The elder Hobson, a highly controversial figure in his day whose work has gained much respect since his death, pioneered economic theories later developed by John Maynard Keynes and, in his study Imperialism, where he traced the origins of imperialism to capitalism, anticipated ideas typically identified with the Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin.
Instead, Hobson, who is Reader in Politics and International Relations at the University of Sheffield, makes his case by piecing together scholarly findings from a wide range of historical sub-fields. He contends that Western Europeans did not invent the modern capitalist world wholesale beginning with the Renaissance and that globalization did not begin only in By contrast, he argues that well before other societies—primarily Chinese and Middle Eastern, and to a lesser extent African—pioneered virtually all of the major innovations that, combined, make up the foundations of the modern world order usually credited to the West and especially to Great Britain.
The transformation of Chinese society took place in many fields and included innovations in the iron and steel industry, the invention of paper money and the printing press, new agricultural methods, important leaps forward in navigational technologies, and a wide variety of military advances. Furthermore, Hobson argues that Chinese commerce was highly developed and that China did not withdraw from the global economy in the fifteenth century, as is often claimed, but in fact maintained its position as the most advanced society in the world into the nineteenth century. Hobson also argues that Japan and India played critically important and dynamic roles in the pre-nineteenth century world economy and that none of the major players in the world economy before was European.
While arguing that Western Europe could never have moved ahead had it not had the advantage of being a late developer that could integrate technologies developed elsewhere, Hobson points out that the West did display agency that played a critical role in its rise to power. However, the agency that the West displayed was mostly of a negative type, according to Hobson, who also stresses that the very idea of Europe itself only came into being within a global context in the middle ages owing to the challenge posed by Muslims, who forced Europeans to define themselves in contradistinction to the Islamic Middle East.
Hobson expands on this idea of European self-understanding and understanding of non-Western peoples in chapters on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Once more inverting the standard line or argument, he refers to Great Britain as a despotic, interventionist state, and argues that the economic advantage over the rest of the world that it achieved in the nineteenth century resulted from massive state spending, extensive state regulation of the economy, regressive taxation, and trade protectionism. For Hobson, modern Europe only makes sense and can only be understood in the context of a temporally broad, global history.
In the main, Hobson presents a coherent and challenging historical narrative that will force scholars interested in these questions to think in novel ways and to search in new places, and I am largely sympathetic to his project. Hobson is certainly not the first to point out that globalization is neither an exclusively modern nor a primarily Western-driven phenomenon, but he has combined that observation with an emphasis on the diffusion to Europe of non- Western technologies and attention to the role of racist thinking and imperialism in the making of the modern West that serves to place the most recent wave of globalization in a new light.
While he attributes agency to the West, the only agency he affords it is, as already stated, a negative kind, as though the rise of the modern West in relation to other societies can be explained by racism and imperialism alone. As noted, there is not much here that is new except the global vision and take but rather than reading a dozen other books but you'll probably want to delve into some of the deeper period or regional studies after this the clear evidence and summary of contemporary global history is on display here.
View 2 comments. Jul 27, Sara-Maria Sorentino rated it it was amazing Shelves: alternativehistories. When reading books purporting to "debunk myths" guided by a politics I emphatically support , I often feel as if all that is accomplished is the accumulation of more facts to fill in small holes in a framework of alternative history already agreed upon between me and the author.
That's all well and nice—these "facts" come in handy when I need to lash out at somebody, but such experiences are not especially satisfying or meaningful in any lasting way. But this book really did shift something for When reading books purporting to "debunk myths" guided by a politics I emphatically support , I often feel as if all that is accomplished is the accumulation of more facts to fill in small holes in a framework of alternative history already agreed upon between me and the author.
But this book really did shift something for me, I'm just not sure what that is. At the very least, it made me more attentive of how much of my hazy sense of history still has its base in Eurocentrism, and that's a good enough lesson for me. The task now is to delve into the contours of this stubborn lingering.
Book review: "The Eastern Origins of Western Civilisation" by John M. Hobson
I remain in awe as to how the past is systematically silenced. Hobson's book is accessible and very needed. Plus he writes with a bit of bite. I do wish he included a bibliography and provided more endnotes. These things are a bit nitpicky but when taking on such a large task, I get anxious about detractors need for proof. I think I needed more meta-theory to go along with it. The problematic of "history", time and all that, continues to bewilder me but I really can't get into that in a goodreads review. View 1 comment.
There is no such thing as western civilisation
Jan 16, Andrew rated it really liked it. This was a really good book, but it was definitely not aimed at the general public. Fortunately, there isn't TOO much jargon, and virtually all of the argument is understandable without specialized knowledge. The argument itself is beautiful and compelling. It has totally changed how I understand world history and the beginning of the "Industrial Revolution.
I do have to admit that because this book is so strongly aimed a This was a really good book, but it was definitely not aimed at the general public. I do have to admit that because this book is so strongly aimed at people within the field, many parts ended up more boring than I would've hoped. A good ways through the book, there were long-ish sections detailing a number of inventions and innovations in navigation, farming equipment, industry, etc.
