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DISCOVERING THE EUROPEAN MIND

Authors:
  • The University of New Brunswick, Saint John
RICARDO DUCHESNE
DISCOVERING THE
EUROPEAN MIND
THE NATIONAL POLICY INSTITUTE
DISCOVERING THE
EUROPEAN MIND
RICARDO DUCHESNE
Professor of Social Sciences, University of New Brunswick Saint John
The National Policy Institute
Research & Analysis
June 1, 2016
From the 19th century through the 1960s and 70s, World History
books were quite fair in their assessments of the varying accomplishments of all
civilizations, but most authors and teachers paid more attention to the achievements
of European civilization in the making of modernity and in the shaping of global
politics, particularly after the European discovery of the Americas, the consolidation
of Newtonian science, and the spread of Western-created industrial technology.is
fairly realistic assessment was increasingly rejected from the 1960s on by historians
who felt that all the peoples of the earth deserved equal attention and that it was
“ethnocentric” to elevate European achievements above others. How can Europeans be
portrayed as the primary players in modern world history if all the races of the world
are equal and the task of liberal-minded academics is to nurture cultural harmony,
overcome the belligerence exemplied in World War II, and produce “global citizens
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in an increasingly interconnected world? But an obvious diculty confronted this
feeling: how can a new history of all humans—“universal” in this respect—be
constructed in light of the clear pre-eminence of Europeans in so many elds?
It soon became apparent that the key was to do away with the idea of “progress,
which had become almost synonymous with the achievements of the West. In the
political climate in the mid- and late ’60s, the West was at the center of everything
that seemed wrong in the world: the threat of nuclear destruction, the prolonged
Vietnam War, the pollution inicted by European consumers; and the West was
opposed to the bring new world taking shape: pan-Arabic and pan-African identities,
the “liberation movements” in Latin America, the Black civil rights riots, the feminist
struggle against patriarchy, etc.[1]
Not to be underestimated, this was the time when a highly inuential school of thought,
Dependency eory, emerged, arguing that the reason Europeans modernized, in
the rst place, was that they stole the resources of other civilizations, enslaved their
inhabitants, and enriched themselves unfairly. e once backward West had managed
to surpass other cultures, starting in the late 15th century, by positioning itself,
through dishonesty, duplicity, and violence, at the center of the world economy. e
progression” of the West was predicated on the systematic exploitation of the rest
of the world. Millions of students were taught that the capitalist West, in the words
of Karl Marx, had progressed to become master of the world “dripping from head
[1] I evaluated the many schools of thought that intersected from the 1960s to the 1990s against Western
exceptionalism and the idea of “progress” in a long rst chapter in The Uniqueness of Western Civilization (Leiden:
Brill, 2011).
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to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.”[2]Old dead white males[3] should no
longer be praised for launching the modern world, but should instead be held guilty
for holding back the development of other civilizations and creating a world capitalist
system in the “core” Western world that held down the “peripheral” ird World.
Accordingly, the idea of progress,” articulated since the Enlightenment in close
association with the history of Europeans, was rejected by the late 1970s,[4] soon to
be replaced by the idea of “world history connected.[5] Students would now have
[2] is phrase can be easily located in any edition of Karl Marx’s Capital, Volume 1, in Chapter 31,
“On the Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist.” Much attention has been directed at the role of the Frankfurt
School, but a powerful case can be made that blaming Western countries for the impoverishment of the
world, while simultaneously claiming that this impoverishment was the source of the West’s own prosperity,
has been a really emotionally inuential argument fueling much of “White guilt” to this day. e ultimate
source of this idea lies in Marx, but the one person who formulated it into a highly accessible theory,
capped by a very catchy phrase, “development of underdevelopment,” was the German-Jewish A. G. Frank.
His books are still mandatory reading in “sociology of development” and “politics of developing societies.”
Frank, the author of hundreds of publications in about 30 languages, is also known today as a “father” of
multicultural world history, with the publication of his celebrated book ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian
Age (Californian University Press, 1998). Even more inuential, however, has been the Jewish American
Immanuel Wallerstein, whose multivolume books on the “modern world system,” penned in the 1970s,
catapulted him onto the global academic stage, assiduously followed by numerous pupils in universities
across the world. Wallerstein, too, is seen as a “founding father” of world history.
[3] Bernard Knox, The Oldest Dead White Males (New York: Norton, 1994).
[4] Robert Nisbet, History of the Idea of Progress. (Transaction Publishers, 1980). Nisbet does not pay
much attention to Dependency theory or Wallerstein’s “world system theory,” but he does oer an excellent
overview of the psychological climate in the United States against the idea of progress in the 1970s.
[5] e teaching of Western civilization, never mind whether this teaching is positive or negative,
has virtually disappeared from American colleges, with only two percent of them oering this course as a
requirement. is abolition is detailed by Glenn Ricketts, Peter Wood, Stephen Balch, and Ashley orne,
The Vanishing West: 1964–2010. The Disappearance of Western Civilization from the American Undergraduate
Curriculum (New York: National Association of Scholars, May 2011). World History Connected (WHC) is
actually the title of an online journal with its head oce located in Hawaii Pacic University, committed to
“the promotion of global learning and global citizenship.ere are numerous other associations, journals,
and academic programs committed to multicultural world history across North America and Europe, as I
outlined in “Multicultural Historians: e Assault on Western Civilization and Delement of the Historical
Profession, Part I: Patrick O’Brien on the Scientic Revolution,” The Occidental Quarterly 13.3 (Fall 2013):
53-72; and “Multicultural Historians: e Assault on Western Civilization and Delement of the Historical
Profession, Part II: e Scientic Revolution and the Enlightenment,” The Occidental Quarterly 13.4 (Winter
2013-2014): 3-31. WHC is not an overtly scholarly journal but a very successful one, read across the world,
intended for history teachers in high schools, colleges, and universities. I was very surprised on learning that
WHC has an Alexa ranking of 922 in the United States, and roughly 2,250 in the world. is is very high;
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to learn that all humans were alike as Homo sapiens, similarly capable members of
the same planet, creators of dierent but equally worthwhile cultures. We all had a
common origin in the rst” humans who evolved in Africa, migrating to the rest
of the world, occupying dierent ecological settings and creating richly diverse”
cultures, yet interacting with each other through trade, wars, empires, and migrations,
and thus making world history together. ere were no separate civilizations; the
history of the world had been made together by all humans in the same “mother
earth.”[6] But the aim of these equalizers was hardly that Europeans were creatively
involved in the creation of Chinese, Mesopotamian, or Mayan civilization; it was
that they were morally and economically responsible for the “underdevelopment”
of civilizations that were once more developed than the Germanic Barbarians
of the Dark Ages—while insisting simultaneously that non-Europeans were the
ultimate originators or co-participators of every great epoch in Europe’s history.
But before this great fabrication was imposed on unsuspecting White students, a
preparatory, though by no means identical, idea had been articulated by a German
named Karl Jaspers: the notion that in ancient times, roughly between 800 and 200
BC, the major civilizations of the Old World experienced, more or less at the same
time, a “spiritual process” characterized by a common set of religious, psychological,
and philosophical inquiries about what it means to be specically human.”[7]
e argument was that humanity, at this point in history, together, came to pose
universal questions about the meaning of life with similar answers.e ideological
the foremost American history journal, The American History Review, has a ranking of 27, 209 in the U.S.,
and of 134, 524 in the world. e incredible success of multicultural historians is unparalleled in its global
inuence and its almost complete suppression of the teaching of Western civilization in the West itself. Non-
Western academics take great pleasure reading about how mediocre and immoral Westerners have been, and
how much they taught whites in the course of history. For the last 30 years they have been avidly trying to
get into the Western academic world to replace the aging White males and accompany the White feminist
academics.
[6] Jerry Bentley, Old World Encounters: Cross-Cultural Contacts and Exchanges in Pre-Modern
Times(Oxford University Press, 1993); David Christian, Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History
(California University Press, 2005).
[7] Karl Jaspers,The Origin and Goal of History (New Haven: Yale University Press, [1949] 1965), 2.
