Eurocentrism: A Critique (fwd)

Fri, 6 Mar 1998 09:52:23 -0700 (MST)
Martha Gimenez (

I am forwarding this message on behalf of Carl Dassbach.

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In all honesty, I find the debate and discussion about eurocentrism (which
periodically reappears
on WSN) to be somewhat out of place here.

Nonetheless, since Manjur has seen it fit to bring it up, I think there are
some important points to be

First, so-called Eurocentrism ala Bergsen and Frank is merely another
example of a favorite tactic
of post-modernist, i.e., creating strawmen (which, in fact, do not exist) in
order to attack them.

As I have repeatedly argued, it is not Eurocentric to say that something
different happened in
Europe in the so-called (heaven forbid) "long 16th c." and this had a
profound effect on the
subsequent development of the world economy. This is not to deny what came
before nor to
impute to Europe some type of super-historical role but to merely recognize
a historical event.

(BTW, The very idea that Frank begins "post-world-system theory" is bogus.
Anyone who has read
Wallerstein knows that for IW the modern world system is a historical
system. As such, it is
bounded in time which means it has a beginning and an end. Hence, the study
of the modern
world-system can never be (nor was it intended to be) the study of all of
human history but merely a
specific period.)

Likewise, anyone with one-quarter of a brain would admit that the rise of
Europe did not occur ex
nihilo Instead, the rise of Europe was part of a larger world historical
dynamic. Hence, these
arguments - which are so often repeated in the Eurocentrism debate - are not
simply trivial, they
are insulting.

Frank claims to have "so-to-speak" rediscovered the Orient. He hasn't -
instead world historical
development has. In other words. Frank discovery of the Orient is the
result of real material
developments - namely, the rise of the Orient over the last 20 years. It is
from THIS present that
Frank can now look backward and reconstruct a new and more inclusive global
history. Similarly,
what Wallerstein saw in 1970 was a "present" of European dominance. "The
owl of Minerva" as
Hegel tells us "only flies with the falling of dusk... only after history is
cut and dried."

Two other points - yes, perhaps we are seeing the rise of the Orient
(although recent events might
call that into question) but this rise seems to me to be rooted in
institutional and social forms which
developed in Europe, namely, rational (in the Weberian sense) capitalism.
Unless, of course, we
are ready to admit that rational capitalism is not a European development
but predates the rise of
Europe. (I forgot the exact phrase but Frank quoted someone to the effect
that (and I admit that I
may be wrong on the exact quote) without "Attila there would be no
Charlemagne" but I responded
"without Ford there would be no Toyota" and that, I assure you, can be
verified beyond any doubt.)

Second, how one sees the rise of the East or, for that matter, the
historical rise of Europe has, I
think, important ramifications for how one understands the process of
historical development and
change. What I see Frank advocating in these arguments is contrary to what
I believe to be the
very essence of the historical change, namely, qualitative change and
discontinuity. (BTW, IW first
volume was part of a series called "Studies in Social Discontinuity.").
Frank seems to be
suggesting that there is some long and unbroken continuity between the world
of 3000 years ago
and today. (IW, I would argue suggests the same but over a somewhat shorter
duration - 400
years) On the one hand I say "yes" to both of these claims at one level -
yes, were are dealing with
human civilization on earth or with European civilization and there is some
type of continuity - but I
also say "no" on a more fundamental, epistemological level.

To understand the essence of historical change, it is not simply enough to
identify similarities and
continuities between different eras of history because all this tell us is
how the present is similar to
the past. Instead, I believe historical knowledge, as knowledge of concrete
historical periods,
involves identifying the differetia specifica which sets apart different
epochs or eras. The historical
process is a dialectical process - it is a qualitative and not simply a
quantitative process. (As
Schumpeter once said "add as many mail coaches as you want but you will
never get a steam
engine") These qualitative transformation are what make eras historically
specific - Foucault
emphasize this in the Introduction to the ARCHEOLOGY OF KNOWLEDGE when he
says that we
must study the breaks in history and not the continuities, ; Marx makes the
same point when he
discuss the concrete as the historically specific or "the unity of many
determinations" and Arrighi's
Long 20th C. is a demonstration of distinct qualitative transformations in
the development of modern

Carl Dassbach