Andre Gunder Frank

Preface to ReOrient

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The following passages are excerpted from the introduction of ReORIENT: Global Economy in the Asian Age.

An Introduction to Eurocentrism

The really important lesson to be learned from Marx and Weber is the importance of history for the understanding of society. Though they were certainly interested in grasping the general and universal, they concerned themselves with the concrete circumstances of specific periods, and the similarities and contrasts of diverse geographical areas. They clearly recognized that an adequate explanation of social facts requires a historical account of how the facts came to be; they recognized that comparative-historical analysis is indispensable for the study of stability and change. In a word, it is these two extraordinary thinkers in particular, who stand out as the architects of a historical sociology well worth emulating; for both of them subscribed to an open, historically grounded theory and method.

Irving Zeitlin

For Marx, the most general level of abstraction [is]... the concept of mode or production. The classics [were] innovatory both in their times and as regards world order today, and ... pointing the way forward... for study in the present and future.

James Mittleman

The expectation of universality, however sincerely pursued, has not been fulfilled thus far in the historical development of the social sciences.... It is hardly surprising that the social sciences that were constructed in Europe and North America in the nineteenth century were Eurocentric. The European world of the time felt itself culturally triumphant .... Every universalism sets off responses to itself, and these responses are in some sense determined by the nature of the reigning universalism(s).... Submitting our theoretical premises to inspection for hidden unjustified a priori assumptions is a priority for the social sciences today.

Immanuel Wallerstein for Gulbenkian Commission

My multiple choice is NONE of the above. My argument below is that all Western social science of the past 150 years from Marx Weber to Wallerstein himself is ir-remediably Eurocentric and NOT universalist in any manner, shape or form. Contrary to Zeitlin and Mittleman Marx and Co. are NOT worthy of emulation, and certainly not for the present and still less for the future.

At least since Marx and Engels' COMMUNIST MANIFESTO "The West" has for some time now perceived much of "The Rest" of the world under the title "Orientalism." The Western world is replete with "Oriental" studies, institutes and what not. This Western ideological stance was magnificently analyzed and denounced under the title Orientalism by the Palestinian American Edward Said (1979). He shows how the very [Western] point about "Orientalism" is that it attempts to mark off "the Rest" in order to distinguish The West and its alleged "exceptionalism." This procedure has also been denounced by Samir Amin (1989) under the title Eurocentrism. Martin Bernal (1987) has shown how, as part and parcel of European colonialism in the nineteenth century, Europeans invented a historical myth about their allegedly purely European roots in "democratic" but also slave holding and sexist Greece, whose own roots in turn however are those of Black Athena. This Bernal thesis, apparently against the original intentions of its author, has been used in turn to support The Afrocentric Idea (Asante 1987). In fact, the roots of Athens were much more in Asia Minor, Persia, Central Asia and other parts of Asia than in Egypt and Nubia. To compromise and conciliate, we could say that they were and are primarily Afro-Asian. However, European "Roots" were of course by no means confined to Greece and Rome [nor to Egypt and Mesopotamia before them]. The roots of Europe extended into all of Afro-Eurasia since time immemorial. We will observe in this book how Europe was still dependent on Asia also during early modern times, before the nineteenth century invention and propagation of the "Eurocentric Idea."

This Eurocentric Idea consists of several strands, some of which are privileged more by political economists like Marx and Sombart, and others by sociologists like Durkheim, Simmel, and Weber. The last named did the most deliberately to assemble, combine and embellish these features of Eurocentrism. All of them allegedly serve to explain The European Miracle, which is the telling title of the book by Eric L. Jones (1981). However, this book is only a particularly visible tip of the iceberg of almost all western social science and history from Marx and Weber, through Spengler and Toynbee, to the spate of defenses of supposed Western "exceptionalism" since World War II, particularly in the United States.

The use and abuse of this kind of Eurocentric "theory" has been critically summarized with regard to Islam, although the same applies equally to other parts of "The Orient":

The syndrome consists of a number of basic arguments: (i) social development is caused by characteristics which are internal to society; (ii) the historical development of society is either an evolutionary process or a gradual decline. These arguments allow Orientalists to establish their dichotomous ideal types of Western society whose inner essence unfolds in a dynamic process towards democratic industrialism ... (Turner 1978: 81 cited by Fitzpatrick (1992: 515).
However, as the Islamicist and world historian Marshall Hodgson wrote
All attempts that I have yet seen to invoke pre-Modern seminal traits in the Occident can be shown to fail under close historical analysis, once other societies begin to be known as intimately as the Occident. This also applies to the great master, Max Weber, who tried to show that the Occident inherited a unique combination of rationality and activism (Hodgson 1993:86).

Hodgson (1993) and Blaut (1991,1992,1993a,1997) derisorally call this a"tunnel history" that is derived from a tunnel vision, which sees only "exceptional" intra-European causes and consequences and is blind to all extra-European contributions to modern European and world history. Yet as Blaut points out, in 1492 or 1500 Europe still had no advantages of any kind over Asia and Africa, nor did they have any distinctively different "modes of production." In 1500 and even later, there would have been no reason to anticipate the triumph of Europe or its "capitalism" three and more centuries later. The sixteenth and seventeenth century development of economic, scientific, rational "technicalism" that Hodgson regards as the basis of the subsequent major "transmutation" nonetheless also occurred, as he insists, on a world-wide basis and not exclusively or even especially in Europe.


