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Beyond Eurocentrism: The World-System and the Limits of Modernity
Two opposing paradigms, the Eurocentric and the planetary, characterize the question of modernity. The first, from a Eurocentric horizon, formulates the phenomenon of modernity as exclusively European, developing in the Middle Ages and later on diffusing itself throughout the entire world. Weber situates the "problem of universal history" with the question: "to what combination of circumstances should the fact be attributed that in Western civilization, and in Western civilization only, cultural phenomena have appeared which (as we like to think) lie in a line of development having universal significance and value." According to this paradigm, Europe had exceptional internal characteristics that allowed it to supersede, through its rationality, all other cultures. Philosophically, no one expresses this thesis of modernity better than Hegel: "The German Spirit is the Spirit of the new World. Its aim is the realization of absolute Truth as the unlimited self-determination (Selbstbestimmung) of Freedom—that Freedom which has its own absolute form itself as its purport." For Hegel, the Spirit of Europe (the German spirit) is the absolute Truth that determines or realizes itself through itself without owing anything to anyone. This thesis, which I call the Eurocentric paradigm (in opposition to the world paradigm), has imposed itself not only in Europe and the United States, but in the entire intellectual realm of the world periphery. The chronology of this position has its geopolitics: modern subjectivity develops spatially, according to the Eurocentric paradigm, from the Italy of the Renaissance to the Germany of the Reformation and the Enlightenment, to the France of the French Revolution; throughout, Europe is central. The "pseudo-scientific" division of history into Antiquity (as antecedent), the Medieval Age (preparatory epoch), and the Modern Age (Europe) is an ideological and deforming organization of history; it has already created ethical problems with respect to other cultures. Philosophy, especially ethics, needs to break with this reductive horizon in order to open itself to the "world," the "planetary" sphere.
The second paradigm, from a planetary horizon, conceptualizes modernity as the culture of the center of the "world-system," of the first world-system, through the incorporation of Amerindia, and as a result of the management of this "centrality." In other words, European modernity is not an independent, autopoietic, self-referential system, but instead is part of a world-system: in fact, its center. Modernity, then, is planetary. It begins with the simultaneous constitution of Spain with reference to its "periphery" (first of all, properly speaking, Amerindia: the Caribbean, Mexico, and Peru). Simultaneously, Europe (as a diachrony that has its premodern antecedents: the Renaissance Italian cities and Portugal) will go on to constitute itself as center (as a super-hegemonic power that from Spain passes to Holland, England, and France) over a growing periphery (Amerindia, Brazil, slave-supplying coasts of Africa, and Poland in the sixteenth century; the consolidation of Latin Amerindia, North America, the Caribbean, and eastern Europe in the seventeenth century; the Ottoman Empire, Russia, some Indian reigns, the Asian subcontinent, and the first penetration into continental Africa in the first half of the nineteenth century). Modernity, then, in this planetary paradigm is a phenomenon proper to the system "center-periphery." Modernity is not a phenomenon of Europe as an independent system, but of Europe as center. This simple hypothesis absolutely changes the concept of modernity, its origin, development, and contemporary crisis, and thus, also the content of the belated modernity or postmodernity.
In addition, we submit a thesis that qualifies the previous one: the centrality of Europe in the world-system is not the sole fruit of an internal superiority accumulated during the European Middle Ages over against other cultures. Instead, it is also the fundamental effect of the simple fact of the discovery, conquest, colonization, and integration (subsumption) of Amerindia. This simple fact will give Europe the determining comparative advantage over the Ottoman-Muslim world, India, and China. Modernity is the fruit of these events, not their cause. Subsequently, the management of the centrality of the world-system will allow Europe to transform itself in something like the "reflexive consciousness" (modern philosophy) of world history; the many values, discoveries, inventions, technologies, political institutions, and so on that are attributed to it as its exclusive production are in reality effects of the displacement of the ancient center of the third stage of the interregional system toward Europe (following the diachronic path of the Renaissance to Portugal as antecedent, to Spain, and later to Flanders, England, etc.). Even capitalism is the fruit and not the cause of this juncture of European planetarization and centralization within the world-system. The human experience of 4,500 years of political, economic, technological, and cultural relations of the interregional system will now be hegemonized by a Europe—which had never been the "center," and which, during its best times, became only a "periphery." The slippage takes place from central Asia to the eastern, and Italian, Mediterranean; more precisely, toward Genoa, toward the Atlantic. With Portugal as an antecedent, modernity begins properly in Spain, and in the face of the impossibility of Chinas even attempting to arrive through the Orient (the Pacific) to Europe, and thus to integrate Amerindia as its periphery. Let us look at the premises of the argument.
