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Worlds at War: The 2,500 - Year Struggle Between East and West [Format Kindle]

Anthony Pagden

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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...

Revue de presse

There is much to admire in Pagden's book. His bredth of knowledge across two and a half millenia of Western (and to a great extent Eastern) history is impressive... As an intellectual history of Western views of the East, the book is exemplary. (Ian Garrick Mason. Spectator.)

'Worlds at War' offers some fine vignettes...witty, provocative conversation from a sage. (Economist)

Learned, fluent and thoroughly entertaining account. (Dominic Sandbrook. Telegraph Review.)

Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 8010 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 574 pages
  • Pagination - ISBN de l'édition imprimée de référence : 0199569770
  • Editeur : OUP Oxford (13 mars 2008)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur (beta) 3.9 étoiles sur 5  32 commentaires
46 internautes sur 52 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 a magisterial work, useful and lucid 15 avril 2008
Par K. Kehler - Publié sur
This is an excellent work of history. Correction: it is not so much a history - though it is historical through and through - as it is a particular interpretation of one very important aspect of world history: namely, the seemingly endless and seemingly inexplicable antagonism between West (the cultural region where individual and group rights, liberty and liberties, and specific "modern"/modernity-inflected social formations arose) and the East (the cultural region, roughly equivalent to the Arab world, where rights and democracy, let alone the individual, have been largely ignored). As Pagden tells this story, he touches on the important and nodal episodes, but he also adds his view of some of the incidental episodes. He provides an excellent historical overview, supplemented by a clever and diligent scholar's look at key moments, of both of these regions, and of their interrelationships. Obviously a lot has to be left out given the sheer number of centuries in question, but Pagden is hugely learned and so packs in all kinds of salient details. (His academic expertise is on the rise of modern Europe, and its "collision" with other parts of the globe.)

The book is long but thankfully he writes very clearly. He moves fluidly from Aeschylus and Alexander the Great, through the legacy of the "citizen" empire (Rome) and the rise of Muhammad, to the medieval Popes, through to Quesnay, Voltaire and Montesquieu and the Enlightenment, and finally on to the complex recent past and the present (Qutb, etc). He doesn't pull any punches: yes, the "orient" actually has been largely despotic, and yes, the West has often been -- for all of its successes and both its authentic good intentions as well as its exploitative acquisitiveness -- hypocritical and inept even when it has been well-meaning. Re: the latter, he discusses the question of liberal interventions, which he treats almost in a Burkean fashion: these are overly optimistic social engineering efforts, which often naively assume that the conditions for a genuinely valuable and important Western form of government (democracy) can be transplanted to places where the conditions that might nourish it are sadly foreign. He is also tough on Islam's apologists, past and present, rightly noting their own hypocrisy and almost perennial cruelty and anti-democratic impulses. He rightly chastises the leftists who celebrated the rise of Khomeini, pointing out that none had bothered to read his writings before celebrating his accession. And no less a figure than Edward Said -- author of a well regarded but simplistic (if not downright mendacious) tome on a part of the history of West and East -- comes in for some curt but devastating criticism. All in all, this is a grand, sweeping read. It's very much worth acquiring, especially if one is interested in the present and how we got here, but it's also a book one can give to a high school student or university student, e.g., one's nephew and niece, just so they can sample a work that does a fine job of making sense of a vastly complicated relationship. If they get through it, as one would hope, they'll be as shocked and disappointed as I am, and as Pagden is, to learn that in Turkey, Winnie-the-Pooh is no longer televised because the "Piglet" character is deemed offensive to Muslims. Don't laugh. Try to get a piggy-bank for your grandchild in a UK bank these days.

(I must add: reading the review of this book by a top 1000 reviewer - above - I came away thinking that he hasn't even read it. Pagden does in fact credit the Islamic world for many advances, and early on in his preface, he makes it very clear that when he speaks of "East" and "West", he's not talking about "unstable" "relative" geographical categories but cultural, social and political dispositions. Is that the sign of a "book maven": one says some banal and inaccurate things about a book?)
53 internautes sur 65 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 The Ballad of East and West 2 avril 2008
Par Izaak VanGaalen - Publié sur
The problems with writing a book about the 2,500-year struggle between East and West are manifold: What is East? What is West? What is the essential struggle? And since it has lasted so long, how do you get it all in one volume? UCLA historian Anthony Pagden has made an audacious effort doing just that. In Pagden's view - echoing Kipling - East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet.

