ArticlePDF Available

The Uniqueness of the West Reinforced: A Reply to Beckwith, Goldstone, and Turchin

Authors:
  • The University of New Brunswick, Saint John

Abstract

This paper defends the ‘Kurgan hypothesis,’ the uniqueness of the epic heroic poetry of Indo- Europeans, and the uniqueness of Western civilization generally. The term ‘uniqueness’ is defined and associated with cultural creativity rather than with global economic and military dominance only.
eScholarship provides open access, scholarly publishing
services to the University of California and delivers a dynamic
research platform to scholars worldwide.
Cliodynamics: The Journal of Quantitative
History and Cultural Evolution
UC Riverside
Title:
The Uniqueness of the West Reinforced: A Reply to Beckwith, Goldstone, and Turchin
Journal Issue:
Cliodynamics, 4(1)
Author:
Duchesne, Ricardo
Publication Date:
2013
Permalink:
http://escholarship.org/uc/item/1h1529x6
Local Identifier:
irows_cliodynamics_19065
Abstract:
This paper defends the ‘Kurgan hypothesis,’ the uniqueness of the epic heroic poetry of Indo-
Europeans, and the uniqueness of Western civilization generally. The term ‘uniqueness’ is defined
and associated with cultural creativity rather than with global economic and military dominance
only.
Copyright Information:
All rights reserved unless otherwise indicated. Contact the author or original publisher for any
necessary permissions. eScholarship is not the copyright owner for deposited works. Learn more
at http://www.escholarship.org/help_copyright.html#reuse
Cliodynamics: the Journal of Theoretical and Mathematical History
The Uniqueness of the West Reinforced
A Reply to Beckwith, Goldstone, and Turchin
Ricardo Duchesne
University of New Brunswick
This paper defends the ‘Kurgan hypothesis,the uniqueness of the
epic heroic poetry of Indo-Europeans, and the uniqueness of
Western civilization generally. The term ‘uniqueness’ is defined
and associated with cultural creativity rather than with global
economic and military dominance only.
I am pleased for this opportunity to clarify my arguments on the aristocratic
culture of the Indo-Europeans, and the uniqueness of Western civilization
generally. Three worthwhile criticisms have been offered in response to my
article Indo-Europeans Were the Most Historically Significant Nomads of the
Steppes. Since the three criticisms are very different from each other, I will
reply to each author separately.
Beckwith
Beckwith first questions my claim that the Indo-Europeans (IEs) initiated the
riding of horses and the invention of wheeled vehicles in the fourth millennium
BC, arguing that “the earliest actual hard evidence for the existence of early IE
speakers anywhere” consists of Assyrian documents from the 19
th
century BCE,
including other “remains” dating to the same period from probable proto-
Tokharian-speaking people. From this point, Beckwith asserts that the “old
gradual model of change over millennia, “according to which Proto-Indo-
European (PIE) evolved very slowly into the attested IE branch-languages, has
been resoundingly rejected in recent scholarship on language contact and
change.”
This claim, worded as it is, goes against the entire existing scholarship on
the IE question. Indo-Europeanists speak of the existence of a Proto-Indo-
European language (PIE) reconstructed as the common ancestor of the Indo-
European branch-languages. The actual competing hypotheses about when
and where PIE was originally spoken propose dates ranging from the fourth to
the seventh millennium BC. In my book, I defended the most widely accepted,
judicious and empirically consistent hypothesis, which is known as the Kurgan
hypothesis, which says that PIE was spoken in the fourth millennium in the
Corresponding author’s e-mail: rduchesn@unb.ca
Citation: Duchesne, Ricardo. 2013. The Uniqueness of the West Reinforced: a Reply to
Beckwith, Goldstone, and Turchin. Cliodynamics 4: 86101.
Duchesne: Response. Cliodynamics 4.1 (2013)
Pontic steppes of what is today known as Ukraine and southwest Russia. It
strikes me as extremely unreasonable, on Beckwith’s part, to suggest that this
hypothesis, with its gradual model of IE dispersal from this region, has been
“resoundingly” refuted. David Anthony’s 2007 book, The Horse, the Wheel,
and Language, is widely recognized as the most exhaustive study to date on
this question, combined with J.P. Mallory’s In Search of the Indo-Europeans
(1989), as well as The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the
Indo-European World (2006), by Mallory and D.Q Adams.
Of course, what Beckwith wishes to say (in a rather offhand way) is that
there is no direct evidence of PIE written language. Everyone knows that all
PIE words are reconstructed from later IE languages, but they have been so
reconstructed using the well attested and respected techniques of historical
linguistics (which include the comparative method and the method of
internal
reconstruction). As Martin West expressed it in Indo-European Poetry and
Myth (2007), judged by reviewers as one of the definitive books on the IE
language and religion: “The assumption of a single parent language as the
historical source of all known IE languages…is still a hypothesis, not an
observable fact, but it is an inescapable hypothesis.”
To back his claim, Beckwith cites a paper he authored and his book,
Empires of the Silk Road, together with two book chapters by Andrew Garrett
(1999, 2006). Yet none of these writings supports his claim or challenge
anything Anthony wrote or the Kurgan hypothesis generally. To the contrary,
they are in line with the argument I expressed in the article and in my book!
Garrett’s chapter, “Convergence in the Formation of Indo-European
Subgroups: Phylogeny and Chronology” (2006) instead questions Renfrew’s
Anatolian hypothesis that the first IE was spoken in 7000 BC “as in the first
agriculturalist framework” (that is, the claim that the IE language was
introduced into Europe by Neolithic farmers from Anatolia). It suggests that
PIE was spoken and IE language diffusion began in the fourth millennium BC.
