Worlds at War: The 2,500-Year Struggle Between East and West
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Titre : Worlds at War: The 2,500-Year Struggle ...
Éditeur : Random House, New York ,NY
Date d'édition : 2008
Reliure : Hardcover
Etat du livre :New
Etat de la jaquette : New
Edition : 1st Edition
A propos de ce titre
Book by Pagden AnthonyExtrait:
WE LIVE IN an increasingly united world. The boundaries that once existed between peoples are steadily dissolving; ancient divisions between tribes and families, villages and parishes, even between nations, are everywhere disintegrating. The nation-state, with which most of the peoples of the Western world have lived since the seventeenth century, may yet have a long time to live. But it is becoming increasingly hard to see it as the political order of the future. For thousands of years, few people went more than thirty miles from their place of birth. (This, it has been calculated from the places mentioned in the Gospels, is roughly the farthest Jesus Christ ever traveled from his home, and, in this respect, at least, he was not exceptional.) Today places that less than a century ago were remote, inaccessible, and dangerous have become little more than tourist sites. Today most of us in the Western world will travel hundreds, often thousands, of miles in our immensely prolonged lives. And in the process we will, inevitably, bump up against different peoples with different beliefs, wearing different clothes and holding different views. Some three hundred years ago, when the process we now label “globalization” was just beginning, it was hoped that this bumping into others, this forced recognition of all the differences that exist in the world, would smooth away the rough edges most humans acquire early in life, making them, in the process, more “polished” and “polite”–as it was called in the eighteenth century–more familiar with the preferences of others, more tolerant of their beliefs and delusions, and thus better able to live in harmony with one another.
In part this has happened. The slow withering of national boundaries and national sentiments over the past half century has brought substantial changes and some real benefits. The ancient antagonisms that tore Europe apart twice in the twentieth century (and countless other times in the preceding centuries) are no more and, we can only hope, will never be resuscitated. The virulent racism that dominated so many of the ways other peoples were seen in the West during the nineteenth century may not have vanished, but it has certainly withered. The older forms of imperialism are no more, even if many of the wounds they left behind have still not healed. Nationalism is, in most places, something of a dirty word. Anti-Semitism, alas, is still with us, but there are few places where it is as casually accepted as it was less than a century ago. Religion has not quietly died, as many, in Europe at least, hoped and believed until recently that it would. But it is certainly no longer the cause of the bitter confessional battles it once was. (Even in Northern Ireland, the last outpost of the great religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the quarrel is slowly being resolved and has always been more about local politics and national identity than about faith.)
Some of the old fault lines that have divided peoples over the centuries are, however, still very much with us. One of these is the division–and the antagonism–between what was originally thought of as Europe and Asia and then, as these words began to lose their geographical significance, between “East” and “West.”
The division, often illusory, always metaphorical, yet still immensely powerful, is an ancient one. The terms “East and West” are, of course, “Western,” but it was probably an Eastern people, the ancient Assyrians, sometime in the second millennium B.C.E., who first made a distinction between what they called ereb or irib– “lands of the setting sun”–and Asia, Asu–“lands of the rising sun.” For them, however, there was no natural frontier between the two, and they accorded no particular significance to the distinction. The awareness that East and West were not only different regions of the world but also regions filled with different peoples, with different cultures, worshipping different gods and, most crucially, holding different views on how best to live their lives, we owe not to an Asian but to a Western people: the Greeks. It was a Greek historian, Herodotus, writing in the fifth century B.C.E., who first stopped to ask what it was that divided Europe from Asia and why two peoples who were, in many respects, quite similar should have conceived such enduring hatreds for each other.
