Monday, May 20, 2013

Ricardo Duchesne Reply to Professor Mark Elvin's Review

Ricardo Duchesne was not especially happy with Professor Mark Elvin's review of his book, The Uniqueness of Western Civilization, and he writes a "Reply To Mark Elvin" (Canadian Journal of Sociology, Vol 36, No 4 (2011), 378-387), though he opens by saying that he "was quite pleased to learn that a respected scholar of Chinese history, Mark Elvin, had written a review essay of . . . The Uniqueness of Western Civilization (2011)." Within a few lines, however, he adds, "Having read and cited some of Elvin's work, I would say that his intellectual frame is socialistic, materialistic, secular, and multiculturalist," but he then graciously adds, "All of us have cultural biases, so let me concede that I prefer the West to any other civilization." I don't think that there was any doubt about that, so I wasn't surprised to discover that this was a take-no-prisoners counter-review. I won't quote the entire review, of course, just Duchesne's reply to Elvin's critical remarks about his Indo-European thesis:
Elvin calls "original" my thesis on the aristocratic Indo-European roots of Western creativity but "suspects many readers will find it outrageous." This thesis is detailed in Chapter 7 and most of Chapter 8, covering about 150 pages and backed by hundreds of sources. Elvin cites . . . a line from the Preface, and then dismisses the argument with a few lines of his own. I am confident that well-educated readers will find the thesis rather persuasive, or this is the sense I am getting from what I know, thus far, about five upcoming review essays. Elvin wonders about India's Indo-European background. If he had read the respective chapters he might have noted that I tackled this question in two sections, "The Distinctive Indo-Europeanization of the West," and "Impact of Indo-Europeans of the Civilizations of the East." Elvin wonders as well about other warlike peoples from the steppes such as the Mongols and Turks. I mentioned non-Indo-European groups from the steppes but indicated this would be a matter of future research. Recently, I read Christopher Beckwith's book, Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present, which came out in 2009 as I was writing my book. It brings up some pertinent issues, including an emphasis on the crucial institution called comitatus, a war band of aristocratic warriors driven by heroic ideals. Beckwith sees these war bands throughout the steppes, rather than exclusively among Indo-European speakers. Yet, all in all, what he says solidifies my thesis. He agrees that the comitatus "goes all the way back to the Proto-Indo-European times"; and shows that the Ural-Altaic steppe peoples evolved, as I suggested, in a direction much more influenced by the Asian peripheral civilizations. This has been further corroborated by my readings of Carter Findley's The Turks (2005), and David Morgan's The Mongols (1984). It should not be forgotten, moreover, that it was the Proto-Indo-Europeans who originated and developed the steppe toolkit, horse riding, wheel vehicles, chariots, and the "secondary-products revolution." My book avoids a teleological reading of the aristocratic culture of Indo-Europeans by showing that their contributions were only "the beginning" of multiple cultural developments in varying geographical and cultural settings. (pages 384-385)
Duchesne writes with a tone of annoyance, probably because he believes that Elvin hasn't read all of Uniqueness, or not very carefully. I won't weigh in on this issue, for I've not read Duchesne either . . . not yet, anyway.

But I will. All of this is just prep work . . .

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At 12:52 PM, Anonymous Sperwer said...

I see you are doing all my homework for me. Keep up the good work!

At 1:35 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I've already got tomorrow's review selected. Amazing what one can know without even reading a book!

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:38 PM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

I must say, I am caught up in the drama.

Jeffery, now you have to read the book.

At 2:46 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sperwer found a copy for 50 bucks. Maybe he and I can work out a deal whereby the two of us can read and discuss the thesis . . . or theses!

Jeffery Hodges

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