He writes:
I take it that PIE was spoken c. 3500 BC, perhaps somewhat earlier, in
part of what Mallory calls the ‘circum-Pontic interaction sphere’.
PIE was spoken and IE language dispersal began in the 4
th
millennium
(144–6).
In other words, he agrees with the arguments I endorsed. In fact, what
Beckwith actually says in his own book is consistent with the Kurgan (or
Pontic) view on the existence of a PIE common language existing in 4000BC:
[T]he view of the early Indo-Europeanists, who suggested a period
around four millennia ago, is supported by the available data, including
87
Duchesne: Response. Cliodynamics 4.1 (2013)
typology, and also corresponds to the younger end of the dating ranges
suggested by several proposals of Indo-Europeanist scholars (31).
This sentence is footnoted with a reference to Mallory and Adams (2006),
which is supportive of the Kurgan hypothesis. Similar statements can be found
in Beckwith’s book. Therefore, one cannot but conclude that Beckwith is being
disingenuous, since he distinctly accepts the scholarship on the reconstruction
of a PIE mother tongue and the Pontic hypothesis.
It is very odd, moreover, that he later cites Garrett to argue that
ancient Greek contains “a very high percentage of non-IE lexical forms,” since
Garrett also concludes that the Greek spoken during and after the Mycenaean
period was “linguistically closer to IE than has been supposed” (147). Garrett
cannot be so easily associated with a theory of creolization.
1
The argument has never been that the IE speakers who Indo-Europeanized
Europe did not integrate non-IE language forms. The argument is about why,
when, and how they superimposed their language as the dominant form,
which is why they are today called IE languages. The field of “Indo-European
Studies” has been driven by the effort to understand why this language family
became the world’s most widespread language, spoken today by almost three
billion native speakers, the largest number by far for any known language
family.
By the same token, Beckwith says that Anatolia remained as Indo-
Europeanized as Europe (until the 20
th
century CE). The objective seems to be:
marginalize the impact of Indo-Europeans in Europe, while exaggerating their
impact in lands (Turkey) that are not even designated today as Indo-European.
However, there is nothing in his reply, or books, which challenges my claim (in
Uniqueness) that the IEs who invaded Anatolia were eventually assimilated to
the non-IE cultures, languages, and ethnic groups of this region. When IE
groups entered this region in high numbers during the second millennium this
was already a complex, urbanized, and well-populated civilization, unlike the
Neolithic world encountered by IEs in much of Europe. Obviously, additional
scholarship on this matter is required rather than a quick exchange with
Beckwith; suffice it to say that my claims are consistent with Trevor Bryce’s
authoritative account, The Kingdom of the Hittites
.
Beckwith further writes that “the very solid evidence for their [PIE] farming
rules out nomadism.” This is an incorrect dichotomy; no IE expert, as I made
clear in the book, argues that PIE speakers were complete nomadic
1
Neither publication cited by Beckwith from Garrett can be read as a challenge, never
mind a ‘resounding’ refutation, of anything I said, or as supporting any of Beckwith’s
claims here, including Garrett (1999).
88
Duchesne: Response. Cliodynamics 4.1 (2013)
pastoralists; they were semi-nomadic, practicing some farming but dedicating
themselves mostly to herding. Beckwith adds that “there is absolutely no
historical evidence for the riding of horses, let alone from fighting from
horseback, before the early first millennium BCE”. He says that Anthony’s bit-
wear evidence is contested by scholars, and, in this vein, cites a book by Drews
published in 2004. But this book could not be seen as a refutation of Anthony’s
book which was published a few years later in 2007. Beckwith offers no
sources against Anthony, who has offered considerable evidence showing that,
before the onset of cavalry warfare in the first millennium, horses were used
for “raiding” with minimal riding equipment by the middle of the fourth
millennium. Pita Kelekna, in his recent book, The Horse in Human History,
agrees with Anthony that some Botai horses were “bitted and likely ridden for
hours” (2009, 38). In 2011, Anthony (Antony and Dorcas 2011) offered
additional arguments and evidence according to which:
Current evidence indicates that horses were domesticated in the steppes
of Kazakhstan and Russia, certainly by 3500 BC and possibly by 4500
BC. Tribal raiding on horseback could be almost that old, but organized
cavalry appeared only after 1000 BC. Riding might initially have been
more important for increasing the productivity and efficiency of sheep
and cattle pastoralism in the western Eurasian steppes. The earliest (so
far) direct evidence for riding consists of pathologies on the teeth and
jaw associated with bitting, found at Botai and Kozhai 1. Recent
developments and debates in the study of bit-related pathologies are
reviewed and the reliability of bit wear as a diagnostic indicator of riding
and driving is defended.
Beckwith says that the PIEs “did not invent the wheel or the wagon,” but
“borrowed them from the Near East,” although he admits that PIE does have
“a solidly reconstructed word for ‘wheel; vehicle.’ Apparently, Beckwith does
believe in the existence of a PIE language reconstructed from IE branches. I
argued in Uniqueness that they were ‘co-inventors’ of wheeled vehicles. The
historical linguist, Asya Pereltsvaig, has maintained (2012) that
reconstructions of PIE include the word ‘wheel,’ with solid evidence
favoring
Anthony’s argument that wheels and wagons became widespread between
3400 and 3000 BCE, and that the vocabulary for wagons and wheels was not
imported from outside the PIE speech community.