So it is not surprising that, among European observers of special interest for us, Adam Smith and Karl Marx also regarded these matters of great importance and interest. However, they also did so from the already different perspectives of their respective times. Smith and Marx both agreed and disagreed about early modern history and the place of Asia in it. Smith wrote in The Wealth of Nations in 1776:

The discovery of America, and that of the passage to the East Indies by the Cape of Good Hope, are the two greatest events recorded in the history of mankind (Smith 1776/1937:557).
Marx and Engels followed in their Communist Manifesto in 1848:
The discovery of America, the rounding of the Cape, opened up fresh ground for the rising bourgeoisie. The East-Indian and Chinese markets, the colonization of America, trade with the colonies, the increase in the means of exchange and in commodities generally, gave to commerce, to navigation, to industry, an impulse never before known, and thereby to the revolutionary element in the tottering feudal society, a rapid development.... (Marx and Engels 1848).
Alas however, Smith - writing still before the industrial revolution in Europe but echoing Hume who wrote a quarter century earlier - was the last major [Western] social scientist to appreciate that Europe was a johnny come lately in the development of the wealth of nations. "China is a much richer country than any part of Europe" Smith remarked in 1776. Smith did not anticipate any change in this comparison and showed no awareness that he was writing at the beginning of what has come to be called the "industrial revolution." Moroever as Wrigley (1994:27 ff) notes, neither did Malthus or Ricardo one and two generations later, and even John Stuart Mill writing in the mid-nineteenth century still had his doubts.

However, Smith also did not regard the "greatest events in the history" to have been a European gift to mankind, of civilization, capitalism or anything else. On the contrary, he noted with alarm that

to the natives, however, both of the East and the West Indies, all the commercial benefits which can have resulted from those events have been sunk and lost in the dreadful misfortunes which they have occasioned.... What benefits, or what misfortunes to mankind may hereafter result from these great events, no human wisdom can foresee (Smith 1937: 189).
However already by the mid-nineteenth century, European views of Asia and China in particular had drastically changed. Dawson (1967) documents and analyzes this change under the revealing title The Chinese Chameleon: An Analysis of European Conceptions of Chinese Civilization. Europeans changed from regarding China as "an example and model" to calling the Chinese "a people of eternal standstill." Why this rather abrupt change? The coming of the industrial revolution and the beginnings of European colonialism in Asia had intervened to re-shape European minds, if not to "invent" all history, then at least to invent a false universalism under European initiation and guidance. Then in the second half of the nineteenth century, not only was world history re-written wholesale, but "universal" social "science" was [new] born, not only as a European, but as a Eurocentric invention.

In so doing, "classical" historians and social theorists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries took a huge step backward even from European, not to mention Islamic, perspectives that had been much more realistically world embracing up through the eighteenth century. Among those who saw things from this narrower [European] new perspective were Marx and Weber. According to them and all of their many disciples to this day, the essentials of the "capitalist mode of production" that allegedly developed in and out of Europe were missing in "The Rest" of the world and could be and were supplied only through European help and diffusion. That is where the "Orientalist" assumptions by Marx, and many more studies by Weber, and the [fallacious] assertions of both about the rest of the world come in. To briefly review them, we may here follow not only my own reading of these "masters" but also, to pick one among many, that of so authoritative a reader as Irving Zeitlin (1994).


Perry Anderson (1974:548) asked that the Asiatic Mode of Production [AMP] "be given the decent burial that it deserves." That is very decent of him, since the AMP hardly deserves even that. We need not go into the controversial and controverted history of this "concept" to see that on the evidence it never had the slightest basis in fact to begin with. I say 'to begin with,' because before the AMP was invented all the world already knew that the real world was not that way at all. Various citations above testify to the knowledge even in Europe of the economic, political, social, and cultural advances and developments in Egypt, West Asia, South Asia and East Asia. Still in 1776, Adam Smith testified that on all accounts China and India were ahead of Europe even in technology. Why then did he also say that China seemed not to have changed in five centuries past? Of course, that was not so; but if it had been, it would mean that China was so far advanced earlier on that Europe had been unable to catch up even with five centuries of its own development. In fact, China was far more developed; and as we have seen its economy continued to expand and develop. So did most other parts of Asia. We have observed above that, far from Asia being "stagnant," population, production, and trade expanded rapidly; and economic and financial institutions generated or at least permitted the same.

