File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_2001/bhaskar.0110, message 38

Date: Thu, 25 Oct 2001 12:14:20 -0400
Subject: Re: BHA: <fwd> A.G.Frank on World history and the current

I agree with Andre Gunder Frank that it is people, not civilizations, that 
can engage in dialogue.  I prefer to use the rather vague general term 
"collectivities," rather than "civilizations," because of the very kinds of 
arguments Frank uses in arguing that civilizations  have never really 
existed.  It seems to me, however, that there can be little doubt about the 
existence of collectivities of different kinds, both in the past and in the 
present.  Some, but not all of them, are territorial.  They are related in 
a variety of ways, not the least important of which are temporally and 
spatially.  Smaller collectivities can interact directly -- think of two 
teams playing a football game.  Larger collectivities interact through 
representatives and agents -- the teams "represent" their schools, or 
towns, or nations.  Members of collectivities are often unhappy with what 
their representatives or agents do in their name.

Representatives of two or more large collectivities -- e.g., Bush and Putin 
-- can engage in dialogue.  But this does not mean that the collectivities 
have engaged in dialogue.  There is, of course, quite a bit of dialogue 
between other Americans and Russians in a wide variety of domains of 
activity, and much dialogue between Christians and Muslims.  This is good.

I fear, however, that dialogue is unlikely to prevent war.  As Randolph 
Bourne put it: "War is the health of the state."  Modern nation states 
demonstrate their sovereignty by going to war.  The nation-state system has 
war, or the potential for war, as a defining characteristic.  For peace to 
be something other than a temporary absence of war, the system of 
nation-states will have to be redefined.  This redefinition cannot be 
accomplished by a scholar, or a group of scholars.  It must be political.

