Ricardo Duchesne on "The Faustian impulse and European exploration"
University of New Brunswick: Saint John Campus
In an article, "The Faustian impulse and European exploration" (Fortnightly Review, June 5, 2012), Ricardo Duchesne summarizes the theme of his book, The Uniqueness of Western Civilization, and I find these two paragraphs especially useful in coming to understand his thesis:
In my book, The Uniqueness of Western Civilization, I trace the West's Faustian creativity and libertarian spirit back to the aristocratic warlike culture of Indo-European speakers who began to migrate into Europe roughly after 3500 BC, combining with and subordinating the 'ranked' Neolithic cultures of this region. Indo-European speakers originated in the Pontic-Caspian steppes. They initiated the most mobile way of life in prehistoric times, starting with the riding of horses and the invention of wheeled vehicles in the fourth millennium BC, together with the efficient exploitation of the "secondary products" of domestic animals (dairy goods, textiles, large-scale herding), and the invention of chariots in the second millennium. The novelty of Indo-European culture was that it was led by an aristocratic elite that was egalitarian within the group rather than by a single despotic ruler. Indo-Europeans prized heroic warriors striving for individual fame and recognition, often with a "berserker" style of warfare. In the more advanced and populated civilizations of the Near East, Iran, and India, local populations absorbed this conquering group. In Neolithic Europe, the Indo-Europeans imposed themselves as the dominant group, and displaced the native languages but not the natives.This approach could too easily devolve into a triumphalist account of Western achievements even if Duchesne is correct about the Western quest for adventure as inspired by a restless desire for self-glorification that derives from the aristocratic spirit of Indo-European elites stemming from Central Asia.
I maintain that the history of European explorations stands as an excellent subject matter for the elucidation of this Faustian restlessness. An overwhelming number of the explorers in history have been European. The Concise Encyclopedia of Explorers lists a total of 274 explorers, of which only 15 are non-European, with none [of these non-Europeans] listed after the mid-fifteenth century. In the urge to explore new regions of the earth and map the nameless, we can detect, in a crystallized way, the "prime-symbol" of Western restlessness. We can also detect the Western mind's desire -- if I may borrow the language of Hegel -- to expand its cognitive horizon, to "subdue the outer world to its ends with an energy which has ensured for it the mastery of the world."
I wonder how he 'gets at' that spirit of some 6,000 years ago . . .