Therefore, Marx's description of China as a "mummy preserved in a hermetically sealed coffin ... vegetating in the teeth of time" had absolutely no basis in fact. Nor did his idea that a supposed AMP reigned in India, Persia, Egypt or anywhere else. That was no more than "Orientalism painted Red" as Tibebu (1990) aptly remarked. Marx's contention that "in broad outline, Asiatic, ancient, feudal, and modern bourgeois modes of production may be designated as epochs marking progress in the economic development of society" was pure ideological fiction and had no basis in fact or science [quotations from Marx are from Brook (1989:11,6)]. There never have been any such epochs, and the very idea of unilinear transitions from one "mode of production" to another, be they on a "societal" or a world-wide basis, only divert attention from the real historical process, which has been world-wide, but horizontally integrative and cyclical.

Alas, "the importance of Marx's analysis of Asia is ... that it functioned as an integral part of the process through which he constructed his theory of capitalism" (Brook 1989:6). "The importance of Orientalism for the study of Marxism lies ... [in] the notion that, in contrast to Western society, Islamic [and other Oriental] civilization is static and locked within its sacred customs, its formal moral code, and its religious law" (Turner 1978:6). To that extent, Marx's entire "theory of capitalism" was vitiated both by the lack of support from the Eurocentric leg of its fables about a supposed Asian Mode of Production and by his equally Eurocentric supposition that Europe was different and that what happened there must have originated in Europe. We have seen that no such thing really originated -- let alone because of any supposed transition from feudalism to capitalism -- in Europe. The historical process was world-wide and world - including Europe - encompassing.

For another severe theoretical and empirical critique of the AMP, see Islamoglu-Inan (1987) and several of the contributors to the book she edited on The Ottoman Empire and the World-Economy. It illustrates how slavish or even only servile attempts to squeeze the evidence into, and even uncomfortable rebellion to escape from this procrustean category, handicaps and contorts rather than aids and extends the analysis of the authors' own evidence. Alas, the same book also vividly illustrates how limiting is not only the category of the "Asiatic," but also the "Capitalist Mode of Production" as well as Wallerstein's European based "modern world-system" and the idea of its "incorporation" of the Ottomans or any other region in Asia, to which we return below.

Marx seems to have been selective in the sources he drew on to characterize "Asia" not to mention Africa. Among the classical political economists that also influenced Marx so much as we have already observed, Smith (1937: 348) had given "credit to the wonderful accounts of the wealth and cultivation of China, of those of antient Egypt and of the antient state of Indostan." In this regard however, Marx preferred to follow Montesquieu and the Philosophes like Roussseau and also James Mill, who had instead "discovered" "despotism" as the "natural" condition and "model of government" in Asia and of "The Orient." Marx also remarked on "the cruellest form of state, Oriental despotism, from India to Russia." He also attributed to them and to the Ottomans, Persia and China, indeed to the whole "Orient." In all of these, Marx alleged the existence of an age-old "Asiatic Mode of Production." He alleged that in all of Asia the forces of production remained stagnant and stationary until the incursion of "The West" and "capitalism" woke it of its otherwise eternal slumber.

Although Marx noted that the Indian and Chinese purchasing power gave impulse to European markets, England was allegedly showing India the mirror of its future and the United States was bringing progress to Mexico thanks to its 1846 war against that country. Furthermore, Marx alleged that the "transition from feudalism to capitalism" and the "rising bourgeoisie" in Europe had transformed the world, supposedly since the genesis of capital [if not capitalism] in the sixteenth century - also in Europe! For Marx, Asia still remained even more backward than Europe, where "feudalism" at least had the seeds of a "transition to capitalism" within itself. In alleged contrast, "The Asiatic Mode of Production" would required the progressive benefits of this "transition" in Europe to jolt and pull it out of its built in stagnation -- even though he said that it was the Asian markets that gave impetus to those of Europe! The supposed reason for this alleged stagnation was the imagined lack of "capitalist relations of production," which kept all of Asia "divided into villages, each of which possessed a completely separate organization and formed a little world to itself."

Alas, this division of Asia into separate little worlds was already contradicted by the simultaneous claims of Marx and other European writers that Asia was also characterized by "Oriental Despotism." That was regarded to be a form of socio-political organization that was necessary to manage these societies' large scale irrigation projects, which were of course themselves incompatible with the allegedly isolated villages. Wittfogel (1957) would later popularize this "theory," but then ironically as a cold-war ideological weapon against "communism" and Marxism! But never mind all these internal contradictions! For as we will see below throughout this book, all of this Marxian characterization was no more than a figment of his and other Eurocentric imagination anyway, which had no foundation in historical reality whatsoever.

Indeed, in his excellent critique of Marxists like Perry Anderson and others, Teshale Tibebu (1990: 83-85 emphasis in original) argues persuasively that much of their analysis of "Feudalism, Absolutism and the Bourgeois Revolution" and "their obsession with the specificity ... [and] supposed superiority of Europe" is Western "civilizational arrogance," "ideology dressed up as history" and "Orientalism painted red," that is the "continuation of orientalism by other means."