Dick Moodey

At 10:15 PM 10/22/2001 +0100, you wrote:
>Department of History
>University of Nebraska Lincoln [UNL]
>Lincoln, NE
>Web Page:
>Excerpt from the Pauley Lecture October 18th:
>As part of that,  the UN declared 2001 as the Year of Dialogue of
>Civilizations I will argue here tonight that this denomination is also
>confusing and dangerous, particularly since  September 11. For now
>the dialogue seems to be carried on more with with machetes, bombs
>and airplanes, propanganda and  obfuscation if not downright lies.
>As part of this  this  tragically  mis-named UN year, I participated in
>a UN University conference on Dialogue of Civilizations in Japan.
>My message was:
>Why Dialogue Yes? Because we need it - among people who are the
>only ones who CAN dialogue with each other in this ONE WORLD
>of ours..
>Why civilization No? Because there are none and never were any.
>Even if there were, only people could dialogue - and also across the
>theoretically alleged civilizations that have no and never had any de
>facto historical existence.
>To claim that different civilizations did and still do exist is not only
>historically and scientifically confusing but also dangerous. The call,
>attempt, and  claim to compare civilizations is  misguided and
>therefore misleading. Even if it were possible to identify and compare
>civilizations, which it is not because they do not exist, the very attempt
>to do so only evades and confuses  the issue as  Gorbachov, who was to
>speak here yesterday, said in his address to the UN already in 1988, that
>is unity in diversity. Apparently, the UN did not listen very well, since
>instead  it is still today going on about non-existing separate
>Alas, this problem with comparisons and
>applies not only to non-existent civilizations, but also to societies,
>cultures, ethnicities and  especially races. Apart from the tendency and
>danger of attributing and comparing characteristics that they do not in
>fact have, the very comparative method must lead to misleading results
>when it is applied to units or entities that are supposed to have been or
>be separate but in fact have been and  still are so related to each other
>that some of their supposedly separate characteristics  in fact  RESULT
>FROM THEIR RELATION itself and/or from some influence that is
>common to them both or all. All social life is characterized by such
>relations, connections, and commonalities throughout world history,
>as I intend to demonstrate in this evening; thus leaving precious little
>of much use to be learned from any world history that is primarily
>comparative. Moreover, before we can useful distinguish differences,
>let alone understand which differences really make a difference, we
>need to identify the connections and commonalities from which to
>distinguish any differences.
>All were historically shaped and are today re-shaped, not by any imagined
>original pristine existence or derivation, but by their mutual  relations
>with each other. I wonder why so many - even *world* historians do not
>see that world history is history OF THE WORLD.   It is the refusal to
>accept this fact of our common social life that can then find expression
>in *we are God's chosen people*, *this land is ours and has been since
>forever* ,*this land is ours,* and *ethnic cleansing* - instead of unity in
>diversity, or diversity in unity.
>Tonight I will speak about this unity, which at least in AfroEurasia
>has a history of several thousand years. That is why it is historically
>and theoretically more correct and socio-politically more useful to
>do a unifying and connective rather than, or at least in addition to,
>comparative world history. That is what I propose to do here tonight,
>even with the brief time at my disposal to to look at best at some tips
>of the icebergs over  the last 6,000 years in the history of the world.
>One operational definition and characteristic of  a single common
>history of globalization  historical process of globalization  is that
>diverse groups dance to the same historical tune, which itself generates
>that diversity.
>In the Eastern Hemisphere *old* world, the beginnings of this process
>and structure of globalization  can be identified and timed as far back
>as at least 4,000 BC. in the eastern Mediterranean and surrounding areas
>and peoples of  what has been called the Fertile Crescent. The neoliphic
>revolution and common historical process began there precisely because
>the area was fertile, and then  spread out from there to ever wider adjacent
>areas and peoples. By 3,000 BC and certainly by 2,500. Sargon lived and
>undertook his military economic expeditions around  2,450. Bronze age
>cycles ,rome-china, medieval LIFE 1000 -1800 -1900
>I would like to close our long voyage through world history and ok
>its comparison with received Eurocentric history by deriving  some
>important theoretical, ideological and political conclusions for the
>present and our future.
>This kind of WORLD history will hopefully one day replaces the
>Eurocentric historiography and social theory begun by Marx,
>embellished by Weber, recently codified by David Landes his best
>selling WEALTH AND POVERTY OF NATIONS, and  converted
>into the worst kind of political propaganda by Samuel Huntington as
>THE CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS. This mis-named  World history
>of civilizations is directly pertinent to the divisive and dangerous
