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Part 6a: Imperialism as modernity
By Henry C K Liu

  • Part 1: The race toward barbarism
  • Part 2: That old time religion
  • Part 3: Rule of law vs Confucianism
  • Part 4: Taoism and modernity
  • Part 5: The Enlightenment and modernity

    Imperialism is the extension of rule or dominance by one people over another. Ancient imperialism reached its climax under the Roman Empire, which collapsed in the West after two centuries of Pax Romana, and withered away finally in the East in the late Middle Ages with the collapse of the Byzantine Empire in 1453. The fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Ottoman Sultan Mohammad II is viewed by some historians as the beginning of the modern age. Thereafter, imperialism subsided. Subsequently, the Holy Roman Empire and Ottoman Dominion emerged as confederations of princely states of high degrees of autonomy rather than imposed imperial rule.

    A new imperialism was reborn in the West with the rise of commercial capitalism in the 17th century in which external trade became indispensable to the growth of domestic economies. Under commercial capitalism, capital was primarily employed to finance inventory and logistics, not manufacturing. Commercial capitalism was a socio-economic system characterized by private ownership of the means of distribution, not necessarily of production, operating for private profit through the institutions of private bank credit and linked distant markets. The rise of industrial capitalism dated from the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century with the private ownership of the means of production and imposed distant markets. Nineteen-century imperialism was an extension of industrial capitalism. Neo-imperialism of the post-Cold War era is an extension of finance capitalism, in which the global manipulation of finance dominates all else. Though the specific characters of capitalism have changed over the ages, the fundamental essence of capitalism is not a product of modernity. Neither is imperialism, the political extension of capitalism.

    Protestantism, particularly Calvinism, provided the spiritual foundation for the spread of industrial capitalism. Calvinism, being critical of human nature, believes that God's grace is bestowed on only a few elected godly individuals as predestination. A believer can instill in his/her own consciousness an awareness of being among the pre-selected saved, as God's chosen few, if throughout all trials and temptations, he/she persists in a saintly life. Predestination thus becomes a challenge to exert unrelenting human effort with burning religious conviction and to undertake a mission to do the battle of God, rejecting pessimism and resignation.

    Predestination has its parallel in Chinese Buddhism. Looking for a politically correct Buddhist theologian, Li Shimin, a Taoist and the Genesis Emperor (Taizong) of the Tang Dynasty, found him in the person of Xuanzang (605-661), an eminent pilgrim seng (Buddhist monk). With imperial sponsorship, Xuanzang would in his life be the prodigious translator of Yogacara-bhumi, a treatise of the Yogacara school of Indian Mahayana Buddhism (Dasheng, meaning "major vehicle"), and establish a new denomination that would call itself the Faxiang sect (Methodist Divination).

    Compared with the merciful theology of universal salvation in Chinese Mahayana Buddhism set by the widely recognized Tiantai sect (Heaven Platform), the Faxiang sect founded by Xuanzang is an anomaly in the development of Buddhist thought in China. After its initial flowering, it faded quickly after the withdrawal of imperial sponsorship, when subsequent sovereigns supported their own separate religious sects.

    Xuanzang, brought up as an ecclesiastic apprentice since birth, was ordained as a seng at an early age in Chengdu in the western province of Sichuan. Chengdu is 1,200 kilometers east of Lhasa in Xizang (Tibet), which in turn is separated by the impassable Himalayas from Xiyu (Western District, a term Tang geographers used to include the northern regions of India, referred to as Tianshu). Like all devout and zealous sengs of his day, Xuanzang in his youth longed for an opportunity to go to Xiyu, birthplace of Buddhism, to seek true scripture as well as for personal enlightenment. Northern India was considered the holy land of Buddhism, known by Buddhists in Tang China as Bei Tianshu. Bei Tianshu was part of Xiyu, a general term for all regions south and west of Dunhuang, a famous site of Buddhist grotto temples in the northwestern province of Kansu, on the far western border of the Tang Empire where the southern branch of the Silk Route toward India began.

    India was known as Shendu in China during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220), possibly a Chinese translation of the Sanskrit word Hindu. It was also known as Land of Poluomen, derived from the Sanskrit word Brahman. Modern Chinese refers to India as Yindu, a modification of Hindu. During the Tang time (618-907) it was referred to as Tianshu, a land with five separate independent kingdoms.

    Young Xuanzang applied for official permission to make a pilgrimage, as required by law. But permission was denied as part of a general Taoist Tang imperial policy that discouraged further Buddhist pilgrimage. Undaunted, Xuanzang went surreptitiously on his own accord. In his extensive pilgrimage, Xuanzang was aided by many pious local Buddhist lords and officials who passively opposed Taoist imperial anti-Buddhist policies, paying only lip service to the thin authority of the Tang court in religious matters.