Beckwith draws attention to the “equally wonderful epic literature of the
ancient, medieval, and modern Central Eurasians.” My bookand I don’t
expect Beckwith to have a read it on a short notice to comment on my article
does neglect this epic literature from Central Eurasia; however there is no
reason to assume robotically, without reflection and comparative analysis, that
89
Duchesne: Response. Cliodynamics 4.1 (2013)
these two epic traditions were “equally wonderful.” Having read two
substantial articles, “
Mongolian-Turkic Epics: Typological Formation and
Development” (2001), andMongolian Oral Epic Poetry: An Overview” (1997),
I am confident in making the following distinctions, which I can only address
in point form due to lack of space:
First, the IE epic and heroic tradition precedes any other tradition by some
thousands of years, not just the Homeric and the Sanskrit epics but, as we now
know with some certainty from such major books as West’s Indo-European
Poetry and Myth, and Watkins’s How to Kill a Dragon: Aspects of IE Poetics
(1995), going back to a prehistoric oral tradition. Second, IE poetry exhibits a
keener grasp and rendition of the fundamentally tragic character of life, an
aristocratic confidence in the face of destiny, the inevitability of human
hardship and hubris, without bitterness, but with a deep joy (Gunther 2001;
Gurevich 1995, 19-61).
Third, IE poetry contains a richer repertoire of motifs and narrative stories,
and a higher aesthetic level of achievement. The most basic theme of
Mongolian and Turkic poetry is the search for a wife and children and fight
with a demon, battle over horses, slaves, ransacking property, and clan feuds.
Heroic deeds consist of overcoming natural obstacles and the evil designs of
competitors en route to winning a future wife as well as fighting demons and
other heroes. Similar themes can be found in IE poetry, but many of these tales
are richer in motifs, in the performance of greater, more adventurous and
worldly deeds. The Vinland Sagas, for example, chronicle the adventures of
Eirik the Red and his son, Leif Eirikson, who explored North America 500
years before Columbus, providing the first-ever descriptions of North America,
recounting the Icelandic settlement of Shetland, Orkney, the Hebrides, parts of
Scotland and Ireland, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland and
Newfoundland. The Iliad, like the Odyssey, widely acknowledged through the
centuries as two of the greatest works of literature, is a world of powerful kings
living in vast, wealthy palaces, and in charge of huge armies; they are superb
stories far richer in character, with heroes exhibiting complex inner
contradictions, regrets, and self-criticism (Gill 1996).
Fourth, IE epics show both collective and individual inspiration, unlike
non-IE epics which show characters functioning only as collective
representations of their communities. Moreover, and this is a very important
contrast, further illuminating IE individualism, in some IE sagas there is a
clear author’s stance, unlike the anonymous non-IE sages. The individuality,
the rights of authorship, the poet’s awareness of himself as creator, is
acknowledged in many ancient and medieval sagas (Gurevich, 61-75). Fifth,
Beckwith says the Central Asian epic tradition continued to the 20
th
century
while the Greek tradition ceased. Sure, it remained relatively stagnant in
Central Asia while Homer's writings set the basis for Pindar, Aeschylus,
90
Duchesne: Response. Cliodynamics 4.1 (2013)
Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, and their invention of nearly all the
literary patterns we use today: tragedy and comedy, epic and romance, and
many more, which the Romans eagerly assimilated, adding Virgil’s The Aeneid,
the satires of Horace and Juvenal, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, not to mention the
heroic epic of the Middle Ages all the way to Richard Wagner who is seen as
the artist principally responsible for keeping the European mythological
tradition alive in the modern world.
Beckwith says that Murray’s statistical assessment of human accomplish-
ments across cultures could not but reflect a Western bias; and he asks: “did
Murray read though the many massive literatures of non-European
languages”. Well, if Beckwith had consulted Murray’s book, and as I elaborated
in my book, he would have learned that Murray definitely used sources from a
variety of countries (as much as these countries have in fact produced
encyclopedias and reference works). Murray also constructed separate
inventories for non-Europeans in the Arts so as to avoid applying one standard
of artistic excellence. Beckwith questions my claim that Turkic warriors were
transformed into mamluks lacking nobility, but instead of engaging with the
source I cited in support of my argument, he repeats that the comitatus was
aristocratic, which is not under dispute.
Finally, he hastily asserts that “Europeans borrowed science as a completely
developed tradition from Classical Arabic civilization during the Crusades,
citing his latest book, Warriors of the Cloisters (2012). But as Toby Huff, well-
known authority on the comparative history of European and Islamic science,
argues in his review in AHR
(2013), Beckwith’s book is full of “dubious and
highly misleading claims”. He confuses, for example, madrasas with the
original European creation of universities, fails to realize that madrasas were
lacking faculties, a formal curriculum, and offered no ‘degrees’ and no
collective evaluation (examination of students).
Goldstone
For Goldstone the uniqueness of the West is all about the ‘rise’ of this
civilization to economic, “military, and colonial domination.” But as Hewson
clearly explained in his review, I argue that multiple divergences, successive
revolutions, and continuous creativity are the basic peculiarities of the West.
The statement that, before the revisionists came along, “it was really all black
and white or West and non-West” is a false opposition which cannot be
attributed to the Eurocentric literature at large. When one examines the
scholarship on the civilizations of the world, produced primarily by Western-
educated scholars, one meets numerous sources exhibiting balance, respect,
and commitment to the non-West. I relied on many of these works in
Uniqueness. It is the revisionists who have ignored huge components on the
91
Duchesne: Response. Cliodynamics 4.1 (2013)
scholarship and histories of the West. As I argued in my book: (i) revisionists
have invariably relied on outdated sources, (ii) reduced the debate to mostly
comparative economic history, (iii) misread, and sometimes willfully
misinterpreted numerous classic authors including Weber and contemporary
authors. The claim that Weber contrasted a rational West to an irrational East
is a standard assertion by revisionists without scholarly merit. In fact,
revisionists have had to rely on histories written by standard Eurocentric
scholars on Asia, Africa, and the Americas in order to formulate their own
ideologically oriented views. By ideological, I mean the feeling that history
must be written in conformity with the multicultural principle that all cultures
are equal or similar in value and achievement.
