Julie Wark: The History of the West is Not the History of the World

Julie Wark is the author of Manifiesto de derechos humanos (The Human Rights Manifesto – Ediciones Barataria, 2011) and is an advisory board member of the international political review Sin Permiso.

In a recent interview at the London School of Economics, Pankaj Mishra describes the basic aim of his new book, From the Ruins of Empire, in the following terms: "The least this book can do is to impart a sense of how some of Asia’s most educated people responded to Western encroachment on their lands, how intelligent and sophisticated their response was to that encroachment, and how that response has shaped the world we live in today for better and for worse. In short, the history of the West is not the history of the world."

There are many very influential Western-values crusaders who believe the opposite, among them Michael Ignatieff, apostle of what as early as 1932 the Surrealists called "murderous humanitarianism", hate-mongers like the US media star Ann Coulter (who infamously declared "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and covert them to Christianity"), the "Islamofascism" wordsmiths (who equated Saddam Hussein with Hitler) like the Tony Blair coterie, or militarists like Colin Powell who once described NGOs as "an important part of our combat team".

Prominent in this group, partly because he is so media-coddled, is Niall Ferguson, a self-described "fully paid-up member of the neoimperialist gang", a drum-beater for a New American Empire, who touts the rise of the West as a great historical phenomenon based on "easy access" to resources in far-flung parts, dispossession, slavery and subjugation being minor considerations in the process. He has a penchant for the grandiose. Hence, the rise of the West is "the pre-eminent historical phenomenon of the second half of the second millennium after Christ", a sweeping pronouncement in which the bias seems to be clear enough in his WASP timeline. He believes that "civilisation" should be measured by sustained improvement in the material quality of life, but neglects to ask for whom and at what price for others.

The material upshot of this materialist view is a world in which 17 per cent of the population consumes 80% of its resources, 358 billionaires have assets exceeding the combined annual incomes of countries that account for 45 percent of the global population, and one in seven people go hungry. There are many statistics showing this fast-increasing disparity. What kind of material "progress" is this shrinking circle of privilege, even in Ferguson’s own terms? It belies the values the West trumpets and, in this ethical absence, it is bad economics since by nurturing rampant greed it has led to the befuddlement (among experts) and generalised hardship of today’s "crisis"...

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