Expansion of the World-System
Let us consider the movement of world history beginning with the rupture, due to the Ottoman-Muslim presence, of the third stage of the interregional system, which in its classic epoch had Baghdad as its center (from A.D. 762 to 1258), and the transformation of the interregional system into the first world-system, whose center would situate itself up to today in the North Atlantic. This change in the center of the system will have its prehistory in the thirteenth through the fifteenth centuries and before the collapse of the third stage of the interregional system; the new, fourth stage of the world system originates properly in 1492. Everything that had taken place in Europe was still a moment of another stage of the interregional system. Which state originated the deployment of the world-system? The answer is the state that will annex Amerindia, and from it, as a springboard or "comparative advantage," will go on to achieve superiority by the end of the fifteenth century. The candidates are China, Portugal, and Spain.
Why not China? The reason is very simple. It was impossible for China to discover Amerindia (a nontechnological impossibility; that is to say, empirically, but not historically or geopolitically, possible), for it had no interest in attempting to expand into Europe. For China the center of the interregional system (in its third stage) was in the East, either in Central Asia or in India. To go toward completely "peripheral" Europe? This could not be an objective of Chinese foreign commerce.
In fact, Cheng Ho, between 1405 and 1433, was able to make seven successful voyages to the center of the system (he sailed to Sri Lanka, India, and even eastern Africa). In 1479, Wang Chin attempted the same, but the archives of his predecessor were denied to him. China closed in upon itself, and did not attempt to do what, at precisely that very moment, Portugal was undertaking. Its internal politics—perhaps the rivalry of the mandarins against the new power of the merchant eunuchs—prevented its exit into foreign commerce. Had China undertaken it, however, it would have had to depart toward the west to reach the center of the system. The Chinese went east and arrived at Alaska and, it appears, even as far as California, and still to its south, but when they did not find anything that would be of interest to its merchants, and as they went further away from the center of the interregional system, they most probably abandoned the enterprise. China was not Spain for geopolitical reasons.
However, to refute the old "evidence," which has been reinforced since Weber, we still need to ask: Was China culturally inferior to Europe in the fifteenth century? According to those who have studied the question, China was neither technologically, nor politically, nor commercially, nor even because of its humanism, inferior. There is a certain mirage in this question. The histories of Western science and technology do not take strictly into account that the European "jump," the technological boom begins to take place in the sixteenth century, but that it is only in the seventeenth century that it shows its multiplying effects. The formulation of the modern technological paradigm (in the eighteenth century) is confused with the origin of modernity, without leaving time for the crisis of the medieval model. No notice is taken that the scientific revolution—discussed by Kuhn—departs from a modernity that has already begun, the result of a "modern paradigm." It is for that reason that in the fifteenth century (if we do not consider the later European inventions) Europe does not have any superiority over China. Needham allows himself to be bewitched by this mirage, when he writes: "The fact is that the spontaneous autochthonous development of Chinese society did not produce any drastic change paralleling the Renaissance and the scientific revolution of the West."
To treat the Renaissance and the scientific revolution as being one and the same event (one from the fourteenth century and the other from the seventeenth century) demonstrates the distortion of which we have spoken. The Renaissance is still a European event of a peripheral culture in the third stage of the interregional system. The scientific revolution is the result of the formulation of the modern paradigm that needed more than a century of modernity to attain its maturity. Pierre Chaunu writes: "Towards the end of the XV century, to the extent to which historical literature allows us to understand it, the far East as an entity comparable to the Mediterranean ... does not result under any inferior aspect, at least superficially, to the far West of the Euro-Asiatic continent."
Let us repeat: Why not China? Because China found itself in the easternmost zone of the interregional system, whence it looked to the center: to India in the west.
Why not Portugal? For the same reason: that is, because it found itself in the farthest point west of the same interregional system, and because it also looked, and always, toward the center: toward India in the east. Columbus's proposal (the attempt to reach the center through the West) to the king of Portugal was as insane as it was for Columbus to claim to discover a new continent (since he only and always attempted, and could not conceive another hypothesis, to reach the center of the third stage of the interregional system).
