This is a belated reaction to Peer Vries’s long reply (“Is California the measure of all things global?”) to my review (“Peer Vries, the Great Divergence, and the California School: Who’s In and Who’s Out?”). Both these papers were published in the same issue of World History Connected, Vol. 2, No 2. In the review I appreciated Vries’s effort to find a middle course between the “Eurocentric” and the “California” schools, particularly in his acceptance of the basic claim that Asia/China was modernizing in its own way, and in his willingness to look inside British culture to explain the first industrial revolution.
I explained that, for Vries, the main factor that led to the divergence was the scientific-practical culture of England, and that this was a view developed by Margaret Jacob and Joel Mokyr, but which Jack Goldstone, a member of the California School, had also endorsed. I then added that what made Vries different from Goldstone (despite their additional agreement with the Californians that some regions of China enjoyed increases in labor productivity right through the 18th century) was Goldstone’s interpretation of the scientific-engineering culture adopted by Britain as a “happy chance” made possible by a series of unexpected political events associated with the Glorious Revolution of 1688.
Goldstone’s “happy chance” cannot be conciliated
It seemed to me that Vries was not clearly aware of the substantive differences dividing Goldstone’s “happy chance” from Mokyr’s long term perspective on the origins of the first industrial revolution in England. As I will demonstrate in greater detail below, Mokyr believes that the British industrial revolution had deep roots in a European “industrial enlightenment” of the 18th century, which in turn had deep links with the scientific revolution of the 17th century. In contrast, while Goldstone acknowledges that England (but not Europe) had cultivated “a peculiar engine-based scientific culture” from the 1660s onwards, he plays down its significance by insisting that it came about as a result of “highly contingent circumstances,” and adding as well the incredulous argument that England, despite its applied science, was following a similar pattern of economic development as China as late as the 1830s.
Vries’s reply to this argument was that Goldstone “does have a point when he claims that modern economic growth only emerged in Britain somewhere between the 1830s/1850s.” He cites a passage from an earlier article I wrote in which I too seem to agree that it was only after about 1820/1850 that fast and sustained growth rates in GDP per capita and industrial output were discernible in England. He says that these two positions (the peculiar scientific culture of England, and the claim that sustained growth came after 1830) can be “conciliated.” Vries also questions the way I worded Goldstone as if he were making the excessive claim that “before 1830 England was following a parallel pattern of political, demographic, commercial, urban, agricultural and even industrial growth as Qing China.”
In response to the second criticism, I would like to direct readers to the two references I offered in the review, which are to pages 360 and pages 377 of Goldstone’s article “Efflorescences and Economic Growth in World History: Rethinking the ‘Rise of the West’ and the Industrial Revolution,” where he does state that it is a “real puzzle” why England, “which was undergoing a similar macro-economic pattern as Qing China, managed to avoid such a decline, and instead created self-sustaining growth after 1830.” I could have cited many additional pages from this article, which is, after all, intended to show that “multiple modernities” were happening all around the globe, and that the “rather odd and unusual” engine culture of England was “by no means a necessary and inevitable outcome of a broader ‘scientific’ [European-wide] revolution.”
Contingency, Conjuncture, or Probability
I have difficulties accepting Goldstone’s bipolar mode of argumentation between contingency and inevitability. Vries’s employment of the term “conjuncture” is not the answer either. This term, as it is used by world systems historians, refers to the coming together in one region of forces driven by the dynamics of the international economy. It is a term intended to shift attention away from Europe, on the grounds that the moment the Atlantic was crossed in the sixteenth century a world economic system was created which came to envelope and somehow determine the internal dynamics of the cultures of the world. Patrick O’Brien, in one of his working papers for the GEH network, “Provincializing the First Industrial Revolution,” extends this idea of a world system backwards (adopting the commonest ideas of the day) with the statement (not argument) that the first revolution had Chinese, Indian and African “antecedents,” and that it was within this “conjuncture” of antecedent forces that the “relative and short-lived [sic] economic success” of England was made possible. All events in history have antecedents, but there were no cultural indications elsewhere in the world that a revolution was on the way, in the sense that we can account for the rapid convergence of Western Europe after England’s first steps. What we see instead is the breakdown of China’s “efflorescence” and the still massive poverty of sub-Sahara Africa today.