    In the Tang time, the journey from China to Xiyu was circuitous and difficult, having to cross the Tarim Basin desert, passing Samarkand in Turkistan and Kabul in Afghanistan, and through Kashmir to reach northern India. Direct access through Xizang (Tibet) was physically hazardous because of the forbidding height of the Himalaya mountain ranges that separate China and India. It was also politically treacherous because of the relentless hostility of the Tufans (Tibetans), one of several branches of the Western Rong Barbarians known as Xiqiang.

    Nevertheless, Xuanzang managed to arrive in northern India with a small entourage of faithful servants who were social outcasts back home. He traveled to the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent via the east coast and returned north via the west coast. In India, Xuanzang spent almost 15 years studying, five of which at Nalanda, an important center of Buddhism in northeastern India, with the brilliant but highly unorthodox elder, Silabhadra. A relatively minor figure in the Yogacara school of Indian Mahayana Buddhism (Dasheng), Silabhadra was not particularly known for having represented faithfully the teachings of Vasubandhu, the recognized authoritative Yogacara philosopher.

    The most crucial aspect of Silabhadra's heretical offshoot theology is the assertion that only some select persons would reach eventual enlightenment, and, in fact, there is a whole category of people for whom attainment to Buddhahood is impossible. Furthermore, through no fault of their own, these unfortunate souls inherently lack untainted seeds, and hence are eternally excluded from salvation. The best that such pathetic souls in this unfortunate category of deficient people could hope for would be continuing cycles of ameliorative rebirth, which fortunately could still be achieved through the accumulation of spiritual merits.

    This unorthodox and unmerciful idea of predestination was brought back to China by Xuanzang in the 7th century. Unlike Calvinism in the West, Xuanzang's Faxiang sect did not flourish in China. Taoists challenge Buddhist precepts with obvious demographic evidence on the discrepancy between the spread of Buddhism and the persistent increase of misery in the world's growing population. Buddhism, of course, has never proposed any program for elimination of secular misery. It merely promises to make such misery less painful spiritually. To the enlightened Buddhist, both extreme wealth and extreme poverty are curses.

    Gunnar Myrdal (1898-1984), a Swedish sociologist-economist born 12 centuries after Xuanzang, in his 1944 definitive study The American Dilemma, for which he received the 1974 Nobel Prize for Economics, having declared the "Negro" problem in the United States to be inextricably entwined with the democratic functioning of American society, went on to produce a 1976 study of Southeast Asia, The Asian Dilemma. In it, he identified Buddhist acceptance of suffering as the prime cause for economic underdevelopment in the region. Myrdal's conclusion appears valid superficially, given the coincident of indisputable existence of conditions of poverty in the region at the time of his study and the pervasive influence of Buddhism in Southeast Asian culture, until the question is asked as to why, whereas Buddhism has prevailed in Southeast Asia for more than a millennium, pervasive poverty in the region would only make its appearance after the arrival of Western imperialism in the 19th century. It could be that Myrdal had been influenced in his convenient conclusion by his eagerness to deflect responsibility for the sorry state of affairs in the region from the legacy of Western imperialism.

    In contrast to Lutherans, who glorify the state as the sole legitimate expeditor of revolutionary ideology, Calvinists reject the subordination of church to state and embrace the holy mission to Christianize the state. Calvinism rejects democracy with its elitist outlook. While the ideas of Calvinism were central to the rise of capitalism, these ideas fostered in early capitalism a mission to create a religious community that celebrated ascetic living for all, devoid of greed and the exploitative elements that permeate modern capitalism. Calvinists were called Puritans first in England and later in America.

    The economic dimensions of Protestantism - acquisitiveness, aggressiveness, competitiveness and capitalistic exploitation - legitimized by religious righteousness, dismantled the self-restraint on individualism and greed that early Christianity tried to foster and medieval Christianity tried to institutionalize. Protestantism plunged the world into centuries of disharmony, war and conflict in the name of modernity.

    The Arabs, a people generally defined by a common Arabic language, awakened with the new faith of Islam by Mohammed (died 632), took control of Syria, Mesopotamia, Persia and Egypt in 640, took Roman Africa in 700 and reached Spain in 711, where they overthrew the Germanic kingdom set up by the West Goths. The Arab realm then stood as the advanced third component of a triangulated non-Asian world culture of Byzantines, Arabs and the collapsed Roman West. The latter had been overran by uncouth Germanic tribes who had yet to develop written languages and who settled disputes with trials by battle, known as ordeals. Europe was in what historians call the Dark Ages. In the aftermath of the fall of the Western Roman Empire, with Pax Romana in ruins, while the Eastern Roman emperors, ruling from Constantinople, kept a dim light of Roman civilization burning, in the West that light flickered and went out except in the network of fortified monasteries that rejected the barbaric society at large.

