Eurocentrism

Eurocentrism

SAMIR AMIN
RUSSELL MOORE
JAMES MEMBREZ
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: NYU Press,
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qfrws
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  • Book Info
    Eurocentrism
    Book Description:

    Since its first publication twenty years ago, Eurocentrism has become a classic of radical thought. Written by one of the world's foremost political economists, this original and provocative essay takes on one of the great "ideological deformations" of our time: Eurocentrism. Rejecting the dominant Eurocentric view of world history, which narrowly and incorrectly posits a progression from the Greek and Roman classical world to Christian feudalism and the European capitalist system, Amin presents a sweeping reinterpretation that emphasizes the crucial historical role played by the Arab Islamic world. Throughout the work, Amin addressesa broad set of concerns, ranging from the ideological nature of scholastic metaphysics to the meanings and shortcomingsof contemporary Islamic fundamentalism. This second edition contains a new introduction and concluding chapter, both of which make the author's arguments even more compelling.

    eISBN: 978-1-58367-397-3
    Subjects: Philosophy, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
  3. Preface
    (pp. 7-10)
  4. 1. MODERNITY AND RELIGIOUS INTERPRETATIONS
    • I. MODERNITY
      (pp. 13-24)

      There are two periods in history that have had a decisive impact on the formation of the modern world. The first of these periods involves the birth of modernity. It is the period of the Enlightenment, the European seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which is also, fortuitously, the period of the birth of capitalism. I will summarize their significance in the following two propositions.

      The first concerns the definition of modernity, which is the claim that human beings, individually and collectively, can and must make their own history. This marks a break with the dominant philosophy of all previous societies, both...

    • II. MODERNITY AND RELIGIOUS INTERPRETATIONS
      (pp. 25-56)

      Modernity is based on the demand for the emancipation of human beings, starting from their liberation from the shackles of social determination in its earlier traditional forms. This liberation calls for giving up the dominant forms of legitimating power in the family, in the communities within which ways of life and production are organized, and in the state, traditionally based on a metaphysics, generally of religious expression. It, therefore, implies the separation of the state and religion, a radical secularization, which is the condition for the development of modern forms of politics.

      Will secularization abolish religious belief? Some Enlightenment philosophers,...

    • III. POLITICAL ISLAM
      (pp. 57-92)

      Modernity is based on the principle that human beings create their own history, individually and collectively, and, as a result, they have the right to innovate and disregard tradition. Proclaiming this principle meant breaking with the fundamental principle that governed all the premodern societies, including, of course, feudal and Christian Europe. Modernity was born with this proclamation. Europe has unquestionably made the leap. The Muslim world does not seem to have done so. Why? Can it do so? What conditions are necessary?

      The history of Islam’s origins is far better known than that of other religions. The statements and actions...

  5. 2. CENTRAL AND PERIPHERAL TRIBUTARY CULTURES
    • I. INTRODUCTION
      (pp. 95-104)

      Capitalism has produced a decisive break in world history, whose reach extends beyond the simple, albeit prodigious, progress of productive forces it has achieved. Indeed, capitalism has overturned the structure of relationships among different aspects of social life (economic organization, political order, the content and function of ideologies) and has refashioned them on qualitatively new foundations.

      In all earlier social systems, the economic phenomenon is transparent. By this I mean that the destination of that which is produced is immediately visible: The major part of production is directly consumed by the producers themselves. Moreover, the surplus levied by the ruling...

    • II. THE FORMATION OF TRIBUTARY IDEOLOGY IN THE MEDITERRANEAN REGION
      (pp. 105-140)

      The Age of Antiquity is in fact a plural reality; it is, therefore, more appropriate to speak of the “Ages” of Antiquity. On a map of the region, those zones in which there appears a marked development of the productive forces, allowing for the clear crystallization of the state and social classes, are isolated from each other. In this manner, over the course of a few millennia, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and then Persia and Greece are constituted in relative isolation (an isolation which is more marked in the most ancient periods and the most precocious civilizations of the Nile and Mesopotamian...

