Fjordman on Europeans: With Prejudice Against Our Own Ancestors

Fjordman’s latest essay has been posted at Europe News. Below are some excerpts:

People of European origins are constantly accused of harboring prejudice against people of other cultures. But the more I read of European history, the more I believe that some of the worst prejudice actually targets our own ancestors, particularly during the Middle Ages. Virtually any young Westerner you ask will reply that the Muslims, the Chinese…(fill in the blanks) were vastly more sophisticated than the backward Europeans in medieval times. This is true in some cases, but not in others.

China was always significantly better at applied technology than she was in the theoretical sciences. And no, science and technology didn’t merge until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and then only in Europe. According to Toby E. Huff in his excellent book The Rise of Early Modern Science, if we consider the main fields of scientific inquiry to be astronomy, physics, optics and mathematics, then the Chinese lagged behind not only Europeans, but also Muslims from the eleventh century onwards, if not before. Even Joseph Needham in his monumental Science and Civilisation in China concluded that “the Chinese had very little systematic thought in this domain.” While one can find “Chinese physical thought,” one “can hardly speak of a developed science of physics.”

– – – – – – – –

Many Westerners to this day are convinced that medieval Europeans thought the earth was flat. They never did, at least not the educated ones. All the civilizations that were exposed to the learning of the ancient Greeks — Europe, the Middle East and to some extent India — were aware of the fact that the earth is round. Did none of the major civilizations of Eurasia believe that the earth was flat? Yes, the Chinese did. The general consensus among Chinese scholars well into the seventeenth century AD, more than two thousand years after the Greeks had demonstrated that the earth is spherical, was that the earth is flat. The error wasn’t corrected until the Chinese were confronted with European astronomy.

Read the rest at Europe News.

14 thoughts on “Fjordman on Europeans: With Prejudice Against Our Own Ancestors

  1. Thank you for posting.

    I currently publish primarily at the Gates of Vienna, the Brussels Journal, Jihad Watch and Atlas Shrugs, and will continue to do so. But every now and then, I will publish at some other website that I like. This time, it’s on EuropeNews, a very good news website that deserves even more traffic than it currently has today.

  2. “But the more I read of European history, the more I believe that some of the worst prejudice actually targets our own ancestors…”

    The “But” introducing this sentence is a little curious, implying that the writer only became aware of this relatively recently. This phenomenon — of a culture of self-criticism so broad and deep it becomes morbidly excessive — has been dominant and mainstream throughout the entire West for approximately 50 years now, and it has rich roots going back further, at least to the 18th century Enlightenment (with more subterranean and more amorphous roots further back than that, to the Reformation).

    Indeed, this culture of morbidly excessive self-criticism (the “self” here of course denotes the West, not so much any given individual’s self) is one of the main components of the PC MC (politically correct multi-culturalist) paradigm. Coupled with its mirror image — a pathologically excessive romanticization of the Oriental “Other” and/or the “Noble Savage” (which itself is a major ingredient in the culture of Reverse Racism, also a part of the PC MC paradigm) — it has become the primary component explaining why the West currently behaves so irrationally with respect to its predominant menace, Islam and the Muslims who are its agents.

    For more in-depth analysis of this:

    The PC Multiculturalist Paradigm

  3. You can make a very good case for claiming that what has happened is that some of the traits that used to be among our best assets, such as self-criticism, individualism and a prominent role for women, have turned into caricatures of themselves. The crucial question is why.

  4. The crucial question is why.

    I guess the “why” is supposed to include the answer to exactly when the West started to be a caricature, and it’s impossible to say when that happened. We find caricatures already back in the 17th century.

    An more important question, and easier to answer, is how to cure it. The active component is Christian ethics, so that must be removed. First of all among atheists and other non-Christians. It’s ridiculous how people who profess themselves as secular are so obsessed by following Christian ethics. This has to stop. Secondly, Christianity should butt out of politics completely.

  5. Tocqueville’s description of China is similar to Fjordman’s:
    ‘When Europeans landed in China three hundred years ago, they found there that almost all the arts had reached a certain degree of perfection and were surprised that they had not improved beyond that point. It was an industrial nation where most scientific processes had been preserved, while science itself was dead. That explained the unusually static quality of mind of this nation. The Chinese, in following the path of their ancestors, had mislaid the reasons for the direction the latter had chosen. They still used the fomula without asking why; they kept the tool but they had lost the skills to adapt or replace it. The Chinese were, therefore, not able to change anything and had to abandon any notion of improvement. The well of human knowledge had dried up and althouth the flow still ran, it could neither increase its volume nor change its course.
    We should not, therefore, complacently think that the barbarians are still far away for, if some nations allow the torch to be snatched from their hands, others stamp it out for themselves.’

