||[Jan. 4th, 2007|01:34 am]
Everyone agrees that the suite of concepts put under the rubric "rationalization" has helped enable the Western dominance over the world because it allowed for large-scale, predictable undertakings across continents and all the rest of it. Most of us (at least most of you who'd read this kind of piece- the rest can ask me to explain, and I'll try, but this is a tricky set of concepts) know the basic story. We can all agree, based on all the good work done by people from Weber on down, that the West's concept of rational works, all over the place, at least to the extent that anything does. While not necessarily universal, the idea is that it can be universal. Sort of. But whatever!
BUT! It's obvious to anybody that the cultural underpinnings of this rationalization are, to say the least, not universal, and very much built on the unique cultural and social understandings of certain portions of European society at certain times. The classical liberal thinkers, once you strip aside the fancy universalist language, we basically talking about bourgeois England. Marx took steps towards greater universality, but he definitely did not make it. Weber's bureaucratic model is definitely steeped partly in Germany but to be fair largely in the Western tradition in general. And on and on- with the possible exception of the scientific method (which is very easily bendable to cultural demands- well, maybe not the method but the practitioners), all these notions are distinctly non-universal in origins. In fact, if I read him right, I'm pretty sure Weber suggests it all starts with Yaweh and the early Jews.
So- is it that the idea-suite that the West had when it burst forth on the world scene was really univeral in some unique way, or is it just that the West burst forth on the world scene at a certain time, and the ideas they had at that time perforce became universal? Could a bunch of other people's parochial concepts become universal, if given the chance? It seems Chinese concepts became pretty well accepted pretty far from China. But then, how did these peoples get into their exporting position if not by the superior universality of their organizing concepts? Well, Jared Diamond, Alfred Crosby and I (again, if I'm reading them right) would say "It's the guns, germs and steel/ecological imperialism biota suite, stupid".
Or is this just some kind of fancy chicken-egg problem with no real solution?
Still... as far as I know, everyone, liberal, conservative, Marxist, pomo, all sorts, everybody, buys the notion of the unique portability of Western thought. I don't know...
(cross-posted to my own journal)