    From 800 to 1500, during the European Dark Ages, significant advances in philosophy, literature and poetry and discoveries in mathematics, medicine, astronomy and science were made by scholars in the Arab world. During this period of seven centuries, almost all scientific texts were written in Arabic, and the discoveries of Arab thinkers of this period laid the very foundations from which both Scholasticism and the Renaissance would emerge. Advances in mathematics as well as scientific methods of detailed and systematic observation of nature in this period by Arabs contributed to the later intellectual growth that propelled the Western world through the Industrial and Scientific revolutions. In learning, the Arabs preserved Greek civilization neglected by the Western barbarians. William Shakespeare, in Julius Caesar, has Casca reporting to Brutus on Cicero, who spoke in Greek: "Those that understood him smiled at one another and shook their heads; but for mine own part, it was Greek to me." The year before (1600), another Elizabethan playwright, Thomas Dekker, wrote: "I'll be sworn he knows not so much as one character of the tongue. Why, then it's Greek to him." The phrase came from a medieval Latin proverb, "Graecum est; non potest legi" (It is Greek; it cannot be read). The Spanish version of this proverb is "hablar en griego", which is commonly said to be the origin of the word gringo, one who is literally accused of speaking Greek, and hence being unintelligible.

    The Arabs went beyond what the ancient Greeks had achieved. They invented Arabic numerals, the concept of zero (Arabic sifr), and algebra (al-jebr-jabara), on which modern mathematics and science flowered. Roman numerals, in their cumbersome form, would have never led to the development of advanced mathematics. Some other English words of Arabic origin are "admiral" (amir-al-bahr), "adobe" (al-toba), "alchemy" (al-kimia), "alcohol" (al-kohl), "algorithm" (al-Khowarazmi), "alkali" (al-qaliy), "almanac" (Andalucian Arabic al-manakh), "amber" ('anbar), "antimony" (al-ithmid), "apricot" (al-burquq), "arsenal" (dar assina'ah), "artichoke" (al-kharshuf), "assassin" (h'ashshashin), "azure" (al-lazward), "caliber" (qalib), "checkmate" (shah mat), cipher (sifr), "cork" (qurq), "cotton" (qutn), "crimson" (qirmazi), "elixir" (al-iksir), "jar" (jarrah), "jasmine" (yasmin), "lilac" (lilak), "lemon" (laymun), "lime" (limah), "lute" (al-'ud), "magazine" (makhazin), "mask" (maskhara), "mattress" (matrah), "mohair" (mukhayyar), "monsoon" (mausim), "nadir" (nadir), "orange" (naranj), "safari" (safariy), "saffron" (za'faran), "sofa" (suffah), "sugar" (sukkar), "syrup" (sharab), "tariff" (tarif), "tarragon" (tarkhun), and "zenith" (samt). Yet for all its cultural achievements, the Arabs, not unlike the Germans until the 19th century, were prevented by their tribal culture from developing a unified central political entity.

    By the mid-16th century, the Holy Roman Empire under the Hapsburgs took on the characteristics of a universal monarchy in parallel to the Roman Church's claim of catholic religion. France, a Catholic nation in good standing, to contain the Hapsburgs' expanding control of Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Italy and Greece, allied itself with the rebelling Protestant German states and even the "infidel" Ottoman Empire against the Hapsburg Holy Roman emperors.

    The Ottomans developed one of the greatest and most influential civilizations in history. Their moment of glory in the 16th century represented one of the heights of human creativity, optimism and artistic achievement, weaving the diverse strands of several cultures, from Greek to Romanesque to Arabic to Anatolian, into an Ottoman civilization under the spiritual unity of Islam. Their system of rule, a form of dominion of diverse ethnicities, religions and cultures, misnamed "empire" by the West, was the largest and most influential of the Muslim world, and their culture and military expansion crossed over into Europe. There was no wholesale compulsory conversion of Christians or Jews into Muslims. Christians under Ottoman rule fared better than Muslims did under Christendom, or Moors in Spain, or Protestants in France or Catholics in England and Ireland. The Ottoman Dominion, which by 1650 extended from the Hungarian plains and the southern Russian steppes as far as Algeria, the upper Nile and the Persian Gulf, lasted until the 20th century, ending with the secularization of a Westernized Turkey after World War I along a European model of government.

    By 1400, the Ottomans had extended their control over much of Anatolia and into Byzantine territory in Eastern Europe: Macedonia and Bulgaria. In 1402, the Ottomans moved their capital to Edirne in southeastern Europe, where they threatened the last great bastion of the Byzantine Empire, its capital, Constantinople. In 1453, Sultan Mehmed (1451-81), who was called "The Conqueror". took this one last remnant of Byzantium and renamed it Istanbul. From that point onward, the capital of the Ottoman Dominion would remain in Istanbul and, under the patronage of the Ottoman sultans, would become one of the richest and most cultured cities in history.
    Ottoman rule expanded greatly under Sultan Selim I (1512-20). Under Sultan Suleyman (1520-66), called "The Lawmaker" in Islamic history and "The Magnificent" in Europe, the rule reached its greatest expansion over Asia and Europe. The Ottomans inherited a rich mixture of cultural traditions and political structure from disparate civilizations and ethnic groups - Turks, Arabs, Persians, Mongols and Mesopotamian - unified by Islam. The Ottoman state, like other states in the region and, in similar ways, like the Chinese state and the European New Monarchs, rested on a principle of absolute authority of the monarch. The nature of Ottoman autocracy, however, has been fundamentally misunderstood and misinterpreted with prejudice in the West.