Goldstone’s reply is replete with vague generalizations. I can only bring up
a few examples. He says that Asian societies had a “clear lead…in exploration,
production, manufacturing, seafaring and navigation, experimental science,
pluralism and toleration, lasting well into the 17
th
and in some respects the 18
th
century”. This is totally inconsistent with masses of books, articles and
quantifiable data. How can one say this when it was the Europeans who had
rounded Africa, set up trading ports throughout the Indian Ocean,
mapped
every region of the earth (Buisseret 2003), carried successive shipping and
navigational improvements from the mid-1400s onwards (Unger 1981),
promoted a printing revolution (Eisenstein 1980) and then a
book/journal/newspaper culture , developed an experimental science with
cumulative insights, established all the disciplines in science and social science
we teach today, set up capitalist firms around the world, colonized the
Americas and Africa, instituted the supremacy of Parliament in England and
representative institutions in Europe, introduced religious tolerance, produced
one continuous great philosopher after another, invented
the novel (Watt
2001), every single classical composer in modern times (Schomberg 2006), a
restless sequence of artistic styles, analytical geometry and algebraic logic
(Gabbay and Woods)? The Asians were leaders essentially in the production of
large populations and labor intensive farming techniques.
Here’s another confounding statement: “[T]he flood of new empirical
knowledge after the discovery of the New World and the inventions of
telescopes, microscopes, vacuum chambers and other scientific instruments
forced Europeans to confront inadequacies in their classical inherited
philosophy. Other societies absorb these discoveries without feeling those
inadequacies for they were more cosmopolitan and syncretic.” Nothing could
be further from the truth. How exactly were Europeans forced to confront their
inadequacies if they were the inventors of telescopes, microscopes, vacuum
chambers and numerous scientific instruments? The research says the
opposite of what Goldstone wishes had happened: Huff’s book, Intellectual
Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution shows that European efforts to
92
Duchesne: Response. Cliodynamics 4.1 (2013)
encourage interest in telescopes and microscopes in China, the Ottoman
Empire, and Mughal India “did not bear much fruit.” “The telescope that set
Europeans on fire with enthusiasm and curiosity, failed to ignite the same
spark elsewhere. That led to a great divergence that was to last all the way to
the end of the twentieth century” (2011, 5).
Uniqueness does not offer a “single factor explanation,” as should be clear
from its reading; tracing the first cultural component (the aristocratic ethos of
Indo-Europeans) in Europe’s multiple divergences does not mean that this is
the only factor; it is the first one, and it undergoes considerable changes,
together with the emergence of other factors and cultural novelties that are
examined each in their own right. Goldstone cites some lines from Quataert
(2005) to the effect that Turkish steppe nomads of the 14
th
century were as
aristocratic and heroic as the Indo-Europeans, but when one investigates
Quataert’s book, it contains nothing else about this topic except these lines.
Goldstone also brings up the epic of Gilgamesh as if it were a demonstration
that there were aristocratic tales elsewhere. Therefrom he announces: “so
much for the uniqueness of Indo-European nomad epic and social
organization!”
My book contains a section entitled “the Epic of Gilgamesh is not a
Tragedy.” As explained in my reply to Elvin’s review
, in this section I relied on
24 cited sources, examined arguments for and against, reaching the conclusion
that a true heroic epic presupposes the existence of peers who can compete for
heroic status. The king Agamemnon in the Iliad, for example, is surrounded by
free, prideful aristocrats always deliberating and competing with their peers.
Agamemnon is “first among equals”; Achilles even refuses to accept all of his
commands, and everyone else in the epic enjoys the opportunity to perform
glorious deeds. In all the epics and sagas of the Western world we meet
individually named characters, rather than one singular ruler, as Gilgamesh,
bragging endlessly and demanding adoration and servility even from the upper
classes.
It is not clear why Goldstone brings the Song of Solomon into this question,
but his point seems to be that the Hebrew Old Testament had a “rather more
profound impact on later Western and European thought” than the aristocratic
epic tradition. I disagree, and will call attention to my essay, “Christianity is a
Hellenistic Religion, and Western Civilization is Christian” (2006), and add
that the Hebrew Bib le on its own is not Western, but develops into Judaism,
wherein the Talmud becomes the central text (Solomon, 2000), at the same
time that Christianity undergoes further theological and administrative/legal
development in a Hellenic and Roman manner, as well as Germanization
(Russell), which is not to say that the Hebrew Testament does not remain a
central component.
93
Duchesne: Response. Cliodynamics 4.1 (2013)
Turchin
Turchin is the author of five books (1998, 2003a, 2003b, 2006, 2009), all of
which have been highly praised by the academic community. His commentary
on my paper is really an article at 7,500 words. Unlike Beckwith and
Goldstone, Turchin brings up my book more than a few times, rather than the
article.
About half of Turchin’s commentary consists of a stimulating section
arguing that China, not Europe, was unique geographically. I have no current
objections to this argument, but I do wish to make some corrections and
clarifications about his understanding of my book in this regard. He says that
“Duchesne devotes a substantial amount of discussion in his book to the
observations by Cunliffe in Europe between the Oceans” (Cunliffe’s argument
that Europe was well-connected by land and sea). Actually, I devote no more
than one page (311-12) to this particular argument by Cunliffe. Moreover, I
don’t rely on Cunliffe alone but on Landes, Hegel, Harold and Dorn, Spengler
and others. Turchin writes that “Duchesne uses this observation [Cunliffe’s
view about Europe’s connectivity] to argue that the European topology and
landscape were [he quotes me] ‘a crucial geographic component in the
formation of Europe’s uniquely restless culture.’”
