Thursday, April 30, 2015

Autolytic Empathy

One is brought up short, when happening upon a passage that reads like this morning’s op-ed response to the current crisis, yet which anticipates this crisis  by decades.  The following is from a respected work of universal history  published over a half-century ago by Princeton University Press.   It by no means focuses on the latest headlines, but begins in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia  and slowly works forward.  Yet already in the introduction, this eventual conclusion is splotlighted:

Western nations that produced the unitarian philosophy of intercultural relations  have suffered effects of another kind:  by overextending the radius of their culture realm  to include peoples unable to achieve an organic relationship to its institutions, and by permitting a number of their most cherished values to receive  alien connotations and inflections  incompatible with their actual meanings, they have unwittingly contributed to a denaturing of their own civilization.
-- Adda Bozeman,  Politics and Culture in International History (1960), p. 8

1960 was an odd time to be writing that, amid a definitive wave of decolonisation which might have been supposed to herald a decoupling the European heartland  from the Third World.  The author could not have foreseen -- could she? -- the day when hundreds of thousands of the formerly colonized  should be demanding admission to the mother countries  as wards (and eventually masters)  of the European state.


And this, from another book that takes the lo-o-ong view, re the fall of the Sumerian-Akkadian empire:

Here we see the first signs of a process that repeated itself  over and over  in history:  a civilized center rises,  diffusing culture over a wider and wider area,  and finally attracting the barbarians on the fringes, who come in with nothing to lose, use the weapons of the civilized to conquer them ….
-- Wm Howells, Back of History (2nd edn, 1963), p. 321

No comments:

Post a Comment