>political agenda pursued  under the ideological cover of appeals
>to comparative history and the comparative method in the social
>sciences.  Alas, both are swords with two edges, one that can with
>great difficulty be used  to do good, the other with great ease to do
>In 1970 President Richard Nixon declared that we are all Keynesians
>now. By analogy we are all  Marxists now, and especially those who
>deny it. For it was Karl Marx and Friederich Engels who in 1848 for
>the fist time codified the alleged difference between THE WEST AND
>We developed what has come to be called *democratic capitalism*  in
>the West starting in  Europe, while the rest languished in its traditional
>and the *Asiatic Mode of Production* under *Oriental Despotism*.
>The claim is that they would have remained there for ever had it not
>been for the *Expansion of Europe*,  its *capitalism* and the colonialism
>and imperialism whose *civilizing mission* was to carry *the white man's
>After Marx, te most famous academic exponents of all that are Max
>Weber, who added some rationalist yeast to Marx=s capitalist bread so
>that it could rise and  accumulate. The modern father of history, Otto
>von Ranke disingeniously claimed that his Eurocentric history was
>universal, Oswald Spengler lamented its decline, and Arnold Toynbee
>still eulogized Western civilization as a standout from among his
>depending when we look at 23, then 21 or only 19 civilizations.
>Also following Marx, this  Eurocentric theology  has had and still
>has countless disciples, preachers and other faithful.  All of them
>construct and their  contemporary desiples still  hold on to an
>either/or between an alleged European Miracle [as per the now
>famous title by Eric Jones] derived exclusively from an also European
>exceptionalism that in THE WEST and then compare that  to even
>more equally mythical qualities - or rather the alleged lack of them
>-in THE REST. Alas any serious historical research demonstrates that
>The Rest never was as the Eurocentrist  claim, nor even was their own
>West. Moreover, not only do they compare nonexisiting  apples  that
>are innately black in the Rest with equally non-existent oranges that
>are innately blue in The West. But their would be comparison is
>vitiated by the prior cross-breeding of both with each other.  The
>result is the empirical falsification - nay even denial - of world history
>common to both and the derivation of  social theory of essential and
>essentialist innate qualities, whose only use is the attempt to legitimate
>the domination by The Rest by the West. These polar dualities have
>been the common mark of all the scions of the received wisdom from
>Marx in 1948 to Landes in 1997. They include  the  "father of sociology"
>in France Auguste Compte and Sir Henry Maine Main in England
>who distinguished  between supposedly new forms of thinking and of
>social organization based on "science" and "contract," in the West that
>allegedly replaced age "traditional" ones that still mark THE
>REST. Another comparison of the same duality, was that of the also
>Frenchman Emile Durkheim ,who idealized our "organic" vs. their
>"mechanical" forms of social organization. Not to be outdone Germany
>produced Ferdinand Toennis, who alleged a transition from traditional
>"Gemeinschaft" to modern "Gesellschaft" and of course the still more
>influential George Simmel, Werner Sombart, an above them all Max
>In a later generation and by then in the Unitdd States, Talcott Parsons
>codified Weber and idealized "universalist" vs. "particularist" social
>forms, and Robert Redfield with whom I studied cultural anthropology
>claimed to have found a contrast and transition or at least a continuum
>between traditional "folk" and modern "urban" society and a  symbiosis
>between "low" and "high civilization."  With the only partial exception
>Redfield's, none of these polar opposite ideal types even remotely
>contemplate  that each pole may have influenced the not so ideal
>characteristics of the other, and all neglect if not deny any world
>history common to them all.
>Other authors also offer only non-world historical "internal" explanations
>to account for the alleged superiority and ascendance of the West over
>the Rest . For these writers, the rise of the West  also  was a "miracle"
>based on  the West's unique qualities., that The Rest must now try to
>copy to enter the paradise of the West. That was called ''Modernizationan
>Theory,'' much of which was invented for the by CENIS branch at MIT,
>where I innocently spent 3 months in 1958. That is where the CIA funded
>Lucian Pye and  his political alleged science, the sociologists Daniel
>Lerner's invention of *The Passing of Traditional Society,* and  David
>McClellan's *Achieving Society,* all of which were codified there as
>*The Theory of Social Change* by Everett Hagen and complemented
>by The economist W..W. Rostow's *The Stages of Economic Growth.*
>All were cut from the same Eurocentric cloth and followed the same
>theoretical pattern, and they dominated the social sciences for more than
>a generation. In 1958, Rostow confided  Rostow  confided in me that since
>the age of 18 his goal was to replace Marx. Indeed, his book was then
>subtitled *A Non-Marxist Manifesto* by which he really meant an
>anti-Marxist one.  Alas we may ask, what was the point? Rostow's
>"stages" were little more than a "bourgeois" version of Marx's stage by