The term “world system” tends to soften minds with its appearance of worldly complexity when it merely refers to the movements of consumer items across the oceans. The term gives the impression of a “total” view of history in which everything that is inside the “globe” is automatically a “part” of the dynamics of the world system. Political, religious and intellectual matters are seen as superstructural phenomena “embedded” in this world-system. Since there is no outside to the world system it holds the privileged role of not being embedded to anything. Yet the truth is that world systems historians repeat the rigid idea that the economic instance (viewed from the standpoint of international connections) is the most important and primary cause of social life. They should at least be aware of the one Marxist who conceptualized a truly multilayered concept of “totality,” Louis Althusser, who had to confess that the lonely hour of the last instance never arrives.
Hardly anyone today speaks in terms of inevitability. Change is always about probabilities. There is no reason to use terms like “inevitable” or “necessary” to explain the actual historical process which led to the first industrial revolution. These terms are not even part of science; “determinism” is the appropriate term, and on the basis of the theory of probability, determinism should be understood to mean only that the appearance of such and such phenomena is probable (or improbable) with such and such a degree of probability. The degree of probability for an industrial revolution in Europe was very high by the eighteenth century. It was highly improbable in Qing China. We can cite Marx notwithstanding his economic determinism: “mankind always takes up only such problems as it can solve; since…we will always find that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions necessary for its solution already exist or are at least in the process of formation.”
The timing of the Industrial Revolution
The cultural conditions for the solution of Malthusian pressures and the employment of new sources of inorganic energy were present in eighteenth century Western Europe. This brings me to Vries’s other criticism: I don’t think this debate can be reduced to the question of when England started to experience “nationwide” changes in productivity, or when the technological innovations which started in earnest in the 1700s were translated into uninterrupted growth throughout the economy. I am aware of the findings of “new economic historians” such as Nick Crafts and Gregory Clark, which show that the application of steam technology was slow and not as quick in its effects as was previously believed. The rates of innovation and of increase in productivity were restricted to a few branches of the economy from say 1760 to 1830. As Landes has pointed out, earlier historians like Usher and Clapham had already noted that industrial change before the mid-nineteenth century was “uneven and protracted.” But it is quite a stretch to turn these findings into an argument for similar “macro-economic patterns” between England and Qing China. The point is—since we are trying to identify the beginnings of the industrial revolution—that there was “a break in the trend of growth around 1760–70” in those sectors which first saw the use of the new revolutionary technologies, and this was a “break” into sustained growth.
We should not forget that under investigation is not a comparison of two economic periods within Britain’s history (say before 1830 and after 1830) but a comparison of what was happening in England with what was happening in Qing China. In terms of that comparison it is misleading to describe the economy of Britain before 1830 as “traditional” and “similar” to China’s. If, as Vries knows, the industrial revolution “marked the dawn of a new era in the economic history of mankind” and “heralded a fundamental and revolutionary break,” why play down this revolution by ignoring its beginning and speaking of “parallel” developments elsewhere? Why confound students with the claim that the growth achieved before 1830 was “the final flowering of the old” just as students are trying to understand the beginning of a new type of economic growth? The arising of the industrial revolution and the pointing of Europe to a future mass consumer society is what matters.
Mokyr and the Industrial Enlightenment of Europe
I say “matters” within the context of Vries’s specialized preoccupation with the industrial revolution and his supposition that this revolution itself signals the “divergence” of the West from the Rest. He is certainly not alone in this supposition. All the contenders in this debate take it for granted that the Industrial Revolution was the one transformation that gave European civilization its distinctive identity—this, regardless of how early in history they trace its origins, and regardless of what kind of non-economic factors they choose to explain its causes. This is true of Mokyr, for example, notwithstanding the fact that he looks inside Europe’s culture to explain the divergence.
