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Sunday, December 12, 2021

The Battleground of History and Philosophy

Why is European history and philosophy so rich? Because the European governments have been very rich in the last 500 years. Much of the wealth that the conquistadors and imperialists plundered from the colonies was wasted by the European governments on fighting wars, building palaces and cathedrals, and enabling a lavish and dissolute political culture. A small part of plundered booty went into building new universities and learned societies which started pursuing historical and philosophical research. The history and philosophy that these institutions pursued was intended to propagate the supremacy of the European people and their culture. 

During the age of colonialism, the European intellectuals were promoting their own history and philosophy as mankind’s apex achievement because they wanted to represent the European population as the master race. They wanted the world to believe that the Europeans had the right to rule because their past was glorious. This was false propaganda. 

25,000 years ago, South Asia (the Indian subcontinent) became the world’s most crowded region—about 80 precent of humanity was living in this region. How can anyone believe that the region where 80 percent of humanity has thrived for thousands of years had no history and culture? Such a huge population could not have survived in South Asia unless there were political movements capable of maintaining political stability. Till 1450, India and China were the world’s biggest economies. In the 17th century, the Indian economy was about 25 percent of the world economy. The legendary riches of India made it a target for invaders from the Middle East and Europe. The Industrial Revolution would not have happened in Britain if the British had not colonized a significant part of India.

Much of Ancient Greek philosophy that is available today is a modernist interpretation—it was written after the seventeenth century. Greek philosophy, we are told, stands for liberty and individualism. But Ancient Greece was a slave society. In Ancient Athens 70 percent of the population was slaves and 10 percent were metics. The quality of life was so bad in Ancient Greece that there were more Greeks living in the Persian Empire than the population of Athens, Sparta, and Corinth. 

In the colonial age, the conquistadors and imperialists were not liberty-minded; they were not individualists; they were united under the banner of “One God and One Monarch.” They committed brutal genocides and they were notorious slavers. 

Freedom and individualism have never been European values—they are non-European values. Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, and all the empires of the European Middle Ages were hierarchical, tyrannical, and warlike. There was much more liberty and individualism in the native tribes of the Americas than in Europe. Most tribes of the Americas did not have a hereditary ruling class and a powerful priestly class; the tribal chiefs had little control over the tribal population. The Europeans managed to conquer the Americas because they were totally united, while there was no unity between the natives. The natives were wild, free, and individualistic. No tribal chief could bring them together to fight the European invaders. 

In the middle of the twentieth century European colonialism came to an end and other cultures became free to pursue history and philosophy in their own land. The Europeans have had a 500-year head start in the area of history and philosophy. But the scholarship of other cultures has started catching up and it is becoming clear that the past of places like North Africa, the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent, China, and some parts of the Americas was very complex—perhaps more complex than the history and philosophy of Europe.

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