    • III. TRIBUTARY CULTURE IN OTHER REGIONS OF THE PRE-CAPITALIST WORLD
      (pp. 141-148)

      Is the thesis outlined above concerning the central and peripheral forms of tributary culture applicable solely to the Euro-Arab-Islamic region of the world?

      The Afro-Asiatic world is the non-Western, non-Christian worldpar excellence. It is also diverse, having Confucian, Taoist, Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, and animist roots. Here, religion defined the great cultural regions in the periods preceding the modern expansion of capitalism. In comparison with this cultural plurality, the ethnic categories that nineteenth-century European anthropology and historiography tried to impose, such as the Indo-European/Semite opposition, do not carry any real weight.

      If Orientalist Eurocentrism has fabricatedex nihilothe myth...

  6. 3. THE CULTURE OF CAPITALISM
    • I. INTRODUCTION
      (pp. 151-156)

      With the Renaissance begins the twofold radical transformation that shapes the modern world: the crystallization of capitalist society in Europe and the European conquest of the world. These are two dimensions of the same development, and theories that separate them in order to privilege one over the other are not only insufficient and distorting but also, frankly, unscientific. The new world is freed from the domination of metaphysics at the same time as the material foundations for capitalist society are laid. In this way, the cultural revolution of the modern world opens the way for an explosion of scientific progress...

    • II. THE DECLINE OF METAPHYSICS AND THE REINTERPRETATION OF RELIGION
      (pp. 157-164)

      The Renaissance breaks with medieval thought. Modern thought distinguishes itself from that of the medieval period by renouncing the dominant metaphysical preoccupation. The importance of partial truths is systematically valorized, while the pursuit of absolute knowledge is left to amateurs. As a result, scientific research in the different domains of the knowable universe is stimulated, and because this research necessarily involves the submission of facts to empirical testing, the break between science and technology becomes relative. Simultaneously, modern science recognizes the decisive value of inductive reasoning, thereby putting an end to the errors of a reason confined strictly to deduction....

    • III. THE CONSTRUCTION OF EUROCENTRIC CULTURE
      (pp. 165-188)

      Modern ideology was not constructed in the abstract ether of the pure capitalist mode of production. In fact, consciousness of the capitalist nature of the modern world came relatively late, as a result of the labor and socialist movements and their critique of nineteenth-century social organization, culminating in Marxism. At the moment when this consciousness emerged, modern ideology already had three centuries of history behind it, from the Renaissance through the Enlightenment. It had, therefore, expressed itself as a particularly European, rationalist, and secular ideology, while claiming a worldwide scope. The socialist critique, far from forcing bourgeois ideology to take...

    • IV. MARXISM AND THE CHALLENGE OF ACTUALLY EXISTING CAPITALISM
      (pp. 189-194)

      It is good form in the West today to bury Marx. Alas, those who proclaim the death of Marxism, far from surpassing its contributions to the understanding of the world, have simply shifted into reverse gear in order to return, without the slightest critical spirit, to the comfortable fold of the constructs that legitimate capitalism. We have seen the fragility of these Eurocentric constructs, as well as the frailty of the mechanistic Enlightenment materialism that underlies them. These constructs, pre-Marxist as well as post-Marxist (such as so-called neoclassical bourgeois economics), elude the essential question of the nature of the economic...

    • V. THE CULTURALIST EVASION: PROVINCIALISM AND FUNDAMENTALISM
      (pp. 195-204)

      The dominant vision of history is based on one fundamental proposition: the irreducibility of historical developments—and particularly of cultures, which are said to transcend the material evolutions of different societies—to reason. The exceptional case presented by the European trajectory only confirms this general proposition.

      The irreducibility of historical trajectories may be expressed either by an avowed refusal to define general laws of social evolution that are valid for humanity as a whole, or by an idealist construct—like the Eurocentric one—that opposes Occident and Orient in absolute and permanent terms. Dominant Western historiography has oscillated between these...

    • VI. FOR A TRULY UNIVERSAL CULTURE
      (pp. 205-216)

      Substituting a new paradigm for the one on which Eurocentrism is based is a difficult, long-term task. It requires a theory of the political and a theory of culture, complementing the theory of economics, as well as a theory of their interaction. These theories are still sorely lacking, as much in bourgeois thought as in constructs of Marxist inspiration, paralyzed by a refusal to continue a task that Marx only began.

