the usual

16 Mar 97 00:59:40 EST
James M. Blaut (70671.2032@CompuServe.COM)

March 15, 1997

Subject: More of the same
Date: March 15, 1997
From: Jim Blaut

To: wsn'ers all...

The part of the Europe/Asia discussion that I saw, before
Mar. 6 and after Mar. 12, contains a few arguments that I'd
like to answer.

Bruce McFarling's posting of (?) Mar. 3.: How does
feudalism "have a differential propensity to shift into a
system in which capitalist relations are a predominant
institution for the organization of production?" Forgive
me, but I don't see either logic or evidence to support
this scenario. Weber's argument was based on his racist
idea of European rationality plus ignorance of feudal
systems elsewhere. Marx's argument was based on ignorance
of medieval systems, feudal and otherwise, elsewhere,
leading him to think (with everyone else of his time) that
European feudalism was the nursery bed of private property,
class relations, etc.

Second point, regarding "non-central status" of europe and
Japan. There were other edges to the system: Insular
Southeast Asia, East Africa, etc. Why write them off? Here
we come to one of the classic problems with traditional
explanations: they chain together, so that you can defend
any one by drawing in some other one. If one were to say
that Indonesia and East Africa didn't "have it," one would
have to shift from the "edge" argument to some other
argument/s. When these, in turn, are confronted, the venue
shifts to still another argument, and so it goes.

Bill Thompson's of (?) Mar. 5: The word "innovation" is
like the emperor's clothes. Look closely and it vanishes.
Either it dissolves into some psychological quality of
inventiveness, innovativeness, progressiveness, etc., i.e.,
the traditional theory of "European rationality," or into
an argument about some new culture trait, material or
otherwise: an "innovation." If the former, you're on weak
Weberian (though not racist) grounds. (See Jack Goody's new
book _The East in the West_ for a critique. Also my book.)
If the latter, the argument shifts from "innovation" to
some theory about technology or social organization or
whatever-- throw it up and I'll try to shoot it down.

Salvatore Babones' of (?) Mar. 5: This "arbitrage" thing:
other societies did much the same thing (see e g Goody op
cit), so what happens then to your theory of the rise of
Europe? The same I think holds for intense "saving for the
future": this is an attribute of an already-rising economy,
an effect not a cause (save us from the Protestant ethic
myth!); and it is hardly limited to Europe. And banking (cf
Goody, Needham, et al) was widespread in Asia. As Tome
Pires said of Gujerati businessmen in c.1509: ""They are
men who understand merchandise; they are...properly steeped
in the sound and harmony of it," and "those of our people
who want to be clerks and factors ought to go there and
learn, because the business of trade is a science." Also,
see Goody op cit.

George Modelski's of (?) Mar. 5: Firstly: see above on
"innovation." Secondly: What is this "active epistemic
community?" Are we back into the myth of "European
Thirdly: Navies? The Portuguese did beat an
Egyptian/Ottoman navy in c.1510 but you can't generalize.
The Chinese had huge navies, and the relative peacefulness
of the Indian Ocean does not extend to the China Seas.
"Alliance-capability (among equals?" In my book I critique
this view that pre-modern European politics were unique in
quality, in the sizes of states, etc. "Autonomous
traders...?" Again, hardly a European monopoly at any era
and, moreover, this argument as it is usually expressed (by
e.g. Eric Jones) is a telescoping of history: traits of
early-modern, already-rising europe projected back to
premodern times. Fourthly: you are wrong about China. In
pre-Ming times they were amazingly progressive. In Ming
times, the putative "authoritarian and isolationist mood"
has been shown to be a myth. Fifthly: it is hardly true
that Venetians, Egyptians, Malaccans, et. al., had "no
incentive to innovate." (See above on "innovation.") Sixth:
I, too, am a cultural-evolutionist. But I see no reason to
think that Europe had a greater evolutionary potential than
any other civilization. And we must avoid both teleology
and circularity (it happened, so it had the "potential" to

Tom Hall's of (?) Mar. 5: Firstly: to say that the
,Medieval systems were "tributary" is not to say very much.
Amin introduced (?) this term to avoid having to use
"feudal." There is no real evidence that "the tributary
form is...prone to cycles -- any more or less than the
feudal form. Secondly: The argument that "highly fragmented
terrain helped to keep political organization fragmented"
is a popular tune rendered by Michael Mann Jones, and
others but it is simply not valid. See my book. Likewise
Christianity as a unique facilitator of communication
(Islam? Hinduism?). The idea (Lynn white, Jr)that the plow
somehow (1) transformed Europe and (2) was uniquely
European has also been demolished, as had the more general
idea that Europe had an edge in technology, in "seafaring
capabilities," etc. -- early enough to play a causal role
differentiating Europe from the Other. Thirdly: It is not
true that "Chinese sailors had been forced home." This is
part of the traditional Eurocentric canon but it is not
true. See So on "Japanese pirates," Needham on Chinese
shipping 1450-1500; also I discuss this in my book.
Fourthly: The "fighting, "fierceness," "zeal," etc. was not
peculiar to Europeans. It described a lot of societies. It
held true in the China Seas (see above).

As to my argument that Africa was on a par with Europe in
1492, we must simply agree to disagree. The quantity of
trade eastward across the Indian Ocean -- and it was not a
simple raw materials-for products exchange as traditionally
argued -- and northward across the Sahara was, in my view,
much more important than you suggest.

Like you, I "reserve the right to change" my mind. The
biggest challenge that we face is to review all of the
arguments which we have internalized over the decades and
see which of them are empty and Eurocentric.