But this is a truncated quote which creates the false impression that I view
Cunliffe’s geographical argument as crucial to my understanding of Europe’s
uniqueness. What I wrote, after describing Cunliffe’s views on topography and
the Middle European Corridor, was: “I will argue in the next chapter that this
corridor and its link to the steppes, with its pastoral, horse-riding way of life,
was a crucial geographical component in the formation of Europe’s uniquely
restless culture” (312). I criticized Cunliffe for writing of Europe’s “restless
culture” in purely geographical terms and disconnecting the IE aristocratic
warlike culture from this geography.
Turchin also implies that I accepted Cunliffe’s argument without coming to
terms with Jared Diamond’s opposing view about Europe’s geographical
disunity. I understand that reading a 500+ page book (with almost 900
different cited sources) is quite demanding in the context of a debate with time
and spatial boundaries, but I have to clarify that I devoted more space to
Diamond (44-6, 216-17, 308); and also criticized the way he explains Europe’s
political disunity in terms of Europe’s geographical division into isolated
peninsulas. I criticized the commonly held idea (Eric Jones, Daniel Chirot, and
David Christian) that Europe was different and more innovative because it was
divided into states pressured to compete and innovate against each other.
Now, Turchin claims that “the first step to explaining this divergence is to
realize that there is nothing particularly unique about European political
disunity.” What’s really unique is China’s unity. But here Turchin misses
94
Duchesne: Response. Cliodynamics 4.1 (2013)
another basic component in my argument, which goes beyond geography and
the mere division of Europe into competing states. I don’t explain Europe’s
political disunity merely in terms of its geography. I argue that Europe’s
political disunity involved more than lack of imperial unity. Europe was
uniquely shaped internally by a division of powers, the presence of a unique
civil society, which worked to counter the central powers of the nation state,
with roots going back to the libertarian ethos and republican character of
Europe’s aristocratic culture, relative separation of religious and secular
powers, autonomous cities and universities with corporate privileges based on
a unique legal system with roots in Rome, the rise of representative
institutions, and more (this argument comes up at various points in the book,
including in pages 226-229; 269-284). I also bring up Greece’s division into
city-states, and connect the emergence of the polis to Greece’s aristocratic
foundation. I argue that the Greek (and Roman) republican character (both in
its early, strictly aristocratic, and its citizen-oriented forms) cannot be
understood without a prior appreciation of the culture of IE aristocratic values.
The same is true of the institution of medieval feudalism (312-15; 390-418;
460-88). I don’t examine Europe’s geography in isolation and then argue for
uniqueness.
Turchin’s challenge against the uniqueness of the “Western way of war” is
marred from the beginning by his supposition that Hanson’s thesis amounts to
the simplistic claim that the ancient Greeks invented a type of decisive infantry
warfare that became the basis for Western superiority right into modern times.
He relies essentially on one book by Hanson, The Western Way of War:
Infantry Battle in Classical Greece (1989), which is focused on the invention
of hoplite warfare, while ignoring Hanson’s other publications, including
Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power (2001),
which do not restrict the Western way to infantry battle. Turchin mentions the
names of Parker and Keegan, and The Cambridge History of Warfare edited
by Parker (2005), but, despite the fact that this book clearly shows that the
Western way evolved and underwent organizational, technological, strategic
and tactical changes, he still reduces this thesis to the claim that “the heavily
armed infantrymen of Greece” was singularly, on its own, the path which led to
Western dominance. Turchin concludes this section stating: “The recipe for
‘western dominance of the globe’ in the early-modern period has nothing to do
with Greek warfare.” But why suppose that such learned scholars as Keegan,
Parker, and Hanson made such an obviously crude argument?
Likewise, in Uniqueness I devoted three sections on the Western way of war
and military revolutions in Europe (209-221), showing that Greek hoplite
warfare was only the beginning of the Western way. As it is, Turchin’s
summation of Hanson’s hoplite style is incomplete, and leaves out three other
traits related to culture, citizenship, and military theorization (see Uniqueness,
95
Duchesne: Response. Cliodynamics 4.1 (2013)
p. 219). Turchin says that “the Macedonians, who learned the Game of Empire
very well, used a different style of warfare from that described by Hanson”. But
I used two chapters by Hanson in The Cambridge on the Macedonians and
Romans, and explained:
The Macedonians, Romans, and later Europeans revised and added new
tactics, weapons, and strategies, but they did not depart from the
fundamental principles of the ‘Western Way.’ Thus, the Macedonians,
under Phillip II, added the ‘companion cavalry,’ an elite body of
aristocratic horsemen, integrating horse and infantrymen, and they also
lengthened the spear from eight to nearly fourteen feet. The Romans,
through a long period of evolution lasting nearly a millennium, created a
more fluid and open order of legionnaires, armed with throwing-javelins
and short double-edged swords. They also raised discipline to new levels
of professionalism, and backed their marching armies with a superb
infrastructure consisting of roads, camps, hospitals, armour, pensions,
and salaries.
The Macedonians and Romans, after all, were Western. Turchin also
mentions English medieval archers, and the modern military changes as
challenges to Hanson’s thesis, but, again, these changes were by Europeans
and consistent with the Western way, which included more than face to face
infantry battle. Moreover, I distinctly argued in Uniqueness that “the essentials
of Hanson’s thesis can be effectively defended in the revised manner Parker
has in his ‘Introduction’ and ‘Epilogue’” to The Cambridge. Parker lists five
traits making up the Western way, which I described (220-21), adding that
Parker had brought together his ideas on the “Military Revolution” with
certain aspects of Hanson’s thesis. I also covered the debate over this military
revolution (209-14).
