Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Homo Europa

"Eurocentric historians typically view the rise of Europe after 1000 in terms of a self-contained or autonomous regional economy or civilization. Towns in particular were deemed to be 'acephalous' ... In the conventional account the proliferation of the towns is granted almost magic-like qualities. For it is assumed that with the end of the internal disruptions that ravaged Europe between 370 and 1000, the ensuing internal order inevitably ensured the development of towns and commerce. Underlying such a claim is the assumption that 'European man' is inherently economically rational, and that under the right conditions (ie peace and minimalist, laissez-faire governments) so he would naturally get on with what he does best - ie, trade...

"Particularly puzzling within the Eurocentric context is the much used concept of 'long-distance trade': puzzling because while Europe lay at one end of the nexus, it is not always clear what lay at the other end. And what has been generally missed is that it was the East that not only lay at the other end, but played a crucial role in the rise of European trade itself. For European trade was ultimately made possible only by the flow of Eastern goods which entered Europe via Italy. And second, the flow of Eastern 'resource portfolios' - ideas, institutions, and technologies - from the Middle East and China all diffused into Italy and Europe primarily along the commercial arteries of the global economy (though equally some were learned of during the crusades). Nevertheless, this is not to say that Italy was unimportant to the fortunes of European commerce, finance and production. For it was in fact central. But it was only so because Italy was one of the major conduits through which Eastern resources (not just trade) entered and reshaped Europe." (John M Hobson, The Eastern Origins of Western Civilization, Cambridge University Press, 2004, pp 117-18).