It is worth looking in more detail at Mokyr’s argument both to clarify further his differences with the California school, and my differences with everyone. Mokyr argues that if one wants to understand why the Industrial Revolution was sustained after 1820, without experiencing the negative feedbacks of earlier episodes of pre-industrial growth, one needs to appreciate its intrinsic link with the scientific revolution of the 17C and the “Industrial Enlightenment” of the 18C. It was these two transformations which widened the “epistemic base of technology” and created a new type of “useful knowledge” which made possible the “gradual stream of improvements” in techniques after 1750. Growth before the 19C occurred “in relatively brief spurts” followed by “long periods of stagnation or mild decline,” because the “epistemic bases” of these episodes of growth were “narrow.” The knowledge supporting the technology associated with pre-industrial expansion was “relatively small” in the sense that the conceptual and institutional frameworks were not available and this made it too difficult and too costly to find solutions to problems in the operation, application, and improvement of existing techniques.
Thus, while Mokyr agrees that economic growth “was very slow during the Industrial Revolution, and that living standards barely nudged upward until the mid-1840s,” he carefully distances himself from the claim that the great divergence occurred sometime in the 19C, or even after 1750. He focuses instead on the scientific culture and the institutions of the 17C and the 18C. With modern science came a deeper understanding of “why and how” particular techniques operated and why they worked. This science provided principles that explicated the underlying rules of the techniques and this facilitated further upgrading. During the 17C we observe in Western Europe, and not just England, a growing appreciation for precision and standardization in measurement of instruments and equipment, a common and open method of verification and experimentation with a set of rules to test “which techniques worked best,” including a conviction in the orderliness and predictability of nature, and a Baconian culture which promoted the accumulation of knowledge in order to make useful things to improve the material conditions of life.
However, for all that the 17C contributed, Mokyr cautions against “the notion that the scientific revolution led directly to the Industrial Revolution. ” He specifically adds to the debate the idea that the “Industrial Enlightenment” of the 18C was the “missing link” which formed the “historical bridge” between the world of Galileo, Bacon and Newton, and the world of steam engines and factories. He thinks indeed that explaining the occurrence of the Industrial Enlightenment is “the central question that holds the key to the modern economic history of the West.” This enlightenment extended, refined, disseminated, and institutionalized the method, mentality and culture of the 17C to the point that in England, by the last quarter of the 18C, a new modern type of growth was set in motion. While the Industrial Revolution began in England because this island offered somewhat more incentives and opportunities, Mokyr (in agreement with Jacob, and disagreement with Goldstone) offers abundant evidence showing that the Industrial Enlightenment was a “Western phenomenon.” This enlightenment involved the rise of numerous societies “dedicated to the diffusion of useful knowledge” and the creation of information networks between engineers, natural philosophers, and businessmen, the opening of artillery schools, mining schools, informal scientific societies, numerous micro-inventions that turned revolutionary insights into “successful business propositions,” “the rise of specialization and the emergence of experts, consulting engineers, accountants, and other professionals,” standardization of information, scientific notation, improved standards for weights and measures, specialist collections of technical and engineering data, including a wide range of institutional changes that affected economic behavior, commercial relations, resource allocation, savings and investment.
Thus, to the question why the great divergence occurred, Mokyr answers that we must look back to the Industrial Enlightenment and to the scientific revolution. Yet, and this is where confusion may arise, he does not say that the divergence happened during these two centuries; he thinks it occurred when England/Europe actually started to experience a take-off into sustained growth after 1750. This does not mean, however, that his study of the long term roots of this divergence can be “conciliated” with Goldstone’s “happy chance”, or with Bin Wong’s argument that the causes of England’s industrialization lay in her cheap and abundant supplies of coal and land-saving resources in the New World.
Many great divergences in the rise of the West
What I find limiting in Mokyr’s argument is the supposition that only the Industrial Revolution created a divergence between the West and the Rest. He follows the current materialist creed that “prosperity” and mass consumption are the most important achievements of humanity, and believes (if implicitly) that Europe achieved “very little” before knowledge was used to create a bunch of useful things. My position, still to be presented beyond the outline stage, is that the West has always been in a state of divergence from the Rest. One is too specialized to think, even in the case of the scientific ideas of the 17C, which were eventually used to create modern growth, that these ideas mattered only when they were so applied. When we speak of culture and politics in these terms we are speaking in terms dictated by economists and Marxists. We are reducing scientific ideas to mere cleverness in calculating and making useful things. It is just as valuable to ask about the meaning of the heliocentric vision of the universe, and the Cartesian mechanical view of nature. Why it was that Europe gave birth to men like Galileo who would write that the truth of nature “is written in mathematical language, and the letters are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures without which means it would be humanly impossible to comprehend a single word”? The rise of modern science by itself constitutes a divergence. The same is true of the Roman discovery of the individual legal person, the Papal Revolution of the 12C, the Protestant Reformation, the French Revolution, and the German Philosophical Revolution from Kant to Hegel—they each represent a divergence.