Turchin adds that my emphasis on the libertarian, heroic and prestige-
seeking lifestyle of barbarian aristocratic warriors has a “curious dissonance”
with the habit of discipline and obedience expected from soldiers. He mentions
the unflattering views the disciplined Romans had of the barbarian Gauls. I
addressed this on various occasions, starting with the observation that the
early Greeks and early Romans were themselves barbarians who fought in the
berserker style, and that once they developed their disciplined armies they
“contrasted their self-restraint and reasonableness (as well as their courage in
staying in rank in the face of the enemy without giving way to fear and panic”
(370). But one of the contributions I have made is that all Indo-Europeans, as
barbarians, followed a uniquely berserker style, and that this ethnic and
cultural group invented, as IEs developed city-states and civilizations, the
Western way of warfare. I added that “Greek hoplites, Macedonian phalanxes,
96
Duchesne: Response. Cliodynamics 4.1 (2013)
and Roman legionnaires did not eradicate the state of mind of the berserker as
much as sublimate its excessive, disorganized and ‘barbaric’ impulses into a far
more effective, disciplined style of warfare that would make Westerners ‘the
most deadly soldiers in the history of civilization’” (370). There is a section,
“Arête and the Education of the Greeks” (445-456), where I explained how
early Greek barbarians transformed themselves into civilized but still agonistic
members of city-states, and how this competitive and individualistic spirit
found expression in the high culture of the Greeks, their invention of Olympics,
poetic contests, a dialogical style of reasoning, and creativity.
In the opening pages, Turchin maintains that my position on the
uniqueness of Western civilization is not “neutral” but “ideological” in that I
show a preference for Western civilization. Turchin believes that all cultures
are unique and that my argument is biased in assigning uniqueness only to the
West. This is a misunderstanding; clearly my argument is not that other
cultures lacked uniqueness (which is almost self-evident since they are not the
same in customs, language, beliefs and history); it is that the West was unique
in exhibiting the greatest cultural creativity and dynamism. This is not an
ideological position per seeven if I show admiration for this creativityas
long as I am employ the basic protocols of academic scholarship, proper use of
sources, careful reading and understanding of opposition views, proper
calibration of the evidence and the available sources, and a willingness to
engage with falsifying or counter-arguments in a serious, fair-minded way.
Over two hundred pages of Uniqueness are dedicated to the revisionist
counter-arguments.
Turchin objects to the passing of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ judgments on the
achievements of cultures, but then admits that even scientists like him who
wish to construct mathematical models of history to anticipate the future are
motivated by judgments about what is good and worthy of admiration. Why
would someone want to predict future crises if not to anticipate them, avoid
them, and promote a better future? So, in the end, his point is that we should
avoid allowing our cultural preferences to interfere with our arguments and
evidence. And he implies that the goal of my book is not to seek the truth but
“to pass a value judgment on the achievement, creativity, significance, vigor,
excellence, etc. of the Western Civilization.” Turchin marshals the following
points in support of this judgment. He says "the main thrust of The
Uniqueness of Western Civilization is to argue against [citing my words] ‘the
devaluation of Western culture that swept the academic world starting around
the 1960s,’”. No, this is the main goal of chapter one; Turchin does not refer to
the contents of this chapter, which actually trace the ideological origins of the
revisionist/multicultural approach to history. He detects “two serious
problems” with my work; one is that my ideological agenda “leads to
predictable results”, by which he means that I ignore the achievements of non-
97
Duchesne: Response. Cliodynamics 4.1 (2013)
Europeans, giving as an example “a dismissive sentence” I wrote on the
explorations of Polynesians. (Here he endorses Beckwith’s critique, which he
read before writing his comment; he did not have my reply to Beckwith at
hand, so readers will have to judge.) First, for clarification, what I wrote about
the Polynesians is contained in an article I wrote after Uniqueness, “A
Civilization of Explorers,” an argument barely developed in the book. I wrote:
The Polynesians navigated across millions of square miles the Pacific,
but as gifted as they were in practical and experiential matters, they did
not cultivate a body of geographical knowledge. The Phoenicians left no
geographical documents of their colonizing activities.
These are two sentences. Turchin’s own description of the Polynesian
voyages is consistent with my first sentence except that he uses more
expressive language; however, he does not question my view that they left no
geographical documents. This is a fact rather than a subjective judgment. To
this day there are no major studies on these anonymous explorations, and it is
interesting that Turchin has to rely on one paper on the spread of the sweet
potato to hypothesize these explorations; a paper written by Western scholars.
Turchin, by describing the Polynesian explorations as “remarkable,” as
“fearless seafarers,” as “truly heroic feats,” is making a value-judgment. But
that does not mean that he is wrong on this point per se. Either way, how can
an article showing that about 95 percent of all explorations (combined with the
development of geography as a science, superior navigational techniques, and
a cartographic revolution) be deemed as more “ideological” than an article
saying that all cultures were equally exploratory, or simply because my article
did not pay enough attention to the Polynesians?
Turchin’s second major methodological objection seems to be that the very
endeavor to account for something peculiar in a culture carries inherent
ideological pitfalls, in that “any world region, or any human society has a
multitude of peculiarities that distinguish it from other regions, or societies,
and so, the researcher, in trying to explain these peculiarities, will tend to
emphasize those which suit his ideological inclinations, cherry-picking facts
that confirm the peculiarity he prefers. This is true, but it is no less true of
those inclined to see common, regular patterns across cultures. They too will
be tempted to cherry-pick those facts that suit the common patterns and
similarities they wish to highlight. Every research project carries pitfalls,
particularly when we are dealing with human and cultural phenomena.
I think the main reason Turchin is sceptical of the idea of uniqueness is that
it runs counters to his own inclinations to construct general laws of history.