    The central function of the ruler, or sultan, in Ottoman political theory was to guarantee justice ('adale in Arabic) in the Dominion. All authority hinges on the ruler's personal commitment to justice. This idea has Turco-Persian, Arabic and Islamic aspects. In Islamic political theory, the model of a just ruler was Solomon in Hebrew history (Suleyman was named after Solomon). The justice represented by the Solomonic ruler is a distributive justice; this is a justice of fairness and equity. In addition, 'adale has Turco-Persian-Arabic coordinates. In this tradition, 'adale starts with the protection of the helpless from the rapacity of corrupt and predatory forces in society and government.

    In this sense, justice involves protecting the lowest members of society, the peasantry, from predatory exploitation, unfair taxation, corrupt magistracy, and inequitable courts. This, in Ottoman political theory, was the primary task of the sultan, who personally protected his people from the excesses of society and government, corruption of local officials and abuse from the privileged classes. It is the equivalent of the Chinese Confucian concept of a Mandate of Heaven to rule, which is based on an obligation to protect the welfare of the people. The ruler could only guarantee this justice if he had absolute power, lest he should be restricted by a structural balance of power and so subject to corruption by special-interest groups. The cooptation of government by special-interest groups is the gravest weakness of Western representative democracy. Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-59) predicted accurately that equality in early US society would eventually be endangered by the domination of its political system by a new industrial/financial class.

    Absolute authority was justified in building a just and virtuous government and an equitable system of law rather than elevating the ruler above the law, as Europeans generally misinterpreted the sultanate by mislabeling it as despotism. This predestination of the sultanate has commonality in principle with the predestination of Calvinism. It parallels the rationale of European absolute monarchy, the authority of the king resting on his divine duty to protect the peasants from aristocratic abuse. The concept of virtue as a foundation of temporal power was operative in medieval Europe. During the French Revolution, the controversial Maximilian Robespierre believed in the dictatorship of "virtue" in a political order. Both Montesquieu and Jean-Jacques Rousseau held that good governance rests on "virtue" - the unselfish public spirit and civic zeal exemplified by personal uprightness and purity of both the governor and the governed. The Confucian theory of a Mandate of Heaven to rule is based on the concept of virtue. The Western democracies, with their abduction of the concept of modernity, are not detached from this timeless notion of good governance, as expressed in the doctrine of sovereignty.

    Jean Bodin (1530-96), the first to develop the theory of sovereignty in the West, held that in every society there must be one power with the legitimate authority to give law to all others. The Edict of Nantes issued by Henry IV in 1598 was a sovereign edict to protect a Huguenot (French Calvinist) minority, composed mostly of members of the aristocracy, against popular opposition from the Catholic peasants. The Edict led to the assassination of the king by a Catholic fanatic in 1610. The widowed queen, Marie de Medicis, handed control of France to Cardinal Richelieu, who undertook a secular policy to enhance the economic interest of the state with mercantilist measures, by allowing the aristocracy to engage in maritime trade without loss of noble status, and making it possible for merchants to become nobles by payments to the royal exchequer. This provided a political union of the aristocracy and the bourgeois elite that held the nation together until the French Revolution. In 1627, the Duke of Rohan led a Huguenot rebellion from La Rochelle with English military support. Richelieu suppressed the rebellion ruthlessly and modified the Edict of Nantes with the Peace of Alais in 1629, by allowing the Huguenots to keep their religion but stripping them of their instruments of political power: their fortified cities, their Protestant armies and all their military and territorial autonomy and rights.

    The Age of New Monarchy in Europe laid the foundation for the Age of Nation States by placing royal authority above feudal rights, a development that began in the High Middle Ages. The new monarchs offered the institution of monarchy as a guarantor of law and order and promoted hereditary monarchy as the legitimate means of transferring public power. Monarchism was supported by the urban bourgeoisie, as they had long been victimized by the private wars and marauding excesses of the feudal lords. The bourgeoisie was willing to pay taxes directly to the king in return for peace and protection from aristocratic abuse. Its members were willing to let parliament, the stronghold of the aristocracy, be dominated by the king. The direct collection of popular taxes by the king, bypassing the feudal lords, gave the king the necessary resources to maintain a standing army to keep the feudal lords in check. These new monarchs revived Roman law, which favors the state and incorporates the will and welfare of the people in their own persons.

