It may seem trivial to point out that criticism of the Western tradition has become an accepted part of our discourse. Up until a few decades ago, however, Eurocentrism—the idea that the West possesses some innate characteristic(s) that have allowed it to guide world history—composed the norm. We all can therefore celebrate that we have reached a level of honesty and self-criticism to continue to combat this doctrine. Nevertheless, we should be careful to avoid going too far in the opposite direction of Anti-Eurocentrism and fall again into the same problems.
The Problem with Eurocentrism
The central problem confronting Eurocentrism is its tendency to be tremendously misleading. First, Eurocentrism commits the mistake of treating the ‘West’ as a monolithic entity impervious to influence from the East. Second, Eurocentric positions are most often simply inaccurate, fantasized histories of Western accomplishments. Consequently, Eurocentrism fails to offer a cogent account of our modern world, one which increasingly moves toward an integrated global society.
Although these views hinder us from fully making sense of our modern global society, a worse consequence of Eurocentrism is the harmful climate it actively engenders. By teaching that the West is wholly unique and distinct from the Eastern tradition, it proposes that these two overly-simplified heritages are irreconcilable. And further, Eurocentrism leads to the idea that the West is not only superior to the East, but also deserves to be so. Instead we must appreciate the Eastern and Western traditions for themselves without alienating them from each other.
The Problem with Anti-Eurocentrism
Unfortunately, I often get the impression that many academics and social justice advocates have adopted an opposing view, which I deem an ‘Anti-Eurocentrism,’ that has become equally misguided. Of course not all positions that oppose Eurocentrism are problematic. Many people maintain a healthy anti-Eurocentric position – and I hope I’m one of them! Instead I refer to the over-zealous who commit two common problems. First, they often disparage the West by denying it any merit for its very real and unique accomplishments. Secondly, they often advocate for the East’s own superiority and distinctness in opposition to the West. As a result, vehement anti-Eurocentric positions promote the same form of biased, inaccurate, and generalizing answers promulgated by Eurocentrism.
The premises assumed by vehement Anti-Eurocentrism carry the same misleading qualities characterizing Eurocentrism. When trying to assert the East’s superiority, one necessarily establishes the West as an antithetical entity over which it is possible to be superior. The bare historical truth, however, disproves such an East-West antagonism. One is, all things considered, no more superior or exotic r advanced than the other. At bottom, both heritages (in truth there are many, many heritages since the “East” is no monolith either) asked the same questions, tried many different solutions, and responded to the same human concerns and desires we all share. If we are to fully appreciate the similarities, we must subsequently recognize each tradition’s own accomplishments. Ultimately, anti-Eurocentrism offers a no more accurate depiction of history.
Recognizing Our Increasingly Interconnected World
So far I have discussed how both Eurocentrism and Anti-Eurocentrism construct an antagonism by reducing world history to a hierarchy between two opposed and autonomous developments. Besides being false, this view exerts an utmost misleading influence by prohibiting us from fully recognizing the increasing interconnectedness of modern globalized society. In fact, this common ground has appeared throughout history. For example, diverse western thinkers such as von Misses, Bertrand Russell, and Nietzsche have received inspiration from the Ancient Chinese Daoist text of Lao Tzu. If these thinkers can inform each other despite millennia and cultures of separation, this common ground must be concrete.
In our modern global society, this common ground expands faster than ever before. No one can deny, for example, that we participate in a ceaseless global economic exchange across East and West. The ideological and cultural cleavage that used to exist between the first and second world countries continues to rapidly close. Despite extremely different twentieth century economic and political experiences, as well as continuing inequality, China and the United States increasingly live in a “post-industrial society”. And when we look towards the actual people, we find growing cultural similarities. For instance, the popularity of Eastern forms of spiritual mysticism in the West and of Western popular culture in the East.
In conclusion, Anti-Eurocentric and Eurocentric beliefs warrant consignment to a bygone status. In trying to rightfully counteract Eurocentrism, extreme anti-Eurocentrism commits the same errors and assumes the same kind of false premises. It offers no sound alternative to Eurocentric thinking. We should instead recognize the amazing independent accomplishments of the Eastern and Western traditions as well as the splendid similarities and exchanges that always have and should continue to exist between them. Eurocentrism has taken its turn and done its damage. We should not allow vehement anti-Eurocentrism to seize its chance. If we do, we will once again mislead ourselves into accepting biased answers.