Weber’s Developmental Theory of Western Rationalism
This brings me to why I felt that Vries was rather flippant in his attitude to Weber. When Vries wrote against Weber that there “was nothing wrong with their [Chinese] rationality, business acumen, love of profit, practical sense, or materialism” he was following a well established misconception of Weber’s concept of rationalization. This concept does not refer to the pursuit of gain and material comfort in a rational manner. Philosophers have long noted that it is natural for humans to pursue those means which augment their interests. Even the lower animals have the instinctive foresight to ensure their survival in a competitive environment. What Weber called “the special peculiarity of Occidental rationalism” is something altogether different.
As I pointed out (very briefly) in the review, for Weber all cultures of the world have shown themselves to be highly pragmatic in the pursuit of the best means to a given end, and “all civilized countries of the earth” have exhibited a “considerable rationalization of capitalistic calculation.” Long ago the Tang Chinese were already creating a rationalized bureaucracy. Therefore it is no argument against Weber to point to the existence of a capitalistic mentality and of bureaucracies in non-Western cultures. If Vries does show (in his reply) some appreciation of the meaning of rationalization in the organization of government and corporations, he writes as if it were a tool for efficient management ready to be used whenever it was desired.
I follow Wolfgang Schluchter in his systematic presentation of Weber as a universal historian who set out to comprehend thousands of years of human history, to construct an argument that would explain the rise of the West across millennia. His book, The Rise of Western Rationalism, Max Weber’s Developmental Theory, has made it clear to me, despite being inundated with complex concepts, that the basic insight of Weber was that the West was the only culture that cultivated a cultural ethos with a genetic and developmental dynamic having universal significance. Other civilizations did have their own developmental dynamics. The distinctiveness of the West was the fostering of an ethos which furthered abstraction, universalization and rationalization in all spheres of social life. It was primarily in his sociologies of world religions that Weber offered a systematic account of the stages of this dynamic: magical ethic, law ethic, ethic of conviction, and ethic of responsibility. He also offered indispensable insights on the development of legal norms in his sociology of law.
Over a hundred years since Weber was writing he is still seen as someone who explained actual change in terms of the autonomous logic of ideas, when in truth, as Schluchter carefully explains, his sociology was equally concerned with the materials interests, institutions and classes that were associated with the actualization of ideas. He knew that humans were directly preoccupied with their material interests, their economic well-being and their healthy survival. But he also saw a strong need in humans to give meaning to their life, and this spiritual need was just as important as the struggle for physical needs.
Human nature did not manifest itself in history as if it were an embryo passing from potentiality to actuality. Human actions are intentional but always mediated historically by a wide range of institutional realms and value spheres. Weber speaks in very abstract terms of such institutional realms and value spheres as the family, the economy, religion, and politics, each of which constitutes a historically given framework within which material interests and spiritual needs are interpreted and actualized by individual actors. He also analyzes on a lower level of abstraction institutions and values. In the case of the political realm, for example, he analyzes the relation of the cities, churches, the monarchy, and the feudal nobility.
The historical theory of rationalization distinguishes, in the case of value-spheres, between cognitive-theoretical values, religious-substantive-ethical values, aesthetic-expressive values, and practical-utilitarian values. It was in the spheres of cognitive and practical values that Weber observed a process of rationalization which came to transform “in a historical line of development with universal significance” all areas of Western social life, of music, painting, architecture, religion, mathematics, historical research, military organization law and administration.
Weber concentrated his analyzes on the rationalization of the value-sphere of religion where he saw a directional pattern from a mythological world view, which sustained its beliefs in the form of taboos and did not conceive the violations of prescriptions as sin, to a normative or law ethics guided by a metaphysical relationship of supplication and veneration toward symbolic representations. The rationalization of cognitive values was required for the development of a religion based on concepts rather than myths, of a “metaphysical” religion in the form of a theodicy with a definite system of concepts offering “rational” answers to questions dealing with such matters as the transcendental character of God and the imperfection of this world.
