Myths of the West 3
In his books, The Colonizer’s Model of the World and Eight Eurocentric Historians, historical geographer J.M. Blaut describes a peculiar form of history writing, Europe-centred, which, Blaut suggests, stands in as an implied historical argument and philosophic justification for European colonization, and for the unequal social relationships favouring Europeans which flow from that era. He calls this pervasive species of historical explanation Eurocentric diffusionism and in Eight Eurocentric Historians lays out its five fundamental propositions.
Five Fundamental Propositions of Eurocentric Diffusionism
1. Progressive cultural evolution in Greater Europe is self-generated, autonomous, natural, and more or less continuous.
Historian Thomas Cahill in his pugnaciously Eurocentric, Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter, writes:
Cold calculation and rational planning, not heroic rhetoric or mystical faith, have served as the principal weapons of the Western military machine. Through these means, the conquistadors, for instance, were able to subdue the populations of Mexico and the Caribbean and their haughty but brittle traditions within three decades. Whereas the Spaniards quickly took the measure of Aztec society, its strengths and weaknesses, by a combination of cool observation and inductive logic, the Aztecs, as Hanson puts it, “for weeks after the entry of the Castilians were still baffled as to whether they were up against men or demigods, centaurs or horses, ships or floating mountains, foreign or domestic deities, thunder or guns, emissaries or enemies.”
(Yet, Mr. Cahill, for all the cold calculation of the European mind, bestowed on them by the rational Greeks, your historians still believe—five centuries after it happened, and with all kinds of evidence to the contrary—the dubious and self-congratulatory fairy stories brought home by the Conquistadors about the conquest of Mexico. Tsk.)
We will return to Thomas Cahill and his theories presently.
3. Non-European regions and societies do not, in general, change as a result of their own internal causes; they change as a result of the diffusion of innovations coming directly or indirectly from the European sector.
(In relation to this idea see, Protohistory — The Leaking of History.)
4. The main form of interaction between Europe and non-Europe is the outward diffusion of progressive innovations (ideas, things, settlers—in aggregate, civilization) from Europe to non-Europe.
(European’s discover other peoples’ ideas; other people learn European ideas. In either case, what occurs, occurs because of European actors.)
5. A natural consequence of this outward diffusion is the return flow, the counter diffusion, from non-Europe into Europe, of wealth in the form of precious and non-precious metals, plantation products, art objects, and other valuable things, a sort of partial repayment for Europe’s gift of civilization.
(This is the theory which proves that you owe your house to your kindergarten and first grade teacher for teaching you how to read. You’ve heard of that theory, of course.)
J.M. Blaut, The Colonizer’s Model of the World: Geographical Diffusionism and Eurocentric History. Guilford Press, NY, 1993.
J.M. Blaut, Eight Eurocentric Historians, Guilford Press, NY, 2000.
Thomas Cahill, Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter. Doubleday, NY, 2003.