    The new monarchies, by breaking down feudal tariff barriers within the kingdom, contributed to the rise of the commercial revolution and the development of extended cross-border markets. In the rise of capitalism, the needs of the military had been (and still are) of critical importance. The standing national armies of the new monarchs required sudden expenditures in times of war that the normal flow of tax revenue could not meet. Private bankers emerged to finance wars by lending the kings money secured by the future collection of taxes from conquered lands. The medieval prohibition of interest as usury, denounced as the sin of avarice and forbidden by canon law, continued to be upheld by all religions. Luther denounced "Fruggerism" in reference to the bankers of the Holy Roman Empire. Even Calvinism only gradually made allowances on the issue of interest. The new monarchies, caught between fixed income and mounting expenses, were forced to devalue their money by diluting its gold content. They began to borrow from private banks to deal with recurring monetary crises. The monetary crises led to constitutional crises that produced absolute monarchies in Europe and the triumph of bourgeois parliamentarianism in England.

    The Bank of Amsterdam, established in 1609, issued gold florins of known and fixed purity, which quickly assumed the status of international reserve currency for financing trade and wars, making Amsterdam an international finance center until the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte. The arrival of vast amounts of gold into Spain from its American colonies in the 17th century greatly increased the European specie money supply that fueled the growth of Europe and caused a wave of gold inflation that had economic and constitutional consequences. European rulers became hard-pressed for money, and needed more as their currencies fell in value.

    Their common desire to force gold and silver to flow into their separate kingdoms found expression in mercantilism which involved "putting the poor to work", as the English put it, to reap the full benefit of industrialization. Mercantilism became in the economic sphere what nation-building of the new monarchies was in the political. Industrial policies nurtured new industries within every kingdom. A silk industry was brought from Italy to France under royal protection. The migration of skilled Flemish weavers to England was induced and supervised by the Crown to turn England from a producer of raw wool to an exporter of finished woolens. The king even authorized the abduction of two youths who knew advanced dyeing arts from faraway Ottoman regions. France signed treaties with the Ottoman rulers in 1535 to grant French merchants special privileges, including extraterritoriality, called capitulations, in the Ottoman Dominion. A capitulation treaty with England was signed in 1579, the Netherlands in 1598, Russia in 1768, Austria in 1780 and finally with Italy and Germany in the 19th century.

    The Peace of Westphalia of 1648 that ended the Thirty Years' War blocked the Counter-Reformation, contained expanding Hapsburg supremacy and forestalled German unification for two centuries. It also heralded the age of sovereign states in Europe in a Staatensystem held together by the doctrine of balance of power. It arrested aspiration for a universal state in Europe until the formation of the European Union four centuries later. It also formally recognized Calvinism. Out of the peace rose Le Grand Monarque in the person of the Sun King, Louis XIV of France. Crowned at the age of five, assuming control of government at the age of 23, and reigning for 72 years until his death in 1715, Louis XIV ruled longer than any other monarch in modern history. France rose to challenge the universal monarchy status of the Holy Roman Empire of the Hapsburgs. Europe as a whole, stabilized by the balance of power of the Peace of Westphalia, was able to focus on expansion beyond Europe.

    Balance of power in geopolitics refers to the orchestration of an international equilibrium of state power. If one power predominates, as the Holy Roman Empire did in the 16th century, other states may form a coalition to counterweigh it. Or, if a state is a virtually necessary member of a coalition, more needed by its allies than it is in need of them, it may be said to hold the balance, or if a state belong to no coalition at all, but its intervention on one side or the other would be decisive in tilting the balance. The general rule of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" governs the game of balance of power. Ideology takes a back seat in international balance-of-power geopolitics.

    Suleyman became a major player in 16th-century European balance-of-power geopolitics by pursuing an aggressive policy toward European destabilization, in reaction to European expansionism. In particular, he aimed to destabilize both the Roman Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire and to contain their parallel expansion. When Christianity split Europe into Catholic and Protestant states, Suleyman poured financial support into Protestant countries in order to guarantee that Europe remain religiously and politically divided. Some historians argue that Protestantism would never have succeeded except for the financial support of the Ottomans (S A Fisher-Galati: Ottoman Imperialism and German Protestantism, 1521-1555).

    Henry II of France recognized the need for France to maintain an Ottoman alliance against Charles V, the Hapsburg Holy Roman emperor. The French alliance was the cornerstone of Ottoman policy on Europe, buttressed by the natural alliance with the Schmalkalden League of the German Protestant princes fighting to gain political independence from the Holy Roman Empire with the help of theological divergence. At the instigation of the French, Suleyman urged the German princes to cooperate with France against the pope and the emperor. He also assured them of amnesty from Ottoman conquest. Ottoman pressure during the three decades between 1521 and 1555 forced the Hapsburgs to grant concessions to the Protestants and was a factor in the eventual official recognition, if not tolerance, of Protestantism within the Holy Roman Empire. In the 16th century, the Ottoman sultan claimed titular sovereignty over Venice, Poland and the Hapsburg Empire, on the fact that they were all tribute-paying states, and even over France when Francis I requested Ottoman aid and formed the Ottoman alliance.