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aim behind this idea was that Europeans were not exceptional, did not carve out a
unique historical path beginning with the achievements of the Greeks. Rather, all
humans had developed a common cultural outlook at more or less the same time, an
outlook that was to shape their histories along similar trajectories, with the West only
“risingin recent times due to a combination of “unusual circumstances.” is idea
of an Axial Age” was a boon to the ideological drive after World War II to envision
the history of all cultures as a “collective” undertaking between “connected” peoples.
e behavior of Germany during Second War was testimony, apparently, of what
happens when an otherwise modern culture decides to defend its ethnic integrity
rather than join with the world of cosmopolitanism. Germany had strayed from the
course of “human history” by envisioning itself as “special people” with a unique
destiny for greatness.e Europeans who had defeated Germany must abandon any
notion of exceptionalism and envision themselves as members of a common history.
When Karl Jaspersrst articulated this ideain 1949, he saw it as an exceptional age
in which the major civilizations of the world accomplished similar intellectual and
spiritual breakthroughs between 800 and 200 BC. He saw this age as an example
of how relatively isolated cultures had shown a common humanity in producing
rather similar moral ideas and rules with universal intent. But while Jaspers believed
that the civilizations of the world diverged greatly after the Axial Age, and agreed
with the then general consensus that Western history was characterized by a “special
quality” in the generation of far more cultural novelties, historians in subsequent
decades gradually came to the view that axial-age thinking was the product of the
“commonand “connected” nature of the entire history of “humanity” and that its
thinking spread and shaped thoughts and feelings in every clime and continent.[8]
I believe, to the contrary, that there was no Axial Age, but that instead this epoch
witnessed a dramatic contrast between the revolution in thought in ancient Greece
and in the other civilizations combined. is argument can be made successfully even
if we restrict ourselves to the Presocratic thinkers of the sixth and fth centuries BC
[8] Felipe Fernandez-Armesto,The World—A History (Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007), 185
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and leave out the amazing intellectual and artistic originalities of the classical Greeks.
e Presocratics, I will argue, were the originators of the uniquely Western idea that
there is a logosin the universe, a pattern, a structure in the way all things are. is
idea teaches us that humans have a faculty within their soul, or natural constitution,
that can be identied as “rational,which allows them to oerargumentsabout the
logos of the world and “to speak” or use words in a reasoned way about the way the
worldandhumans are structured and the way humans should live in accordance with
this order.is paper will also examine the way Western scholars came to extend the
Axial Age to the entire history of the world in an eort to dilute the uniqueness of
Europeans generally, in the name of a “world history connected” that would suit the
expectations of egalitarianism and the promotion of diversity.[9] Finally, I will contrast
the Chinese “embedded” way of seeing things to the “analytical,” and ultimately far
more creative, worldly, and universal way of seeing things of Europeans.
THE GOAL OF JASPER’S AXIAL AGE
Jaspers, to this day a highly respected German philosopher, argued ine Origin and
Goal of History, published in 1949 in German, a few years after the end of World War
II, that Western culture was not uniquely gifted with ideas that bespoke of mankind
generally and the course of history universally; other major civilizations, too, had
espoused outlooks about humanity together with moral precepts with universal content.
Jaspers believed that this ability was “empiricallymade possible by the occurrence
of a fundamental “spiritual” change between 800 and 200 BC, which gave “rise to a
common frame of historical self-comprehension for all peoples—for the West, for Asia,
[9] e connection between the promotion of multicultural world history and mass immigration is
implicit in this essay, but explicitly made in “Multicultural Historians: e Assault on Western Civilization
and Delement of the Historical Profession.
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and for all men on earth, without regard to particular articles of faith.”[10] Believing
that these spiritual changes occurred simultaneously across the world, Jaspers called
it the “Axial Period. It is worth quoting in full Jasper’s identication of the main
protagonists of this period:
e most extraordinary events are concentrated in this period. Confucius and
Lao-tse were living in China, all the schools of Chinese philosophy came into
being, including those of Mo-ti, Chuang-tse, Lieh-tsu and a host of others;
India produced the Upanishads and Buddha and, like China, ran the whole
gamut of philosophical possibilities down to skepticism, to materialism,
sophism and nihilism; in Iran Zarathustra taught a challenging view of the
world as a struggle between good and evil; in Palestine the prophets made
their appearance, from Elijah, by way of Isaiah and Jeremiah to Deutero-
Isaiah; Greece witnessed the appearance of Homer, of the Philosophers
Parmenides, Heraclitus and Plato of the tragedians, ucydides and
Archimedes. Everything implied by these names developed during these few
centuries almost simultaneously in China, India, and the West, without any
one of these regions knowing of the others.[11]
Jaspers used certain amorphous philosophical phrases to bring out what was
novel spiritually about this Axial age: “man becomes conscious of Being as
a whole... He asks radical questions... By consciously recognizing the limits
he sets himself the highest goals. He experiences absoluteness in the face of
self hood.”[12] But in some instances, Jaspers offered more concrete sentences:
“hitherto unconsciously accepted ideas, customs and conditions were subjected
[10] Ibid., 1.
[11] Ibid., 2.
[12] Ibid., 2.
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to examination, questioned and liquidated.[13]Essentially, in this Axial Age, the
age of myths came to “an end.”
e Greek, Indian and Chinese philosophers were unmythical in their
decisive insights, as were the prophets [of the Bible] in their ideas of God.[14]
A number of religious gures, philosophers and prophets came to rely more on their own
judgments, visions, and reasoning powers: logos was set “against mythos.”[15]Humans
were now willing to rely on their rationality to make sense of the cosmos, to draw a
clearer contrast between the inner world of consciousness, reection, and the outer of
accepted norms and beliefs, subject and object, spirit and matter. Combined with this
spiritual awakening, came the idea of a transcendental One God as the basis of a new
ethics against unreal demons and as the locus for thinking what was morally right for all.
It is not that the philosophical outlooks of these civilizations were identical, but that
they exhibited similar breakthroughs in posing universal questions about the “human
condition”: What is the ultimate source of all things? What is our relation to the
universe? What is the Good? What are human beings?
Prior cultures were more particularized, tribal, polytheistic, and devoid
of self-awareness regarding the universal characteristics of human
existence. From the Axial Age onward, “world history receives the only
structure and unity that has endured—at least until our own time.”[16]
[13] Ibid., 3.
[14] Ibid., 3
[15] Ibid., 8.
[16] Ibid., 12.
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e central aim of Jasper’s book was to drive home the notion that the dierent
faiths and races of the world were once running along “parallel lines” of spiritual
development, and that we should draw on this “common” spiritual source to avoid
the calamity of another World War. e fact that these civilizations had reached
a common spiritual point of development, without any direct inuences between
them, was likely, in his view, the “manifestation of some profound common element,
the one primal source of humanity.”[17] We humans have much in common, despite
our dierences.
GERMAN GUILT REQUIRES A COMMON HISTORY
is notion of an Axial Age, with which Jaspers came to be identied, and which
has been accepted by many establishedworld historians, historical sociologists and
philosophers,[18] is also a claim he felt in a personal way (as a German) in the aftermath
of the Second World War. According to Jaspers, after the end of the Axial Age around
200 BC, the major civilizations had ceased to follow “parallel movements close to each
other” and instead began to “diverge” and “nally became deeply estranged from one
another.”[19] e Nazi experience was, in his estimation, an extreme case of such divergence.
It should be noted, in this vein, that Jaspers, whose wife was Jewish, was the author
of a much discussed book,e Question of German Guilt,[20] in which he extended
culpability to Germany as a whole, indeed, to every German, even those who were
not members of the Nazi party. A passage from this book, cited upfront in a BBC
documentary,e Nazis—A Warning from History,[21] reads:
[17] Ibid.
[18] Robert Bellah and Hans Joas, eds., The Axial Age and Its Consequences (New York: Belknap Press,
2012). Karen Armstrong, former Catholic sister, now a lover of Mohammad, eulogizes about the axial age in
The Great Transformation: The Beginning of our Religious Tr a d iti o n s(New York: Knop, 2006).
[19] The Origin and Goal of History, 51.
[20] Karl Jaspers, The Question of German Guilt (New York: Fordham University Press, [1947] 2001).
[21] e Nazis—A Warning from History.”BBC TV Mini-Series (1997).
