Since its first publication twenty years ago, Eurocentrism has become a classic of radical thought. Rejecting the dominant Eurocentric view of world history, which narrowly and incorrectly posits a progression from the Greek and Roman classical world to Christian feudalism and the European capitalist system, Amin presents a sweeping reinterpretation that emphasizes the crucial historical role played by the Arab Islamic world. Throughout the work, Amin addresses a broad set of concerns, ranging from the ideological nature of scholastic metaphysics to the meanings and shortcomings of contemporary political Islam. While essentially thoughtful and analytical, this study is quite rightly informed with outrage against European arrogance and with sympathy for the non-European victims on the periphery of the present system. Amin convincingly explains that Eurocentrism, thus understood, is an ideological distortion, an incredible mythology, and an historical and moral travesty.
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Although an economist in scholarly training, Amin, like Bernal, has helped define the cultural issues of Eurocentrism. Using the model of the relation between a political, cultural and economic center and its periphery, Amin contrasts the pre-capitalist tributary mode of production associated with royal states supported by the tribute of subject peoples with the capitalist mode.
In so doing, Amin distinguishes two cultures. The first, with universalist and metaphysical aspirations, had its basis in the Eastern Mediterranean from the conquest of Alexander in B. On the periphery of that Near Eastern civilization arose the culture of capitalism. In the place of ancient thought and religion, images of European superiority, both racial and economic, now intervened.
If there is a religion of the modern West, asserts Amin, it is economism, not metaphysics. The challenges of Eurocentrism derive from the particular perspectives Amin brings to his subject and from the model of center-periphery he offers.
The dialogue Amin seeks to initiate reflects his interaction with certain important developments in twentieth-century Western Marxism. Capitalism, he insisted, was no longer running like a lemming to the precipice, and parliamentary socialism was the order of the day. While appealing back to the centrality of working-class organization and revolutionary resistance, they too saw new political and economic alignments which shifted the matrix of power increasingly onto the nation-state whose imperialist expansion was the index of its vitality.
The rise of fascism reinforced beliefs in a changed historical order. Hilferding, after having tried, by means of legal opposition, to resist national Socialism in Germany in the early s, fled to France and was finally killed by the Gestapo. Conceptions of the independent power of the state supported arguments for a greater divide between the base and the superstructure of society than Marx himself asserted. Other factors played a part in focusing the interests of Marxist intellectuals since the s on superstructural models.
Philosophical questions of discourse and method, and cultural studies on form and aesthetics, became leading issues of debate. Another factor was the accommodation, even if uneasy, of Marxism with the university. Gramsci, who wrote from the exile of prison, was a notable exception to the commoner exile of academia for Marxist intellectuals.
Not perhaps surprisingly, a number of left intellectuals have dealt with their retrenchment from proletarian movements and into the academic setting by viewing the working class itself in retreat from revolutionary political action. He mercifully resists the idealization of fifth-century B. Athens and classical Sparta as the progenitors of all later Western political ideas and values by looking forward to what he calls the Hellenistic world: the age of Alexander and his successors.
All arose in an eastern Mediterranean and Asiatic context. Ernest Mandel, in a review of the scholarship on the Asiatic mode, argues that Marx introduced the term as a description of contemporary Eastern socio-economic formations. In a pre-capitalist era, where ease of communication and movement are limited, this is a major feat—one which testifies to positive energies. Secondly, Amin contributes another level to twentieth-century debates over imperialism and capitalist development by arguing for the importance of their interconnection before the twentieth century.
Capitalism and imperialism, for him, are and have always been two sides of the same coin. Imperialism concentrates power in the nation-state, which then depends on military might for its assertion, economic exploitation for its maintenance and the myth of cultural superiority for its justification.
Politics, economics and culture together form an ideology of power denying the individual histories of those brought into subjection. Amin, in challenging Eurocentrism, has shown that, in order for the dominant West to define itself against the colonized, the image of Greece and Western Christianity have responded to the ethical task of identifying racism with humanism. Imperialism, culture and ideology—themes central to Western Marxist thought—provide a background that enables Amin to analyze Eurocentric assumptions about the past.
That framework has proved an invaluable tool. It also, though, being twentieth-century history, is in its own state of flux. For despite its significance in understanding the development of capitalism, the theme of imperialism positions power where those with political and economic control seek to have it—in themselves. The imperialist world view subordinates individual and group interests to a nation-state in which internal exploitation and class antagonisms conveniently disappear.
An attack on Western imperialism does not necessarily break out of imperialist ideology itself. A condemnation of the oppression distinctive to Western European and U. A similar process of leveling is at work in his rethinking of the past In Eurocentrism, the historical actors who push their way to the foreground are conquerors, while those behind fall into ranks of unity and acquiescence.
