Skip

The sun continues rising
July 29, 2012 12:17 PM   Subscribe

The ruins of empire: Asia's emergence from western imperialism Moreover, a narcissistic history – one obsessed with western ideals, achievements, failures and challenges – can only retard a useful understanding of the world today. For most people in Europe and America, the history of the present is still largely defined by victories in the second world war and the long standoff with Soviet communism, even though the central event of the modern era, for a majority of the world's population, is the intellectual and political awakening of Asia and its emergence, still incomplete, from the ruins of both Asian and European empires. The much-heralded shift of power from the west to the east may or may not happen. But only neo-imperialist dead-enders will deny that we have edged closer to the cosmopolitan future the first generation of modern Asian thinkers, writers and leaders dreamed of – in which people from different parts of the world meet as equals rather than as masters and slaves, and no one needs to shoot elephants to confirm their supremacy.
posted by infini (19 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
Previously: Indian author Pankaj Mishra writes a brutal takedown of Niall Ferguson's latest book, Civilisation: The West and the Rest...
posted by mattn at 12:33 PM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm kind of shocked that the author didn't link to George Orwell's essay about his experience of shooting an elephant as a policeman in colonial Burma. It is a fascinating glimpse of the era only really possible with Orwell's beautiful and viciously self-critical disposition.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:53 PM on July 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


This guy actually thinks that intellectuals are ever taken seriously? What a dumbass.
posted by Brian B. at 12:55 PM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I, for one, think there might be some distinct plausible deniability advantages for the U.S. in our rapid demographic shift to Latino. Hopefully when our karma comes calling we can get off with "Sorry, the 20th Century United States isn't home right now. I believe you're looking for the guys on the other side of the Atlantic." Of course, this would work better if we could stop invading other countries for a little while.
posted by XMLicious at 12:58 PM on July 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


nice piece. it's extremely rare to find anything in the english or american press that quotes a non-western politician (or anybody for that matter) in any other way than as exemplifying 'non-western' confusion/malaise or as instantiating or catching up to 'western' ideals. the tunnel vision of western journalism is truly unbelievable. "hey, check it out, they've got arby's in china now!"
posted by facetious at 1:00 PM on July 29, 2012 [8 favorites]


But only neo-imperialist dead-enders will deny that we have edged closer to the cosmopolitan future the first generation of modern Asian thinkers, writers and leaders dreamed of – in which people from different parts of the world meet as equals rather than as masters and slaves, and no one needs to shoot elephants to confirm their supremacy.

While I agree with the main premise of the article and the author's critique of the West's selective memory and renascent imperial nostalgia, I very much doubt this is how things are going to work out. I think rather we will see a global balance of power between regional hegemons who will be given carte blanche to do as they will to ethnic minorities and small border nations which lie within their sphere of influence. Some of those powers will be Western, others non-Western. But the only people "meeting as equals" will be the citizens of the great powers. Everyone else will still have to deal with an oppressive hierarchy among nation-states.

Basically, the Security Council makeup will change somewhat, but the basic problem will remain the same. It'll take a great deal more than the final breakup of the period of Western dominance, and the final expulsion of the illusions it fostered, to alter the more basic problem of geopolitical inequality.

Still, a step in the right direction, at least.
posted by AdamCSnider at 2:37 PM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


You neo-imperialist dead-ender!
posted by XMLicious at 2:50 PM on July 29, 2012


Some of those powers will be Western, others non-Western. But the only people "meeting as equals" will be the citizens of the great powers. Everyone else will still have to deal with an oppressive hierarchy among nation-states.

Countries with a sovereign currency can act with their own agency in their dealings with other trade partners. A nation-state without that luxury has to act at the whims of parties which control its currency, and by extension, its economy. Equality as defined by an exchange rate between petro-dollars, -euros and -yuan.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:49 PM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Some of those powers will be Western, others non-Western. But the only people "meeting as equals" will be the citizens of the great powers. Everyone else will still have to deal with an oppressive hierarchy among nation-states.

I think one missing piece in this puzzle is the lack of any examination of the rise of the multinational( or rather, possibly, anti-national) corporation, many of whom have capital exceeding that of many nation states and who seem willing and able to buy off entire political and economic systems (and soon maybe land too).
posted by dave78981 at 6:47 PM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I really enjoyed Mishra's duel with Ferguson in the letters section of the LRB, but I'm growing more and more tired of his "new" brand of cultural criticism, that is unearthing academics and theorists from conquered lands and positioning them as a "necessary" counterpoint to traditional and contemporary justifications of European expansion.

