Half of my book, The Uniqueness of Western Civilization, is about discrediting the multicultural claim that, as late as the mid 1700s, the West was no more advanced than the major civilizations of Asia, or China in particular, and that only a set of fortuitous circumstances gave the West a chance to industrialize first. The West did not "stumble" accidentally into the New World, I argued, and it was not "easy access" to the resources of the Americas, enslavement of blacks, or availability of cheap coal in Britain, that made possible Britain's take-off.
Columbus voyages were one among many other European explorations, starting with the organized expeditions of the Portuguese around Africa into the Indian Ocean in the 1400s. During the 1500s and 1600s, thousands of Europeans set about discovering and mapping the whole world for the first time in human history. While the acquisition of resources from the Americas, and the colonial trade did affect the timing, magnitude, and rate of industrial growth, this revolution occurred first in Britain because of this nation's freer markets, property rights, superior applications of modern science to industry, representative institutions, and a dynamic middle classes imbued with a Protestant ethic. Many other European nations, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Nordic countries, would soon industrialize in the 1800s, with next to no colonies. Overall the home market and the intra-European trade were far more significant than the colonial trade.
What I did new in Uniqueness was to argue that the rise of the West can't be reduced to the industrial revolution and even the preceding Galilean-Newtonian revolution. The West has always stood apart from the Rest as a singularly different civilization since prehistoric times. The history of the West is filled with continuous "births," "origins," "creations," "transitions," "renaissances," and "revolutions". We can start with ancient Greece and the "world's first scientific thought," the "invention of deductive reasoning," the "birth of citizenship politics," the "emergence of historical consciousness" and "the discovery of the mind". But then we have to explain what made Greece so different. The current, widely accepted explanation for Greek uniqueness, is question-begging. It says that the Greeks developed a unique institution, the polis, or city state, which encouraged individualism and reasoned discourse. Rather than having to submit to a priestly or government hierarchy, the citizens of these city-states were free to participate in the affairs of their city as well as enjoy a cultural atmosphere which encouraged individuals to contest for excellence.
But why the emergence of the polis and the higher individualism of the Greeks in the first place? Some have pointed to the geographical distinctiveness of Greece, its mountainous ecology, which compartmentalised the land into separate valleys, and encouraged the rise of small independent city-states. The geographic uniqueness of Europe generally is always part of the explanation. There is no question that the greater environmental diversity of Europe, its multiple rivers and links to a wider variety of seas, coupled with the fact that its mountains, plains, and valleys are all "of limited extent," and that no great river or plain dominates the ecology, and that farmers can rely on rainfall rather than on centrally controlled irrigation systems based on one large river, encouraged less centralized political authorities.
But rather than viewing geography as the active historical agent, the way Jared Diamond and others do, I drew on Hegel to emphasize the deep effect this environment had on the "type and character" of European peoples. The peoples of the world belong to the same species, but their state of being — their mental vision, temperament, and character — is deeply influenced by their place of habitation in the earth. I also went back in time to the prehistorical Indo-Europeans to argue that before the polis in Greece was established around the eight century BC, there were already aristocratic characters unwilling to submit to despotic rule. The Mycenaean civilization (1900-1200 BC) was uniquely aristocratic in the sense that "some men," not just the king, were free to deliberate over major issues affecting the group, as well as free to strive for personal recognition. The material origins of this aristocratic individualist ethos are to be found in the unique pastoral lifestyle of the Indo-Europeans who evolved out of the geographical area known as the "Pontic steppes". They were the riders of horses, the inventors of chariots and co-inventors of wheeled wagons, as well as the most efficient users of the "secondary products" of domestic animals (dairy products, textiles, harnessing), which gave them a more robust physical anthropology and the most dynamic way of life in their time.
I used the philosophical insights of four German thinkers, Spengler, Weber, Hegel, and Nietzsche — their writings about the "infinite drive," "the irresistible trust" of the Occident, the "energetic, imperativistic, and dynamic soul of the West," the "rational restlessness" of Europeans, the "powerful physicality [of aristocrats]...effervescent good health... [love of] adventure, hunting, dancing, jousting and everything that contains strong, free, happy action" — to argue that only European man has exhibited an intense desire to subject the world to its own ends, and that it is mainly this self who has been unable to feel "at home" in the world until it got rid "of the semblance of being burdened with something alien" (Hegel's words).
Why has the European mind shown less reluctance to accept "the ineffable mystery of the world"? Why have Europeans been less willing to accept a social order based on laws and norms which have not been subjected to free reflection? Drawing on Kojeve I argued the ultimate origins of Western uniqueness are to be found in the reality that only Western man became "truly" self-conscious because only this man created — in the environment of the Pontic steppes — a society in which the struggle to become a man involved a contest "for something that does not exist really," that is, a contest solely for the sake of being recognized by another human being as a man exhibiting aristocratic excellence against the biological fear of death and against the fear of rebelling against the norms mandated by mysterious/despotic gods and rulers.
In all cultures men have struggled for manhood and recognition by other men but only among the aristocratic culture of Indo-Europeans do we find an incessant contest to validate one's aristocratic status among one's peers, for these nomadic, horse-riding warriors were not subservient to any ruler but were possessed by an attitude of "being-for-self" or self-assertiveness (rather than an attitude of "being-for-another" or deference towards a fearful god or despotic ruler). This contest had a profound effect on the constitution of the human personality, leading to the discovery of a unified self. This discovery was not, in the first instance, an intellectual affair, as bookish academics prefer to think; it was an intensively passionate drive for masculine identity in the pursuit of the highest form of recognition, aristocratic status, for the sake of the highest ideals, honor, courage, immortal glory.
Eurocanadian , Eurocanadian 8 Comments
[7/13/2018 1:52:40 PM]
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