When I was in high school, I confronted my European History teacher with a statement made in a book by former US Secretary of State Zbigniew Brzezinski that at the beginning of 19th century China produced as much steel as did England. My teacher ridiculed the statement, claiming that nobody had anything close to England’s industrial capacity until late 19th century. I later found out through independent research that Brzezinski’s statement was true, and that in early 19th century England and China each produced 30% of the world’s steel. But even to this day many people in the West, including Harvard-educated historians such as my teacher, know nothing of this fact.
There are candidates in politics now who want to turn American educational system to Eurocentrism and American exceptionalism. And the answer to all these people is that in doing what they do they are in weighing against the very things that the Western Civilization, and America in particular, the leader of the world in the first place. The Western Civilization (and United States in particular) achieved its greatness through science; technology; ingenuity; innovation; knowledge; democracy; freedom of information; and fact. And in militating against such things the right-wing candidates are undermining the very things that made their country great in the first place.
In 18th century, a Chinese emperor rejected England’s offer of trade with China, saying that his “celestial empire” already had everything, and that there was nothing that the pathetic island of England could offer it. Pursuant this decision China entered a period of decline and stagnation as the Western civilization blossomed through scientific and technological innovation. This disastrous decision led China to fall steeply behind – a catastrophic decline from which China is only now beginning to recover.
And in choosing to ignore reality and embrace a factually wrong view of history and encourage a crabby, arrogant attitude on the part of American people, the right-wing politicians are at risk of putting America in the same position as the Chinese emperor had placed his “celestial empire.”
It does not help that there are ideologies out there that claim that there is no such thing as real innovation or originality, or that anyone who has any idea other than that of the people around him is a narcissist or a sociopath. It does not help that there are ideologies out there that claim that only good comes from Christ and that everything else is the work of the Devil. The world will not stop practicing intelligence and innovation, even if America does. And that will unquestionably lead America to decline in relation to the rest of the world for as long as its people practice such attitudes.
To actually be an American patriot and benefit the country in a meaningful way one must know what made it great in the first place. Ingenuity, innovation, knowledge, fact, and freedom of information, are at the root of everything, material and political, that America has. Other countries had Jesus; other countries had armies; other countries had capitalism; other countries had people willing to die for them or to work hard or to pledge allegiance to the flag. America is not exceptional in this regard. It is exceptional in its embrace of ingenuity and innovation, and it is to this that are owed America’s greatest accomplishments.
Those who want to embrace a factually wrong view of history, like those who want to misplace credit for America’s greatness, claiming it to be based on “traditional values” that existed in Europe and Middle East and in only a slightly different form in China and India long before they existed in America, are militating against the very things that are responsible for America’s accomplishments. And for America to remain an exceptional country, it must reject the factually wrong Eurocentrism and the equally wrong American exceptionalism, along with the other lies of the American Right that are contributing to this error.
To the people who would from this expect me to be a Marxist, my response is that the Marxist view of history is as wrong as the right-wing view of history. Besides describing China and India as feudalist and Native Americans as stone-age tribes, Marx offered no real informed insight into any of these societies. His linear conception of history is wrong in light of basic human reality as much as it is wrong in light of historical fact. At the time that Europe was in the Dark Ages, China had half the world’s GDP; India and Middle East had great architecture and advanced mathematics; and Africa had a city of a million people. While the Western Civilization progressed as a result of Renaissance and then later as a result of European Enlightenment and American Revolution, all of these civilizations declined and are only now getting back on their feet. There is no such thing as linear history, and there is no such thing as historical inevitability. Human choice makes it possible at any time to change history of any place in any direction. And in all cases, these choices bear logically predictable results.
Rejecting Eurocentrism and American exceptionalism will enhance and sustain America’s greatness. It will take away from people the intellectual crutches that they are using to sustain their pride as citizens of a great country while they are doing nothing great for their country themselves. It will give people incentive to actually add to their country’s greatness, instead of relying on the work of their ancestors to maintain their national pride while themselves doing nothing that merits pride. And that will do much to result in America remaining a great country instead of following 18th century China’s path to failure and decline.