Other sections I wish he would've gone into greater detail about.
I really wanted him to elaborate much more on the racist ideology of the West and the pragmatic-and-not-colonial ideology of China. And I wanted him to go into greater detail about when, where, and why Western powers were able to overpower Eastern and African powers, but that was outside the restricted thesis of the book.
Another thing that he made extremely passing reference to but he sadly never went into detail about were the Ancient Egyptian origins of Ancient Greek culture and the Ancient Greek common reference and reverence of Eastern civilizations.
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He was right when he says that the West tends to start its own history at Ancient Greece, but I wanted more information for this is not the correct way to look at history. In short, the book argues its thesis against Eurocentrism extremely well, but it was not aimed at the general public and left me wanting more. That could be good or bad depending on how many interesting history books I read in the future on similar subjects.
Feb 13, Edwin Lim rated it really liked it.
Hobson provides a different perspective to the rise of the West and is very much an eye-opener to the tendencies of most narratives regarding world history. Although his approach is more a series of rebuttals to the standard narrative than a linear exposition, this approach suffices to support his point: that the 'East' is often forgone and denied any agency or history, and in turn the West is glorified and deemed as possessing innate characteristics that led to its rise.
Hobson's thesis John M. Hobson's thesis aims to counter this trend by focusing on the West and characterizing its rise as instead being dependent on the appropriation Eastern innovations, African labour and American land and the conceptualization of Western identity on racist ideals. Also, Hobson makes good use of economic and political data. Instead of singling out cultural factors as the cause of the rise of the West, Hobson uses the infant industry argument, arguing that, instead of utilizing liberal free-trade policies as often touted, western states instead took part in protectionism and imperialism to develop its industrial capacity and overtake the East.
Also, Hobson does not deny the West any agency, but instead attributing its construction of western identity as a moral justification to enslave and colonize other subjects. However, the text has a few shortcomings. It is bit heavy-handed at times and runs into a few instances of characterizing Eastern polities as singular entities. This isn't too glaring though, seeing as descriptions of the East are not its central focus. But other than that, I would suggest this as a good introduction to anti-Eurocentric discourse. Jan 21, Ronald Jones added it. The author's thesis is a provocative one to those who hold to the view that Western civilization developed in a vacuum, void of external influences, powered by an intrinsic motivation.
John Hobson is ruthlessly unsparing in his analysis of the origins of the west. He backs his argument with very convincing historical evidence of how the Afro-Eurasian world, through technology, exploration, and economics set the foundation for Europe's rise to preeminence on the world stage. This is a very insigh The author's thesis is a provocative one to those who hold to the view that Western civilization developed in a vacuum, void of external influences, powered by an intrinsic motivation.
This is a very insightful and thought-provoking history of the past half millennium. Feb 08, Trashy Pit rated it liked it Shelves: east-asia , china-v-europe , economic-history-econ-development , history. Some interesting info, but unfortunately kind of superficial and "pop-culture" analysis and explanation.
Kinda fluffy. Hobson's approach is refreshing, for example when pointing out that many Enlightenment thinkers positively associated with China and its ideas, including Montaigne, Malebranche, Leibniz, Voltaire, Quesnay, Wolff, Hume and Adam Smith. Yet some of his claims seem somewhat exaggerated for example on China's supposed origins of Great Britain's agricultural and industrial revolution , and often his description of how virtually everything new in Europe came from somewhere else is unconvincing. Some readers will accuse him of providing examples selectively to strengthen his claim.
In Hobson's defense, we must recognize that providing more complete history would be almost impossible, considering that Hobson essentially attempts to provide a revisionist global history of the last millennium and a half. Western appropriations of Eastern concepts seem somewhat less notable if we consider that the East, of course, appropriated many ideas, technologies and institutions from the West as well-- yet Hobson fails to mention them. This slight bias will lead some readers to accuse Hobson's book as yet another Sino-triumphalist or "Occidentalist" work by a western writer.
That may not be entirely justified, but it is true that the book sounds at times overly harsh on the West and glorifies the rest, somewhat similar to David Levering Lewis' book on Islam and the making of Europe reviewed here. In addition, Hobson's rather provocative style may put off some readers. For example, in the preface, the author writes that in his book, "Da Vinci, Ficino and Copernicus kneel before the likes of al-Shatir, al-Khwarizmi and al-Tusi. Still, despite these flaws, the book's major argument that very few ideas and technologies are entirely Western is important and necessary to gain a more balanced perspective on global history, and a useful counterbalance to books such as Ian Morris' Why the West Rules and Charles Kupchan's No one's World reviewed here , which adopt a purely Western-centric perspective and assume cultural and geographical determinism.
Indeed, even well-read Western historians are unlikely to have ever heard of some of the thinkers and rulers Hobson writes about.
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Hobson's book raises important questions as we seek to interpret the shift of power away from the West and towards Asia. He cites William H. And indeed, most analysts' views of the future of global order are likely to be biased by a Western-centric world view.