Turchin’s field of expertise includes population dynamics from a comparative
historical perspective (emphasizing as well social structure and state strength)
98
Duchesne: Response. Cliodynamics 4.1 (2013)
and its effects on political stability. He believes that using such tools as
nonlinear mathematics and computer simulations (which can analyze vast
amounts of data and model the interactions of millions of individuals) will
allow historians to construct general laws of history to predict future
outcomes. His historical books have been about understanding common
patterns and outcomes of instability across Europe and Asia. The idea of
uniqueness is anathema to this endeavor, since one of the underlying premises
of cliodynamics is that patterns of human behaviour hold across cultures and
can be predicted based on an analysis of repeating population, economic,
social, and political trends. But history is filled with political upheavals,
rebellions and revolutions that do not fit this emphasis on population
dynamics and social and state structures. Certainly the continuous creativity of
the West cannot be so explained. Moreover, my argument on the
aristocratic/individualist psychology of Europeans precludes a uniform
conception of human nature and the notion that all humans irrespective of
culture and ethnicity perceive, reason, feel in the same way. As the scientific
research of Richard E. Nisbett has shown, “Asians and Westerners think
differently” (2003). However, for all these differences, I don’t believe we
should mistrust the scholarly intentions of cliodynamics by calling it
ideological.
Perhaps we can agree that we need a clearer awareness of what it means to
say ‘common patterns’ and ‘unique traits.’ But I do believe we have
underestimated the uniqueness of the West, partly because this debate has
been preoccupied almost entirely with the rise of the West to economic and
military hegemony in modern times. The cultural uniqueness of the West has
been narrowly evaluated in the degree to which it encouraged or discouraged
economic and scientific innovation. Few have addressed the West’s creativity
in its own right; its original sources and its identifying cultural character. My
book has received a high number of heartening reviews, including eight review
essays thus far; unfortunately, no revisionist had paid any attention to it,
notwithstanding the very detailed, critical effort this book committed to the
revisionist arguments. If I may close with the following words from David
Northup’s review (2012) in the Journal of World History:
Although The Uniqueness of Western Civilization may well upset or
infuriate world historians, they have much to gain from reading it, since
it presents summaries and critiques of a great many works
in comparative world, European, and Asian history. In all he cites nearly
nine hundred works on subjects ranging across the full chronological
spectrum of history and including major works in sociology,
archaeology, philosophy, and history. Following Duchesne’s example,
99
Duchesne: Response. Cliodynamics 4.1 (2013)
serious historians cannot afford to read only authors belonging to their
own favored school.
References
Anthony, David. 2007. The Horse, the Wheel, and Language. Cambridge
University Press.
Anthony, David, and Dorcas Brown. 2011. “The Secondary Products
Revolution, Horse-Riding, and Mounted Warfare.” Journal of World
Prehistory (Volume 24, Issue 2-3).
Bryce, Trevor. 2006. The Kingdom of the Hittites. Oxford University Press.
David Buisseret, David. 2003. The Cartographic Revolution: Mapmaking in
Western Europe, 1400-1800. Oxford University Press.
Duchesne, Ricardo. 2006. “Christianity is a Hellenistic Religion, and Western
Civilization is Christian.” Historically Speaking. Vol. VII/4
Duchesne, Ricardo. 2011. “Reply to Elvin.” Canadian Journal of Sociology.
36/4
Elizabeth Eisenstein, Elizabeth. 1980. The Printing Revolution as an Agent of
Change. Cambridge University Press.
Hanson, Victor Davis. 2000. “From Phalanx to Legion 350-250 BC,” In
Cambridge Illustrated History of Warfare.
Hanson, Victor Davis. 2000. “The Roman way of War 250 BC-AD 300.” In
Cambridge Illustrated History of Warfare.
Hanson, Victor Davis. 2001. Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the
Rise of Western Power. New York: Doubleday.
Huff, Toby. 2011. Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution.
Cambridge University Press.
Huff, Toby. 2013. Review of Christopher Beckwith. Warriors of the Cloisters:
The Central Asian Origins of Science in the Medieval World. American
Historical Review (June 2013).
Gabbay, Dov, and John Woods, Eds. 2004. The Rise of Modern Logic: from
Leibniz to Frege, Volume 3. Elsevier Publishers.
Garrett, Andrew. 1999. “A New Model of Indo-European Subgrouping and
Dispersal. In Steve S. Chang, et al. Proceedings of the Twenty-Fifth Annual
Meeting of the Berkerley Linguistics Society.
Garrett, Andrew. 2006. “Convergence in the formation of Indo-European
subgroups: Phylogeny and chronology”, in Phylogenetic methods and the
prehistory of languages, ed. by Peter Forster and Colin Renfrew
http://linguistics.berkeley.edu/~garrett/IEConvergence.pdf
Gejin, Chao. 1997. “Mongolian Oral Epic Poetry: An Overview.” Oral Tradition
12/2.
100
Duchesne: Response. Cliodynamics 4.1 (2013)
Gill, Christopher. 1996. Personality in Greek Epic, Tragedy and Philosophy:
The Self in Dialogue. Clarendon Press.
Gunther, Hans. 2001 [1963]. Religious Attitudes of the Indo-Europeans.
Historical Review Press.
Gurevich, Aaron. 1995. The Origins of European Individualism. Blackwell.
Kelekna, Pita. 2009. The Horse in Human History. Cambridge University
Press.
Mallory, J. P. 1989. In Search of the Indo-Europeans. Thames and Hudson.
Mallory, J. P. and D. Q. Adams. 2006. The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-
European and the Indo-European World.
Nisbett, Richard. 2003. The Geography of Thought. Free Press.
Northrup, David. 2012. Review of The Uniqueness of Western Civilization.
