Peder D4

Discussion of politics and other odious things

Friday, September 21, 2007

Facsinating article

from John Derbyshire regarding 'Islamophobia'. I'm sympathetic to some of his points although I'd have to think long and hard before kicking out Muslims. Doubt I'd ever agree to that. The part that caught my attention though:
As to the cultural aridity of Islamic civilizations: well, yes. This is not an exceptionalism belonging to Islam, though. The exceptionalism belongs to us, to the West. We are dynamic and creative; we are fired by curiosity to inquire into the natural order; we are driven by imagination to set off and explore remote places; our culture progresses through developmental stages, each building on the last: Baroque, Rococo, Neoclassical... Renaissance, Reformation, Enlightenment... Romanesque, Gothic, Perpendicular... Classical, Romantic, Modern... City-state, empire, feudalism, monarchy, constitutionalism...

We are the exception: civilization-wise, stasis and aridity are the rule, not just in Islam, but everywhere. Halfway through his monumental History of China (1882), Demetrius Boulger broke off from the long catalog of border wars and palace plots to offer this illuminating apology to his readers:

It might be more instructive to trace the growth of thought among the masses, or to indicate the progress of civil and political freedom; yet not only do the materials not exist for such a task, but those we possess all tend to show that there has been no growth to describe, no progress to be indicated during these comparatively recent centuries. It is the peculiar and distinguishing characteristic of Chinese history that the people and their institutions have remained practically unchanged ... from a very early period. Even the introduction of a foreign element has not tended to disturb the established order of things. The supreme ruler preserves the same attributes and discharges the same functions; the governing classes are chosen in the same manner; the people are bound in the same state of servitude, and enjoy the same practical liberty; all is now as it was. Neither under the Tangs nor the Sungs, undeer the Yuans or the Mings [i.e. from the seventh to the seventeenth centuries — these are the names of Chinese dynasties] was there any change in national character or in political institutions to be noted or chronicled. ... This condition of things may be disappointing to those who pride themselves in tracing the origin of constitutions and the growth of civil rights, and who would have a history of China the history of the Chinese people ... the fact is undoubted that there is no history of the Chinese people, apart from that of their country, to be recorded. The national institutions and character were formed, and had attained in all essentials to their present state, more than 2,000 years ago.

We are very used to the idea of continuing progress but it's a fallacy. Civilizations can also go backwords or go through long periods of time (dark ages) when there is no movement at all. Imagine a China that never had European visitors. Where would they be today?


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