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Literature Review: The Eastern Origin of Western Civilisation by John M. Hobson

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: International Relations
Wordcount: 1814 words Published: 4th Nov 2020

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International Relations

John Hobson provocations the ethnocentric favouritism of familiar story of the eminence of the West. It acknowledged that since primordial Greek times Europeans have initiated their development and that the East has been a nonactive spectator in the scenario of innovative world history. Hobson debates that two processes entitled the occurrence of the 'Oriental West'. 

First, each major developmental turning point in Europe was enlightened in large part by the absorption of Eastern innovations (e.g. ideas, technologies and institutions) which spread from the more sophisticated East across the Eastern-led global economy between 500–1800. Second, the establishment of European recognition after 1453 led to imperialism, through which Europeans sequestered many Eastern resources (land, labour and markets). Hobson's book thus propels the formerly trivializes Eastern peoples to the spearhead of the story of progress in globe history.

  • Gives a non-racist account of the emergence of the West
  • Reconsiders the vital classification, notions and hypothesis of world history
  • Investigate the duty of character in world actual or historical development

'This is a pivotal book of comparative and historical sociology. It is both a dynamic criticism against Eurocentrism and a stunning assembling of proof on the historical construction of Europe and Asia. Hobson argues that the many innovations which purportedly empowered Europe to influence the world have dispersed to Europe from Asia (usually from China) and that Asia/China remained as developed as Europe until the 19th Century.

'John Hobson has written an eminently aspiring book which seeks, precisely and allegorically, to redraw the historical map. Illustrating on an impactful range of economic and cultural historiography, he suggests a new 'meta-chronicle' for a millenary of world history, which is possibly best summed up as 'The Oriental Contribution to the emergence of the West'. Hobson claims that Western industrialization was depended in significant measure on the acceptation of Arab and Chinese awareness, the exploitation of African labour and the foisting of asymmetric exchanging arrangements on Asian economies. As an invective against European triumphalism, The Eastern Origins of Western Civilization recollects the extremely dominant work of the author's great grandfather, the radical anti-imperialist J. A. Hobson.' Niall Ferguson, author of Empire.

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'John Hobson has written a real and insightful book which costs to no less than a substitute history of the modern world. Dr Hobson breaks through the received wisdom about East and West, rephrasing common hypothesis about 'Western civilization and describing the West's indebtedness to the East. His is a rare act of analytical rediscovery - a remarkable and thought-provoking work.

Generally speaking, one can talk about two foremost currents of Eurocentric beliefs in assumptions of world history: the "strongly Eurocentric" and the "weakly Eurocentric." The former is the view that Europe first ruins through into industrialist contemporaneity while remain of the world deteriorated for multiple reasons including oriental absolutism, unpropitious climate, and scarcity of protestant ethic. In addition, the non-Western world is not ambitious to have donated significantly to the "rise." This view has been communicated, in different forms, by both Marxist and non-Marxist intellectuals (Brenner 1977; Landes 1998). Periodically the broader worldly context is left undiscussed, maybe on the conclusion that it was unnecessary as compared to "inside refutation" (as in the case of the "transition debate," see Hilton 1976). The infirmly Eurocentric view, in contrast, does confess the Eastern benefaction but only, or mostly, in the form of low-cost land, labour, markets for manufactured goods, or sites for an investment of European capital (Hobson's "Dark Side of British Industrialization" [243] or Marx's primitive accumulation). 

Hobson has, however, investigated in significant detail the past fifteen hundred years. He displays the East as the early developer in a relatively kind oriental globalization from 500 to 1800, the innovation of Christendom as a medieval, reactive European response, and the mythology of Europe's civilizing, universal values as little more than a necessary invention to market the West's committed imperial tactics.

Hobson does not oppose the exceptional character of this attainment. Still, no more does he pull his punches in explaining a British monarchical project built on national protectionism, regressive taxation, interventionism, despotism and militarism. This role leads up to a movement headed 'Racism, Industrialization and the moral conflict of the British Imperial civilizing mission', which is followed by others such as 'The contradictions of imperial free trade: containment versus cultural conversion' and 'Racism and the commodification of the East: The Afro-Asian origins of British industrialization'. The latter explains the critical role of the slave trade and the Empire's slave labour plantations in generating further wealth and capital resources that led on to advances in Asia.

