Blaut to Hall

16 Mar 97 16:21:31 EST
James M. Blaut (70671.2032@CompuServe.COM)

Date: 16-Mar-97 at 12:37
From: James M. Blaut, 70671,2032

Tom: I am not accusing people of being Eurocentric. Every
one of us who has been brainwashed in the European
educational and academic universe is Eurocentric. All we
can do about it is question the tenets, one by one, and
get as far as we can in a lifetime.

My problem with your formulation is: it goes part way
but not far enough. I am convinced of the truth of one
empirical proposition: Europe had absolutely NO
advantages, actual or potential, in 1491. This includes
its sociopolitical system, technology, mentality,
environment -- the works. Having thought for many years
about 500 years of colonialism, racism, slavery,
underdevelopment (*fide* Gunder), I am now convinced that
it was the wealth obtained in colonial adventures that
allowed Europeans (European protocapitalists, in my
terminology) to move large parts of the continent to a
new political form, symbolized by the "Glorious
Revolution," to begin the process of destroying
non-European protocapitalist communites, and, eventually,
to achieve a condition which allowed them to sell as much
of everything as they could produce -- thus generating an
industyrtial revolution whose signature was the increase
in production without limit (industrial technology was
strictly a dependent variable, at least until c.1850).

So I am compelled to criticize every formulation
concerning the "rise of Europe" which allows that place
to have had any advantage prior to the onset of
colonialism, or, much the same thing, which assigns to
any other place any DISadvantage (or "blockage"). This
holds even for your relatively uneurocentric formulations
about differences in sociopolitical forms between
centralized and uncentralized medieval tributary forms.
Also, the "edge" idea: a seductive notion when taken in
isolation, but yet a theory of regional advantage and one
whicxh is empirically very questionable (why the edge and
not some central point which enjoys maximum
accdessibility to diffusions? why not insular Southeast
Asia and East Africa and Ceylon, etc., which were indeed
"edges" -- look at the map! -- ?). Also, the conventional
but false thesis that Europe's terrain was uniquely made
up of many small cores, each of which supposedly becomes
the center of an independent nation-state and all
eventually coalescing into a kind of late-medieval
version of the League of Nations -- an argument I try to
dispose of in my book. Also, the argument about medieval
European technology, signalized by the Myth of the Heavy
Plow. Also, the myth of Oriental despotism. Etcetera.
Forgive me, I have to savage all such formulations, even
when they come from non-Eurocentric scholars whom I
respect and like.

In systems terms, my argument can be stated as follows.
Given the uniformitarian principal of "psychic unity"
(universal equality of mental capabilities among human
communities), and given the fact of intense, constant,
massive, criss-cross diffusion among all of the
core-and-periphery regions of the Eastern Hemisphere
since Neolithic times, I would argue that no one of these
regions can gain a historically significant, permanent,
superiority (relatively lasting hegemony) over all the
other regions. Yet, whether we date it from 1500 or from
1800, Western Europe DID gain such a position of
hegemony, powerr, and wealth, and there is no sign that
it is yielding place to East Asia -- rather, Japan has
joined the hegemonic world core, which now confronts
essentially the Third World as world-scale periphery.

To explain the fact that one subsystem in this
hemispheric world system gained such an almost absolute
superiority, you have to look at the boundary processes
surrounding the system. Europe alone breached the system
boundary and thereatfer sucked in huge amounts of value,
which it converted into (1) political transformation, (2)
power, and (3) world hegemony. Had there been no such
breach (the Conquest et seq.), power in the system would
have continued to pass from one regional hegemon to
another, then another, etc.