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at which has happened is a warning. To forget it is guilt. It must be
continually remembered. It was possible for this to happen, and it remains
possible for it to happen again at any minute. Only in knowledge can it
be prevented.
e intention behind the idea of an Axial Age was to induce in humans an awareness
of themselves as beings with a profound spiritual unity, nurturing a sense of “human
solidarity.” But this was only the beginning of what was soon to become a culture-wide
eort on the part of Western elites to do away with any notion of Western uniqueness,
by framing its history as part of a “commonhistorical narrative of interacting and
mutually evolving civilizations. It was also the beginning of an eort to instill on
European natives the belief that they were citizens of “proposition nations,” and since
these propositions could be held in common by all humans, they were “citizens of
the world”—and all inhabitants of the world were potential citizens of their nations.
“Germanness, in the words of Jürgen Habermas, would “no longer be based on
ethnicity, but founded on citizenship.”[22] Habermas, a keen admirer of Jaspers, would
be one of countless others embracing this civic/cosmopolitan notion of citizenship.
HANNAH ARENDT
An interesting gure drawn to the idea of a common historical experience, in the
early days after the Second World War, was Hannah Arendt, a student of Jaspers. She
obtained a copy ofe Origin and Goal of Historyas she was completing her widely
acclaimed booke Origins of Totalitarianism. It is quite revealing that, in a short
essay titled“Hannah Arendt’s Jewish Identity,”[23] Elisabeth Young-Bruehl traces the
[22] Ricardo Duchesne, “Germany Abolishes Itself,” Salisbury Review 33.3 (Spring 2015).
[23] is essay is available online at the Hannah Arendt Center, Bard College: http://www.
hannaharendtcenter.org/?page_id=3253, accessed March 1, 2016.
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roots of Arendt’s cosmopolitanism to the role of the Jews of Palestine as one of the
Axial Age peoples. Together with Jaspers, Arendt came to share
the project of thinking about what kind of history was needed for facing
the events of the war and the Holocaust and for considering how the world
might be after the war. ey agreed that the needed history should not be
national or for a national purpose, but for humankind. [24]
Arendt agreed with Jaspers, Young-Bruehl writes, that the way for Westerners to
overcome “the ill eects of their own prejudices and technological progress, which
had made the worldwide war possible,” was to open up to the world and think in
a “cosmopolitan way about the future of humanity.” In light of her Jewish identity,
as one of the Axial peoples victimized by German and European prejudices, Arendt
further developed the arguments of Jaspers by invoking the cosmopolitanism exhibited
by the Jews in the Axial Age, both as an “antidote to tribalist Jewish thinking” and to
European ethno-nationalism. Young-Bruehl continues:
It is Arendt’s Jewish identity—not just the identity she asserted in defending
herself as a Jew when attacked as one, but more deeply her connection to the
Axial Age prophetic tradition—that made her the cosmopolitan she was.
But what kind of history writing does cosmopolitan thinking require, given that
civilizations, according to Jasper, diverged in their cultural development after the
Axial Age? ForArendt,this was beside the point, she was not a historian preoccupied
with the actual documentation and diverging histories of civilizations and nations.
Her goal was to create a new state of mind among Europeans in the way they viewed
themselves in relation to the world. She thus called upon Europeans to
[24] is passage, and subsequent quotes in this section on Arendt, are all taken from this short three-
page article, “Hanna Arendt’s Jewish Identity.”
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“enlarge their minds and include the experience and views of other
cultures in their thinking;
overcome their Eurocentric prejudices and encompass the entire world
in their historical reections;
develop a sense of the “human conditionand learn how to talk about
what is “common to all mankind”;
learn how they are culturally shaped both by their particular conditions
and the conditions and experiences shared by all humans on the planet.[25]
THE UNIQUENESS OF THE WESTREJECTED
is call by Arendt would coalesce with similar arguments about the “inventions of
nations,[26] the “social construction of races,” and the idea that we are all primordially
alike as Homo sapiens. Jaspers, at least in his booke Origin and Goal of History, did
not go this far, but in fact retracted, in later chapters, from the general statements he
made in the Introduction about the Axial Age being a common spiritual experience
across the planet, acknowledging the obvious:
it was not a universal occurrence. . . ere were the great peoples of the
ancient civilizations, who lived before and even concurrently with the
[25] e Hannah Arendt Center is totally dedicated to the creation of “global citizens” and the promotion
of “diversity”; the past and future speakers at the center announced in the current page are Jewish, with a few
Blacks and European females.
[26] e promotion of the idea that European nations were always meant to be “civic, against any
notion of ethnic national identity, was initiated and popularized by Jewish scholars; namely, Hans Kohn,Karl
Deutsch,Ernest Gellner, andEric Hobsbawm, as Azar Gat, a Jewish scholar residing in Israel, has observed.
See my essay: e Greek-Roman Invention of Civic Identity versus the Current Demotion of European
Ethnicity,” The Occidental Quarterly 15.3 (Fall 2015), 37-71.
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[Axial] breakthrough, but had no part in it.[27]
He further noted that the Egyptian and Babylonian peoples “remained what they had
been earlier . . . destitute of that quality of reection which transformed mankind,
even though they interacted with the Axial cultures.[28] As it is, Jaspers admitted
that after the Axial Age, the respective civilizations traversed very dierent spiritual
pathways, which begs the question as to why they would cease to exhibit “parallel
developments” despite increasing interaction. Perhaps even more important was his
recognition that there was a “specic quality” to the West in the way it exhibited “far
more dramatic fresh starts,[29]whereas
in Asia, on the other hand, a constant situation persists; it modies its
manifestations, it founders in catastrophes and re-establishes itself on the
one and only basis as that which is constantly the same.[30]
In the end, Jaspers could not avoid the ultimate historical question about why the
West followed such a diametrically dierent path:
[I]f science and technology were created in the West, we are faced with the
question: Why did this happen in the West and not in the other two great
cultural zones?[31]
[27] The Origin and Goal of History, 51.
[28] Ibid., 52.
[29] Ibid., 54.
[30] Ibid., 53.
[31] Ibid., 61-62.
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e answer he oered was essentially the same as Hegel’s heavily Eurocentric perspective
about the unique pre-occupation of Europeans with freedom and reason. He actually
delimited the veracity of the Axial thesis with the observation that only the ancient
Greeks came to know “political liberty,” in contrast to the “universal despotismof
the East; and that “in contrast to the East, Greek rationality contain[ed] a strain of
consistency that laid the foundations of mathematics and perfected formal logic.”[32]
Here are more special qualities mentioned by Jaspers about the West:
“Tragedy is known only to the West.
While other Axial cultures spoke of mankind in general, in the West this
universal ambition regarding the place of man in the cosmos and the
good life did not “coagulate into a dogmatic xity.”[33]
e West gives the exception room to move.
In the West “human nature reaches a height that is certainly not shared
by all and to which . . . hardly anyone ascends.
“[T]he perpetual disquiet of the West, its continual dissatisfaction, its
inability to be content with any sort of fulllment.”[34]
is is the language of Spenglers “Faustian Soul.[35] Some in the New Right don’t like
this perpetual restlessness about the West and would prefer to see the West become
[32] Ibid., 63.
[33] Ibid., 64.
[34] Ibid.
[35] Ricardo Duchesne, “Oswald Spengler and the Faustian Soul of the West,The Occidental Quarterly
14.4 (Winter 2014-2015): 3-22.
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one more boring “traditional culture. But this cannot be, for “in contrast to the
uniformity and relative freedom from tension of all Oriental empires”:
the West is typied by resoluteness that takes things to extremes, elucidates
them down to the last detail, places them before the either-or, and so
brings awareness of the underlying principles and sets up battle-fronts in
the inmost recesses of the mind.[36]
None of these substantial qualications would matter in the end. e inquiries
Jaspers started would mushroom way beyond his expectations, leading to the
complete abolition of the teaching of Western Civ” courses and the imposition
of World Multicultural History. e Axial Age Jaspers had limited to the period
800-200 BC would come to be extended to the entire course of human history!
A. G. Frank and Kenneth Pomeranz would announce in their best sellers,
ReOrient(1998) ande Great Divergence(2000) that the cultural and economic
trajectories of Europe and Asia were “surprisingly similar” up until a sudden
accidental” divergence occurred around 1750-1830. Humans are all the same,
have always been connected through migrations, race mixing, trade, and cultural
borrowings. We have always been part of one big family. Europeans who talk
about their uniqueness and complain about mass immigration and the incredible
gifts of Islamic culture[37]to the West are ignoramuses in need of replacement.