    What Suleyman did not realize was that in opposing an expanding Catholic threat, he unwittingly encouraged a new one, more dangerous and deadly, in the form of Protestantism and capitalistic imperialism.

    Far from promoting innate expansionism, Suleyman was in actuality responding defensively to an aggressively expanding Europe in the 16th century. Like many other non-Europeans, Suleyman understood the consequences of European expansion and saw Christian Europe as the principal threat to Islam and the Islamic world, which was beginning to shrink under this expansion. Portugal had invaded several Muslim cities in East Africa in order to dominate trade with India. Russia, which the Ottomans regarded as European, was pushing Central Asians southward when the Russian expansion began in the 16th century.

    With a defensive strategy of counter-invasion against and destabilization of expansionist Europe, Suleyman pursued a policy of helping any Muslim country threatened by European/Christian expansion. It was the forerunner of the Truman Doctrine to contain global communist expansion after World War II. This predestination role gave Suleyman the right, in the eyes of the Ottomans, to declare himself the supreme caliph of Islam. As the only effective leader successfully protecting Islam from the expansionist infidels, the protector of Islam must be the ruler of the whole Islamic world, the counterpart of the Holy Roman emperor as the Defender of the Faith for Catholicism. So the clash of civilizations began long before the recent observations of Samuel Huntington.

    The expansion of European power and Christianity in the 16th century explained Suleyman's reactive conquest of European territories. By extension, Suleyman as universal caliph of Islam saw as his divine duty to promote the integrity of the faith by rooting out heresy and heterodoxy. His annexation of Islamic territory, such as Arabia, was justified by asserting that the ruling dynasties had abandoned orthodox belief and practice. Each of these annexations was supported by a religious judgment from Islamic scholars as to the orthodoxy of the ruling dynasty.

    Suleyman undertook to make Istanbul the center of Islamic civilization. He began a series of building projects, including bridges, mosques and palaces, that rivaled the greatest building projects of the world of his time. One of the world's great architects, Sinan, designed mosques that are considered the greatest architectural triumphs of Islam. Suleyman was a great sponsor of the arts and considered one of the great poets of Islam. Under Suleyman, Istanbul became the center of the visual arts, music, literature, and philosophy in the Islamic world. This cultural flowering during the reign of Suleyman represents the most creative period in Ottoman history; almost all the cultural forms that history associates with the Ottomans date from this time.

    During the century after the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, two developments of far-reaching importance for the modern world took place in Central and Eastern Europe. The first was the rise of German nationalism in the east, resuming the Drang nach Osten (drive to the east). The second was the participation of Russia in the affairs of Europe. The commercial revolution widened the extended markets, which in the west gave rise to the bourgeoisie to exploit labor systematically, and in the east correspondingly strengthened traditional feudal institutions of labor subjugation, such as serfdom.

    The three new expanding states of Russia, Austria-Hungary and Prussia inevitably encroached on the three older states: the Holy Roman Empire, which Voltaire ridiculed as neither holy, Roman, nor empire; Poland; and the Ottoman Dominion. Poland was a vast kingdom that extended from east of Berlin to west of Moscow and from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea.

    The differences of the three old states did not exempt them from similar fates of imperialist partition. The rising Western European powers promoted the concept of ethnic nationalism against the titular central authority of the older universal states. Issues of national minorities were twisted to appear as issues national self-determination for the benefit of Western imperialism.

    From the beginning of history, size has always been a structural advantage in a competitive environment. "Balkanization" became a word to mean separatist pressure against a large state to break it into small dissenting minor states ripe for new domination by other powers. A balkanization of the former Soviet Union took place on December 26, 1991, that created 15 new nations dominated by the capitalistic West. Yugoslavia was balkanized into seven new nations between 1991 and 1994 that required North Atlantic Treaty Organization intervention to keep peace as the West saw fit.

    With all their other differences, the three older universal states had one common characteristic. Each in its own way had an elective structure to yield a central authority over a political realm of diverse ethnic, cultural and religious complexity. The Holy Roman Empire had no standing army after the Peace of Westphalia, having been devastated by the Thirty Years' War and weakened by the tradition of "German liberties" embedded in provincial state sovereignty claimed by more than 300 small German states. The electors at each election required the Holy Roman emperor to accept capitulations to safeguard the feudal rights of the states and religious autonomy. Like the Ottoman Dominion, absolutism in the Holy Roman Empire was decentralized to the local rulers, who did not in turn empower their subjects. The failure of the supreme sovereign to protect the people caused a weakening of popular loyalty to the emperor in the case of the Holy Roman Empire, as it was to the sultan in the case of the Ottoman Dominion.

