Notes from a Minor Denialist

Fri, 7 Mar 1997 16:35:11 -0500 (EST)

Dear All,

A few observations on the current debate from one who does not
appear on Gunder Frank's roster of major "denialists" but who is a minor
"denialist" nevertheless. I should add that these remarks issue from my
perspective as a late modern intellectual historian and futurist. I claim
no expertise in the enumeration of bales of silk, sacks of peppercorns, or
casks of amontillado, and I don't even harbor an obsessive interest in the
16th century.

1. The modern world-system delineated by Wallerstein ORIGINATED
about 500 years ago in Atlantic Europe. It did not bestride the world 500
years ago, any more than a child graduating from kindergarten is in line
for a Nobel Prize in physics. All the same, child prodigies come along
from time to time, and Atlantic Europe was something of a prodigy. From
hindsight we know that it had a most enterprising future in store for

2. As I read world history, this modern world-system matured in
the 19th century. To pursue the analogy, it graduated with a Ph.D. and
immediately began to publish and attract tempting offers from Ivy
League/Oxbridge schools.

3. For a relatively brief time, say, 1870-1945, our young rocket
did bestride the world. Like most previous hegemons in world history, it
was arrogant, exploitative, and intermittently genocidal. Like most
previous hegemons, it tried to tear itself apart in ruinous intrasystemic
wars. After a promising start, in short, it was denied tenure at
Princeton and had to settle for a modest post in the boondocks.

4. During its ascent, however, it had created a global economy
more densely interwoven than any before in the human experience, a
multinational megacorporate economy that engulfed the planet. Just as
importantly, it had also spawned (with assistance from non-Western
precursors and rivals) a global technoculture (grounded in empiricist
natural science and high tech) and a global political culture rooted in
the Left and Right Enlightenments (e.g., Rousseauian democracy, Smithian
and Millian liberalism, Marxian socialism). Although denied tenure at
Princeton, it continued to wield a formidable influence on thought and
behavior worldwide.

5. By the beginning of the 21st century, the core of the world-
system born in the westernmost end of the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia
was no longer confined to that peninsula. But its universally pervasive
economic system and aesthetico-politico-technoculture--its stock markets,
megacorporate structures, nation-state models, socialist and liberal
ideologies, legal systems, languages, educational apparatuses, musics,
architectures, Olympic Games, and much more bestrode the world, for better
or for worse. Local resistance to this ubiquitous culture was fierce in
many corners of the globe, but was soon destined to crumble, for better or
for worse. Every progressive soul (and especially progressive souls in
the West) fervently abjured the eighth deadly sin (= "Eurocentrism"), but
in the end these souls were figuratively drowned when a tsunami of common
sense washed their beach huts into the sea.

Was all this for the better? Or was it all for the worse? Who
knows? Perhaps both. Throughout history, people do what they can. I am
not here to defend Joseph Stalin against Genghis Khan or Napoleon
Bonaparte against Chandragupta Maurya. I will save the moralizing for
another post.


W. Warren Wagar
Department of History
Binghamton University, SUNY