>stage development from feudalism to capitalism to socialism -- all starting
>in Europe! Like Marx, Rostow claimed that now the United States,
>following England, would show the rest of the world the mirror of its
>future.  Rostow (1975), later  also explained  How it All Began: Origins
>of the Modern Economy through the scientific revolution that allegedly
>distinguished modern Europe. The next year, Cipolla (1976:276)
>claimed "that the Industrial Revolution was essentially and primarily a
>socio-cultural phenomenon and not a purely technical one, [which]
>becomes patently obvious when one notices that the first countries to
>industrialize were those which had the greatest cultural and social
>similarities to England."  David Landes (already in 1969 had also
>discovered the cultural conditions for The Unbound Prometheus:
>Technological Change and Industrial Development in Western Europe
>only in Europe itself.
>Three decades later my now friend  David Landes still repeats the same
>1997. There he claims that *if we learn anything from the history of
>development, it is that culture makes all the difference*, that is of course
>our Western culture. [A  public debate on our respective books is
>available on video for $ 29,95 from C-Span who broadcast it nation-
>wide]. In reply to my charge that he too is an undercover Marxist,
>David replied that his Harvard colleagues do not regard him as such
>and informed us that when he misbehaved his father used to call him
>a socialist, to which I signified my pleasure and honor to have something
>in common with his father.  Well, David is a super-duper Marxist indeed
>when he mis-behaves in doing comparative *world history,* as he
>erroneously names it, of the   WEST vs. THE REST, and literally
>litters his book with adjectives and ad-hominims about the rest.
>Although Landes writes "anyone who wants to understand world
>economic history must study China," that is where he finds his best
>epiteths. The Chinese lacked range, focus, and above all, curiosity;
>they were a culturally and intellectually homeostatic society that could
>live with little change; they had indifference to technology, technological
>and scientific torpor; lacked institutions for finding and learning [in the
>world's most literate society!]; abhorred mercantile success, and were not
>motivated by greed and passion. They showed deliberate introversion,
>isolationism, risk aversion, irrationality, xenophobia, arrogance,
>haughtiness, stunned submissiveness, self-defeating escapism; were
>insecure and brittle, and so on and on. To other parts of the Rest, my
>friend David attributres other ''intrinsic capabilities'' as he calls them
>of being Dumb, dour, dull, docil, incapable, inefficient, intolerant, cupid,
>avaricious, self-imposed archaism, submissive, sanctimonious, intolerant,
>hypocrit, lacking in skills, curiosity, initiatives and civic interests; and
>In his review of David's book in the New York Review of Books, the
>father of modern world history and past  president of the AHA William
>McNeill can justly write that Landes "assumes an unchanging culture
>[in China] ... and his chapters on Latin America, the Muslim lands and
>China [also Russia, Spain and Portugal]  bluntly attribute their fumbling
>in making progress toward modernity to defects in the culture and
>institutions of the peoples concerned."  McNeill calls many of these
>"assumptions" "unabashedly triumphalist dubious assertions"
>In case you think all this is quaint academicism, recall that when that
>old cold warrior e Samuel Huntington, lost  his bogey of the Evil
>Empire, he used  this kind of  Eurocentic historiography and social
>theory  as his base  for his  alleged  CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS,
>invented by him for the prupose, nobody knows how, between US
>and THEM for which he coined the term THE WEST AND THE
>REST, in particular with China and Islam.  Bernard Barber then re-
>babtized them as  *A Jihad vs. McDonald* and Francis Fukuyama
>*The End of History*. Beyond that reigns Kaplan's *Age of Chaos.*
>All of this divisive ideology is rapidly put to the political use for
>which it was invented, against China while a US spy plane was
>sitting there and now against Islam, President Bush's denials
>notwithstanding. Unfortunately, the mis-guided and mis-leading
>Eurocentric historiography and and social theory, intentionally or
>not, still provide the un-scientific basis and ideological legitimation
>for all this, along of course with the denial or neglect of a common
>world history that would instead sustain unity in diversity.
>Not to be left out of the Eurocentric loop, the media magnate and
>conservative, nay reactionary, Prime Minister of Italy Silvio Berlusconi,
>soon after hosting the G-8 summit meeting in Genoa that also drew 100
>thousand protesters in the streets, one of whom was shot to death, himself
>raised a storm with his public declaration, significantly made after
>September 11, that Western civilization is superior to the Islamic one.
>So much for the comparative mis-called world history of civilizations,
>cultures, ethnicities and all that. As long the world is ReOrienting anyway,
>it would be useful for us to follow the course of contemporary world
>history and also to ReOrient. QED.
>Thank your for your attention and patience with me.
>      --- from list ---

     --- from list ---


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