Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

buy us books !
Amazon wishlist

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada



the Complete Review
the complete review - history / politics

European Universalism

Immanuel Wallerstein

general information | our review | links | about the author

To purchase European Universalism

Title: European Universalism
Author: Immanuel Wallerstein
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2006
Length: 87 pages
Availability: European Universalism - US
European Universalism - UK
European Universalism - Canada
  • The Rhetoric of Power
  • Based on the lectures given in 2004 at St. John's College of the University of British Columbia

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B : some interesting ideas and examples, but can't quite contain (or explain) its full ambition

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       European Universalism is a short book that argues that it is a specifically European (and by extension also contemporary-American) idea of 'universalism' that is the excuse and explanation used for much global interference by more powerful nations in less powerful ones, and that it is time to move beyond that.
       Wallerstein begins by asking 'Whose right to intervene ? Universal values against barbarism'. He contrasts the approach of Sepúlveda to explaining why the conquest of the New World -- and specifically the way it was carried out (mass slaughter, forced conversions of the heathens, etc.) -- was acceptable, and Las Casas objections. This 16th century debate turns out to be surprisingly relevant: as Wallerstein notes:

nothing that has been said since has added anything essential to the debate.
       Indeed, even if it shouldn't be surprising, it is disturbing to see how similar Sepúlveda's justifications are to, say, the jr. Bush administration's justifications for the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. God doesn't figure quite as prominently, but otherwise the basic attitude is identical: outsiders know best and are willing to impose their 'solution' at all cost (a cost borne largely by the local population), they're just saving the local population from the barbarism they're suffer under, and a much better system will be put in place.
       It is a specific set of values that are used as an excuse and explanation, and Wallerstein argues that this European universalism is, in fact, far from universal (and generally not appreciated). In fact, it would appear the main beneficiaries are those that fly this European universalism banner -- mainly the European nations that used it to such good (for them) and otherwise devastating effect in the colonial period.
       In 'Can one be a non-Orientalist ? Essentialist particularism' Wallerstein examines perspectives -- the European way of regarding the Orient, for example -- and the danger of replacing this with merely another similarly blinkered (other-)world-view. He believes it's time to move on, to all become non-Orientalists -- though with care:
We are required to universalize our particulars and particularize our universals simultaneously and in a kind of constant dialectical exchange, which allows us to find new syntheses that are then of course instantly called into question. It is not an easy game.
       In 'How do we know the truth ? Scientific universalism' Wallerstein takes on the (European/American) university system. Among his interesting ideas is that the 'two cultures'-divide (between the humanities and science) is one that many would like to keep and are trying to reinforce, and that this bifurcation has helped give the upper hand to a specifically 'scientific' approach to issues (though not, he clearly believes, to the benefit of society).
       Wallerstein argues throughout that we are at a cross-roads: our current world-system is collapsing around us, and we need to decide what we want next. It is the argument that the current system is collapsing that is the weak point here: in particular he argues here that the capitalist world-economic system has run its course and can't continue as previously; it's an interesting argument, but in this small space he only sketches it out and on the basis of what he offers here his assertion is far from a convincing one. (Some of his points -- such as about labour ("personnel") costs and movement -- seem downright silly: vaguely plausible in abstract theory, but very far from the real-world examples all around us.)
       Wallerstein floats quite a few interesting ideas in this book. His points about how dangerous and unacceptable it is to see specific values as universal (and how easy it is to fall into that trap) are excellent and well-conveyed, and the book is worth a look for this aspect alone. The rest, however, is simply too far-reaching to be adequately contained in these few pages: Wallerstein has some big and in part very radical ideas, and there's not enough foundation to much of what he presents to make it convincing. The ideas are of interest, but obviously one must go elsewhere to engage with them.
       Certainly of some interest, and a quick and fairly accessible read, with a lot of thought-provoking -- if often not adequately justified -- ideas and arguments.

- Return to top of the page -


European Universalism: Reviews: Immanuel Wallerstein: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       American scholar Immanuel Wallerstein was born in 1930.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2006-2008 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links