[36] The Origin and Goal of History, 65.
[37] One of the most sinister and deceptive “educational programs” ever released is the “1001 Inventions
at Changed the World, a celebration of supposed Muslim inventions, hitherto attributed mainly to
Westerners, but apparently Islamic in origin, by e Foundation for Science Technology and Civilization,
a British “educational” organization “dedicated to exploring and promoting the cultural roots of science and
inventions for social cohesion and inter-cultural appreciation” (http://fstc.org.uk/, accessed 1 March, 2016).
Together with the Muslim Awareness Groups and other organizations, this Foundation, in the last few years,
has been conducting multiple media and academic campaigns, in collaboration with National Geography and
even UNESCO, involving conferences in Europe and in the world, relentless visits to primary and secondary
schools across Britain, documentaries narrated by well-known actors, such as Ben Kingsley and Omar Sharif,
claiming that the Muslims were responsible for the birth of modern science and “1001 inventions,” which
they gracefully gave to “barbaric medieval Europeans.
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Yet there never was an Axial Age: the Presocratics were dramatically dierent in their
inquiries, and far more universal and original in their reasoning, than the prophets of
the Old Testament, the major schools of Confucianism, Taoism, and Legalism in China,
and the Hindu religions of India. As far as I know, no one has explained this seemingly
paradoxical combination of extreme Western uniqueness and extreme universalism.
THE HERITAGE OF WORLD CIVILIZATIONS
e acceptance and popularization of the Axial Age has come in varying degrees and
ways, but a good way to access its impact and general characteristics is to examine
its incorporation in college textbooks. Many world history texts could have been
chosen to show how far ahead the idea of an Axial Age was extended, but for our
purposes the following two, very successful, texts, will suce:e Heritage of World
Civilizations(2003), by Albert M. Craig et. al. is 2003 publication is the sixth
Google the phrase “1001 Inventions at Changed the World”; there are multiple versions, translated into
dierent languages and adapted to dierent levels of education. e key words in this endeavor are “for social
cohesion and intercultural appreciation.” For there is very little historical accuracy in this endeavor, and the
aim is clearly to promote British (and European) coexistence with millions of Muslims by assuring them that
Muslims were incredible scientic inventors who spearheaded modernity. For an excellent demolition of the
whole concept that Muslims were the most inventive people throughout the medieval era, see Rodney Stark,
How the West Won (ISI Books, 2014), chapter 14, “Exposing Muslim Illusions.
First, Stark establishes that very few scientic breakthroughs can be attributed to “Arabsas such; many of
the notorious inventors were Persians, Jewish, or non-Arab converts to Islam. e always mentioned Arabic
“invention of zero” was really a Hindu invention; prior to the ninth century, all the learned scholars in
the Islamic world were Nestorian Christians, and, more importantly, there is now an extensive literature
showing that Muslim civilization had ceased to be creative after 1100, with Europeans pushing forward
well beyond Muslims from the 11th century on. Stark even says that European creativity can be dated to
the early medieval era, exemplied in their defeat of Muslim invaders in Tours in 732, the Viking volcanic
eruption of the 800s, culminating in the Crusades, with Muslims on the receiving end of European military
expansionism. e scholarship on European medieval inventions is abundant, and not based on wishful
thinking: for a well-known account, see Jean Gimpel, e Medieval Machine: e Industrial Revolution of the
Middle Ages (London: Pimlico, 2nd ed., 1992). It should also be noted that Western scholars were the ones
who documented and wrote about the Islamic “golden age,” for many decades now, and that the promoters
of “1001 Inventions” are not saying anything new but simply exaggerating and distorting what has long been
documented by Western scholars.
17 | RICARDO DUCHESNEDISCOVERING THE EUROPEAN MIND
edition; the text was rst published in 1990, and it is already in its 10th edition as
of 2010. e other book I will examine briey is the e World —A History(2007),
by the internationally celebrated Fernandez-Armesto. is book was released
with a huge splash, evaluated by more than a hundred reviewers from around the
world and “class-testedat 15 academic institutions in the United States. e third
edition of this text came out in 2011, with another edition planned for 2015.
ese two texts make for an interesting contrast between the initial phases in
the acceptance of an Axial Age, as understood byHeritage, which is now seen as
an outdated text written by old White men close to retirement, retired, or dead,
still employing “unsound” terms like “civilizations, and what is currently seen as
a truly progressive version of the Axial Age, as understood by Armesto’s e World.
e authors ofHeritage, Craig, William Graham, Donald Kagan, Steven Ozment, and
Frank M. Turner, are known as relatively conservative historians in academia. Kagan
has a reputation as a “neoconservative”,[38] and Turner, no longer alive, as a “historian of
the ideas that shapedWestern civilization.[39] All in all, they are/were solid academics
from a generation that has now been practically replaced by outright promoters of
diversity. In the sixth edition ofHeritage, they humbly write about improvements
in the text, such as the consolidation of four chapters on European peoples into
two chapters, thereby oering “a more balanced treatment of world history.[40]
We should not be surprised at their eorts to march in step with the cultural Marxist
expectations of the time. In fact, not only do they follow Jaspers, but they go further
in solidifying and expanding historically Jasper’s rather moderate assessment, making
the following key observations about this age:
[38] Philip Kennicott, “Yale Historian Donald Kagan, Mixing the Old and the Neo.” Washington Post (May
13, 2005).
[39] “In Memoriam: Frank Turner.Yale News (November 12, 2010).
[40] Albert M. Craig et. al.,The Heritage of World Civilizations (Pearson Education, 2003), xxviii.
18 | RICARDO DUCHESNEDISCOVERING THE EUROPEAN MIND
ere is more than an obvious similarity between the Jewish Messiah, the
Chinese sage-king, and Plato’s philosopher-king. . . Each would reconnect
ethics to history and restore order to a troubled society. . . e reason is
not that humans’ creativity dried up after 300 BCE, but that subsequent
breakthroughs and advances tended to occur within the original [Axial]
traditions. . . Once a cultural pattern was set, it usually endured. Each
major culture was resistant to the others and only rarely displaced (my
italics).[41]
While they agree with Jaspers that in subsequent centuries, once each tradition was
set, each culture tended to follow its own tradition, we are made to believe that they
remained equally attached to the fundamental ideas of the Axial Age. Chinese thought
had greater staying power than Greek thought,” as Greek thought was “submerged
by Christianity,becoming the handmaiden of theology” until it “reemerge as an
independent force in the Renaissance.[42]So, overall, the West more or less continued the
axial-age thinking of the Greeks, with the dierence that it then brought in the tradition
of “the Jewish Messiah, submerging the Greek one under it, until Greek thought
managed to reemerge again in the Renaissance, leading to the rise of modern science.
To its credit,Heritageexamines each of the four traditions of the Axial Age separately,
bringing out some key dierences, backed by solid, old fashion sources. Yet the text
cannot help playing up the idea that we are all homo sapiens, who have come together
historically through “globalization and that no citizen in the West can “escape the
necessity of understanding the past in global terms.”[43]e current global course of
history dictates the way we should see the past. We have always been moving towards
the creation of cosmopolitan citizens, and this book hopes to contribute to this process.
[41] Ibid., 42.
[42] Ibid.
[43] Ibid., xxvi
19 | RICARDO DUCHESNEDISCOVERING THE EUROPEAN MIND
THE WORLDA HISTORY
Once we get to Fernandez-Armestos text, all these qualications about divergent
paths and Western dissimilarities are thrown out the window. I have already
examined this text ine Uniqueness of Western Civilizationand will not rehash
the agrant manner in which it deals with European history. Suce it to say that
he allocates a meager 40 pages or so to ancient Greece, Rome, the Middle Ages,
and the Renaissance combined, but 23 pages to the Mongols alone, whom he
praises as tolerant and liberal. He then goes on to claim, for the modern era, that
there were “comparable” revolutions in science, industry, and in Enlightenment
thought in China, India and in the Near East. e paramount message of the text
is that the history of the peoples of the earth must be presented in a “unied”
or in a “global context.is is the message right from the opening chapters
on the evolution of humans. What, then, is so dierent about the Axial Age?
