Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Responses to a Book Review
Map of China
In a previous posting I put up a slightly modified brief review of a book by the ideologue Thomas Sowell, Conquest and Cultures.1 Which I had posted at In that book Thomas Sowell regurgitated a basic late 19th century Whig interpretation of History view of the development of various societies. The book was in my opinion seriously flawed and basically danced over the fact, and it is fact, that Western Dominance was not just the result of the accumulation of “Cultural Capital”, (Thomas Sowell’s use of this phrase is an excellent example of the tendency of such ideologues to commodify things that are not commodities. In other words an excellent example of the commodity fetish.), but also of exploitation of others through coercive violence, fraud and exploitation. In other words straight forward imperialism. Instead Sowell argues that it was largely the result of what amounts to moral superiority. That is pure hogwash. Some people responded to my opinions of this book. Here are their comments with my responses, here expanded.

Mr. Cloutier disagrees with Dr. Sowell's belief that the western nations deserved their success. Of course, they deserved their success. The industrial revolution started in England in the 1840s because the English intelligentsia believed that progress could be achieved by embracing and expanding science and technology, and Englishmen of all classes considered themselves freemen who were neither serfs nor slaves. They also believed that progress would improve their lives. Neither Britain nor the other western powers prevented the world's other civilizations from developing science and inventions to improve technology. Their failure to do so was not due to a lack of intelligence. It was due to their cultural indoctrination that they belonged to their king or emperor and that they had no individual rights or liberty or even private property, for that matter. Real progress occurs in the societies that are most free.2

If you read my piece you would see that I'm talking about "morally" deserving success. I do not see that an Australian Aborigine is less morally deserving than an Englishman. Of course the implication in Sowell’s reasoning is rather obvious the Australian Aborigine has less “cultural Capital” and is thus deserving of being conquered and disposed by those who bring “development”. Thus the natives of the New World before Columbus were “stagnant” and thus deserving of being conquered and thus developed by “dynamic”, “vibrant” European societies. That is a crock. The native societies of the New World were not stagnant Sowell is merely repeating hoary old myths. It is interesting to see how these types of thinkers are under the skin Stalinists, in which development justifies atrocity.

I note you do not talk about how England etc., achieved their success. It wasn't just hard work. It was through also the use of nation state and military technology to screw others over. After all the Americas were conquered and England engaged in all sorts of efforts to screw over its European rivals. We could of course discuss the slave trade.

Your characterisation of what the average Englishman thought or felt is pure simple minded Whig interpretation of history nonsense.  Oh and the industrial revolution started in Britain in the 1760s not the 1840s. I note you forget about or simply do not know about the various British government efforts to promote British industry and inhibit it elsewhere. As for developing Science and technology. Well contrary to your implication they were developing elsewhere than Europe and sad to say it is a simple fact that the British for one thing did in fact deliberately destroy textile manufacturing in India for the sake of British manufacturers among a whole series of other moves of a similar kind. Some of which were directed against other European powers.  As for the rest well first of all you seem to accept the myth of the stagnant East / non-west. A complete pile of crap. To repeat Science etc., did exist in the Middle East and in the China. So sorry to say they did have Science and technology and it was developing.

However you might want to read about how various Western powers used their military technological edge to screw over various non-Western powers and did all sorts of things to quite deliberately undercut Eastern industry including that of China. To repeat please read about what the British did to cloth manufacturing in India in the late 18th and into the 19th century. As for your last comment about Easterners belonging to their King / Emperor and the rest? Thank you for uttering a bit of cliché crud. What you have claimed is politely a wild exaggeration at best. It is however a shibboleth of a certain air-headed type of talk.

I have no idea about what "real progress” is, however the most advanced society in AD 1000 was China, and in AD 1600 who was better off a Chinese peasant or a European? Or who was most free, guess what the probable answer in both cases is China! And of course the idea that “real progress” occurs in the societies that are "most free”. That is questionable. Just why are to give just one example why are various authoritarian East Asian states doing so well right now? I further note you have completely forgotten about how one of the foundations of European dominance was the deliberate screwing over of other peoples.