Amin cites the conquest of Alexander as the decisive turning point for the Mediterranean and Near Eastern worlds. Until that time, attempts at conquest had only been sporadic, short-lived adventures without any lasting effect. That view of Alexander is one which the Greeks themselves made every effort to publicize, and it is undeniably true that Alexander, when he died at age thirty-three, left an indelible mark on the history of the region.
The Greeks have not been alone in valorizing Alexander. In the s, French and British colonialists seized upon Alexander as incontestable proof of the benefits of Western conquerors.
In their estimation, before Alexander, Asia was stagnant and her resources dormant Alexander was the herald of progress and unification—in short, civilization. And Reynaud concludes that France will be the follower of Alexander in Morocco. Such a rewriting, or writing out, of the past before conquerors continues.
Thus, Palestine was a wasteland with only an isolated, nomadic population before the modern state of Israel. A closely related problem in viewing history in terms of conquering power is a lessened interest in, or sensibility to, historical movement. For Amin, history concentrates itself in moments. After the fourth century A. It is also the point of departure for the conquest of the world by capitalist Europe.
Again, as in the case of Alexander, the moment of the conqueror appears on a faceless map of society. The paradox is that while Amin has overcome the stagnation of traditional Marxist interpretations of the Asiatic mode of production, the dialectical movement of history itself recedes from view.
For, and this I think has serious implications, Amin along with Bernal is in line with a tradition of writing history in terms of elites—despite his opposition to the imperialism of the dominant culture. It prefers to govern the still uncouth masses, who are generally, though not always, content with simple interactions, hardly preoccupied with philosophy and the reconciliation of reason and faith, and disposed to live according to literally construed texts and formalized ritual.
This is to judge the culture and political life of the broad base of society by the standards of elitism the powerful themselves have set, as well as to ignore the inroads that elites, ancient and modern, can make into tiresome routines. The harder to grasp, because in many ways the more vibrant is the material culture of daily life in rural villages and towns. Carolingian art and architecture of the eighth and ninth centuries, to take but one example, represented a crossing of styles and techniques from Celtic Ireland, Moorish Spain, the Germanies, Byzantium and Rome.
It was a visually eloquent expression of cultural interaction between West and East whose development followed the skills of artisans and their schools. Moreover, the two processes described are rarely isolated categories but constantly interacting with each other. In the case of Near Eastern monarchies before and after Alexander, the ideology of the state had to confront much more than a passive mass of subject peoples.
The geographical area concerned extended from Egypt, to the Levant, to Anatolia modem-day Turkey , to Arabia and the borders of India. In addition, in each of these areas, subsidiary modes of production operated in the broader context of the tributary mode. The state, Persian or Hellenistic, meant something different to a temple priesthood in Egypt, villagers in Syria and the nomad tribes in Arabia.
There also existed the problematic of elites among subject peoples being closer often to the Persian or Macedonian-Greek ruling class than were the poor farmers and laborers among the dominant ethnic group. Similar varieties of social relations are present in most empires, the United States included. Despite the emphasis given by Amin on metaphysical thought, the fact remains that in the ancient world no imperial ideology could long survive without supporting military strength.
The universalist aims of Hellenistic and early Christian religion and philosophy cited by Amin do not take into account vituperative religious controversies and driving political ambitions played out on the domain of orthodoxy vs.
Jerome, in the fourth century A. The problems raised in Eurocentrism are not obstacles to, but rather points of departure for, further discussion. Amin has given his readers an alternative perspective on the origins of capitalism, taking as the center of political power the Near East and thus seeing the opening for new developments where the tributary mode of production was weaker and where the traditions of Hellenistic civilization were either less entrenched or altogether absent. The inherent superiority of Europe becomes a moot point.
Eurocentrism seeks out forces of historical movement. Yet, even as the polarities of center-periphery help identify incentives for change, they also reflect a certain aspect of the capitalist mentality. A hierarchy of cultures and monolithic modes of production characterize history in Eurocentrism. The center-periphery model is at its strongest when the people of history are glossed over in favor of social structures and ideology.
In the resulting alignments, the authority of a conceptual center itself may finally lose significance. Sign up for our Solidarity Newsletter. Get articles and upcoming events delivered every month. Subscribe via Facebook. Who Makes History? Beyond Eurocentrist and Imperialist History The questions to be asked, then, are: 1 How did the ideology of the state work itself out among different peoples and different sectors within society?
The latter book deserves more attention on the left than it has received. The paradox is, of course, that the area of the Tigris and Euphrates gave rise to one of the earliest examples of ancient urban civilization. Like this: Like Loading Subscribe via Facebook First name or full name. Monthly Newsletter. Weekly Digest Subscription. Daily Solidarity. See the current issue. Solidarity depends on the generous contributions of its friends and allies to continue its work.
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Eurocentrism: Modernity, Religion, and Democracy: A Critique of Eurocentrism and Culturalism
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