At this level of religious rationalization, moral judgments of an abstract and principled kind became a possibility, but in Weber’s view the emergence of an ethic of abstract principles—in contrast to a normative ethics based on custom and convention—was encouraged particularly by the Judeo-Christian tradition and its idea of a personal ethical god with “an absolutely transcendental character”. This religion of personal salvation cultivated an ethic of conviction, and personal responsibility. This is how Schluchter, using Weber’s own words, explains the inner logic of this religion—which is not to be confused with historic necessity: the more rational the idea of salvation “became and the more it was sublimated in the direction of an ethic of conviction, the more those commandments that grew out of the ethic of reciprocity in the neighborhood association were intensified externally and internally. Externally, those commandments became a communism of loving brethren; internally, they produced the stance of charity, love for the sufferer, for one’s neighbor, for man, and finally for one’s enemy”.
Schluchter goes on using mostly his words: “abstraction and universalization of the simple ‘principle of helping brothers in distress’, which was originally restricted to the neighborhood association, tended to lead in the long run not only to the destruction of group boundaries, ‘frequently including one’s own religious association’ but to the transformation of the idea of salvation itself into the idea of liberation and self-fulfillment, to the idea of emancipation”.
The development of an ethic of responsibility that was universalistic and that transcended the ethic of conviction required a transition from principles of faith to principles of critical reason, as well as the extension of the idea of freedom of conscience. While the ethic of conviction promoted the right of the believer to be free in his own conscience, it tended to uphold “freedom of conscience for itself, but not for dissenters”. Only when an ethic of responsibility was reached, based on a type of reason that was self-reflective and willing to question all presuppositions, and was aware of the consequences of one’s actions for others, did humans come to accept freedom of conscience unconditionally. This was achieved with the Enlightenment and the Declaration of the Rights of Man.
The actualization of these “modern” values was not a movement which evolved itself logically out of the religious concepts themselves. The “inner necessity” which Weber apprehends in history is on the level of concepts. He did not mean that history is actually governed by inner laws, and that his sociology was a discovery of these laws. The dynamic within the sphere of religion starts with the Judaic idea of a transcendent creator god who is personal and demands individual conviction and principled conduct on earth. But while Judaism had elements of a principled ethics, Weber believed that in its Talmudic form, and in other parts of the Old Testament, it came to appear as primarily an ethics of norms in its demand of obedience to the letter of the law, its fear of the law, and its ascriptive attachment to a particular ethnic group. On its own Judaism did not generate, in Weber’s words, “a systematization of religious obligations in the form of an ethic of conviction”, it was the arrival of Jesus’ sermon, St. Paul’s mission, and Hellenic philosophy which encouraged a higher level of abstraction and universalization. The contribution of Paul was immense in the way he selectively combined the universal-oriented traits of Judaism with the New Testament and its emphasis on the unity of mankind and the singularity of each person, together with Hellenistic norms and “mysteries of the cult of Kyrios Christos”. This Judeo-Christian and Hellenic ethic cultivated the ideal of the individual who is oriented, in Weber’s words, “to master the world by discovering its impersonal laws”.
Paul’s mission, however, would not have developed into a world historical movement without, first, integrating itself with the high intellectual culture of Hellenic cosmopolitanism and its Stoic idea of an intelligible natural order, which could be comprehended by human reason, and, second, without the provision by the Roman empire of the territorial principle of political loyalty, together with a bureaucratic framework directed by a rational system of laws.
It is important to understand that this process of rationalization within Christianity came into combination with ancient Greek rationalism, which was a movement of “independent significance” within the cognitive sphere, and that this combination in turn blended with the Roman legal traditions, which also had an “independent significance” not inevitably related to the Christian-Hellenic dynamic but which did come together with it to move in the same historical direction.
The oft-repeated claim that for Weber capitalism was a creation of the Protestant ethic has no textual validity. He was well-aware that before the Reformation, capitalistic acquisition, rational banking, and bookkeeping were highly advanced activities in Italy and also in Flanders. The thesis of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, as Schluchter carefully explains, is quite limited. It seeks to show that it was the ethic of ascetic Protestantism which finally passed on to capitalism a morality that encouraged self-restraint and frugality combined with an orientation for world mastery.