After some cheerful chapters about how “all the people that we now recognize as
human evolved in Africa, the emphasis, leading up to a chapter titled e Axial
Age, from 500 BCE to 100 CE,” is about how humans moved out of Africa”
and ended up “peopling the earth.” We hear endearing stories about how “Eve’s
children” migrated out of their native “homeland” in Africa to other continents. Did
you get this students? We are all immigrants . . . except, of course, for Africans!
Armesto then goes on to say that most cultures across the world made similar
transitions to herding and farming on their own initiative, everyone developing
civilizations.[44]e old denition of “civilizationis now rightfully “discredited as
a word, for all cultures are civilizations, since any agrarian engagement with an
environment is a form of civilization.[45] As Armesto puts it inCivilizations(2000),
[44] Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, The World—A History, 5-68
[45] Ibid., 70.
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In reality, civilization is an ordinary thing, an impulse so widespread it
has transformed almost every habitable landscape.[46]
It became widespread through diusion; there may have been more, but we know
of only six civilizations originating on their own. Armesto imagines himself a
provocateur in academia. He condemns the “crude perversion” ofKenneth Clark[47],
who claimed “the Apollo embodies a higher state of civilization than the [African]
mask.[48] All civilizations are equally ordinary, or no better than foraging societies.
e importance of the Axial Age is simply that “the thinkers of the time anticipated
and inuenced the way we think now.”[49] Whereas Jaspers saw the Axial Age as a
unique epoch, world historians nowadays see it as a continuation of past “connected”
trends characterized by new intellectual trends. Whereas Jaspers observed divergent
paths after this age, with the West following a “special” path, Armesto views the West
as no dierent from the other civilizations; every place was similarly “anticipated
and inuenced” by “the common content of the minds” of the Axial thinkers. In the
many centuries after this age, the West, just like the Rest, “added so little to it.[50]
Armesto, however, adds that the Axial Age was not restricted to Eurasia, but was a
“worldwide story
[46] Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Civilizations (Macmillan, 2000), 214
[47] Kenneth Clark is best known for his TV series Civilisation, which he wrote and presented in BBC
in 1969, and which he then published in a book version. is magnicent series, available in YouTube in 13
parts, would never be produced by BBC today, for Clark had an aristocratic temperament willing to make
aesthetic judgements about the superiority of European art over anything produced elsewhere. Instead, it
is Armesto who has been sought after by BBC with his arguments about the failings of the West and the
intrinsic beauty of African art.
[48] Ibid., 8
[49] Felipe Fernandez-Armesto,The World—A History, 159
[50] Ibid., 187.
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because of the way axial-age thinking later spread and shaped
thoughts and feelings in every clime and continent.[51]
e other areas were co-participants as members of trade networks, as colonial areas,
or plainly as members of the same species that migrated out of Africa, supporting the
core regions in their endeavors while adding their own cultural motifs. World history
is a wonderful tapestry of cultures working together.
THE GREATNESS OF ANCIENT GREECE
But anyone with some knowledge of Ancient Greece would know that the number of
thinkers coming from that world wasvastly greaterthan the number coming from all
the other civilizationscombined, which were each large and heavily populated. Much
as Armesto tries to portray the thinkers outside Greece as saintly, lofty and exalted
sages, while ignoring most of the Greek thinkers—referring to Plato as a “member of
an Athenian gang of rich aristocrats” who idealized “harsh, reactionary, and illiberal”
states, “militarism, “regimentation,“rigid class structure,” and “selective breeding
of superior human beings”[52]—the achievements of Asia cultures barely compare in
originality to the Greek invention of tragedy as a literary form, dialogical reasoning,
deductive method in geometry, prose, citizenship politics, the science of geography,
cartography, historical writing, and other achievements.
First, the region of Persia, South West Asia, produced only one global thinker, known
as Zoroaster, from the late seventh and early sixth centuries BC. In the case of India, we
have Vardhamana Jnatrputra, also dated without precision to the sixth and early fth
century BC. He founded Jainism. We also have Gautuma Siddharta, who “probably”
[51] Ibid., 185.
[52] Ibid., 172.
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lived in the mid-sixth and early fourth centuries BC, associated with the foundation
of Buddhism. Concerning the Israelites, we have “the monotheistic revolution
associated with the “Book of Deuteronomy,” the fth book of the Hebrew Bible, dated
from about the eighth to the fth century BC. ere are no clear names here other
than prophets such as Hosea and Jeremiah, both roughly dated to this period. Some
add Jesus to this group, Armesto for one, “as an independent-minded Jewish rabbi.”
What about the much talked about “Hundred Schools” in China? As far as we
know, there were three major schools: Confucianism, Taoism, and Legalism,
together with some other important gures known as “Logicians,” “Mohists,
“Cosmologists,” and “Rhetoricians.e original great thinkers were: Confucius
(born 551 BC), Mencius (370-290 BC), who oered an idealistic version of
Confucian thought, Mo-tzu (470-391 BC), founder of Mohism, Lao-tzu (fth
or fourth century BC), founder of Taoism, and Sun-tzu (sixth-fth century BC),
author of theArt of War. is is an impressive list, with other less signicant names.
To make the case that something very dierent transpire in the Western world, it will
suce to contrast China’s contribution to Greece’s contribution to Axial thinking.
China is the only civilization that contributed thinkers that were actually not
religiously oriented and, in this respect, China is closer to the criteria that Jaspers sets,
according to which this age saw not only a brake with tribal gods and values but a new
style of thinking emphasizing reason and argumentation—logos. Armesto confounds
his students by placing the main ideas of the Axial thinkers under such generic terms
as “Monotheism,” “New Political inking,” “Math,” “Reason,” and “Science.”
e number of great thinkers in the Presocratic eraaloneis greater than the number
of all the thinkers of all the other civilizations combined. I am using primarily as my
source for this list the very authoritative text,e Presocratic Philosophers, by Jonathan
Barnes, backed by respected Encyclopedia links as well as Wikipedia entries.[53] ese
[53] Jonathan Barnes, The Presocratic Philosophers (Routledge, 1982). My assessment of the importance of
these thinkers draws on Barnes, Presocratic Philosophers; G.S. Kirk and J.E. Raven, The Presocratic Philosophers
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are not obscure or secondary names. I will leave out date of birth and death, except
to say that they are essentially thinkers of the sixth and fth centuries BC.We have a
total of 17 great Presocratics:
Anaxagoras
Anaximander
Anaximenes
Democritus
Diogenes
Empedocles
Gorgias
Heraclitus
Leucippus
Melissus
Parmenides
Philolaus
Protagoras
(Cambridge University Press, 1957, as well as Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Encyclopadeia Britannica,
Ancient History Encyclopedia, and Wikipedia.
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Pythagoras
Xenophanes
ales
Zeno.
I am leaving the great gures associated with Greece’s most creative period, the Classical
period, which borders with the Presocratic era but extends into the fourth century BC.
e Axial Age for Greece, in truth, extends through the Hellenistic period, usually
accepted to begin in 323 BC and to end in 31 BC, which produced not just the
major philosophical names of Epicurus, Cleanthes, Chrysippus, Ariston, Pyrrho, and
Aristippus, but the rst true scientists in human history, as argued by Lucio Russo ine
Forgotten Revolution: How Science Was Born in 300 BC and Why it Had to Be Reborn.[54]
What Russo argues in great detail, mind you, has long been known by classicists; for
example, Marshall Clagett, inGreek Science in Antiquity(1955), calls the Hellenistic
period “the great period of Greek science,”[55] correctly identifying the Presocratics as
philosophers rather than scientists, and oering an overview of the original Hellenistic
writings of Strato,Aristarchus, Eudoxos,Erastosthenes, Hipparchus, and Archimedes.
It can be argued, actually, that the Greek accomplishment, which can be extended
beyond 31 BC to cover the ideas of Euclid, Ptolemy, and Galen in the rst two
centuries in mathematics, solid and uid mechanics, optics, astronomy, and anatomy,
found no parallel in ancient, medieval, and modern China. e reasons for this lack
of a breakthrough in the cultivation of a proper scientic method has been much
discussed recently. I will refer here to James McClellan and Harold Dorn’sScience and
Technology in World History, which sums up some of the key dierences:
[54] Lucio Russo inThe Forgotten Revolution: How Science Was Born in 300 BC and Why it Had to Be Reborn
(Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 2004).
[55] Marshall Clagett,Greek Science in Antiquity (New York : Abelard-Schuman, 1955), 34.