Marxist economic history may seem different, but it is equally, indeed even more, Eurocentric. Thus, Marxist economic historians also look for the sources of "The Rise of the West" and "the development of capitalism" within Europe. Examples are the famous debate in the 1950s on "the transition from feudalism to capitalism" among Maurice Dobb, Paul Sweezy, Kohachiro Takahashi, Rodney Hilton and others (reprinted in Hilton 1976) and the Brenner Debate on "European feudalism" (Aston and Philpin, Eds. 1985). De Ste. Croix (1981) on the class struggles in the ancient "Greco-Roman" civilization and Anderson (1974) on "Japanese feudalism" also considered each of these as a particular "society." Marxists may claim to devote more attention to how the economic "infrastructure" shapes society; but they show no awareness of how one "society" is shaped by its relations with another "society" and still less of how all societies were shaped by their common participation in a single world economy. The very existence of a world economic system was explicitly denied by Marx and only belatedly acknowledged by Lenin. However, his "imperialism" also was of recent European origin. In Rosa Luxemburg's version, the "world" capitalist economy had to rely on "external non-capitalist" space and markets outside of the capitalist system into which to expand.

Little is gained in my view, and much better opportunities at reformulation are needlessly squandered, by inventing new latter day variations on this old theme, which are little more than euphemistic. Thus Eric Wolf (1982) and Samir Amin (1991) stand by a so-called "tributary mode of production," which supposedly characterised the whole world before 1500 according to the former and much of it still until 1800 according to the latter. This book will show that, regardless of the variety of their domestic relations - never mind mode/s - of production, far more important is participation in a single world economy, which is only obscured by this undue or even misplaced emphasis on "modes of production." The same is still the case for Gates (1996), who builds her analysis of a thousand years of China's Motor on "the tributary and petty-capitalist modes of production" and is hard put to show, as she tries, how and why it is these that support and promote patriarchy in China.

The latest misplaced and therefore irrelevantly misleading discussion is summarized by its very title "Do We Need A Theory of Merchant Capitalism?" (van Zanden 1997). The Spring 1997 issue of Review, edited by Wallerstein, devotes an entire issue, to which he also contributes, to this "issue." On the basis of his analysis of labor markets in the Dutch seventeenth century 'Golden Age,' Van Zanden argues for the affirmative: "Merchant Capitalism" was a heretofore insufficiently recognized necessary 'stage' between pre- or proto- capitalism and industrial capitalism. To his credit, Wallerstein (1997) denies this thesis by showing that Merchant and Dutch capitalism were no more than part and parcel of "Historical Capitalism," which then and still now has quite similar features elsewhere as well. Several other authors (Ad Knotter, Catharina Lis and Hugo Soly, who in turn draw on other recent works about "industrialization before industrialization" in the Netherlands, Flanders and elsewhere in Europe). It is enough to make only these comparisons to show that "van Zandem's terms do not enable analysis of the process: the articulation of merchant capitalism and precapitalist modes of production was not at issue, and the protoindustry was not the most dynamic element in the transition to industrial capitalism" (Lis and Soly 1997:237). All the moreso the would these modes of production cease to be the issue if instead of limiting their purview only to parts of the marginal peninsular Europe and extend the examination to the rest of the world, let alone analyzing them as part and parcel of the whole global economy, as this book does.

Weber et al.

Other social "scientists" may have risen to dispute Marx [and supposedly to agree with Smith], but they all agreed with each other and with Marx that 1492 and 1498 were the two greatest events in the history of mankind, because that is when Europe discovered the world. Never mind that the world had been there all along and that at least the Afro-Asiatic part of it had long since shaped Europe itself. Indeed, the eminent historian of medieval Europe, Henri Pirenne (1992) stressed Europe's external dependence when pointed out long ago that there could have been "No Charlemagne without Mohammed." Nevertheless, history and social theory have been marked ever since not only by the alleged uniqueness of [West] Europeans, which supposedly generated "The Rise of the West." What is worse, they allegedly also had to assume the civilizing mission of the white man's burden which bestowed "the development and spread of capitalism" on the world as Europe's and the West's gift to mankind. [Lately, some feminists have at least denied that this process has been a gift also to womankind].

For Max Weber of course agreed with Marx about all these European origins and characteristics of "capitalism," and with Sombart too. Weber only wanted to go them one better. Sombart had already singled out European rationality, and its alleged roots in Judaism, as the sine qua non of "capitalism" and its "birth" in Europe. Weber accepted that too. He further embellished the argument about the irrigation based "Oriental despotism" to allege that Asia had an inherent inability to generate economic, not to mention "capitalist" development on its own. However, Weber actually went to a lot of trouble to study "the city," "religion" and other aspects of different civilizations in Asia.

That additional acquaintance of Weber with Asian realities also complicated his argument and made it more sophisticated than the crude Marxian version. For instance, Weber recognized that Asia had big cities. So they had to be somehow "fundamentally different" from European ones, both in structure and in function. Weber's mistake in this regard emerges clearly from the Rowe's (1984, 1989) carefull examination of this argument in his study of the Chineese city Hankow. The great student of bureaucracies that Weber was also had to recognize that the Chinese also had and knew how to manage cities and the country at large. Moreover, he had more time than Marx to observe that and how Western money made its way to and around various parts of Asia.