      In this reconstruction, the importance of developing an analysis of culture and its function in historical development is equaled only by the difficulty of the task. Its importance derives...

  7. 4. TOWARDS A NON-EUROCENTRIC VIEW OF HISTORY AND A NON-EUROCENTRIC SOCIAL THEORY
    • I. THE TRIBUTARY MODE OF PRODUCTION: THE UNIVERSAL FORM OF ADVANCED PRE-CAPITALIST SOCIETIES
      (pp. 221-232)

      An ongoing debate is taking place between different schools of historians: can we speak of pre-capitalist society (limiting ourselves here sociely to advanced societies, based on a clearly recognizable state organization) in the singular? Or must we content ourselves with describing and analyzing the different concrete variants of the societies in question? Can we consider feudalism as a general form preceding capitalism, not just in Europe (and in Japan) but found elsewhere in a similar form? Or are the differences here of kind and not only of form?

      My position in this debate is summarized by the title of this...

    • II. EUROPEAN FEUDALISM: PERIPHERAL TRIBUTARY MODE
      (pp. 233-238)

      The feudal mode presents all the characteristics of the tributary mode in general. However, it also presents, at least at the beginning, the following characteristics: the organization of production within the framework of a domain, involving rent in labor, and the lord’s exercise of political and judicial prerogatives, which results in political decentralization. These characteristics reflect the origin of the feudal formation in the barbarian invasions, i.e., people who remained at the stage of class formation when they took over a more advanced society. The feudal mode is simply a primitive, incomplete tributary mode.

      Feudalism does not result from slavery....

    • III. MERCANTILISM AND THE TRANSITION TO CAPITALISM: UNEQUAL DEVELOPMENT, KEY TO THE MIRACLE OF EUROPEAN PARTICULARITY
      (pp. 239-248)

      The period that extends from the Renaissance, in the sixteenth century, to the industrial revolution, at the dawn of the nineteenth century, is clearly a transitional period from feudalism to capitalism. I do not intend here to go over the different propositions that have been advanced to explain the gradual formation of European capitalism. I only propose to show how the incomplete character of the European feudal mode explains the rapidity of this development.

      The literature on the era of European mercantilism is rich and detailed, and we should be glad of that. Transition periods are really by nature quite...

    • IV. EUROCENTRISM AND THE DEBATE OVER SLAVERY
      (pp. 249-254)

      One of the most widespread ideas, in scholarly circles as well as in popular opinion, is that the historical sequence from slave to serf to free individual describes a development of universal validity. For Marxists, with this sequence in mind, slavery was then a necessary stage that can be explained by the internal dynamics of the society (any society) at a certain stage of the development of the productive forces.

      Unquestionably, the proposed sequence is attractive because it corroborates the philosophical idea of continuous progress. It can be acknowledged that the status of the free wageworker (and citizen) is less...

    • V. EUROCENTRISM IN THE THEORY OF THE NATION
      (pp. 255-258)

      Eurocentrism is expressed in practically all areas of social thought. Here, I will choose one of these, the theory of the nation, because of the significant political conclusions that result.

      Social reality is not limited just to modes of production, social formations, systems of formations, the state, and social classes. Even if it is acknowledged that these are, in the last analysis, the essential core of global reality, the latter also includes a wide variety of nations, ethnic groups, family structures, linguistic or religious communities, and all other forms of life that have a real existence and occupy a place...

    • VI. ACTUALLY EXISTING CAPITALISM AND THE GLOBALIZATION OF VALUE
      (pp. 259-279)

      From the moment Rudolf Bahro proposed the expression “actually existing socialism,” it has experienced a well-known fate: it is used by socialism’s detractors (who impute to socialism all the negative phenomena of the regimes that bear this name) as much as by the late defenders of these regimes (who claim that, despite everything, they remained socialist, i.e., the balance was positive overall). On the other hand, the idea of speaking of “actually existing capitalism” never arises. Capitalism in popular opinion, and we will see the same thing in scholarly analyses, is the North America and Western Europe of the television...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 280-282)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 283-288)