on 28 July 2010
Jack Goody, Emeritus Professor of Social Anthropology at Cambridge University, has written a fascinating book on the growth of civilisation.
He argues that civilisation began across Eurasia with the Bronze Age Revolution (3000-1000 BCE). This urban revolution, starting in the ancient Near East, spread swiftly to Egypt, the Aegean Sea, India and China.
He decries the self-serving myth that we of the west are uniquely dynamic, modern and advanced, as against a static, traditional and backward east. He upsets the conventional view that the nuclear family, individualism and rationality were the west's necessary conditions of development and were unique to the west.
Some caricature the east as having no law, being uniformly collectivist and peculiarly prone to tyranny. Some suggest that private property is the unique engine of progress and that it is a concept unique to the west.
Goody says that the relative advantage between east and west has alternated, as you would expect in an exchange economy. There is not a single, unique, ever-ascending line of European supremacy. In the west, feudalism was a regression, a de-urbanisation, followed by the renaissances of the 12th and 15th centuries.
Christianity inhibited the free intellectual inquiry necessary for the development of science; it denied sculpture and the theatre. Historian Michael Mann claimed that Christianity was `the transmitter ... of the classical legacy'. If so, why, when Christianity was so dominant, were the dark ages so dark?
Historian John Hall contended that Europe was special because it did not have a `predatory or bureaucratic government'. Was Spain's colonial state not both predatory and bureaucratic?
Some write of the `miracle of the west' and `the uniqueness of the west'. Others write of the European miracle, a northern European miracle, even of an English miracle. Goody rightly rejects this self-centred view. There are no miracles.