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Chinese society did not witness a distinct profession of scientists; there
were many sciences but these were practical and there was “no notion of
pure science pursued for its own sake.
Despite producing great algebraists, Chinese mathematicians did not
cultivate a formal geometry with logical proofs.
e Chinese style of thinking was correlative or associative, and strove to
nd analogies and relations between diverse things, rather than looking at
nature as a separate entity working according to universal laws that could
be understood in terms of cause-eect relations, self-evident denitions,
and logical inferences.[56]
e Presocratics had already come to view nature as working according to rational
laws explainable through the proper employment of rational arguments. is contrast
was a key dierence, among others, setting the West apart as a civilization driven by
the movement of reason freed from external hindrances, arguments for or against,
with a dynamic of its own, producing, through the process of proving arguments and
receiving criticisms, refutations, new conjectures and new-proof-generated concepts,
leading to the accumulation of knowledge.
IN THE BEGINNING WASLOGOS
To fully appreciate this immense contribution of the Presocratics, we need to go beyond
the quantitative observation that Presocratic Greece produced more original thinkers
than the rest of the Axial world combined; more important still is the qualitative
fact that the Presocratics, and only they, invented a style of thinking capable of
producing knowledge and truthfulness. Once this style was inaugurated, there was
no end to the ideas Europeans could produce continuously beyond the Axial Age.
[56] James McClellan, Harold Dorn, Science and Technology in World History (John Hopkins University
Press, 1999), 121-149.
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e faculty of reason is the generator of knowledge, and the more reason is freed
from extra-rational constraints—and is able to rely on its own internally generated
principles, axioms, and inferential dynamic—it will inevitably produce novel ideas
about nature, man, and society, since there is an innite number of things to be
discovered and learned about. Novel facts engender empirical progress, corroborate
existing ideas or call for new explanations. In philosophy generally, reliance on open
debate, through reasons own criteria, for and against, thesis and antithesis, in-through
blind alleys and aimless meanderings, produces new ideas and ways of observing
reality. is emphasis on reason has also taught Western man, through the dialogic of
question and answer, that there are other forms of poetical and artistic knowledge.[57]
There is a key word, which is sometimes defined to mean “the word, which
captures the essence of the Presocratic Revolution—logos. There is much
ambiguity about the meaning of this word due to successive appropriations,
misappropriations and disputations, going back to ancient times,[58] but it
seems to me that the core meaning oflogosis that there is a ratio, a principle,
a proportion, a measure in the world that can be accounted for by human
reason through the use of words, explanations, and arguments. Humans
can be cogitators of this logos, so long as they engage in reasoned, balanced,
proportionate debate, in a way that is commensurate with the order of the world.
Armesto tries to sound profound and cosmopolitan by writing about how everyone in
the Axial Age was asking ponderous questions about the nature of reality, the divine, the
proper form of government; in reality, only the Greeks were rationally arguingabout
these questions, and only they managed to think universally about the nature of things
and rise above ideas based on mere assertions, religious authority, feelings, or dogma. I
[57] My understanding of the inherent dialogical character of Western reason is indebted to Hegel.
[58] Edward Schiappa, Protagoras and Logos: A Study in Greek Philosophy and Rhetoric (University of South
Carolina Press, 2003). Beyond Greek philosophy through Christianity, see Mirian Hillar, From Logos to Trinity: The
Evolution of Religious Beliefs from Pythagoras to Tertullian (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
27 | RICARDO DUCHESNEDISCOVERING THE EUROPEAN MIND
will go over some of the arguments oered by the Presocratics to illustrate this point,
comparing them to the diametrically dierent style of thinking of the Chinese sages.
Logosmeans to argue with words, not “word” as used in grammar, but in the sense of
giving an account through speech, through discourse, that is, to oer reasons, engage
in conversation through the use of arguments. Perhaps a key to understanding the
European accomplishment in the Axial Age is to bring out standard denitions of the
words “argueor “arguing,” since these words capture whatlogosis about, and what
non-Europeans are not about:
give reasons or cite evidence in support of an idea, action, or theory,
typically with the aim of persuading others to share one’s view;
to present reasons for or against a thing;
to contend in oral disagreement, debate;
to persuade or inuence (another), as by presenting reasons;
to engage in a quarrel, dispute;
to say or write things in order to change someone’s opinion about what
is true, what should be done
e Presocratics were a group of men no longer satised with the taken-for-granted
beliefs of their times, asking, for example, why should we believe mythical stories
about the origins of the universe.” “Do you have good reasons to believe them?” ales
oered reasons about the underlying nature of all things, arguing that water must be
the primeval stu, since water is essential for the nourishment of all things living and
it is the only naturally occurring substance that can change from solid to liquid to gas.
But Anaximander then went on to question ales, countering that, if we are to nd the
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original source of all things, there must be something that itself has no beginning, which
he called the “innite” or the “Boundless.” e Boundless “encompasses all things,”
and “steers all things.” It is not water but the Boundless that is the ultimate source.
But how does the Boundless engender the many individual things we experience
in the world? Anaximander oered an answer to this question, unsatised
with simply stating, in Lao-Tzus fashion, “Tao is empty but inexhaustible,
bottomless, the ancestor of all.[59]Anaximander argued that the Boundless
generates the many through its own vortex motion, which results in the lightest
objects moving up and the heavy ones down, leading to the ordered arrangement
we see around us of ery stars, airy sky, watery clouds, and earthly objects.
Xenophanes explicitly challenged the notion that the gods had “revealed all things
from the beginning to mortals,” and the poets’ claim to divine revelation; humans
must look for themselves what is true “by seeking,” by asking questions: How much
can we know? How can we know it? is is epistemology, a branch of philosophy
uniquely European. It involves thinking about what distinguishes justied belief from
mere opinion; it is the study of knowing, of what it means to have knowledge—logos.
Heraclitus in particular uses the termlogosto refer to the in-built patterns of change
he discerned in the world. He argued that things become through opposing forces and
conict; everything is in a state of continuous becoming; driven by alogoswherein
everything that exists results from the opposition of forces, and this is the way things
must be—justice—since all things presuppose their opposite; there can be no light
without darkness. is endless movement is the basic principle, the logos, the ground
of all things. Only the few can apprehend it:
islogosholds always but humans always prove unable to understand
it, both before hearing it and when they have rst heard it. For though
[59] Tao Te Ching: A New Translation. Sam Hamill, Trans. (Shambhala Classics, 2005), 6.
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all things come to be in accordance with this logos, humans are like the
inexperienced when they experience such words and deeds as I set out,
distinguishing each in accordance with its nature and saying how it is.[60]
Strife and opposition are not evil but part of the order of things. One can
apprehend this pattern not with eyes and ears but by looking within oneself,
within one’s mind, and discovering therein thelogos, which is the truth, and
which is common to all things.As Heraclitus once said: “I thought for myself.
But Parmenides, known for his insistence that one must go wherever “reasoning
takes you, even if it contradicts the senses, came to the conclusion that there can be
no becoming, no change, no beginnings or endings, since something that is, cannot
cease to be, for that would mean that there is always a point at which it is passing into
what it is not, and what is not cannot be thought, reasoned about, for it is nothing;
therefore, all things that exist must be “all at once, one and continuous.” e ultimate
is present in all things, and it is one, eternal, and indivisible. is led Zeno to propose
his famous paradoxes revolving around the idea that motion is impossible because it
contains the contradiction that something is and is not simultaneously.
THE CHINESE AND THE WESTERN MINDS
Needless to say, these summations are oversimplications, but my aim is
to outline the Presocratic argumentative style rather than the particular
theories of the Presocratics, in order thereby to contrast them to the Chinese
style of thinking. My estimation is that Chinese civilization produced the
greatest thinkers after the West, and so a comparison—albeit very brief—is
quite useful in this respect, unlike a comparison, say, with Mayan thinkers.
[60] Cited in Ronald C. Hoy, “Heraclitus and Parmenides,” in Heather Dyke and Adrian Bardon, eds.,
A Companion to the Philosophy of Time (John Wiley & Sons, 2013).