To continue the already above quoted critical summary of the use and abuse of "Weberian" theory, their argument is that "Oriental" and

Islamic society is either timelessly stagnant or declines from its inception. The societies are consequently defined by reference to a cluster of absences [that allegedly] define the West - the missing middle class, the missing city, the absence of political rights, the absence of revolutions. These missing features ... serve to explain why Islamic civilization failed to produce capitalism (Turner 1978:81, cited by Fitzpatrick 1992: 515).
So what was the essential difference, the missing ingredient that "The West" allegedly has and "The Rest" does not have if Weber himself did not find all these factors missing in the Oriental societies he studied? For Marx it was "the capitalist mode of production;" and Weber added also the proper religion and how it interfaces with the other factors to generate that "capitalist mode." Weber went to the trouble to study various major world religions and concluded that all of them had an essential mythical, mystic, magical, in a word anti-rational component, which "necessarily" handicapped all their true believers in coming to grasps with reality rationally, unlike the Europeans. Only the latter were beneficiaries of "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism." No more than Marx did Weber argue that this ethic and spirit was the be all and end all of "capitalism," and the Weberian argument has been even harder to understand than the Marxian one. This rational spirit is supposedly the missing secret ingredient that, when combined with all the others, distinguishes "The West" from "The Rest." Without it, the Asians could not possibly develop capitalism and therefore really "develop" at all, or even use their cities, production and commerce.

This Eurocentrism had nineteenth century sociological greatgrandfathers in the "father of sociology" Auguste Compte and in Sir Henry Maine who distinguished between supposedly new forms of thinking and of social organization based on "science" and"contract," which allegedly replaced age old "traditional" ones. One grandfather was Emile Durkheim who idealized "organic" vs. "mechanical" forms of social organization and another was Ferdinand Toennis, who alleged a transition from traditional "Gemeinschaft" to modern "Gesellschaft." In a later generation, Talcott Parsons idealized "universalist" vs. "particularist" social forms, and Robert Redfield claimed to have found a contrast and transition or at least a continuum" between traditional "folk" and modern "urban" society and a certain symbiosis between "low" and "high civilization." The Marxist and contemporary neo-Marxist version is the alleged fundamental difference between "Asiatic," "feudal" or other forms of "tributary" and the "capitalist" mode of production (Wolf 1982, Amin 1991,1993, 1996).

All of these "ideal type" diads have several things in common. The most important ones are that first they posit essentialist socio-cultural features and differences that are far more imaginary than real, and then they allege that the differences distinguish "us" from "them," or in the latter day terminology of Samuel Huntington (1993,1996) separate "The West" from "The Rest." Indeed, allegedly these features also distinguish modern [Western] society from its own past as well as from other societies' often still lingering present. Moreover, these "ideal" types attribute some kind of pristine self-development to some peoples - mostly to "us" - but not to others, and their subsequent diffusion [when positive] or imposition [if negative] from here to there. " The quintessential culmination of this "tradition" was Lerner's (1958) The Passing of Traditional Society. In the real world, the only practical holistic choice has been "none of the above." This "underdevelopment of sociology" was already challenged by me thirty years ago (Frank 1967). However successful, this challenge was nonetheless insufficiently holistic. The present book is my attempt to do better.

However, evidence alone is still not enough and no substitute for a holistic whole world encompassing theoretical model. That is what we need but still lack to help organize and interpret the existing evidence. There are now those who admit the reality of the trees and even of a world economic and systemic forest. For instance, Wallerstein (1974,1980, 1989), Frank (1978), Braudel (1979, 1992), Wolf (1982), Blaut (1993a), Sanderson (1995), Modelski and Thompson (1996), and Chase-Dunn and Hall (1997) have offered a more helpful "perspective of the world" and its impact on local economic and social trees. Moreover, all of them have self-consciously already tried to offer broader perspectives to counter parochial Eurocentrism. Yet none of their scheme of things has been sufficiently global and holistic to encompass the whole world economic forest.

Braudel's "Perspective of the World" since 1500 is broader than most. Yet he too divided the world into a "European worldeconomy" and several other and separate external "worldeconomies" outside the same. Braudel did, of course, also study and describe at least parts of these "other" world economies, especially in Volume III of his trilogy on Civilization & Capitalism. Indeed, so did Marx in his own Volume III of Capital! Yet both neglected to incorporate the findings of their third volumes into the model and theory of their first volumes. Moreover, their neglect was quite conscious, intentional and deliberate: Their Eurocentrism convinced both that any and all historical model and social theory, be it universal or not, must be based on the experience of Europe alone. Their only concession was that Europe and its model did have consequences for the rest of the world.

This debate about "internal vs. external" turns even the analysis of the European based "modern world-economy/system" itself into yet still another obstacle and resistance to be overcome! For their argument is also that something "internal" to the European "modern world-system" generated the transition for feudalism to capitalism, which then spread to the rest of the world "outside." I contend that instead Europe and its "world-economy" were part and parcel of a long pre-existing Afro-Eurasian economy whose own systemic structure and dynamic became global -- and itself generated many developments in Europe as well. Therefore, it is the "internal" operation of the global world economy - and not just of the European "world-economy" - that requires analysis.