There's a reason Mishra (himself western educated), cannot coherently phrase his argument without liberally quoting Orwell, Nehru, and other western-educated intellectuals and artists. Mishra's critique of Western domination begs the question as to what caused European expansion in the first place: If it's simply the basic human need to dominate and exploit, than the European imperial project is no more or less meaningful or interesting than the litany of genocides and internecine wars that have convulsed Asia since time began. But that seems to be just what Mishra is saying, because it certainly isn't the liberalism he rightly credits as the midwife to his (and his greatest academic creditor, Edward Said) most insightful ideas.
posted by anewnadir at 8:51 PM on July 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


also, this?:
Shortly before Singapore fell to the Japanese in early 1942, the Dutch prime minister-in-exile, Pieter Gerbrandy, confided his anxiety to Churchill and other Allied leaders that "Japanese injuries and insults to the White population … would irreparably damage white prestige unless severely punished within a short time". After a long, hard struggle, the Japanese were finally "punished", fire- and nuclear-bombed into submission.
That's just lazy.
posted by anewnadir at 8:52 PM on July 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


the European imperial project is no more or less meaningful or interesting than the litany of genocides and internecine wars that have convulsed Asia since time began.

Pretty much. Mishra is essentially the kind of author who writes what he wants to believe. He substitutes a hypothetical narcissistic take of history with another narcissistic view that suits him. In this essay he extends that into the future where the great states of the east embrace peace and love and act nothing like the humanity of the past 6,000 years. Why the empire of Japan did not already set the standard for this is unexplained. I would guess it is because humans are basically the same wherever you are, but that does not appear to fit the narrative here.

Ultimately, it isn't surprising to see this area of historical writing played out as a slap fight between people like Mishra and Ferguson. It's a topic that is well suited to ideologues.
posted by Winnemac at 11:50 PM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


So Mishra's muse is Said? Interesting.

I was initially drawn to Mishra but can now see some of the same issues that anewnadir has clearly pointed out.

If I may slightly derail: who else is worth reading in this vein if not Mishra?
posted by gen at 12:04 AM on July 30, 2012


That's just lazy.

Kindly elucidate
posted by infini at 1:46 AM on July 30, 2012


Kindly elucidate

I can do it anewnadir's place, because it's too fucking easy.

Firstly, if the bombing of Japan had been primarily motivated by retribution for "humiliating the white man", Japan would have had it coming since at least 1905, when it thrashed the navy of the tsars. Yet it was the British Empire's foremost ally in Asia until the 1920s.

Secondly, it seems to have escaped the attention of Mishra that the Western allies bombed German cities with just as much gusto as they did Japanese ones. Indeed, in my opinion, if they had been finished one year earlier, there's little doubt that Fat Man and Little Boy would have premiered over Dresden or Nuremburg, rather than Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

While no-one can deny that WWII in Asia was tinged with racism (on both sides, mind you), that racism was an instrument, not the prime motivation of the war.
posted by Skeptic at 8:05 AM on July 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


gen: Piers Brendan does a good job unpacking the racism, foolishness, and middle-class grandstanding that justified British programs of expansion in The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, but even a serious historian like Brendan will shy away from proclaiming an over-arching "cause" of empire. On a related note, Perry Anderson did a great takedown of the recent Nehru love-in that even Mishra seems to have fallen victim to in the latest issue of the LRB.

As many commentators have already pointed out, this is a subject that's really easy to mislead people about, and definitely isn't susceptible to generalizations. I trust Karl Marx's intuitions on capitalism more than I do Mishra's on colonialism because the former is dispassionate and doesn't really seek to assign blame, whereas the latter has his own professional and personal reasons for picking fights with people like Niall Ferguson.
posted by anewnadir at 4:55 PM on July 30, 2012


I don't think Arby's could ever do well in northern China without a name change. However, it would be extremely hilarious to see them try. Every Mandarin speaker I have ever met can't stop giggling the first time they hear about a restaurant named Arby's. The pronunciation of the name is one of the filthier things you can say in Mandarin.
posted by wobumingbai at 6:12 AM on July 31, 2012




FT: Mark Mazower reviews From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia
A disparate bunch, Mishra’s preferred thinkers are wanderers, anti-colonial cosmopolitans who dream of new alliances of peoples and who warn of western materialism and the need to preserve spirituality and faith across borders. When he turns to China, we inevitably get a sense of the allure of anti-colonial nationalism, of the pull of western socialism and the dream of material progress. But there is little space for the many socialists, theosophists, feminists and rationalists who flourished, above all in the Raj, and the book does not really try to explain the sudden turn to socialism among Arab intellectuals between the two world wars. In fact, what it offers is in some ways a glimpse of paths not taken.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:31 AM on August 1, 2012


« Older Letters to Both Sides   |   Flying lasers eye naked earth Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post