Asia”—under the political organization of the Russians, and which was mostly “cut off from the ocean.” Russia, he wrote, was the “great land power” that occupied the “heart land of the old world.” He described Central and Eastern Europe as a “crush zone” situated between the great powers of Russia and Germany. Fairgrieve described China’s history as being influenced by great rivers, a long coastline, and a great plateau. He predicted that the interplay of land and sea forces “will have a growing tendency to unify China.” Fairgrieve’s book, which went through numerous editions, had a slew of maps, and he updated each new edition with developments in global politics.

After the cataclysm of the First World War, Fairgrieve wrote, “within the last generation or two, thanks largely to increased ease of communication, the world has become a single system with no part really independent of any other part.” He predicted that the United States would become “the seat of an ocean power, and play a part on a vaster scale which Britain played in earlier times,” while China was “in a position to dominate the heartland” and possibly take to the sea—a remarkable vision of the geopolitics of the 21st century.


Geography and World Power (University of London Press, LTD, 1915, 1917, 1919, 1921, 1924, 1927, 1932, 1941, 1944, 1948).

                  –Francis P. Sempa