We must take exception to this alleged European "exceptionalism" on several related grounds:

  1. As already noted above, the theses of AfroAsian "Orientalism" and European "exceptionalism" empirically and descriptively MIS-represent how Asian economies performed and societies were. Not only the alleged AMP and "Oriental" Despotism, but also the allegations about non-rational, antiprofit seeking, and other supposed pre-/non-/anticommercial /productive/capitalist features of Asia are very much off the mark, as demonstrated by our review of Asia's participation in the world economy. In fact, AfroAsian economic and financial "development" and institutions were not only up to European "standards," but largely excelled them in 1400 and still in 1750 and even in 1800.
  2. For over these three centuries as also earlier, there was nothing "exceptional" about Europe, unless it was Europe's exceptionally marginal far off peninsular position on the map and its correspondingly minor role in the world economy. That may have afforded it some "advantage of backwardness" (Gerschenkron 1962). None of the alleged European "exceptionalisms" of "superiority" is borne out by historical evidence, either from Europe itself or from elsewhere, as Hodgson (1993) warned long ago and Blaut (1993) unequivocally again demonstrated recently. Therefore, the really critical factors in Europe's economic participation and "development" have also been both empirically and theoretically misrepresented by almost all received historiography and social theory from Marx and Weber to Braudel and Wallerstein. No matter what its political color or intent, their historiography and social theory and that of Tawny or Toynbee, and Polanyi or Parsons and Rostow -- is devoid of the historical basis from which its authors claimed to derive it. Just as Asia was not stuck-in-the-mud, so did Europe not raise itself by its own bootstraps.
  3. The comparative method itself suffers from inadequate holism and misplaced concreteness. At its worst, and alas Marx was among these, some "features" were rather arbitrarily declared to be essential [to what?] but wanting everywhere except in Europe. At best, western observers [and alas also some from Asia and elsewhere] "compare" "Western" civilizational, cultural, social, political, economic, technological, military, geographical, climatic, in a word racial "features" with "Oriental" ones and find the latter wanting on this or that [Eurocentric] criterion. Among the classical writers, Weber devoted the greatest study to the comparisons of these factors, and especially to embellishing the above cited Marxist notions about Oriental "sacred customs, moral code, and religious law." His many followers have further embellished this comparative approach with still more "peculiar" features. Even if these comparisons were empirically accurate, which we have observed that most were not, they had and still have two important shortcomings: One is how to account for the allegedly significant factors that are being compared; another is the choice to compare these features or factors in the first - and last - place. Yet the choice of what features or factors to compare is based on the prior explicit or implicit decision that European characteristics are significant, distinct and therefore worth comparing with others. Let us examine these decisions and implicit choices in turn.
  4. The sometimes explicit supposition but mostly implicit assumption is that the institutional basis and mechanisms of production and accumulation, exchange and distribution, and their functional operation are determined by "traditional" historical inheritance and/or other or local, national, or regional developments. This kind of "analysis" does not even consider the possibility that the factors under consideration were local, national, or regional responses to participation in a single world-wide economic system and process. Yet as we have argued and demonstrated above, accumulation, production, and distribution and their institutional forms throughout Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas did adapt to and reflect their common interdependence. Certainly the institutional form and very lifeblood of all entrepots like Hormuz and Malacca, and most other ports and caravan crossroads was a function of their increasing and decreasing participation in the world economy. But so were their productive and commercial hinterlands. My study of Mexican agriculture 1520-1630 showed how successive institutional forms of labor recruitment and organization were local responses to world economic and cyclical exigencies (Frank 1979). In Chapters 2, 3 and 4 we observed analogous institutional adaptations and development on the Bengal frontier (Eaton 1993), South China (Marks 1995), South East Asia (Lieberman 1995), and the Ottoman Empire (Islamoglu-Inan 1987).

    Even related "civilizational" or "cultural" variables are not so much determinant or independent, as they are themselves derivative from and dependent on the world-wide economic structure and process. All attempts to account for or explain local, national or regional ripple "development/s" primarily in terms of their respective supposedly cultural or class "determinants" are too limited in their purview. They neglect the fundamental world economic sea change of which the local ones often are only superficial expressions and manifestations. In short, all attempts to account for features and factors of "development" on the basis only or even primarily of local antecedents and in the absence of their world economic "function" can result only in the neglect of factors that are essential to any satisfactory explanation.