According to the author, the struggle between East and West can be characterized as a contest between secular, liberal democracies in the West and religious, despotic societies in the East (the East referred to being primarily the Middle East). Pagden's story begins with the Greeks and the Persians. The Greeks in the 5th century AD were a democracy and the Persians under Darius and Xerxes were a classic oriental despotism. This marked the beginning of the struggle known variously as East vs West, Europe vs Asia, secular vs the sacred, etc. The book ends with America in Iraq basically fighting the same battle that has been fought for the last 2,500 years. In this history there is no progress, there is only eternal struggle.

Most people would disagree with this thesis and rightly so. This Manichean worldview seems a gross oversimplification at first glance. Greece, as well as the West as a whole, was not always liberal and secular; it had a long struggle with despotism itself and Christianity did not always see itself as separate from the state. Likewise, the East was not always illiberal and monolithically religious. Islam, for example, during its golden age in Spain was very tolerant of Christianity and Judaism. There is also much diversity within Islam today.

Even though one may not agree with the author's view of the endless struggle between East and West, this book is very informative and very engaging. It tells more about the myths of East and West that inform the historical actors down through history. The so-called civilizing missions of Alexander in India, Napoleon in Egypt, Mehmed the Great in Constantinople, and Americans in Iraq are instances of one civilization trying to convince another of its superior values.

Therein lies the dilemma of Pagden's project. He does not see moral equivalence, for he comes down squarely on the side of secularism and liberal values, as he should. The West, unfortunately, is not always about those things alone; it is, in the eyes of the East, also about imperialism and military conquest. The East, for its part, does not reject Western values; it rejects the West imposing those values, or rather, it wants its own version of those values. In the end we have something much more complex than a standoff between two sets of universal values. There are grey areas on both sides and their boundaries were always shifting.

That being said, Worlds at War is still very good at explaining how these competing worldviews inevitably and inexorably lead to war.
17 internautes sur 20 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Erudite But Accessible, Ascerbic But Not Scornful 3 avril 2008
Par John D. Cofield - Publié sur
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
This study of the combative relationship between the West (secular, individualistic, progressive) and the East (intolerant and hidebound) might seem to be yet another entry into the triumphalist school of history: The West Beat The Rest Because Its The Best. However, those who actually read the book will recognize that Anthony Pagden has produced a remarkable work which traces and reassesses anew a centuries long struggle.

By the East Pagden means what most now call the Middle East and Central Asia. Beginning with the struggle between the Greek city-states and the Persian Empire, Pagden then covers the empires of Alexander and of Rome, the rise of Christianity and Islam, and the resultant struggles between the two monotheistic religions. Some of Pagden's most ascerbic comments come at the expense of monotheism, whose adherents' tendencies to see the world in black and white he considers to be the root of most of our troubles. Fortunately he resists the temptation to sneer at the followers of those religions, reserving his scorn for those popes, caliphs, and other religious "leaders" who abused their power and wasted the lives of their communicants. Inevitably Pagden must finish his work with an examination of the troubles between the West and the Islamic Middle East in the twentieth century, and he provides an excellent history of that ongoing dispute, ending with some penetrating analyses of the mistakes both East and West have made over the years.

Pagden writes well, with a good eye for an illuminating anecdote. I wish a few more maps had been included to help locate some of the more obscure locales he mentions, but overall this is a fine work which I really enjoyed.
5 internautes sur 5 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Why the West and Muslims have been at war for centuries 21 octobre 2011
Par LD - Publié sur
Excerpts from the book will answer the questions and give you a taste of the writing.
P.167 "In the West the law has since antiquity, been looked upon as the creation of man for the needs of man. That is civil, it is existential, and it is based on fact. And because facts and the very nature of existence can change, so the law can, and indeed must, change. The Shari'a is also the creation of man; but it is based not, as Western Law is, upon a codification of customary practices but on the supposed word of God. As such, its capacity for change is severely limited."

P.220 "The conquest of Granada (Spain) has come to be seen as a turning point in the long struggle between Christianity and Islam, the moment when Islam was finally pushed back across what for centuries had seemed to be some kind of natural frontier with Europe."

As the Ottoman army moved east in 1371, the king of Serbia raised an army to fight them. They were slaughtered. Another defeat occurred in 1389 on a field in Kosovo. This was the rallying cry of the Serbs in the ethnic cleansing of the 1990's. So its not just history, its consequences in our lifetime.