So why did China fall behind western europe after being the most advanced society in 1000 AD? Why did living standards rise in the West and fall in the East? Pretty sure the British Empire wasnt using their military and technological advantages to "screw over" various nations then. Nor were they in the 1600s when the British Empire didnt exist. So what do you attribute this to considering the big old nasty white people done it line just wont suit? Nothing, instead you you stamp your feet by saying any other explanation is "crud" (christ sake, how old are you?) and use some big words to sound cleverer than you really are.3

Thanks for the display of ignorance. You do realize that living standards in the east where not much different between China and Europe until at least 1700. In fact China's total wealth exceeded Europe's until at least 1750 and probably greater than any individual European power until at least 1850. Of course one of the reasons why China fell behind wasn't just Chinese stagnation, which has been greatly exaggerated but because Europeans imposed deliberately unequal treaties designed to drain China of its wealth.  Do I have to mention the infamous opium trade with China? The fact was Indian industry was deliberately destroyed by the British to benefit themselves. India was the milch cow of the British empire. How about this exercise; Indian per Capita income barely changed under the British.

And of course one of the reasons Europe was able to pull away from China and the Middle East was because of the conquest and exploitation of the riches of the New World via a whole series of coercive means like brutal silver mining, tribute collection, unequal exchange enforced by force and of course slavery. The effects of that were manifest before 1600 C.E. in Europe.

You do realize that by 1600 Europe was benefiting from an exploitative relationship with the New World, all that lovely Spanish silver for example. And of course the beginnings of the triangle trade between Africa, (slaves) the Americas and Europe. Despite this in 1600 living standards in Europe, India and China didn't much differ. For a really mind blowing thought where the natives of the New world better off than Europeans in 1492? The answer is over all probably they were!  And in fact in 1800 C.E. the difference between China and Europe wasn't huge. However by 1900 the difference was very large. And bluntly one of the reasons, like in India was the policies of European imperialists who used their possession of superior means of coercive power to impose solutions to problems that benefited them. I could go into the long history of British commercial policy by which the British did indeed screw over other European powers by means of tariffs, dumping etc., to help give British goods and finance an advantage. State power played a powerful role in creating European economic dominance and denial of that is just absurd.

As for "nasty white people", thanks for the agit-prop. I could point out that until c. 1400 the Middle east treated Europe like an exploited periphery. In fact when da Gama arrived in India the response to the trade goods he arrived with to sell was that the goods were laughably shoddy. Many of the Portuguese in the years after da Gama's voyage tried to physically eliminate their Indian and Middle East competition by piracy and forcing them off the sea. It didn't work. The Portuguese eventually found they had to exchange silver for the spices they wanted or extort the spices directly. As for the "crud" expression that was in reply to the truly idiotic statement that "It was due to their cultural indoctrination that they belonged to their king or emperor and that they had no individual rights or liberty or even private property, for that matter." That statement is indeed pure "crud" and utter nonsense. Reading a few books about Qing dynasty China or the Moghul empire might clear up that piece of mythology. Oh and I never said it was all "bad" Europeans. China had been very successful for millennia and was in 1700 the wealthiest state in the world and its people prosperous. In fact much of the 18th century was a golden age for China. This bred complacency and played a powerful role in ensuring that China's attempts to deal with the challenges of the 19th century would largely fail. However the notion that Europeans did it entirely by dint of hard work is nonsense. Part of the process was the exploitation of others.

As for how old am I? I am 55 years old, and I see no problem in labelling as “crud” stupid, ignorant statements.

1. Basic Books, New York, 1999. My book review is at Here.

2. See at Here.

3. IBID.

Some Reading

Blaut, J.M., Eight Eurocentric Historians, The Guilford Press, New York, 2000.

Diamond, Jared, Guns, Germs, and Steel, W.W. Norton and Company, New York, 1998.

Mote, E. W., Imperial China, Harvard University Press, Cambridge Mass, 1999.

Dawson, Imperial China, Penguin Books, London, 1972.

McNeill, William H., The Rise of the West, Second Edition, University of Chicago Press, Chicago ILL, 1991.

Davis, Mike, Late Victorian Holocausts, Verso, London, 2001.

Hobson, John M., The Eastern Origins of Western Civilization, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2004.

Goody, Jack, The Theft of History, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2006.

Pierre Cloutier

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