Worlds at War: The 2,500 - Year Struggle Between East and West

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9780199569779: Worlds at War: The 2,500 - Year Struggle Between East and West

The differences that divide West from East go deeper than politics, deeper than religion, argues Anthony Pagden. To understand this volatile relationship, and how it has played out over the centuries, we need to go back before the Crusades, before the birth of Islam, before the birth of Christianity, to the fifth century B.C.E. . Europe was born out of Asia and for centuries the two shared a single history. But when the Persian emperor Xerxes tried to conquer Greece, a struggle began which has never ceased. This book tells the story of that long conflict. First Alexander the Great and then the Romans tried to unite Europe and Asia into a single civilization. With the conversion of the West to Christianity and much of the East to Islam, a bitter war broke out between two universal religions, each claiming world dominance. By the seventeenth century, with the decline of the Church, the contest had shifted from religion to philosophy: the West's scientific rationality in contrast to those sought ultimate guidance it in the words of God. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries witnessed the disintegration of the great Muslim empires - the Ottoman, the Mughal, and the Safavid in Iran - and the increasing Western domination of the whole of Asia. The resultant attempt to mix Islam and Western modernism sparked off a struggle in the Islamic world between reformers and traditionalists which persists to this day. The wars between East and West have not only been the longest and most costly in human history, they have also formed the West's vision of itself as independent, free, secular, and now democratic. They have shaped, and continue to shape, the nature of the modern world.

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About the Author:


Anthony Pagden has published widely on both Spanish and European history and has worked as a translator and as a publisher in addition to his many academic posts. He taught at the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and Harvard before a professorship at Johns Hopkins University, and he is currently Distinguished Professor of Political Science and History at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

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–America and Australia–posed a serious threat to this story. But as with all biblical exegesis, ingenious interpretations were provided to overcome this.) Shem, it was believed, had gone to Asia (hence the subsequent classification of Jews and Arabs as “Semitic peoples”), Japhet to Europe, and Ham to Africa.

This account of human prehistory was still being taken seriously in some quarters well into the nineteenth century, largely because of its obvious racial potential. But although it seemed to provide a sound (at least from the Christian point of view) explanation as to why the peoples of Europe were so very different from those of Asia (not to mention Africa), it was always far less significant than the argument that what divided the two continents was to be found not in human origins, much less of race, but in the differences in how the worlds of men and gods were conceived.

In reality, Europe was not even a separate continent but a peninsula of Asia. The great eighteenth-century French poet, playwright, historian, and philosopher Francois-Marie Arouet, better known by his sobriquet, Voltaire, once remarked that if you were to situate yourself imaginatively somewhere near the Sea of Azov, just east of the Crimea, it would be impossible to tell where Europe left off and Asia began. It might, therefore, he concluded, be better to abandon both terms.2 The now-current word “Eurasia”–which is an attempt if not to abandon, then to merge them–captures not only an obvious geographical truth but also a broadly cultural one. In Greek myth the peoples of Europe owed their very origins to an Asian princess. Greek (and subsequently all Western) science, as the Greeks were well aware, had its origins in Asia. Pagan religious beliefs were an amalgam of European–or, as we would now say, Indo-European–and Asian features. This was precisely the source of Herodotus’s bewilderment. He devised, as we shall see, an explanation–one that has had a long and powerful afterlife. But the fact that such terrible wars should have been fought for so long between peoples who, at least until the seventeenth century, were divided by so little may be attributed to Sigmund Freud’s famous observation that the bitterest of all human conflicts spring from what he called the “narcissism of small differences”: we hate and fear those whom we most resemble, far more than those from whom we are alien and remote.