P.354 "Europe had succeeded in resisting the Church's attempts to encroach upon the government of mere mortals. In the 16th century internal struggles within the church had stripped it of most of its authority. Secularization was only partial, but it was sufficient to guarantee the development of an independent scientific culture. In the Islamic world, things were very different. For Islam was the basis of civil law."
P.355 "Much the same was also said about the other great civilization of the "East," China. China was in many respects thought to be wholly unlike its western Asian neighbors. But to European eyes it displayed at least some of the same properties: immobility, stagnation, an unwillingness to live by anything other than ancient inherited laws. It was, too, a despotism. And without freedom of choice and freedom of expression, the kinds of scientific and economic achievements that had, by the mid-eithteenth century, allowed the West to dominate so much of the planet were unthinkable."

Today's animosity for Muslims begins with the question asked by Turks a century ago: If God is on their side directing them, how could the decadent, barbaric West have gotten so far ahead of them? Since 9/11 both sides are even more suspicious of each other. Today is happening because of yesterday and this book sure helps you understand how it came about.

To read about positive things that came from the Middle East to Europe in the Dark Ages, I enjoyed Jonathan Lyon's The House Of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization.

To read more details of how Western Europe clashed with Eastern Europe and the Ottoman Empire, I recommend L.R. Johnson's Central Europe: Enemies, Neighbors, and Friends.
4 internautes sur 4 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Good General History of East-West Conflict 1 février 2009
Par H. F. Gibbard - Publié sur
Format:Format Kindle
This book seems to have inspired some axe-grinding, mostly dealing with the church/state issue. It would be nice to get that issue out of the way up front, so we can get a better idea of the book's overall merit as a history. First of all, Mr. Pagden does not hide his presuppositions under a cloak of pretended objectivity. He makes it clear from the outset that he is coming from a classically liberal perspective on the religious issues. Briefly put, he thinks that a secular, democratic society is better than the alternatives and that theocracy is among the worst forms of government. Since Islam has had less success at forming the secular, democratic, and liberal sort of polity than most European societies, he finds European governments preferable to Islamic ones. And he believes that an underlying conflict between absolutism in the East and individual liberty in the West can be traced back for two and a half millennia, to the ancient conflict between Greece and Persia. This book is not an anti-religious screed, however; the author's personal views appear only intermittently and he is scornful of foolery committed in the cause of secularism as well.

The thesis here is not really that new; it it based in a view of history that can be found in Edith Hamilton's book "The Greek Way," published in 1930. The question is, how well has he substantiated the theory that such a conflict between Western liberalism and Eastern absolutism can be traced across the past 2500 years?

I think the answer is, pretty well, but unevenly. I felt there was a need for a more detailed explanation of why Western absolute monarchy and religiously-based intolerance gave way to democracy when it seemed as entrenched as Eastern absolutism. It also seemed there were a few puzzling omissions when we got to more recent times.

One thing I appreciated was how Mr. Pagden tries to show us how the issues go beyond the political into the cultural and societal. The history he describes largely involves misunderstanding and prejudice by both Eastern and Western commentators and rulers. There were a few nice tidbits of historical oddity along the way. One is Herodotus's account of the debate in the court of Darius the Great over whether the Persians should adopt popular government or monarchy. Monarchy won out, of course, and though Herodotus may have invented the story as a slur on ancient Persian despotism, the story is fascinating all the same. Another interesting tale concerns Napoleon's attempt to cast himself as a Muslim and an enemy of Christianity in order to ingratiate himself with the Egyptians after he invaded that country. Needless to say, this backfired, Muslims being notoriously unreceptive to anti-religious sentiment even when directed at other Monotheisms. The account of utter cynicism and ulterior motives by the British in helping create the State of Israel is also fascinating.

It may be that this whole conflict is just too big to cover in a single book. Toward the end, the book has a sort of rushed feel. The Twentieth Century issues seem slighted. There is almost no mention of the role of Nazism in the nurturance of Arab nationalism. The role of the oil companies in Middle Eastern politics is treated in a cursory fashion. The Algerian War, a watershed conflict in Muslim relations with the West, goes almost unmentioned. Pagden spends more time on philosophical disputes of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries than these more recent issues.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book in general and did learn some interesting facts about its topic, the struggle between East and West. I found it a good general history of this conflict.
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