The Discourse of Civilization and Decolonization
Abstract: This short introduction to the following collection of essays seeks to map out the different ways in which the discourse of civilization has been understood and deployed over the past century. We can find tensions in the understanding of civilization between conceptions of it as singular and multiple, between civilization as a process and an achieved state, between spiritual and material civilizations, and between elite and popular or ethnographic versions. These tensions reflect the ambivalence of civilization as subservient to the goals of the nation-state and as encompassing a higher, authorizing ideal that continues to this day.
Ireland, India, and the Poetics of Internationalism
Abstract: Focusing on decolonization and the home rule movement in India and Ireland, this article examines the career of the poet and theosophist James Cousins, who left a flourishing career in Dublin and settled in India in 1915. The substantial body of work published by Cousins in India represents his attempt to work through issues of realism and idealism in art that, in his view, remained unresolved in the Irish cultural renaissance. In his literary criticism he sought to find satisfactory models to deal with the pressing questions of decolonization and home rule. Privileging art over politics, Cousins regarded the Indian renaissance not as a moment of political awakening but rather as a movement toward aesthetic and philosophical unity, in stark contrast to the Irish literary revival, which was driven primarily by political goals. Drawing on such diverse thinkers as Tagore and Okakura, Cousins maintained that the struggle for freedom was essentially an expansion of critical consciousness. The real measure of civilizational strength for him was the accommodation of inner growth by external conditions. Where such conditions did not exist, only violence could result. Cousins pointed to the French Revolution as history’s prime example of the reduction of the ideal to the assertion of local, narcissistic needs. The result of the friction between world idealism and political realism was the self-centered nationalism that Cousins abhorred as an aberration from the true course of human history. In his attempt to develop an aesthetics that could accommodate politics without being subordinated to it, however, Cousins drove his own work into oblivion, as other models of internationalism that were more overtly political and economic gained ascendancy.
Contested Hegemony: The Great War and the Afro-Asian Assault on the Civilizing Mission Ideology
Abstract: Perhaps the most fundamental and enduring effects of the worldwide crisis of the European colonial order brought on by the Great War of 1914–1918 resulted from the challenges it provoked on the part of Asian and African novelists, poets, philosophers, and emerging political leaders. Four years of indecisive, mechanized slaughter on the Western Front gave rise to spirited and widely publicized critiques of the civilizing mission ideology that had long been invoked to justify European dominance. Since at least the early nineteenth century, the credibility of the civilizing mission credo for European colonizers as well as subject peoples depended increasingly on its emphasis on the unprecedented superiority that Europeans had attained in science and technology over all other peoples and cultures. Some Indian and African, and indeed also European, intellectuals had challenged these gauges of European racial and historical preeminence in the decades before 1914. But the appalling uses to which European discoveries and inventions were put in the First World War raised profound doubts among intellectuals across four continents about the progressive nature of industrial civilization and its potential as the model for all of humanity to emulate. The highly contentious exchanges that these questions gave rise to in the postwar decades soon coalesced into arguably the first genuinely worldwide discourse and proved a critical prelude to the struggles for decolonization that followed.
Becoming Van Minh: Civilizational Discourse and Visions of the Self in Twentieth-Century Vietnam
Mark Philip Bradley
Abstract: This essay examines the ways in which explorations of van minh or civilization in Vietnamese radical thought of the colonial period opened up novel apprehensions of the self. It locates Vietnamese articulations of self and society in the global circulation of civilizational discourse and its redemptive, egalitarian, and transcendent yearnings. Although the turn to collectivist paths of political and social action in the 1930s forestalled the radical vision, it has reemerged in contemporary Vietnam, where questions of individual freedom and moral autonomy shape indigenous debates over the uneasy relationship of postcolonial Vietnam with the forces of globalization.
Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks. Gender in History
Reviewed by Bonnie G. Smith
César N. Caviedes. El Niño in History: Storming through the Ages
Reviewed by Mark A. Cane
Philip E. Steinberg. The Social Construction of the Ocean
Reviewed by Hans K. van Tilburg
John E. Wills Jr. 1688: A Global History
Reviewed by John A. Mears
R. J. Barendse. The Arabian Seas: The Indian Ocean World of the Seventeenth Century
Reviewed by Howard Spodek
Ter Ellingson. The Myth of the Noble Savage
Reviewed by Vanessa Smith
Anne Walthall, ed. The Human Tradition in Modern Japan
Reviewed by Jeffrey A. Dym
Gregory Blue, Martin Bunton, and Ralph Croizier, eds. Colonialism and the Modern World: Selected Studies
Reviewed by Lauren Benton
James H. Overfield, ed. Sources of Twentieth-Century Global History
Reviewed by Joel S. Cleland
Martin Bernal. Black Athena Writes Back: Martin Bernal Responds to His Critics
Reviewed by Yaacov Shavit