The link Weber saw between ancient Judaism and ascetic Protestantism was mediated by crucial phases, and, besides, this was only one constitutive component of the making of modernity. There were other parallel and uneven developmental dynamics within other non-religious value-spheres and institutional-realms. Added to the movements mentioned above, there was the Catholic Church’s organizational structure and scholastic method of reasoning, the Gregorian reform and the systematization of Canon law, the contractual and decentralized character of feudalism and the separation of society into autonomous corporate bodies such as universities, cities, and monasteries, the Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment.
The coming together of these segmental movements in the same general direction towards modernity was, strictly speaking, an accidental occurrence insomuch as each of these movements came to light under concrete conditions of infinite complexity. These movements were “embedded” in complex configurations of “inner” and “external” factors, unintended consequences, material struggles, charismatic personalities, and environmental circumstances. What makes Weber superior to concept-less world historians and de-historicized Marxist sociologists was his realization that there was an “inner necessity” in the history of the West which could be comprehended in retrospect, by looking backwards from the vantage point of our present rationalized age. I would say that Weber uses the term “inner necessity” as an inclusive antonym of “arbitrary” to denote the idea that a coherent directionality can be detected in the rise of the West.
Vries calls me a “Marxist-Weberian” or a “Weberian-Marxist.” I am an ex-Marxist who acknowledges Weber as one of the great thinkers on the nature, course, and genesis of Western civilization. I disagree with economic historians (Patrick O’Brien comes to mind) who read Weber as if he were one of the beginners of institutional economics, improved upon by later academics who conducted case studies linking specific institutions with definite economic consequences. The rise of the West should be approached in the grand manner of Weber. His historical research is certainly dated and must be thoroughly supplemented by newer secondary sources. I would advice students who wish to study specific phases of the rise of the West (from their own disciplinary background, and thus with little time to engage Weber’s own writings) to read works such as Schluchter’s Rise of Western Rationalism, or Stephen Kalberg’s Max Weber’s Comparative Historical Sociology. It is unfortunate that no one cites or reads Schluchter’s book, which not only explains Weber’s developmental history of the West on a level of sophistication unparalleled in the existing literature, but also clarifies, reconstructs, and improves upon it. This book is comparable in significance, and of greater theoretical value, than such widely known works as Eric Jones’s The European Miracle, John Hall’s Power & Liberties, and Douglass North’s and Robert Paul Thomas’s The Rise of the Western World. The task now is to find out whether Weber’s complete developmental history (not just his much investigated Protestant thesis) can be employ to explain in concrete terms the rise of the West in light of the existing historiography.
By way of a conclusion: Hegel’s Phenomenology and the rise of the West.
But Weber is not the answer. I think that G.W.F Hegel offered an equally valuable and truly seminal contribution to the genealogy of Western modernity. His Phenomenology of Spirit is more than an immersion into the spiritual history of Western civilization. I have come to believe that its basic idea is that the West is the only civilization in which the true and the rational is a process, not a conclusion, and that the distinctiveness of the Western mind is that it is not a substance, as in other civilizations, but an activity. The culture of the West can be known only by knowing it as development. Like Weber, Hegel observes an inner necessity (or dialectical logic) in the development of the West, which consists essentially in the effort by the Western spirit to become actually what it has been potentially from the beginning. This is why, from its origins in ancient Greece, this spirit has been in a state of incessant conflict, restlessness, dissatisfaction, and alienation, forever pressing ahead, transforming and sublimating what it is by seeking new insights, new ideas, and new institutions.
But unlike Weber, Hegel did not argue that the crux of the developmental history of this civilization was its peculiar logic of rationalization. The motivating goal of the Western spirit was to become conscious of itself as free activity; this is what drove it forward, the need to bring into existence a community which would be harmonious with this need. This has been the “infinite drive,” the “irresistible trust” of this culture since ancient times. It is only in retrospect, however, that we can say that the essential ethos of Western history has been the actualization of a cultural community by individuals who think of themselves as self-determining and therefore accept as authoritative only those norms and institutions that can be seen to be congenial with their awareness of themselves as free and rational. The development of the idea of freedom is thus intrinsically connected to the development of reason, in that individuals become what they are potentially rationally self-conscious agents when they recognize themselves as free in their institutions and laws.
