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Re: Ricardo Duchesne on Ellen Meiksins Wood
by Nemonemini
24 September 2003 02:22 UTC
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Why not take a vacation and check out the eonic model. I am a fan of Blaut too, but in Eight Eurocentric Historians, after showing up the flaws in most models of the rise of the modern, he doesn't really explain the 'European Miracle' which he openly detests but secretly seems to believe in, indeed the discontinuity is a fact, or a series of facts, facts larger than the economic interpretation into which historical materialists wish to wedge it.

Let me relieve myself of a heresy. Is capitalism important? It seems to be important to capitalists, and Marxists, both obsess over it, but otherwise it is a second string candidate for historical theories. 'Such a statement seems doomed, bu my point is merely that there is a crypto-teleology to theories of capitalist development. This is implicit in any statement that capitalism is a stage of history to be followed by a next stage. There is no such progression of stages. As Nietzsche pointed out Luther looked the other way as the German Social Revolution was snuffed out, Munzer burnt at the stake. A different mix of capitalism and socialism were always possible and the spectrum of possibilities was always there. To say that socialism follows capitalism makes capitalism too important and was a strategy of the nineteenth century.
In the eonic model, Blaut's objections are answered implicitly, and the issue is not the special character of the Europeans but the overall context of the world system, this irregardless of the component of periphery exploitation feeding advance.

One problem with the 'capitalism' as a stage of history argument is that it makes Marxists unconsciously compliant with the inevitability of the system as usual until the next stage, fallacious thinking that is the bane of clear thinking.
The rise of the modern is a transeconomic event, in which emergent capitalism is a product, not of historical sequence, but ad hoc transformation, rendering it 'for all intents and purposes' a seeming 'stage of history' but in reality simply the general tenor of a new mix of social, technological and political arrangements, one that Hegel before Marx saw as problematical. I mention Hegel because he had a fairly rich commentary on the missing pieces in this outcome of ad hoc history and some practical if now seemingly outlandish proposals, quite ludicrous he should be thought to propose the 'end of history'. So the issue, as Marx took up his 'critique of Hegel's philosophy of right' was also this shared feeling that the modern transformation didn't quite come out right, but that the deficit of social structure required a revolution, so throw in the abolition of property. If there is to be a Marxism of the future, that crucial step requires analysis, more than these arcanes gibberish theses about when capitalism started.
These issues of the Hegel-Marx don't really generalize over world history as theories, and aren't solved by abstractions about the history of capitalism, which is and always was an ad hoc Whiggish complot that needed a challenge of 'right' to stop its overwheening slob tendencies.

So capitalism isn't iimportant, i.e. a theoretical foundation. Fairly critical if you are on the wrong end of it. But second tiering this economic factor is a stage towared re-allowing oneself to make any changes at all.

In a message dated 9/23/2003 4:17:09 PM Eastern Daylight Time, lnp3@panix.com writes:

With the exception of an occasional article in Against the Current or
Monthly Review, most contributions to the "transition debate" occur in
journals that can only be read in research or university libraries. Such
is the case with Ricardo Duchesne's review of Ellen Meiksins Wood's
"Origins of Capitalism" that appeared in the September 2002 Rethinking

Rethinking Marxism (http://www.rethinkingmarxism.org/) was launched by
professors at the University of Massachusetts who were influenced by the
French theorist Louis Althusser and postmodernist trends in the academy.
They also sponsor conferences at their campus that allow tenured
professors who have never made a leaflet in their lives to lecture
audiences on how to achieve socialism.

Duchesne's article is not only worth tracking down as a very effective
rebuttal to Brenner and Wood but as a rarity in the academic world: a
witty and highly readable essay that entertains while it educates. For
veterans of PEN-L, it might come as some surprise to discover that he
has written such an article for in the past he was one of the most
vociferous opponents of James M. Blaut, both on that list and other
lists where the origins of capitalism was a hot topic. For example in
January 1998, he wrote the following on PEN-L:

"Now consider the dilemma Blaut finds himself: why did Europe came to
dominate the rest of the World? Answer: geographical proximity of Europe
to the Americas(!) gave it access to its metals and labor leading to the
industrial revolution. Obviously the notion that European capitalism
developed as a result of the exploitation of the Third World has been so
roundly refuted I need not elaborate this here. Just a handy, if
incomplete, stats: At most 2% of Europe's GNP at the end of 18th century
took the form of profits derived from commerce with Americas, Asia,
Africa! (I think source is K.O'Brien)."

However, Duchesne now believes:

"The major drawback of Wood’s Origins is its Eurocentric presumption
that explaining the transition to capitalism is simply a matter of
looking for those 'unique' traits that set Europe or England apart from
the rest of the world. Marxists can no longer rest comfortably with the
story that England and Europe emerged from the Middle Ages with an
internally generated advantage over the rest of Asia."

John Landon
Beta Project for
World History & Eonic Effect
2nd Edition

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