Journal of World History. 23/4
Pereltsvaig, Asya. 2012. “‘Wheel’ Vocabulary Puts a Spoke in Bouckaert et al.’s
Wheel” in GeoCurrents (September 7).
Russell, James. 1994. The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity: A
Sociohistorical Approach to Religious Transformation. Oxford University
Press.
Schonberg, Harold. 2006. The Lives of the Great Composers. Abacus Press.
Solomon, Norman. 2000. Judaism. Oxford University Press.
Rinchindorji. 2001. “Mongolian-Turkic Epics: Typological Formation and
Development.” Oral Tradition 16/2.
Turchin, Peter. 1998. Quantitative Analysis of Movement: Measuring and
Modeling Population Redistribution in Animals and Plants. Sinauer
Associates Inc.
Turchin, Peter. 2003a. Historical Dynamics: Why States Rise and Fall.
Turchin, Peter. 2003b. Complex Population Dynamics: A Theoretical/Em-
pirical Synthesis. Princeton University Press.
Turchin, Peter. 2006. War and Peace: the Rise and Fall of Empires. Plume.
Turchin, Peter, and Sergey A. Nefedov. 2009. Secular Cycles. Princeton
University Press.
Unger, Richard. 1981. “Dutch Shipping in the Golden Age.” History Today
(131/4).
Watt, Ian. 2001. The Rise Of The Novel: Studies In Defoe, Richardson And
Fielding. University of California Press.
West, M. L. 2007. Indo-European Poetry. Oxford University Press.
101
Chapter
In a letter to his friend Carl Friedrich Zelter, Wolfgang Goethe commented: ‘The greatest art in theoretical and practical life consists in changing a problem into a postulate’ (Cassirer 1952 [1923]: 371). The nexus between Eurocentrism and the master narrative of scientific modernity seems to have suffered a similar fate nowadays (Seth 2011). Anyone who attempts to produce non-Eurocentric narratives of modernity, or who restates European centrality as historical evidence, acknowledges that the formation of modern knowledge is inextricable from the rise of Europe to the position of world dominance through colonialism. In social theory, Europe has partly lost its presumed objective historical presence as a coherent cultural entity integral to a determined geographical space (Bhambra 2007a, b); Escobar and Mignolo 2013; Seth 2007). Nonetheless, its hyper-real existence deeply informs available categories of historical and social thinking.
Chapter
The new edition of The Cambridge History of Warfare, written and updated by a team of eight distinguished military historians, examines how war was waged by Western powers across a sweeping timeframe beginning with classical Greece and Rome, moving through the Middle Ages and the early modern period, down to the wars of the twenty-first century in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. The book stresses five essential aspects of the Western way of war: a combination of technology, discipline, and an aggressive military tradition with an extraordinary capacity to respond rapidly to challenges and to use capital rather than manpower to win. Although the focus remains on the West, and on the role of violence in its rise, each chapter also examines the military effectiveness of its adversaries and the regions in which the West's military edge has been – and continues to be – challenged.
Book
In the last two decades it has become increasingly clear that the spatial dimension is a critically important aspect of ecological dynamics. Ecologists are currently investing an enormous amount of effort in quantifying movement patterns of organisms. Connecting these data to general issues in metapopulation biology and landscape ecology, as well as to applied questions in conservation and natural resource management, however, has proved to be a non-trivial task. This book presents a systematic exposition of quantitative methods for analyzing and modeling movements of organisms in the field. Quantitative Analysis of Movement is intended for graduate students and researchers interested in spatial ecology, including applications to conservation, pest control, and fisheries. Models are a key ingredient in the analytical approaches developed in the book; however, the primary focus is not on mathematical methods, but on connections between models and data. The methodological approaches discussed in the book will be useful to ecologists working with all taxonomic groups. Case studies have been selected from a wide variety of organisms, including plants (seed dispersal, spatial spread of clonal plants), insects, and vertebrates (primarily, fish, birds, and mammals).
Book
The Indo-Europeans - speakers of the prehistoric parent language from which most European and some Asiatic languages are descended - most probably lived on the Eurasian steppes some five or six thousand years ago. This book investigates their traditional mythologies, religions, and poetries, and points to elements of common heritage. In The East Face of Helicon (1997), the author of this present work showed the extent to which Homeric and other early Greek poetry was influenced by Near Eastern traditions, mainly non-Indo-European. This book presents a foil to that work by identifying elements of more ancient, Indo-European heritage in the Greek material. Topics covered include the status of poets and poetry in Indo-European societies; metre, style, and diction; gods and other supernatural beings, from Father Sky and Mother Earth to the Sun-god and his beautiful daughter, the Thunder-god and other elemental deities, and earthly orders such as Nymphs and Elves; the forms of hymns, prayers, and incantations; conceptions about the world, its origin, mankind, death, and fate; the ideology of fame and of immortalization through poetry; the typology of the king and the hero; the hero as warrior and the conventions of battle narrative.
Article
Seventeenth-century Europe witnessed an extraordinary flowering of discoveries and innovations. This study, beginning with the Dutch-invented telescope of 1608, casts Galileo’s discoveries into a global framework. Although the telescope was soon transmitted to China, Mughal India, and the Ottoman Empire, those civilizations did not respond as Europeans did to the new instrument. In Europe, there was an extraordinary burst of innovations in microscopy, human anatomy, optics, pneumatics, electrical studies, and the science of mechanics. Nearly all of those aided the emergence of Newton’s revolutionary grand synthesis, which unified terrestrial and celestial physics under the law of universal gravitation. That achievement had immense implications for all aspects of modern science, technology, and economic development. The economic implications are set out in the concluding epilogue. All these unique developments suggest why the West experienced a singular scientific and economic ascendancy of at least four centuries.