    Fjordman makes the case that our virtues have become our vices, our strengths our weaknesses, and asks why. The answers are as old as Mencius, as recent as the democratic equality, and as permanent as cycles–

    We survive on adversity, and perish in comfort. (Mencius)
    Civilizations in decline are constantly characterized by a tendancy toward standardization and uniformity. The last stage but one of every civilization is characterized by the forced political unification of its constituent parts, into a single greater whole. (Toynbee)
    The worst threat of this new democratic system is that mediocrity will not only be encouraged, but may be enforced. (Tocqueville)
    Civilization has run on ahead of the soul of man, and is producing faster than he can think and give thanks. (Chesterton) The modern mind is in complete disarray,knowledge has stretched itself to the point to where neither the world nor our intelligence can find any foot-hold. It is a fact that we are suffering from nihilism. (Camus)
    Over-civilization and barbarism are within an inch of one-another. (Chesterton) Every civilization decays through over-civilization; The civilization of one epoch becomes the manure of the next. (Connolly) Success is never final. (Churchill)
    No cause is ever lost, because none is ever won. (T. S. Eliot)

  6. The crucial question is why.

    Actually, I disagree slightly. The crucial question is how to revert to what used to be a normal state of things.

    One of my favorites is actually the Rule of Law. We have all kinds of crazy imaginary ‘discriminations’ that lefties and Islamophiles urge action against, and these proposed actions lead towards totalitarianism.

    If we stick to the Rule of Law, punish only real crimes – not imaginary ones – the left-wing exremists and the Islamists lose a lot of leverage.

  7. Western culture has always had an identity problem; it has never recognised itself as an entity and instead imagines it is a continuation of the Classical culture. And in the wider context of our ‘prejudice’ against our own ancestors, the problem surely stems from Western man’s objectivity. Whilst it was this that enabled our mastery of technology it served to undermine our confidence in who and what we are – what other peoples are able to step outside themselves and adopt their enemy’s point of view? Those that rule the west are employing this ability to our disadvantage – which says a lot about those in charge.

    Although this is relevant to the clash with Islam it is not its cause – Islam as a culture is following its destiny and it will either defeat the West or be defeated by it. This has more to do with with the stages that the two cultures are in than it has to do with the particulars of either culture…

    Hope that makes some sort of sense…

  8. Hendrik–
    It seems a fair question–how to revert to a normal state of things.
    That is more applicable to America, since that is where Tocqueville discovered the democratic equality to be working and fully functional, through the demands of individual liberty.
    But worse, we might conclude that this was not a normal state of things, rather to be the counter-intuitive product of centuries of European experience and experiment given a chance to take root without all that would choke it out in Europe.
    So this IS a more normal state of affairs. Liberty means responsibility. That is why men dread it.

  9. xlbrl, I believe you are underestimating the tradition for free enterprise in Europe, England and the Netherlands in particular.

    This has been working, producing prosperity and freedom through many centuries. Sure, we hear about all kinds of kings and wars, but the underlying strength of these countries won out in the 19th century, giving rise to real democracy. That is a normal state of affairs, a ‘best practice’.

    When masses go berserk in fascist systems, normality is overthrown and chaos ensues.

    Then, rage worn out, we revert to normality. Like in the 50’s, where we did pretty well, sowing the seeds for the creativity of the 60’s, and the prosperity enabling us to do a massive experiment with welfare.

    One of the defining points of this normality would be a healthy respect for private property. I like the idea that Baron presented the other day, that we used to have a wide selection of institutions which each played a sensible role in society, where many were supported by voluntary contributions rather than taxes. That would have kept them lean and honest.

    But perhaps I’m just a romatic 🙂

  10. Don’t miss the following: rejecting one’s own heritage may be necessary if you want to rule an alien culture. For example, all Russian queens were German princesses, but they all converted into Orthodox Christianity when becoming queens.

    Don’t liberals want to control all the World, by submitting it to the liberal order? For that they must drop their own heritage, including Christianity.

  11. CS,

    Your consistent complaint that —

    “The active component [of the problem of the West today] is Christian ethics, so that must be removed” —

    founders on the fact that societies and individuals who were positively brimming with “Christian ethics” fought valiantly in scores of battles against Muslims for a good 700 years from the 11th through to the 17th century.

  12. The question of “why” must account for a pathology. I think Eric Voegelin’s nosological diagnosis of the history of philosophy in the West analyzes the problem sufficiently, by which the constant of a “gnostic” tendency — to morbidly cultivate a contemptus mundi to excess — is the sign & symptom that has had a long career of permutations in Western history, from approximately 400 B.C. to the present.

    Since modern Gnostics don’t believe in a transcendence to escape to, they seek to either transfigure the imperfect structures of this world (through Utopian communes, or Revolutions of one flavor or another); or to escape through addictions and divertissements in the Pascalian sense.

    A global Islamic revival has the potential to offer a certain number of modern Western gnostics an alternative cosmos — a self-contained world (Islam) that is not only non-Western, but anti-Western — to escape to, and fight for. We have seen so far a small number of such pathologically disaffected spiritual expatriates; that number may increase in the near future.

    Of course, Voegelin doesn’t supply an answer to the ultimate “why” — for all ultimate questions have no answer, but extend into irresolvable mystery.

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