  5. Therefore, even the best comparative studies violate the canon of holism, for they do not study the global whole and the world economy/system from which the factors to be compared are or may be derivative. That is, we also need to construct a holistic theory and analysis of this global economy and world system, as well as of its own operation and transformation. For these also generate and shape the institutional forms themselves. A vivid illustration that we need such a completely different approach is the issue on NEW APPROACHES TO EUROPEAN HISTORY published in the Turkish journal Metu. Development Studies, 22,3 1995. It offers a "Theory of the Rise of the West" by John A. Hall and its discussion by several Turkish colleagues. Hall admits to "more than a touch of megalomania" in being "able to offer a completely new account" of the rise of the West in which he "is going to solve Max Weber's problem in entirely different terms" (ibid: 231-2). He begins with his own examination of China and brief references to Islam and Hindu/Buddhist India, which he still compares unfavorably with Europe, as he already did before (Hall 1985). Economic development allegedly was impossible in China because of the imperial state, in India because of Hindu caste, and under Islam because of nomadic pastoral tribalism. All allegedly lacked the unique European state and inter-state system. So Hall reverts to the same old argument about European exceptionalism, except that he gives the latter a slightly "new" twist. One of his Turkish commentators makes "rather a defense of Mr. Hall. I think most of the counter-arguments base themselves on a certain misunderstanding" (ibid:251). Alas, the "counter-arguments" of his Turkish colleagues do no more than take exception to some of Hall's European exceptionalism and comparisons. They themselves have no alternative explanation or even approach to offer whatsoever, least of all a holistic one that would not just compare but relate Europeans and Ottomans within a single world system. We have only just begun this task here !
  6. However, studies that compare "Western" and "Oriental" societies are therefore already vitiated by their choice of the features or factors to be compared, unless that choice is itself derived from the study of the whole world economy/system to begin with. And of course it is not. Indeed, the choice of the very features and factors to be compared is derived from focusing on a part, be that Britain, Europe, the West or wherever. That is, the very design of the study, from Marx and Weber to Braudel and Wallerstein, et al suffers from the misplaced concreteness of looking for the explanandum with a magnifying glass or even a microscope, but only under the European streetlight. The real task is first to take up a telescope to gain a holistic view of the global whole and its world economy/system. Only that can reveal what passive features, or more likely active factors, we then need to regard with greater care with a magnifying glass. To that task as well, we turn in the discussion of implications below. But first, there are some more derivative conclusions about what not to do, because doing so prevents seeing "wie es eigentlich gewesen ist" in the global whole.

NO BREAK IN 1450/1492/1498/1500

Another and derivative but inescapable conclusion is that the alleged break before and after 1500 never took place. Historians often mark a break in "world" history in 1500 (eg. Stavarianos 1966, Reilly 1989). Even Bentley's (1996) innovative proposals in The American Historical Review to derive "Periodization in World History" not only from European but from world-wide processes still marks the beginning of the last period in 1500. Historians and social theorists of Europe, both of earlier generations and still contemporary ones mark this same break all the moreso. So do world-system theorists like Wallerstein (1974), and still Sanderson (1994) and Chase-Dunn and Hall (1996). The allegation that there was a sharp break around 1500 was already reflected in the above-cited opinions of Smith and Marx that 1492 and 1498 were the most important years in the history of mankind. Perhaps they were directly so for the peoples of the "New World" and indirectly so for those of Europe. However, Braudel (1992:57) disputed Wallertstein's allegation of this break in Europe, where Braudel saw continuity since at least 1300 and even from 1100.

Indeed, even Wallerstein (1992) refers to the widespread agreement that an expansive "A" phase from 1050 to 1250 was followed by a contractive "B" phase from 1250 to 1450 and then after that by still another expansive "A" phase in the "long sixteenth century" from 1450 until 1640. The evidence above, however, suggests that this expansive phase already began in much of Asia in 1400 -- and that it lasted there until at least 1750. Wallerstein's European "long sixteenth century" probably was a belated and more temporary expression of this world economic expansion itself. Indeed, the very voyages of Columbus and Vasco da Gama themselves should probably be regarded as expressions of this world economic expansion, to which Europeans wanted to attach themselves in Asia. Therefore, the continuity across 1500 was actually far more important and is theoretically far more significant than any alleged break or new departure.

Thus I suggest that it is not appropriate or even necessary, as the so common argument has it, to regard early modern and still contemporary history as the result and/or as the harbinger of a significant historical break. The widespread dis-continuity theses are far less a contribution, let alone a necessity, and far more and impediment to understanding the real world historical process and contemporary reality. These mis-leading discontinuity theses have been presented in various forms, including the "birth of capitalism," the "Rise of the West," "the incorporation of Asia into the European world-economy," not to mention the West's alleged "rationalism" and "civilizing mission." I prefer to leave for philosophical consideration by others elsewhere whether or not modern and contemporary history is a vehicle or manifestation of "progress," unilinear or otherwise.

Here, I prefer to re-consider and question the scientific validity or analytic usefulness to such time related concepts and terms as "proto-capitalism" or "proto-industrialization," or for that matter such "quantitative" ones as "petty-capitalism," "semi-feudalism" or "proto-socialism"] here in Europe or there in Asia. The endless disputations about the alleged transitions from one to another of these categories at particular but different times in any part the world is a literally blind alley, which cannot possibly lead to even the faintest enlightenment. For only the study of the continuing structure and dynamic of the one and only world [system] can illuminate the hows, whys, and wherefores of the "development," "rise" or "fall" of any part of the world [system], be it in Europe, America, Africa, Asia, Oceania and/or any part thereof.