This East as Herodotus knew it, the lands that lay between the European peninsula and the Ganges, was inhabited by a large number of varied peoples, on whose strange peculiarities he dwelt lovingly and at length. Yet, for all their size and variety, they all seemed to have something in common, something that set them apart from the peoples of Europe, of the West. Their lands were fertile, their cities opulent. They themselves were wealthy–far wealthier than the impoverished Greeks–and they could be immensely refined. They were also fierce and savage, formidable opponents on the battlefield, something all Greeks admired. Yet for all this they were, above all else, slavish and servile. They lived in awe of their rulers, whom they looked upon not as mere men like themselves, but as gods.
For the Greeks, the West was, as it was for the Assyrians, the outer rim of the world, where, in mythology, the daughters of Hesperides lived by the shores of the Ocean, guardians of a tree of golden apples given by the goddess Earth as a wedding present to Hera, the wife of Zeus, father of all the gods. The peoples who inhabited this region were also varied and frequently divided, but they, too, shared something in common: they loved freedom above life, and they lived under the rule of laws, not men, much less gods.
Over time, the peoples of Europe and their settler populations overseas–those, that is, who live in what is now commonly understood by the term “West”–have come to see themselves as possessing some kind of common identity. What that is, and how it is to be understood, has changed radically from antiquity to the present. It is also obvious that, however strong this common heritage and shared history might be, it has not prevented bloody and calamitous conflicts among the peoples who benefitted from them. These conflicts may have abated since 1945 and, like the most recent dispute over the justice of the American-led invasion of Iraq, are now more often conducted without recourse to violence, but they have not entirely disappeared. If anything, as the ancient antagonisms of Europe have healed, a new rift between a united Europe and the United States has begun to emerge.
The term “East” was, and still often is, used to describe the territories of Asia west of the Himalayas. Obviously no one in Asia before the occupation of much of the continent by the European powers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries gave much thought to the idea that all the nations of the region might share very much, if anything, in common. East and West, like all geographical markers, are obviously relative. If you live in Tehran, your West may be Baghdad. The current, conventional division of all of Asia into Near, Middle, and Far East is a nineteenth-century usage whose focal point was British India. What was Near or Middle lay between Europe and India, what was Far lay beyond.1 For the inhabitants of the region, however, this classification clearly had no meaning whatsoever.
In the eighteenth century, a relatively new term, “Orient,” came into use to describe everywhere from the shores of the eastern Mediterranean to the China Sea. This, too, was given, by many Westerners, a shared if not single identity. When I was studying Persian and Arabic at Oxford in the 1970s, I did so in a building called the Institute of Oriental Studies, where Persian, Sanskrit, Turkish, Hebrew, Korean, and Chinese (not to mention Hindi, Tibetan, Armenian, and Coptic) were all studied under the same roof. Two streets away (to the east), all the languages of Europe were also studied under one roof, in an imposing neoclassical building called the Taylor Institution. They were and are called “modern languages,” which firmly identified them as the true successors to the languages of the ancient world, Greek and Latin.
None of the great civilizations of what is now generally called the “Far East” belongs to my story. The Chinese may have been seen by many Westerners as sharing the same lethargic, immobile, backward-looking character as the other peoples of Asia. But there was not, nor had there ever been, any conflict between them and the West, at least before the Western powers began their own attempt to seize control of Chinese trade in the later nineteenth century. Far from presenting a challenge to the cultural assumptions of the West, China, and to some degree Japan, were for long believed to share them.
The division between Europe and Asia began as an exclusively cultural one. The Persians and the Parthians–the two great Asian and “barbarian” races of the ancient world, clearly had what would later be called “national characters.” But in their origins they were very much like the Greeks and, with certain reservations, the Romans, who in giving themselves a mythic ancestry in Troy had also made themselves into an originally Asian people. Later, however, when Christianity and with it the search for the sources of human history in the Bible took hold of most of Europe, it became a commonplace to explain the origins of human diversity as the consequence of the repopulation of the world after the Flood. The sons of Noah had come down from Mount Ararat and then traveled to each of the three continents, and by “these were the nations divided in the earth after the Flood.” (The subsequent discovery of two further continents–A...
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