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Discussion on the dierences between Western and Asian ways of thinking are
not new; one popular account is Richard Nisbett’se Geography of ought: How
Asians and Westerners ink Dierently . . . and Why.[61] Nisbett observed that
“East Asian thought tends to be more holistic,” that is, spread out in the way it
takes account of the “entire eld” without making categorical distinctions based
on formal logic. East Asians take contradictions as part of the nature of things,
and instead of trying to reach a precise denition, a point of certainty, they look
for “multiple perspectives, searching for the ‘Middle Way between opposing
propositions.” In contrast, “Westerners are more analytic, using rules, including
formal logic, to dierentiate objects and thereby explain and “predict its behavior.[62]
e academic world loves this stu—how “holistic” non-European cultures are and
how cold blooded and narrow minded Westerners are. e dierence, as I see it, is
that the Chinese are more embedded to their surroundings, the culture they are a part
of, the natural world around them, the norms, rules, and habits of their society, which
they follow without critical reection, and so their reasoning has less autonomy from
the “entire eld.” It is not that the Chinese have, as Nisbett wishes us to believe, a
broader, more comprehensive outlook. e “multiple perspectives” they express are
merely an expression of the multiple norms, circumstances, and bodily impressions
surrounding them and unconsciously coalesced with their reasoning. eir minds have
remained lodged in the world, trapped to their surrounding and millennial customs.
e East Asian self is determined by the ux and fusion of “inside” and “outside”
forces. eir minds have remained undierentiated from the world around them.
[61] Richard Nisbett,The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Dierently...and Why
(Oxford University Press, 2004)
[62] David Hall and Roger Ames’s book Thinking from the Han: Self, Truth and Transcendence in Chinese and
Western Culture (New York: SUNY Press, 1998) argues that the qualities of “selfand “person” as known in
the West are not present in Chinese civilization. is book, I might add, traces the Western concept of “self
back to the agonistic heroic culture of Homeric times, and points out that Hegel’s philosophy “rehearsed in
the most complete form the means of coming to cultural self-consciousness” (p. 12). is general assessment,
it is not a detailed analysis, is consistent with the argument I made in Uniqueness, though I was unaware of
this book at the time.
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e Presocratics realized, or made evident in their philosophies, that the soul, as Plato
then articulated ine Republic[63], consists of various parts, bodily appetites, emotions,
and reasoning; and that the reasoning part can unify the self by self-consciously acting
as the legislator and master of the pursuit of knowledge, and in this way, they were able
to contrast the “inside” from the “outside” eld of forces and disturbances. It is not that
Westerners, as the inheritors and developers of the Presocratic discovery of reason, have
been unable to see the “entire eld,” incapable of appreciating others perspectives.
Searching for a xed, supra-temporal ground, an objective method, a consciousness
that is cleansed of any subjective disturbances, has been a singularly Western
disposition, but it has not been the only one in its dialogical search for truth. ere is
a sense in which Westerners came to apprehend reason as the one faculty that can be
self-conscious of its own actions and understand the nature and role of other forces
and surrounding circumstances. ere have been Western thinkers, to be sure, since
ancient times, who have questioned the powers of reason, such as Sextus Empiricus
(160-210 AD), who questioned the possibility of an ultimate ground by arguing that
any rst principle always requires a justication, which, in turn, requires a justication
through or by means of another justication,ad innitum.But this questioning itself
testies to the restless proving, self-examination, calibration, and objectivity of Western
reason, in that it never takes anything for granted, dogmatically, but takes account of
many possibilities, pitfalls, refuting claims, and new ways of thinking and improving.
It is said that Nisbett’s ndings challenged the prevailing assumption among
psychologists that the way the human mind works is universal. is is true, but
it does not go far enough. e way the European mind works is very rare, but
it is also the only way to achieve universal knowledge of the cosmos, human
nature, and history. It is not surprising that Nisbett is a Westerner. It is always
[63] The Republic of Plato. Translated with Introduction and Notes by Francis Conford (Oxford University
Press, 1977), Book IV, 129-143.
32 | RICARDO DUCHESNEDISCOVERING THE EUROPEAN MIND
Westerners who tell other Westerners that they have a very limited understanding
of other cultures, without realizing that, in so saying, they are exhibiting a
Western tendency to show a deeper understanding of other cultures. Only
Westerners have the peculiar attribute of apprehending things universally, of
stepping outside their culture and seeing the other in its own terms—while at
the same time claiming that they are the only ones who don’t have this attribute
and implying that backward cultures devoid of a rich intellectual traditions do!
e promoters of a “common history” are doing the same in proposing world histories
that apprehend the histories of everyone. But as cultural Marxists, even though they
are Westerners, their goal is to downplay and do away with the unique tendency of
Westerners to think in universal terms by merging their histories and culture with the
ways of everyone and claiming that we are “all one” in our diversity. ey thus fall
into the trap of cultural relativism. Leftists believe that all cultures have to be seen
in their particular contexts, and yet, in so thinking, they fail to recognize that they
are presuming that all other cultures are also universally capable of seeing dierent
cultures in their own terms.
The higher interest Europeans have shown in understanding other cultures is
not an expression of their relativity but of their universalism. Since theGreek
invention of ethnography,[64]throughJulius Caesar’s account[65]of the Germanic
tribal ways, Westerners have always been curious about the ways of others,
writing extensivetravelling accounts, from Marco Polo through Margaret Mead to
[64] Joseph E. Skinner, The Greek Invention of Ethnography: From Homer to Herodotus (Oxford University
Press, 2012).
[65] As is evident in Caesar’s account of his conquest of Gaul; see Jane P. Gardner (Editor, Introduction),
and S.A Handford (Translator), The Conquest of Gaul (Penguin Books, 1982). One can also nd online,
B.M. Bell, “e Value of Julius Caesar as Ethnographer, http://akroterion.journals.ac.za/pub/article/
viewFile/533/599, accessed March 1, 2016. Tacitus’ Germania is also ethnographic; and yet the left has used
these ethnographic studies to point out how Europeans were prejudiced against other peoples by nding
certain expressions unsuitable for our politically correct times. In the case of Tacitus, since he overtly praised
the Germans, this, too, has been found suspect, even held responsible for nurturing German pride in Nazi
Germany! See: Christopher B. Krebs, A Most Dangerous Book: Tacitus’s Ger mania from the Roman Empire to the
Third Reich(New York: W.W. Norton, 2012).
33 | RICARDO DUCHESNEDISCOVERING THE EUROPEAN MIND
Napoleon Chagnon, inventing “entire fields” of knowledge, proper methodologies
for each subject matter, anthropology and cultural psychology.The claim that
the Chinese mind has a broader perspective is a mirage of the Western academic
mind; the Chinese have been geographically trapped in their surroundings, making
circumscribed maps with China at the center of the world surrounded by their
neighbors without any sense of the world beyond East Asia. On the other hand,
the ancient Greeks were the progenitors of the science of geography, of offering
explanations about the form and magnitude of the earth, the shape and size of lands
and oceans, the nature and extent of human habitation of the earth. This science
culminated, in the second century AD, in the Geography of Ptolemy, who also
produced the first world map, Universalis Tabula, which offered a comprehensive
view of the world way beyond Greek lands, a horizon that included Rome, India,
China itself, South East Asia, the British Isles.[66]
Nisbett’s talk about the comprehensive outlook of the Chinese and the narrow
specialism of the West is gibberish. But Westerners—instead of appreciating their
development of the disciplinary techniques required to understand other cultures
and have a comprehensive view of all peoples in the world—have turned against
their unique universalism, without fully understanding it, and under the supposition
that by intermixing it with the parochial ways of others they will achieve a higher
form of universalism. We have a book exemplifying this tendency, dealing exactly
with the subject at hand, contrasting the Chinese allusive way of thinking with the
“direct” Greek/Western way, titledDetour and Access: Strategies of Meaning in China
and Greece(2000). is book is authored by the French academic Francois Jullien,
who lauds his immersion into Chinese thinking as
a case study through which to contemplate Western thought from the
outside, and, in this way, to bring us out of our atavism.[67]
[66] For more on the exploratory geographic mind of Europeans, see Ricardo Duchesne, A Civilization
of Explorers.” Academic Questions 25.2 (March 2012): 65-93.
[67] Francois Jullien, Detour and Access: Strategies of Meaning in China and Greece (Zone Books, 2000), 9.