Of late, that is since Marx, the "fascination" [as Braudel (1982:54) called it] with 1500 as the date of a new departure that makes a supposed break with the past is mostly a function of the allegation that it ushered in a new, previously unknown or at least never before dominant, "capitalist mode of production." That was of course the position from Marx and Sombart to Weber and Tawney, and all it is still shared by their many contemporary followers. This is still the position of "world-system" theorists from Wallerstein (1974) and Frank (1978) to Sanderson (1995) and Chase-Dunn (1996). Even Amin's (1991,1993) and Blaut's (1993) vehement critiques of Eurocentrism stop short of abandoning 1500 as the dawn of a new age of European born and borne capitalism. All of the above Marxists, Weberians, Polanyists, worldsystematizers, not to mention most "economic" and other historians, balk at pursuing the evidence and the argument to examine the sacred cow of "capitalism" and its allegedly peculiarly exceptional or exceptionally peculiar "mode of production."

Therefore, the mere suggestion that perhaps this conviction might or even should be open to question is already rejected as unacceptable heresy. Having already broached this heresy to little effect before (Frank 1991, Frank and Gills 1993), there is little point in trying to pursue the argument further here. Suffice it to point out that the same evidence and argument that support the first four conclusions above also have implications for the idea of "capitalism." These conclusions deny the AMP and European exceptionalism, but affirm a world economy and its continuity across 1500. Yet world-system theorists and Blaut accept the first two above-cited conclusions about the AMP and European exceptionalism, but they reject the last two that affirm the continuity of a global economy and deny the break in 1500. Braudel in turn also denies the break in 1500 and de facto recognizes a global economy, even if hit does not fit it into his model of a European "world-economy." Yet all four of the previous conclusions inexorably render questionable to say the least the very concept of a "capitalist" mode of production and the supposed significance of its alleged spread from Europe to the rest of the world. Indeed, the first four conclusions question the very significance imputed to different "modes of production," of course including "feudalism" and "capitalism," not to mention any alleged "transition" between them. This received conceptualization has at the very least diverted our attention away from the much more significant world systemic structures and processes, which themselves engendered the organizational forms that were then misleadingly termed "feudal" and "capitalist" "modes of production."

As we have observed, not only was there no unilinear "progress/ion" from one "mode" of production to another; but all manner of relations of production were and remain widely intermingled. Many different relations of production have "delivered" products that have been competitive on the world market. However, it has not been so much one relation or another, and still less any "mode," of production that has determined the success and failure of particular producers. Instead, competitive pressures and exigencies on the world market have been and continue to be much more determinant of the choice and adaptation of relations of production themselves.

The incessant discussions about non-, pre-, proto-, blooming-, full blown-, declining-, post-, or any other "stage" and quantity or quality of capitalism or the lack thereof have led us down the garden path and diverted us from analyzing the real world. A recent example was already mentioned: Hill Gates (1996) does very well to examine the relations between commercialism and patriarchy in a thousand years of China's Motor. However, her continued insistence on using the categories of "the tributary and petty capitalist modes of production" and their uneasy relations handicaps instead of illuminating her analysis of the real world issues.

The review of van Zanden's "marchant capitalism" also rebuts the contention that it represented a distinctive "articulation of modes of production" between "non-capitalist" modes of reproduction and use of labor "outside the system" and others inside the "world market" of the "world-economy." However, the hidden but most revealing aspect of this discussion is that, irrespective of which side of the arguments they support, all of the discussants recur to these terms in quotation marks again and again. But they all use them without quotation marks, because they largely agree on the meaning and referents of what is allegedly excluded by these terms. Indeed, van Zanden and others even name several of them: slaves, peasants, those who work at home in cottage industry, in West Africa, and in East Asia (van Zanden 1997: 260). In all this discussion and the related literature it refers to, all these producers and even traders remain outside their universe of discourse in which "admittedly, the Dutch Republic became the largest staple market the world had even known;" so "Amsterdam was both the central warehouse of world commerce and the pivotal money and capital market of the European world-economy at the same time;" and therefore it was "the world-economy's control booth" (Lis and Soly 1997: 233, 211, 222). That is, for all these discussants about "modes of production." the real world economy, of which Amsterdam was but an outpost, does not exist.

Indeed, Wallerstein's (1997: 244) intervention even stresses "let us not quibble about the unit of analysis"! But the most important issue in this whole discussion is precisely the unit of analysis, which all of the participants disregard: the world economy and not their little European one. The moment we recognize that, the whole discussion about "modes of production" more than pales into insignificance and irrelevance: For then it can finally been seen as the distraction that it really is from the real issue, which is the holistic analysis of the whole.

Therefore, it is much better to cut [out] the Gordian knot of "capitalism" altogether. That was already my argument in Frank (1991), Frank and Gills (1992, 1993), and Frank (1994,1995); and it is well put by Chaudhuri (1990:84) writing under the title Asia Before Europe: "The ceaseless quest of modern historians looking for the 'origins' and roots of capitalism is not much better than the alchemist's search for the philosopher's stone that transforms base metal into gold." Indeed, that is the case not only for the origins and roots, but the very existence and meaning of "capitalism." So, best just forget about it, and get on with our inquiry into the reality of "universal history, wie es eigentlich gewesen ist."

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