Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Politics of Historicism

Historicism enabled European domination of the world in the nineteenth century... [It] posited historical time as a measure of the cultural distance (at least in institutional development) that was assumed to exist betwen the West and the non-West.
Historicism - and even the modern, European idea of history - one might say, came to non-European peoples as somebody's way of saying "not yet" to somebody else.

Consider the classical liberal but historicist essays by John Stuart Mill, "On Liberty" and "On Representative Government," both of which proclaimed self-rule as the highest form of government and yet argued against giving Indians or Africans self-rule on grounds that were indeed historicist.

According to Mill, Indians or Africans were not yet civilized enough to rule themselves. Some historical time of development and civilization (colonial rule and education, to be precise) had to elapse before they could be considered prepared for such a task. Mill's historicist argument thus consigned Indians, Africans, and other "rude" nations to an imaginary waiting room of history. In doing so, it converted history itself into a version of this waiting room. We were all headed for the same destination, Mill averred, but some people were to arrive earlier than others.

That was what historicist consciousness was: a recommendation to the colonized to wait. Acquiring a historical consciousness, acquiring the public spirit that Mill thought absolutely necessary for the art of self-government, was also to learn this art of waiting. This waiting was the realization of the "not yet" of historicism.
From Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe (Paragraph breaks added to facilitate reading)

1 comment:

Dark Daughta said...

Thanks for this. I've got to step out. But I'll be coming back to this one to do more than skim. It looks exciting and useful for my thinking process in that way your posts are for me these days. Thanks again.