For many years, Eurocentrism has been debated by a wide range of historians such as Lynn Townsend White Jr, Janet Abu-Lughod, Eric Jones, Max Weber and D. D. Kosambi, for example, all being ultimately challenged by James Morris Blaut in his book ‘Eight Eurocentric Historians’ published in 2000. Overall, Eurocentrism identifies an area of the world, in this case, Europe (especially Western Europe), as the peak of civilization placing greater emphasis on European values and culture as well as depicting the gradual diffusion of Europe’s culture to other parts of the world. On the other hand, it situates the world outside of Europe in a position of clear inferiority with knowledge, scientific and technological development remaining static unless learned from Western Europe and, therefore, cannot be justified.
Eurocentrism seems to be reflected in the majority of European schools as European history, most of the time, seems to be given greater importance over events which have taken place in Asia and Africa, for example. Similarly, social science is still nowadays seen as being Eurocentric with a very common tendency, especially in the 19th and 20th century, to examine the history of Asia and Africa through a lens of ‘European expansion’. According to William Graham Sumner, this way of examining foreign cultures was characterised by a feeling of superiority by European nations. Until 1945, it was intensely located in Great Britain, France, Italy, Germany and the United States, and it does not seem to have changed radically as the greatest part of recognised social scientists around the world nowadays remain Europeans. The outcome seems to have been determined by the emergence of social science in response to European problems, in a period of time where Europe dominated the world. Nevertheless, in the 20th century especially, Eurocentrism has been under attack, with historians such as Edward Said and Frantz Fanon reaching a conclusion that it must be overcome in order to solve the problems facing the contemporary world permitting the creation of a truly equitable society.
In order to assess whether Eurocentrism can be justified, it is of vital importance to acknowledge its significance and, more importantly, how, with time, Europe’s culture became prevalent over Non-Europeans ones. This acknowl2edgement would not only shed light on the rise of capitalism but would also allow present societies to develop a world dominated by no nation or region, ending Europe’s perceived eternal cultural superiority.
According to William Graham Sumner, Eurocentrism is a form of Ethnocentrism, hence “the technical name for the view of things in which one’s own group is the centre of everything, and all others are scaled and rated with reference to it “. Even though there are many forms of Ethnocentrism, such as Afrocentrism (Africa), Eurocentrism, as we can see, is the one which became dominant. Nevertheless, Afrocentrism, like Eurocentrism, has been criticised as it showed that Ethnocentric ways of looking at the world are based on preconceptions based on one’s culture. At the same time, the vagueness of multiculturalism as a concept leaves it open to interpretation and therefore to the idea that part of the superiority of Western Culture is its capability to incorporate the more efficient element of other societies into its own. Furthermore, the notion of European hegemony has been supported throughout history by the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel which once stated that “Non-Western history does not exist” in order to validate Western expansion towards Africa, firmly implying his Eurocentric view. He justified these actions by arguing that their ultimate aim was to educate the indigenous people and it was to be done by imposing their more sophisticated culture upon them.
In understanding the rise of Europe in one of world domination, Janet Abu-Lughod goes on to explore the relation of coincidental factors that took place in Asia and Africa which ultimately brought to the rise of capitalism. In fact, in ‘Before European Hegemony– The World System AD 1250-1350’ she emphasises the significance of the first signs of capitalism only being seen in 1400 as she sustains that no one would have predicted it in the period between 1250 and 1350. As a matter of fact, between 1250 and 1350, the Medieval East made more sophisticated textiles than Europe while checks and investment partnerships were invented in Persia in the 5th century, long before they reached Italy. In addition, Arab sailors managed to sail around Africa without making the Atlantic the heart of world trade. She, therefore, attributes the rise of Europe to a combination of geopolitical factors that took place in other regions, at last creating an opportunity for Europe’s rise.
Similarly, in ‘Eight Eurocentric Historians’, James Morris Blaut highlights that the four main factors that illustrate the growth of the West compared to the East are culture, race, environment, and culture. Initially, he goes on to highlight Max Weber’s views on how enabled itself Europe to surpass Asia, highlighting Europe’s ‘rationality’ in contrast to other societies. Furthermore, Blaut analyses India’s inability to develop an efficient theology unlike Christianity combined with their incompetence to establish competent geometric proofs, unlike Greeks physics. Weber’s conclusion, therefore,n amounted to the difference between West and East in terms of modernity, rationality and scientific competences, with the West strongly prevailing over the East. Further on, the main focal point in Blaut’s analysis of Eurocentrism is Asia’s input to the development of modern Europe. In fact, he contrasts Lynn White’s assumption that the heavy metal plow was invented by Europeans as he suggests that historian D. D. Kosambi established in 1965 that these were already in use in Northern India in the fifth and sixth century before Christ. Additionally, in ‘Eight Eurocentric Historians’ Blaut reinforces his point of view by contradicting Lynn White’s views, bonded with Max Weber’s, which, once again, emphasise European cultural superiority over Non-Europeans, by stating that “enough is not known about the history of… Indian… science to make it very clear that European science and technology was in no way superior to them” clearly challenging their Eurocentric view. Likewise, Blaut goes on to challenge Eric L Jones views expressed in ‘The European Miracle’ (1981) which condemn Asia in particular with Jones describing them as “servile, lay, uncreative” . Furthermore, Blaut prospects also differ in the way that he believes the major reason for the Industrial Revolution to have taken place in European countries rather than in countries like India, is that European colonisers exploited the resources and people of countries which in Asia and Africa which enabled them to develop early industries in the late 18th century, giving them additional means to colonise the rest of these continents in the 19th and 20th century.
In conclusion, Eurocentrism cannot be justified as unlike the garden variety of Ethnocentrism, it emerged as an ideological project which makes sweeping allegations of European superiority in all spheres of civilization such as race, culture, religion, and geography. In fact, it seems that the facts on which Eurocentric historians such as Lynn White, for example, base themselves are misguided as highlighted by Blaut “It is a Eurocentric tunnel of history that quite ignores the past of Non-European civilisations.” Therefore, while it is said that philosophers and thinkers of social science conceive theories which grasp the “entirety of humanity” , this does not seem to be the case. On the contrary, these theories only seem to address those living in Western Cultures, not taking into consideration those living in countries such as India. In fact, in his book, Dipesh Chakrabarty addresses the “asymmetric” ignorance which, at present, permits historians to ignore Non-Western History without altering the quality of its final outcome. On the other hand, however, historians are almost compelled to refer to European history in order not to be referred to as “outdated” . To conclude, given Eurocentrism’s significance to social science, sole Non-Western history cannot be referred to without being condemned. This is an additional indication that Eurocentrism, at last, cannot be justified.
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