The Italian Renaissance cities are the farthest point west (peripheral) of the interregional system, which articulated anew, after the Crusades (which failed in 1291), continental Europe with the Mediterranean. The Crusades ought to be considered a frustrated attempt to connect with the center of the system, a link that the Turks ruptured. The Italian cities, especially Genoa (which rivaled Venice's presence in the eastern Mediterranean), attempted to open the western Mediterranean to the Atlantic, in order to reach once again through the south of Africa the center of the system. The Genoese placed all their experience in navigation and the economic power of their wealth at the service of opening for themselves this path. It was the Genoese who occupied the Canaries in 1312, and it was they who invested in Portugal and helped the Portuguese to develop their navigational power.
Once the Crusades had failed, and because the Europeans could not foresee the expansion of Russia through the steppes (who, advancing through the frozen woods of the North, reached the Pacific and Alaska in the seventeenth century), the Atlantic was the only European door to the center of the system. Portugal, the first European nation already unified in the eleventh century, will transform the reconquest against the Muslims into the beginning of a process of Atlantic mercantile expansion. In 1419, the Portuguese discover the Madeiras Islands, in 1431 the Azores, in 1482 Zaire, and in 1498 Vasco da Gama reaches India (the center of the interregional system). In 1415, Portugal occupies the African-Muslim Ceuta, in 1448 El-Ksar-es-Seghir, in 1471 Arzila. But all of this is the continuation of the interregional system whose connection is the Italian cities: "In the twelfth century when the Genoese and the Pisans first appear in Catalonia, in the thirteenth century when they first reach Portugal, this is part of the efforts of the Italians to draw the Iberian peoples into the international trade of the time.... As of 1317, according to Virginia Rau, 'the city and the port of Lisbon would be the great centre of Genoese trade....'"
A Portugal with contacts in the Islamic world, with numerous sailors (former farmers expelled from an intensive agriculture), with a money economy, in "connection" with Italy, once again opened peripheral Europe to the interregional system. But despite this it did not stop being on the periphery. Not even the Portuguese could pretend to have abandoned this situation, for although Portugal could have attempted to dominate the commercial exchange in the sea of the Arabs (the Indian sea), it never could produce the commodities of the East (silk fabrics, tropical products, sub-Saharan gold, etc.). In other words, it was an intermediary and always peripheral power of India, China, and the Muslim world.
With Portugal we are in the anteroom, but still neither in modernity nor in the world-system (the fourth stage of the system, which originated, at least, between Egypt and Mesopotamia).
Why does Spain begin the world-system, and with it, modernity? For the same reason that it was prevented in China and Portugal. Because Spain could not reach the center of the interregional system that was in Central Asia or India, could not go east (since the Portuguese had already anticipated them, and thus had exclusivity rights) through the south Atlantic (around the coasts of Western Africa, until the cape of Buena Esperanza was discovered in 1487), Spain had only one opportunity left: to go toward the center, to India, through the Occident, through the West, by crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Because of this Spain bumps into, finds without looking, Amerindia, and with it the entire European medieval paradigm enters into crisis (which is the paradigm of a peripheral culture, the farthest western point of the third stage of the interregional system), and thus inaugurates, slowly but irreversibly, the first world hegemony. This is the only world-system that has existed in planetary history, and this is the modern system, European in its center, capitalist in its economy.
Excerpted from The Cultures of Globalization by Fredric Jameson, Masao Miyoshi. Copyright © 1998 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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|I||Globalization and Philosophy|
|Beyond Eurocentrism: The World-System and the Limits of Modernity||3|
|Globalization, Civilization Processes, and the Relocation of Languages and Cultures||32|
|Notes on Globalization as a Philosophical Issue||54|
|Global Fragments: A Second Latinamericanism||81|
|Toward a Regional Imaginary in Africa||103|
|Negotiating African Culture: Toward a Decolonization of the Fetish||125|
|The End of Free States: On Transnationalization of Culture||146|
|Is There an Alternative to (Capitalist) Globalization? The Debate about Modernity in China||164|
|III||Culture and the Nation|
|Globalization and Culture: Navigating the Void||191|
|Nations and Literatures in the Age of Globalization||218|
|Media in a Capitalist Culture||230|
|"Globalization," Culture, and the University||247|
|IV||Consumerism and Ideology|
|Dollarization, Fragmentation, and God||273|
|Social Movements and Global Capitalism||291|
|"Environmental Justice" (Local and Global)||312|
|What's Green and Makes the Environment Go Round?||327|
|Free Trade and Free Market: Pretense and Practice||356|
|In Place of a Conclusion||371|