The East-West distinction is also geographically unstable. For the Assyrians, the “West” meant little more than simply “the lands over there,” or what the Greeks for good mythological reasons of their own called “Europe”–a word originally applied only to central Greece, then to the Greek mainland, and finally, by the time Herodotus was writing, to the entire landmass behind it. It, too, however, was a vague region, a small and for a long time relatively insignificant peninsula of the vast Asian landmass, with no obvious western limits save for Oceanus, the massive ocean-river believed to encircle all three of the continents. The English word “West” was originally an adverb of direction. It meant, in effect, “farther down, farther away.” By the Middle Ages, it was already being used by Europeans to describe Europe, and by the late sixteenth century, it had become associated with forward movement, with youth and vigor, and ultimately, as Europe expanded– westward–with “civilization.”3 Ever since the eighteenth century, the word has been applied not only to Europe but also to Europe’s settlers overseas, to the wider European world.

European geographers have, ever since antiquity, spent a great deal of imagination and ingenuity in trying to establish meaningful frontiers between Europe and Asia. One was the Hellespont–the modern Dardanelles–the narrow stretch of water at the final exit of the Black Sea, which was looked upon by the ancient peoples on both sides as a divinity whose purpose was to keep the two continents apart. There it has very largely remained, something on which those who object to the attempts by modern Turkey to define itself as a European state have frequently insisted. Farther north, however, the frontier grows shadowy and uncertain. At first it was drawn at the River Don, which had the effect of placing most of modern Russia squarely in the “East.” By the end of the fifteenth century, however, it had advanced to the banks of the Volga; by the late sixteenth century, it had reached the Ob; by the nineteenth the Ural and the Ural Mountains; until in the twentieth it finally came to rest on the banks of the Rivers Emba and Kerch.

When today we speak of the West or the East, however, we, like the ancients, mean something larger than mere geography. We mean the cultural peculiarities, the goals and ambitions of widely heterogeneous groups of people–and, of course, those often quoted, rarely discussed “Western values,” a rough checklist of which would now include human rights, democracy, toleration, diversity, individual freedom, respect for the rule of law, and a fundamental secularism. When, in September 2006, following a somewhat undiplomatic remark by Pope Benedict XVI, the terrorist organization al-Qaeda responded by swearing to continue the “holy war,” the jihad, until “the final destruction of the West,” it was not so much a place they had in mind, as all those places where these values are more or less respected.4 Their “West,” therefore, now has to include a good part of the traditional East: Japan, India, even Turkey.
The beginnings of the conflicts between East and West, of which al-Qaeda’s war with the West is the latest...

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Descripción Oxford University Press, 2009. Soft cover. Estado de conservación: New. The first ever continuous history of the conflicts between East and West - from the struggle between Greeks and Persians, through the centuries-long confrontation between Islam and Christianity, right through to the wars of the twenty-first century Shows how the antagonism between East and West predates the birth of Islam and Christianity Highlights the links between a series of conflicts over 2500 years that have previously only ever been treated in isolation from each other Reminds us how the struggle between East and West has shaped the West's vision of itself - and how fundamentally it has shaped the modern world The differences that divide West from East go deeper than politics, deeper than religion, argues Anthony Pagden. To understand this volatile relationship, and how it has played out over the centuries, we need to go back before the Crusades, before the birth of Islam, before the birth of Christianity, to the fifth century BCE. Europe was born out of Asia and for centuries the two shared a single history. But when the Persian emperor Xerxes tried to conquer Greece, a struggle began which has never ceased. This book tells the story of that long conflict. First Alexander the Great and then the Romans tried to unite Europe and Asia into a single civilization. With the conversion of the West to Christianity and much of the East to Islam, a bitter war broke out between two universal religions, each claiming world dominance. By the seventeenth century, with the decline of the Church, the contest had shifted from religion to philosophy: the West's scientific rationality in contrast to those sought ultimate guidance it in the words of God. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries witnessed the disintegration of the great Muslim empires - the Ottoman, the Mughal, and the Safavid in Iran - and the increasing Western domination of the whole of Asia. The resultant attempt to mix Islam and Western modernism sparked off a struggle in the Islamic world between reformers and traditionalists which persists to this day. The wars between East and West have not only been the longest and most costly in human history, they have also formed the West's vision of itself as independent, free, secular, and now democratic. They have shaped, and continue to shape, the nature of the modern world. Nº de ref. de la librería 000077

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