Worlds at War: The 2,500-Year Struggle between East and West by Anthony Pagden - review by John Gray

John Gray

Under Western Eyes

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

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Oxford University Press 548pp £20 order from our bookshop
 

In the winter of 1822–3, Hegel gave a series of lectures at the University of Berlin. The subject was the philosophy of history, which for him meant the onward march of spirit, or reason – and for the German seer this ongoing process had one highly specific implication: the absorption by ‘the West’ of the non-Western world, which he thought was thoroughly stagnant. The Muslim East had made no advance since the caliphate, while India and China were ‘static nations’ in which there could never be anything that could be called ‘progress to something else’. The conclusion was obvious: ‘It is the necessary fate of Asiatic Empires to be subjugated to the Europeans; and China will, some day or other, be obliged to have to submit to this fate.’

Hegel’s belief in the universal triumph of the West has had a long innings. His view of non-Western societies was inherited by Marx, who supported European colonialism on the grounds that it disrupted the immobility of Asian life, and by generations of academics who tried to explain the totalitarian character

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