Feb 15, 2009

PAST PRESENT: United they rose

While Europe struggled for freedom, Asian countries were groaning under absolute and despotic rule, losing their initiative and creativity. Even in the ancient period, the Greek historian Herodotus called the war between Greek and Persia as the conflict between freedom and despotism.
‘Europe invented historians and then made good use of them of them to promote their own interests at home and elsewhere in the world.’— Fernand Braudel

Braudel, a prominent historian of the Annales school of history, argues that the rise of Europe emerged after it became secure from foreign invaders such as the Huns, the Mongols and the Arabs.The sense of security that emerged during the Crusades as well as the resultant resources from the Mediterranean helped the continent in building the infrastructure and institutions of its society.The turning point in Europe’s history was from 8th to 10th century, when the Norse invaded the western Europe. In order to defend themselves, Europeans ultimately developed dominant naval power.The Norse not only invaded western Europe, but also reached the New World. According to Pirenne, a Belgian historian, Europe at that time did not give the New World much importance and the discovery was soon forgotten. When the Vikings invaded the western Europe, they killed, plundered and took away centuries-old wealth that the churches had accumulated. They brought this wealth into the market, which was subsequently used to activate European economy.According to Braudel, Europe in the 9th and 10th centuries was in the Dark Ages. Economically, it was so weak that it could not bear the burden of great empires. Charlemagne built a great empire, but it soon collapsed in 814 AD and divided into small states. Its resources were so minimal that it could hardly sustain small feudatories. This gave birth to a feudal culture in Europe which continued till modern period.In European history, two elements played important roles. The first was its unity of soul, which kept the continent united despite its internal conflicts and wars. Each country had its identity, language and culture which they mutually developed in terms of art, architecture, literature, dance, music and philosophy.For example, if a philosophical movement rose in Italy or an innovation in architecture and music was introduced in Germany, other European countries immediately accepted it as part of their culture This participation and sharing created a European civilisation which bound all countries together, and kept Europe internally strong to respond to challenges, thus enabling it to face all foreign invasions.The second distinctive element of European civilisation was the role of the individual’s freedom. This remained a significant feature even during the absolute rule of monarchy, domination of the Church and coercion of feudalism. People struggled against these institutions throughout history and one of the indicators of this phenomenon was the peasants’ rebellion. Despite various efforts to crush this uprising, the resistance continued and eventually became successful with the ‘Declaration of rights of man,’ which was passed during the French Revolution. It recognised freedom of an individual as well as the equal status before law.In the early European history, communities and groups just fought for freedom, but slowly and gradually the demand for freedom became the focal point of struggle. This thought process challenged the concentration of power in one hand or in one institution and empowered judiciary and legislative institutions. Subsequently, it led to the implementing of liberal constitutions which guaranteed fundamental rights. Braudel, in History of civilisations explains:“But who would dare to argue that liberalism, virtually banished now from active politics, and intellectually devalued, is really dead today? It was more than a political epoch and more than contrivance or camouflage of a particular class. For western civilisation it was a high ideal and it may have been tarnished or betrayed, yet it remains part of our heritage and has become second nature. Any breach of individual liberties affronts and incenses us.Politically, too in the face of authoritarian or technocratic states, and societies which are always coercive, a certain defiant and anarchic linearism, invoking the individual and his rights, continues with its leavening work in the West and in the world.”The spirit of freedom kept Europe active and exclusive from other civilisations. While the people of Europe were struggling for freedom, Asian countries were groaning under absolute and despotic rule and had lost their initiative and creativity. Even in the ancient period, the Greek historian Herodotus called the war between Greek and Persia as the conflict between freedom and despotism. Braudel points out that political rights stimulate people to develop their personalities, which is why, people struggle and fight against oppressive and despotic institutions.Some historians also point out that formulation and implementation of law differentiates the development of western and eastern civilisations. In the East, nearly all laws from Hammurabi to Judaism to Christianity and Islam were based on divine guidance. On the contrary, in the West nearly all laws were manmade. Lycurgus, Solan and Roman legal system were introduced according to the need of the hour. Therefore, both societies developed on different levels and scales. Divine law cannot be changed while manmade laws can not only be changed, but abolished when no longer needed. This aspect made the western civilisation accept change to restructure its values and traditions according to the advancement of time.By Mubarak Ali

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