With this in mind, the timing the work of Hobson, and before him, Frank, takes on its original importance. After only a few years of the third millennium, a developmental body of proof recommends that the leader of the West, and modern globalism or Anglo-American Empire, the United States, is under a climbing challenge from East Asia in stock and from China in specific. A summary of an article in the July-August 2004 edition of the authoritative American policy journal, Foreign Affairs by James F Hoge and titled "A Global Power Shift in the Making" reads:

The exchange of power from West to East is assembling speed and will theatrically change the context for dealing with global challenges. Many in the West are already conscious of Asia's growing strength. This consciousness, however, has not yet translated into readiness.

Hobson's work is valuable and priceless because it provides a timely prompt that there is nothing exotic or menacing about a world where China stays in 'enigmatic' authority at the centre. That has been the fact for much of humankind's recorded history. The enigmatic has mostly been a product of Anglo-American imperial disinformation and intellectual discrimination. In reality, the universal values - democracy, the rule of law, free trade - that have been marketed to the world community in the recent era are simply the political implement of an Anglo-American empire that is now threatened with a decline after two hundred years of creative expansion. The feasibility of such universal values remains dependent on the continuing authority of Anglo-American leadership.

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Hobson's concluding passages, titled 'The oriental West verses the Eurocentric myth of the West', stances the muddle now facing the West generally and Anglo-American empire in particular. The mythologies that are sturdy and reliable weapons in the creation of an empire and its infrastructure beliefs also can become a source of susceptibility when history goes on and uncover the real character and identities of those mythologies. Today, every time a severe commentator, like James F Hoge, uphold questions about one of the significant shift of power from the West to Asia, it should be understood immediately and straightway that this should also be an investigation of whether this goes behind a simple shift in economic and political power and leadership. Does it also foreshow an essential change in supreme recognition of mythological constructs, historical truth, cultural values, significance and even scientific model?

Although Hobson does not directly and immediately address the issue, a recurrence of the centre of the global world trading system to China and East Asia strengthen well involve a move from the West's mechanical and moderation sciences, which have so sacked physical and human bionomics, to the East's more biological and holistic approach to science, which after all headed the world prior to the 19th Century. Hobson's illuminating and enlightening review of history does, however, evoke the reader that the Anglo-American empire was manufactured, like most earlier empires and kingdoms, on an aggressive spirit and attitude of conquest, over both humanity and nature. It also prompts us of the fact that China held a position at the centre of a world trading system for an extended period of time, without the free trade seditions and proclamation of the Opium Wars with which Britain crippled China's then political order.

Reflections of this identity are motivated by Hobson's reports, even though they go after the scope of his book. The actual or accurate value of The Eastern Origins of Western Civilization inhabits in its proportions to disclose the approach in which politically convenient tradition has twisted the Western concept of both history and culture. There will be a hard need or requirement for many more such exploratory or investigative books, if Western peoples, governments and government officials are not to entirely misapprehend processes at work in today's worldly community and are not to enable utter unawareness to disadvantage and damage them in difficult times, but perhaps healthy and bloomy, transition. After all, earlier to the British use of the opium trade and exchange to threaten traditional and cultural authority, Chinese thought, theory and conduct had been distinguished for more than a thousand years by a keen search for a disciplined, equitable, peaceful sense of political and human actions. Indeed, for more than half of the past seven hundred years Chinese civilization and human development was able to evolve, develop, prosper and grow ever more flexible under foreign rulers - first the Mongols and then the Manchu.


  • Balasubramaniam, A. (2006). The Dialogue of Civilizations in the Birth of Modern Science. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Bayly, C. A. (2004). The Birth of the Modern World 1780–1914. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Hobson, J. M. (2004). The Eastern Origins of Western Civilisation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Frank, A. G. (1998). ReOrient. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  • Bray. F. (1984). Science and Civilisation in China, VI (2). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Cressey, P. (1945). Chinese Traits in European Civilization: A Study in Diffusion. American Sociological Review, 10(5), 595–604.


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