What makes the Phenomenology a priceless work of the “rise of the West” is that it shows us, through the successive examination of the development of the Western spirit, how every single outlook – stoicism, skepticism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Newtonian rationalism, empiricism, the Enlightenment, Romanticism, and German classical culture – was shown to be one-sided and thus untenable as soon as it was adopted as the consistent outlook of a given historical community. This is why we cannot abstract from the total history of the West. When Hegel wrote that the truth is the whole, he meant that the truth lies in the whole history of Western civilization. Of course, the same test applies to Hegel as to Weber: much as he was the first universal historian to take a serious look at Persia, India, and China (in addition to his mastery in all areas of Western knowledge, poetry, philosophy, literature, science, history) no one can seriously deny that Hegel’s developmental theory needs to take full account of vast new scholarly sources now available. This philosopher also needs to be complemented by Nietzsche who has persuaded me that a rising West was also a waning of this culture’s higher virtues.
1 Jack Goldstone, “Efflorescences and Economic Growth in World History: Rethinking the ‘Rise of the West’ and the Industrial Revolution,” Journal of World History 13:2 (Fall 2002). See pages 330, 334, 360, 365-366, 373-377. He writes in p. 359 that “the experience of Qing China in the eighteenth century was in every respect comparable to thatfof England during the “Industrial Revolution” of the eighteenth century”.
2 Working Papers of The Global Economic History Network, Number 17/06 (January 2006). He writes that the British industrial revolution has to be “interpreted and contextualized as a conjuncture formed by the ebb and flow of global history.”
3 I should say here that I disagree with Vries’s claim that I implied that he had subscribed to the thesis that colonialism in the Americas was the primary explanation of Europe’s rise simply because I said that he had endorsed Braudel’s Marxian analysis of capitalism. Not really, since I first drew a distinction between Braudel and Wallerstein, attributing the colonialist explanation to the latter only, and then qualifying further that Braudel did not see bourgeois civil society as a mere superstructure of capitalism, and thus what I suggested was that Vries had (wrongly) accepted the Calilfornian interpretation of Braudel as a neo-Marxist who only saw the coercive side of capitalism.
4 David S. Landes, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations (Norton, 1998), pp. 193-94.
5 Joel Mokyr, The Gifts of Athena, Historical Origins of the Knowledge Economy (Princeton University Press), p. 31, 18-19.
6 Ibid., pp. 29-77.
7 Ibid., pp. 284-297. See also “Christianity and the Rise of the West: Rodney Stark and the Defeat of Reason” Historically Speaking, Volume VII, No. 4 (March/April 2006). Here Mokyr adopts the 18C faith in scientific reason and the attitude of the men of science who saw themselves as “rational” in contrast to the centuries of “ignorance, bigotry, and fanaticism” that preceded them. He leaves out of mind the many works, by Charles Homer Haskins, Edward Grant, Toby Huff, Norman Cantor, Marcia Colish, Jacques Barzun and others, which have refuted the notion of the “dark ages” and the idea that the Renaissance was a mere literary rediscovery of the classics.
8 See “Defending the Rise of Western Culture against its Multicultural Critics” The European Legacy, Vol. 10, No. 5 (2005), and “Christianity is a Hellenistic Religion, and Western Civilization is Christian” Historically Speaking Volume VII, No. 4 (March/April 2006).
9 As cited in R.G. Collingwood, The Idea of Nature (Oxford University Press, 1960), p. 102.
10 New World Historians like to complain about the dated sources of the old Eurocentric interpretations of the 1970s and before, but it somehow escapes their attention that their views on thinkers such as Hegel are thoroughly out of touch with the current scholarship. Just go to Amazon Books and you will find a vast new literature on Hegel which needs to be read for an adequate understanding of his philosophy of history. For now I will recommend Terry Pinkard’s Hegel’s Phenomenology: The Sociality of Reason (Cambridge University Press, 1994), and his excellent big biography, Hegel (Cambridge University Press, 2000).
By Ricardo Duchesne