The East-West dichotomy /Chapter 1
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|This source text was taken from The East-West dichotomy, retrieved August 16, 2009|
Herodotus (484 BC–425 BC), the ‘father of history’ (Cambridge Dictionary, 1999), was possibly the first recorded historian who deliberately portrayed the ‘east’ (Persians) and the ‘west’ (Greeks) as mutual antagonists, thereby proposing the nucleus of all ancient history. Others, Thucydides (460 BC–400 BC), and Xenephone (430 BC–354 BC), similarly, found it natural to employ strong polarities and concentrate on the ‘otherness’ of the East, while accepting the necessity of resistance to external force by defining a Western ‘self’. Thus came into being the first system of the so-called East-West dichotomy.
In another part of the world, meanwhile, the ideas of Confucian China (551 BC–479 BC) and unification was beaten into the feudal states of the Eastern Zhou period (starting in 770 BC), spurred by the constant menace of invasion by exterior barbarians.
In parallel, the Aryan masters of the Indus Valley who had long merged with the Dravidian inhabitants started to unite the tribes and founded kingdoms (1500 BC–400 BC), and as a matter of survival against aggressors from the West created their own classical Indian culture and identity in opposition to the categorical otherness of the West.
As I see it, there have been only two configurations of the East-West dichotomy throughout history. The first one was Western centred (Euro-centric; c. 500 BC–1950), the second one is Eastern centred (Asia-centric; c. 1950-). The former can be divided into Greek (c. 500 BC–0), Christian (c. 0–1500 AD) and North-Atlantic (c. 1500–1950 AD); the latter one exclusively relies on the growing influence of China and its periphery (c. 1950-) alone. To my knowledge, no other ‘centrism’ has ever prevailed on world affairs. It is said in some academic quarters that there has been a time when China was believed to be the supreme civilization, with all her great inventions like paper (220 BC), gunpowder (900 AD), printing (1040 AD), the compass (1100 AD) (Needham, 1964). Yet, to my understanding and despite those obvious accomplishments, China’s contributions to the external world, her encounter with and stance upon the Western hemisphere, has been scarce and almost insignificant. Some have argued that the “invention of the sciences” was the single decisive advantage that put the West ahead of all the other civilizations. To this, we must have serious doubts. Thousand of Greeks marched into Persia to aid Cyrus (c. 400 BC); the conquest of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC), the Romans and their emperors (27 BC-395 AD); the crusades (11th – 15th centuries); the explorations and conquests by the Mediterranean world (15th -16th centuries); the missionaries (16th-17th centuries); the colonial powers (16th -19th centuries); the subjugation of the New World (15th-16th century); the invention of the sciences (17th century); and now Globalization – are all products of the West. In a distinct succession, the West had always descended upon the “others” before they did the same: the envy of the world was the Greeks, the tormentor of the world was Christianity, and the leader of the world was Europe/America, more or less indisputable until 1950.
I would like to argue then, that with the shattering of Europe during the two world wars (1914-18 and 1938-45), the collapse of the colonial empires, the rise and (later) fall of the Soviets, and with China’s first experiments with Western ‘narratives’ (e. g. Marxism/Communism), Asian dominance had silently set in after 1950. History speaks for itself: in the following 50 years, according to the United Nations, there were 118 wars (compared to 57 in the first half of the century), not surprisingly most of them driven or fuelled by anti-Western sentiments, most notably the Cold War (1950-1989). The U.S.A., at least involved in 60 of these wars, was defeated in Korea (1950–1953) [officially a UN operation], Vietnam (1965–1972), during the Suez-Crisis (1956) [together with Britain and France], and, most recently failed in Afghanistan (2002–2006) and Iraq (2004–2008) [both with the U.K. and other nations]. In the meantime we have seen the rapid economic development of no less than nine Eastern ‘tiger-states’: Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, South-Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Dubai and the Philippines.
Some people say that the two poles of the East-West dichotomy had shifted twice to the outmost peripheries of the world, in the East to Japan (c. 1868-1945) and in the West to the USA (c. 1950-2006). To this I have strong objections. Japan, despite her relative military and economic power, like Great Britain, is an island state with the historical function of manipulating power-structures between the divided forces dwelling on the massive neighboring continent. However, being descendents of the great landmasses themselves (Germanic and Chinese/Korean), with a relatively small population, neither of them fits the East-West equation all on its own. The U.S.A., on the other hand, is not a civilization but a (Western) culture, living on the outer crescent of the world’s pivot: Eurasia.
Mackinder (1904) early suggested, that the natural seat of power of all existing civilizations (except Latin American): Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, African, with a combined population of 5.6 Billion (or 85% of earth’s population), is the continuous land-mass of Euro-Asia and the sub-continent Africa, often referred to together as the ‘World Island’ (Mackinder, 1994). Let us say then, that for the past 2500 years, the history that mattered most was that of the European people, continuously re-inventing themselves either through struggle against Asiatic invasion (Persians, Ottomans, Arabs etc.), or through conquest and colonization, and consequently exercising their authority over all defining paradigms in any East-West dispute, be it on a philosophical, scientific, economic, or ideological level.
Now, as all thesis tends to antithesis, the balance for supremacy over the other civilizations is going to tip in favor of the ever more influential power blocks of Asia: China (with Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam etc.), Japan, and (soon) India. And, because of their cultural outlook and different set of beliefs and values, these Eastern peoples will inevitably re-define history and re-evaluate the East-West dichotomy according to the needs and benefits of their own triumphant civilization(s).
Naturally, it won’t take long until they will try to dominate.