Monday, May 13, 2013

Ricardo Duchesne on "The Faustian impulse and European exploration"

Ricardo Duchesne
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.

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."
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 wonder how he 'gets at' that spirit of some 6,000 years ago . . .

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At 9:37 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

I wonder too.

At 9:41 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

"Faustian restlessness."

What? That's just a cheap slogan. If you want middle brow crapolla epitomized, that phrase is it.

At 10:32 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

But I sort of liked that expression, Carter -- except that I have doubts about applying this concept to the pre-Christian West, where I'm not sure that it makes sense.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:03 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

. . . prized heroic warriors striving for individual fame and recognition, often with a "berserker" style of warfare

Quite interestingly, when Toquato Tasso wrote his long poem "Gerusalemme Conquistata" (Jerusalem Conquered), i.e. the remake or rather the reboot of his "Gerusalemme Liberata" (Jerusalem Delivered), in the late 16th century (1593), he turned the Ariostesque battles of his older work into 'Celtic,' Conan-like massacres. And that was meant to be a glorification of the Christian West. Besides, the warriors involved in the Crusade, both on the Christian and the Muslim side, come from all over the world, Norway to India.

At 2:15 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

World War Null!

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:57 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

Actually, the VERY first world war has been described by JRR Tolkien in his saga "The Silmarillion": Elves vs Orcs vs Men.

At 4:09 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Now we're going negative!

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:29 PM, Anonymous Sperwer said...

"Triumphalism" is a cant word that is part of the knee-jerk PC demonization of the West - although there's something to said for applying it to the Shrub's appalling performance aboard the USS Abe Lincoln, when he claimed "Mission Accomplished."

I used to like books like this when i was young, but now I prefer real history. How DOES one demonstrate what the spirit of the Scythians was?

At 7:22 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hopefully, we won't descend low enough to worry about triumphalism.

As for the aristocratic warrior spirit, I suspect that he borrows methodology from work done in Indo-European linguistics: look at warrior bands all over the Indo-European world and check for commonalities in order to extrapolate back.

The book has gotten some good reviews, probably a lot of bad ones, too, and likely many politically motivated on both sides.

I'd like to read it.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"heroic warriors striving for individual fame and recognition"!....Its not too surprising that Duchesne's book is listed on Stormfront, the Neo-Nazi website, on a list of books submitted by members which are for "white nationalists" (in the company of Gobineau and Houston Stewart Chamberlain). There are some dark beasts stirring in Duchesne's head. There's also a quiet homoerotic dimension there.

At 7:25 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, as I was digging around, I noticed that site. Stormfront would latch onto anything Indo-European, I suppose. The real question is whether Duchesne is proposing a cultural theory, or a racial one. He seems to be stressing the former, but I'll have to read him to find out.

Jeffery Hodges

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