    Poland, like the Holy Roman Empire, did not develop a central authority along absolutist lines, because of the tradition of "Polish liberties" enjoyed by the Polish aristocrats, or szlachta, who elected the Polish king. The elective process was even a target of foreign intrigue. Like the Holy Roman Empire, Poland became a political vacuum under stress from centers of high political pressure around Berlin and Moscow.

    The Ottoman Dominion was larger than the other two older states and more solidly organized. The Ottoman sultan had a standing army long before any European new monarchy had managed the same. Unlike the Romans, who developed state law, the Ottoman relied on the Koran as the source of Ottoman law. Non-Muslims within the dominion were left to settle their disputes according to the own religious precepts and remained largely outside Ottoman law, but not lawless. The Ottoman weakness was its tolerance, as compared with the absolutism and belligerent theocracy of the new European nation states, not Oriental despotism, as Western historians wrongly claim. Modernity in its distorted form had been polluted by political absolutism from its very beginning.

    The history of the world would have been very different had the Kingdom of Poland in the 17th century held together, or the Ottoman Dominion had successfully resisted partition. There would have been no Prussia or Prussian influence in German unification, nor would Russia have become a major Slavic power, nor would the Balkans and Middle East today be fragmented into arenas of European rivalry to become the powder kegs of another future World War in the 21st century. Universal political dominion based on virtue was preempted as the model political institution of modernity by 17th-century imperialist nation-states built on absolutism in the form of new empires, modified subsequently by representative democracy controlled by the propertied class who saw the purpose of civilization as a continuous quest for more property through the enslavement of the world's weak.

    This celebration of barbarism as modernity has enslaved four-fifths of the world population into centuries of protracted poverty, produced two World Wars and countless local and regional conflicts, and turned the scientific revolution into an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction that continue to threaten the survival of the human race.

    The 19th century was the final century of virtuous Ottomanism. The principal historical factor in Ottoman decline was the hyper-aggressive expansion of European imperialist powers that rose in the age of nation-states that evolved naturally into the age of colonization.

    At the beginning of the 17th century, the Ottoman Dominion was still the most powerful universal state in the world outside of China, both in wealth and power. The personal style of governance based on virtue cultivated among the earlier sultans had gradually dissipated. In place of sultanic governance, the bureaucracy ran the Islamic Dominion. Power struggles among the various elements of the bureaucracy - the grand vizier, the Diwan, or supreme court, and especially the military, the Janissaries - led to frequent and volatile shifts of political power.

    Islamic historians point out that the growth of the bureaucracy and the sultans' uninterest in performing their traditional roles of personifying virtue led to corrupt and predatory local governments, which in turn eroded popular support for the central authority. Western historians point to internal decline in the Ottoman bureaucracy, along with the increased military efficiency of European powers, as the principal reasons for the decline of the Dominion.

    A case can be made that Ottoman decline was caused by a lost of virtue as a governing principle. Nevertheless, the decline of virtuous Ottomanism was a gradual and protracted affair lasting more than two centuries. The Ottoman Dominion itself existed nominally as a political entity until World War I, after which it was partitioned out of existence by imperialist European powers. Modernization and revival of a new Ottomanism requires a rediscovery of political virtue, rather than copying the warped model of the imperialistic West.

    The process of selecting leaders has plagued all forms of government. Ottomanism believed that the sultan was selected primarily through divine kut, a Turkish word meaning "favor". All members of the ruling family had equal claim to the throne. This regal democracy led to the Ottoman practice of royal fratricide to prevent rebellion or rival claims to the throne. Whereas the West labeled this practice as cruel and barbaric, the Ottomans viewed it as a supreme sacrifice required of the ruling family to sustain stability and legitimacy.

    In the late 16th century, the Ottoman sultans abandoned this practice of extreme prejudice in favor of primogeniture, possibly because of Western influence. Still skeptical of fraternal loyalty, the brothers of the sultan and the heirs to the throne were locked away in isolation in the palace harem. Some went mad from solitary confinement, but most simply became fat and indolent, addicted to alcohol, drugs, gluttony, sex and aimless leisure. All of them made bad sultans, completely disengaged from governance by virtue. In fact, internecine palace politics, manipulated by foreign interests, often selected new sultans on the basis on their uninterest in government. Instead of Westernizing their succession practice, the Ottomans should have sought their own path of political modernization. In addition, the sultans abandoned the earlier practice of training their heirs to assume the sultanate by providing them with education and leadership training and having them serve in government and the military to gain understanding and experience as effective rulers.

    This departure from the vigor of a virtuous sultanate was the prime cause of Ottoman decline, not the sultanate form of government itself as Western historians claimed. It happened also to the absolutist kings of France after Louis XIV, who built Versailles to keep the French royalty and aristocrats in luxury and out of politics. The popular election of leaders, which often yields leaders of political expediency devoid of long-range vision, is also be one of the key weaknesses of the Western democracies.

