Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Eric Jones: Review of Ricardo Duchesne's Uniqueness of Western Civilization

Indo-European Expansion

In the Australian-based journal Policy Magazine (Vol. 27, No. 4, Summer 2011-12) is a review by economic historian Eric Jones of "The Uniqueness of Western Civilization, By Ricardo Duchesne." Let us again focus upon the Indo-European thesis:
Historians and philosophers tend to trace Europe's political singularity from Christianity to ancient Greece. As Duchesne fruitfully observes, they tend to park the matter there, as if Greece were sui generis. He probes into this, displaying prodigious learning in historical anthropology (informed throughout by Hegelianism). To collapse many, many pages of debate, his argument is that Europe’s essence lay in aristocratic competitiveness, contrasting with a 'serene and deferential East' -- an aspect, however, that Duchesne explores sparingly. Europe's individualism, aggressiveness and so on reached the continent, he insists, as the baggage of invading, prestige hungry Indo-European steppe nomads. These qualities, let alone their transmission to society as a whole, are rather imprecise and I was on the brink of dismissing them as too speculative when I found myself rather extensively cited. There must be something in the topic after all! But these hoary, contentious themes are really several orders of magnitude more speculative than the tracts of early modern history where Duchesne fences with the most fashionable of the revisionists.

It is a problem to exhume the history of thought and social structure in ancient Greece, but at least reams of scholarship exist on the subject. For centuries, higher learning in Europe dwelt on little else, except the slightly less faded history of Rome. Duchesne shows himself a master of the subject, especially in its anthropological guise. He shows himself, too, as a master of the archaeologically based sagas of the Indo-Europeans. He faces down anyone who would frighten us off the subject because of the Nazi's Aryan perversions, after which everything Indo-European was amputated and sanitised into mere linguistic studies. The task of taking the Indo-European legacy forward and connecting it with the priceless individualism and liberty of modern European peoples is of an even taller order. This section of the book -- or books -- is relatively diffuse. (pages 62c-63a)
Jones is good-humored about this thesis, but skeptical due to its speculative character and perhaps even wary of the the topic because of its earlier misappropriation by the National Socialists of Germany in their genocidal actions during the 1930s and early 1940s. In my own Google searches I have noticed a few racialist sites popping up among the many websites with reviews by the book's admirers, but so far as I can judge from reviews, Duchesne is making a cultural argument, not a racial one. And an argument explaining the West's success over East Asia in modernizing first has to be based on cultural reasons and not, for instance, on such things as intelligence quotient scores since East Asians outscore Caucasians.

Such are issues to be aware of in reading the book's argument . . .

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At 8:42 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

"...West's success over East Asia in modernizing first has to be based on cultural reason..."

Has to? Hmm. What of climate? Geography? Population? History? And the, ahem, "operation" of "chance", is we can call it that.

And then lets throw a little skepticism in here, too:

According to Bacon in Aphorism 45 from Book I of the New Organum:

The human understanding is of its own nature prone to suppose the existence of more order and regularity in the world than it finds. And though there be many things in nature which are singular and unmatched, yet it devises for them parallels and conjugates and relatives which do not exist. Hence the fiction that all celestial bodies move in perfect circles, spirals and dragons being (except in name) utterly rejected.Hence too the element of fire with its orb is brought in, to make up the square with the other three which the sense perceives.Hence also the ratio of density of the so-called elements is arbitrarily fixed at ten to one.And so on of other dreams.And these fancies affect not dogmas only, but simple notions also. (50)

Also, Idols of the Market:

"...language is often distorted "according to the apprehension of the vulgar. And therefore the ill and unfit choice of words wonderfully obstructs the understanding." Learned men are often in error in their definitions and explanations because "words plainly force and overrule the understanding, and throw all into confusion, and lead men away into numberless empty controversies and idle fancies."

At 8:46 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

Underscore "empty controversies and idle fancies."

At 9:15 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

Taking the historical situation into consideration in toto. The virtues espoused by Duchesne are more aptly "attributable" to the Renaissance and Reformation, and what those movements "mean".

At 4:44 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Apparently, Duchesne argues against those other potential reasons and for the Indo-European hypothesis, and given those restriction, he's either making a cultural or 'biological' argument, and the former seems the one in his case -- the latter being problematic anyway, for the reason I mentioned.

Duchesne, of course, could be wrong.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:59 PM, Anonymous Sperwer said...

Surely, taken fairly in context, Jeff's reference to the cultural causes of the priority of the West in modernization does not even suggest that it the only relevant factor, to the exclusion of the other considerations you mention; but only serves to indicate that Duchesne's thesis is not to be confused with the racialist ideology of Indo-Aryanism propagated by the Nazis.

At 5:53 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yeah, that, too!

Jeffery Hodges

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