James Blaut Essay

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James M . Blaut was an historian and geographer. His intellectual contribution was centered on what he considered to be the Eurocentrism of much existing thought, and which has come to be accepted as the best available explanation of the past. This Eurocentrism was initially expounded by Max Weber and has been restated by subsequent historians of repute, including modern exponents such as Jared Diamond and David Landes. Blaut challenged the exceptionalist view of European expansion and the so-called European Miracle, which ascribed the massive expansion of European interests and power to superior ideology, technology, and cultural expression.

In The Colonizer’s Model of the World, Blaut argued that the transformation of the global economy between 1492-1688 could be explained by the comparative proximity of European states to the Americas and the resources they provided, which subsequently enabled colonial states to accumulate surpluses to fuel their further colonization of Africa and Asia.

The subsequent work, Eight Eurocentric Historians, further developed his arguments that the reality of the past had been, and was continuing to be, distorted by historians. The result of this distortion was to malign the actions and histories of developing world people and institutions who are considered to be necessarily inferior to the colonists. This way of thinking is linked to the World Systems Theory of History and the Structural Dependency view of economic history. Blaut died before he was due to write and publish the third part of his projected trilogy to complete his argument. However, he did foreshadow in papers such as “The Theory of Cultural Racism” the ways in which he believed that Eurocentrism had become embedded in modern thought patterns: …the dominant racist theory of the early 19th century was a biblical argument, grounded in religion; the dominant racist theory of the period from about 1850 to 1950 was a biological argument, grounded in natural science; the racist theory of today is mainly a historical argument, grounded in the idea of culture history or simply culture.

Today’s racism is “cultural racism.” In other words, the sense of European superiority, which had been obtained through geographical accident and capitalist accumulation, was justified first by those who believed that following Christian beliefs in some prescribed way were privileged by God over other people; this belief was succeeded by biological and scientific arguments purporting to show the mental superiority of Caucasians (a school of thought that still occasionally recurs) and then by the belief that one culture offered benefits to its people above others. In the 1970s, some speculated that since so many Catholic countries were controlled by dictators, then Catholicism may be culturally inferior to Protestantism. At the beginning of the 21st century, similar arguments are made about Islamic cultures.

Bibliography:

  1. James M. Blaut, Eight Eurocentric Historians (The Guilford Press, 2000);
  2. James Blaut, The Colonizer’s Model of the World: Geographical Diffusionism and Eurocentric History (The Guilford Press, 1993);
  3. James M. Blaut, “The Cultural Theory of Racism,” Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography (V23, pp.289-99, 1992).

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