34 | RICARDO DUCHESNEDISCOVERING THE EUROPEAN MIND
He condemns the “ethnocentric prejudices” based “on a colonial relationshipof past
accounts of China’s culture.[68] He is voicing what hundreds of Westerners have been
voicing for a long time without reecting back on the way his own study exemplies
a uniquely Western disposition to study other cultures and then reect back on one’s
culture. Obviously, some Westerners have made judgments about other cultures without
immersing themselves in them. Jullien is rather typical in wishing to relinquish his culture
for the sake of others, learning about other ways while condemning his way as incomplete.
Meanwhile, “the Other” is barely interested in engaging his culture, except to relish in
Jullien’s submissive words that China is becoming “the greatest world power.”[69]
But the main point I want to conclude with is that Jullien does agree that there is a
dierence between what he calls the “allusive,oblique,” circuitous,” “diused” Chinese
way, and the “straight,” “direct,” “frontal,” “antagonistic” Western way. He observes that
the Greeks face-to-face style of infantry warfare found an equivalent in the
agonistic structure . . . in the organization of the theater [competition for
prizes and tragic accounts of conicts], the tribunal, and the assembly.
Indeed, whether in the dramatic, the judicial, or the political realm,
the debate manifested itself like a force or against something, in which
the upper hand was gained only by the sheer strength and number of
arguments either side amassed.[70]
Jullien does not like this antagonism, and would like Westerners to learn how to be
more Chinese. He writes positively about the Chinese style for detour,“dodging,
“insinuating,rather than directly stating their thoughts; we are made to think that
[68] Ibid., 17.
[69] http://mychinesebooks.com/frfranois-jullien/?lang=en
[70] Ibid., 44.
35 | RICARDO DUCHESNEDISCOVERING THE EUROPEAN MIND
this is a more sophisticated way, as it allows one to be “craftier,” avoiding an explicit
delineation of one’s views, making it possible for one not to “exhaust” one’s views
right away. ere is apparently something deep in Chinese thought, latent, implicit,
“endlessly lled with alternative meanings, “Inexhaustible.” Many Westerners are,
indeed, thrilled by such aphorisms as: “Tao does nothing, but leaves nothing undone.
Jullien thinks that the Western search for “essences,for concepts that “represent” or
“reproduce the real” is limited, narrow, and would stand to benet by kneeling before
the Chinese:
What if generalizations were not the goal of thought, or speech tended
not to dene (to build a universality of essences) but to modify itself—to
reect the circumstances? In short, what if consciousness did not strive to
reproduce the real in order to ground it in transcendence (of being or of
God)? And what if the purpose of speaking about the world, to make it
intelligible, were not to arrive at Truth.[71]
ese questions should be answered with a strong sense of the history of Western thinking.
First, the West is the one civilization to have “endlesslyoriginated multiple philosophical
outlooks, including styles of reasoning emphasizing the social and historical contents
of the structures of the experience of consciousness in an anti-reductionist, anti-
Cartesian way, at the same time that it developed an experimental and mathematical
method of explaining things leading to continuous innovations and discoveries.
Second, when Westerners set out to propose contextual styles of thinking, such as
phenomenological investigations, they did so in full awareness of the importance
of the “broader” experiences of consciousness and the limited perspective of the
scientic method. It was not that they were falling back to a pre-rational world,
absorbed by the world surrounding them, lacking critical distance from it, as was
(and is) the case with the Chinese. As Romantics in the early 1800s expressed—
[71] Ibid., 8.
36 | RICARDO DUCHESNEDISCOVERING THE EUROPEAN MIND
as well as the proponents of hermeneutics, most fully Hans-Georg Gadamer in his
book,Truth and Method(1960)—there are many truths that pertain to the nature
of human experience that cannot be adequately expressed through the methods
of the natural sciences. Painting, poetry, and drama have truthfulness, and they
are forms of knowing, and not merely aesthetic experiences. But their modes of
knowing do not meet the exactitude of the sciences, for the reason that they are
about other aspects of human experience beyond the powers of abstraction.
ird, and contrariwise, the Chinese style of not facing up to the claims at hand
by directly contesting them, proving or disproving them, pushing relentlessly
ahead wherever the argument takes you, rather than circumventing the views of
others, repeating aphorisms, without judging their claims to veracity, remaining
embedded to “circumstances” and not letting reason be the judge, explains why
the basic ideas of Axial China remained in place right up until the West shook its
world from its circuitous slumber.It is also testimony of a typically Oriental-Asian
inclination to engage in deception, not be direct, sneak their way into things that
serve their interest; ergo, deceive naïve academics like Jullien, who have ceased to
have the mental toughness that produce so much originality in the West, but are
terried of getting spanked by the feminists that dominate their departments.
While the Axial Age was just the beginning of Western creativity, it was the apex of
Oriental creativity. e “world historians” of the modern academia are, in their way,
pathologically anti-Western. eir concern is not with “what happened in the past”
but with teaching a history that justies the political goal of transforming European
nations into multicultural and multiracial societies. We must overcome them if
we are to re-establish our connection with thelogosthe Presocratics handed to us.
RICARDO DUCHESNE
is a professor in the department of social science at the University of
New Brunswick Saint John. He completed a BA in History at McGill
University and Concordia University, Montreal.
In 1987, he obtained an MA at Concordia, where he wrote his thesis
on the origins of the French Revolution under the supervision of
George Rudé, one of the founders of “history from below.” In 1994 he
was awarded a doctorate in the renowned multidisciplinary program
of Social & Political ought at York University. His main elds of
concentration were modern European history, political economy, and
the philosophy of Hegel.
He studied with one of the foremost Hegelian scholars in the English
language, H.S. Harris, and with omas T. Sekine, a Japanese
economist considered to be one of the most important theorists on
the eld of Marx’s theory of value. His Dissertation, “All Contraries
Confounded: Historical Materialism and the Transition-to-Capitalism
Debate”, was awarded the “Doctoral Prize Award for Best Dissertation
of the Year,” Faculty of Arts, 1995.
In 1995, Dr. Duchesne was appointed assistant professor in the
department of social science at the University of New Brunswick,
where he has remained since. Dr. Duchesne has published thirty-one
articles and review essays.
His publications include one book, 45 refereed articles, one chapter,
13 encyclopedia entries, and 18 non-refereed articles. His book,
e Uniqueness of Western Civilization, a major work of 528 pages,
was released in February 2011. Currently he is doing research on
multiculturalism and the identity crisis of the West.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Article
This book is a study of the origins and development of ethnographic thought, Greek identity and narrative history - commonly referred to as Great Historiography. An introductory chapter outlines the problem, namely that current thinking on the way in which Greek ethnography and identity came into being has yet to take full account of recent advances in ethnographic and cultural studies. This, together with an apparent obliviousness to the results of material culture-based analyses of the Ancient Mediterranean attesting to high levels interconnectivity, mobility and exchange, has placed significant limitations upon our ability to understand the social and intellectual milieu from which Great Historiography would eventually emerge. The introduction also examines how modern preconceptions and concerns have structured the way in which Greek ethnography and identity are both framed and conceptualised. This is further underlined in a follow-up section exploring the attitudes and opinions underpinning Felix Jacoby's Die Fragmente der Griechische Historiker: a monumental work that played a key role in defining ethnography as genre. Chapter II conducts a broad census of the ethnographic imaginaire prior to the Persian Wars in order to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy that ethnographic interests were hazy and insubstantial prior to Xerxes' invasion of Greece - invariably conceived as an unprecedented clash of civilisations and cultures. Chapter III builds on this argument, exploring the varied ways in which ethnographic interests became manifest and the manner in which knowledge and ideas relating to foreign lands and peoples was variously disseminated. Chapter IV shifts in focus to examine how these discourses of identity and difference might have played out in a series of case studies: Olbia and its environs, the southernmost tip of the Italian peninsular (S. Calabria) and the imagined centres of Delphi and Olympia. The implications thus posed for current understanding of the origins and nature of Great Historiography are then explored (Chapter V), leading to a number of tentative conclusions regarding the manner in which ethnography, identity and the writing of history constitute overlapping and mutually implicated processes.
For more on the exploratory geographic mind of Europeans, see Ricardo Duchesne A Civilization of Explorers
[66] For more on the exploratory geographic mind of Europeans, see Ricardo Duchesne, " A Civilization of Explorers. " Academic Questions 25.2 (March 2012): 65-93.
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[21] " The Nazis—A Warning from History. " BBC TV Mini-Series (1997).
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the Other" is barely interested in engaging his culture
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