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HomeViewsArticleWest Won The World With Philosophy: A Myth

West Won The World With Philosophy: A Myth

The European nations which spearheaded the expansion of Western power during the Age of Imperialism were not democratic

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The West was not founded through the philosophies of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Cicero, Seneca, Thomas Aquinas, John Locke, Immanuel Kant, Hegel, and Karl Marx. It was founded through the actions of preachers, monarchs, and conquerors like Pope Urban II, Pope Innocent III, Queen Isabella I, King Ferdinand II, Columbus, Hernán Cortés, Francisco Pizarro, Hernando de Soto, Queen Elizabeth I, King James VI and I, Oliver Cromwell, James Wolfe, Robert Clive, Warren Hastings, Napoleon, and Cecil Rhodes.

Second Myth: The West has won because it is democratic

The European nations which spearheaded the expansion of Western power during the Age of Imperialism were not democratic. They were tyrannical regimes united under the banner of “one God and one monarch.” During the reign of Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand II, Spain became Europe’s first imperialist empire. The political system in Spain was highly centralized, tyrannical, and militaristic. The communities which failed to accept the Catholic faith and prove their loyalty to the Spanish monarchs lost their property and were exiled or executed.

England under Elizabeth I, and the monarchs who succeeded her, was probably as tyrannical and expansionist as Spain. The British monarchs were Protestant and they committed many atrocities on the Catholic population in the British Isles, especially Ireland. During his reconquest of Ireland in (1649–1653), Oliver Cromwell wiped out a large section of the Catholic population—he is still a hated figure in Ireland. Portugal, France, and the Dutch Republic too were united under tyrannical and intensely religious monarchs.

There was hardly any democracy in Europe between 1492, when Columbus discovered the first island in the Americas, and 1900, when imperialism peaked and the colonial empires started declining. The kind of political unity that tyrants of Europe had achieved in their nations was not there in the Americas, Africa, and Asia. For instance, the Aztec and the Inca empires were more diverse than any European state of that time. They allowed thousands of people of other tribes to live in their empire. The conquistadors took advantage of the rivalries between the tribes to gather local allies who helped them in bringing down the Aztec and Inca Empires.

The Europeans won because they were united under “one God and one monarch.” The people in the Americas, Africa, and Asia lost because they were divided into many nations and tribes. Democracy with universal suffrage came to the Western countries in the twentieth century. By 1945, the British Empire and most other colonial empires were finished.

Third Myth: The world is “the white man’s burden”

In 1899, Rudyard Kipling wrote the poem called “The White Man’s Burden,” in which he exhorts the Americans to conquer the Philippine Islands. Kipling believed that it was the white man’s burden to conquer the world and civilize it. He was not a historian or a sociologist. He was a fine storyteller but he was an ignorant and insensitive man. He didn’t know how brutal the slave trade was. He didn’t know about the genocides that had happened in the Americas since the arrival of the Spanish in 1492. He didn’t know that 90 percent of the native population in the Americas had been wiped out.

Instead of civilizing the Americas, the Europeans had brutalized it.

Till the 1920s, the imperialist powers were convinced that it was their manifest destiny to civilize the world. Till the 1850s, the American swashbucklers used to brag that it was their manifest destiny to rule over the entire North America. In 1775 and 1812, the Americans tried to invade Canada. Both invasions failed. When the imperialist powers went to Africa, they claimed that their aim was to bring civilization to this primitive continent, but their venture was all about capturing gold, diamonds, slaves, and land. Till the twentieth century, the Dutch were arguing that South Africa was theirs since they were here first and they civilized this place.
The Age of Imperialism is one of the worst chapters in the sordid history of civilization. Many more scientific, political, and artistic innovations would have happened in all parts of the world if the Europeans had stayed inside Europe between the fifteenth and the twentieth centuries.

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Anoop Verma
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