    As a result of the disintegration of the institution of the virtuous sultanate, power went to the Janissaries, the military arm of the government. Throughout the 17th century, the Janissaries slowly took over top military and administrative posts in the government and passed these offices on to their sons, mainly through bribery. Because of this corrupt practice, Ottoman government soon began to be administered by a military feudal class that had little military leadership skills. Under early Ottomanism, position in the government was determined solely through merit. After the 16th century, positions in government were largely hereditary. The quality of the political leadership, the bureaucracy and the military staff declined precipitously.

    Muhammad Kuprili (1570-1661), as grand vizier, halted the general decline of Ottoman government by rooting out corruption in the imperial government and returned to the traditional Ottoman practice of closely supervising local governments and rooting out local injustice. He also tried to revive the Ottoman universalist practice of protecting Muslim countries from European expansion. This new defensive policy, without the support of an effective military, led to a steady stream of Ottoman military defeats by European powers, which steadily contracted the dominion.

    A revived Ottoman threat had produced a coalition of European forces. The Ottomans were forced to accept a 20-year peace in 1664. In 1683, urged on by French instigation, the Ottoman army put Vienna under siege, but was defeated by an alliance of European forces with heavy artillery. King John III of Poland personally led a large army to relieve Vienna and saved Europe from the incalculable consequence of a Turkish foothold in Germany. It was the last victory of Poland before its own partition engineered by the same Austria that the Polish king had saved, with the participation of Prussia and Russia.

    During a general withdrawal, the Ottomans had to face a broad counter-offensive composed of forces of the Vatican, Poland, Russia and Venice, joined by the Hapsburgs. It was in this war during the battle between the Venetians and the Turks that the Parthenon in Athens, which had survived intact for 2,000 years, was blown apart as an ammunition dump. While this defeat initiated a long peace between the Ottomans and the Europeans, it also in effect began the steady deterioration of Ottoman control over European territories.

    In 1699, the Ottomans were forced to accept the Peace of Karlowitz, which handed over to Austria the provinces of Hungary and Transylvania, leaving only Macedonia and the Balkans under Ottoman control. But the Balkans had begun to destabilize after the Ottoman defeat of 1683. In the 18th century, the Ottomans fought a series of defensive wars against European powers. Between 1714 and 1718, they fought against the small city-state of Venice; between 1736 and 1739, they fought against Austria and Russia in order to stop the expansion of these powers into Muslim territories. The Russians in particular continued to expand aggressively into Muslim territories in Central Asia; these small Muslim states had no place to turn to except to the Ottomans. War with Russia, in fact, dominated the Ottoman scene from much of the 18th century; the two states clashed between 1768 and 1774, and again between 1787 and 1792. In all these wars of the 18th century, there were no clear victors or losers.

    European historians tend to view Ottoman decline mainly from the perspective of defeat in wars with Europe. While these wars were significant milestones, Ottoman decline resulted more from economic imperialism that began in the 18th century that led to such defeats in war. Two overwhelming underlying aspects of this decline have also been put forth: meteoric population increase and the failure to industrialize. Yet both of these developments were the results rather than the causes of Ottoman decline.

    The 17th and 18th centuries were periods of prosperity in the Ottoman Dominion. As a result, the population of the dominion doubled, which normally would have increased Ottoman power. However, the economic resources of the dominion did not grow with the population increase because of European economic infringement in the form of mercantile imperialism. This eventually led to a massive drain of wealth out of the dominion, causing endemic unemployment and even periodic famine.

    The wealth of the Ottomans had largely been due to their strategic presence on trade routes. The Dominion stood astride the crossroads of all the continents and subcontinents: Africa, Asia, India, and Europe. However, European expansion created new trade routes that skirted Ottoman territories. Because the state collected tariffs on all goods passing through the dominion, the economy and the central government lost vast amounts of revenue to new trade routes. What tariffs remained were collected by Europeans who took control of Ottoman customs for the benefit of European economies.

    In addition, the Ottomans did not industrialize as the Europeans did in the 18th century. Industrialization principally involved an overhaul of labor practices through the private control of capital and its formation, which accompanied the rise of the bourgeoisie. The Ottoman state, politically a loose dominion and economically based on agriculture and trade, retained centuries-old feudal labor practices, in which production was concentrated in farming and among craft guilds.

    Manufacturing did not become a major sector of the Ottoman economy for complex reasons, not the least of which were the reliance on trade flow of goods produced outside the dominion and a shortage of domestic capital needed for industrialization. The shortage of capital was cause by the outflow of wealth through Western imperialism. Increasingly, the economic relationships between the Ottomans and the Europeans evolved into one of imperialistic exploitation, with Europeans buying raw materials at low prices from the Ottomans as part of the privileges granted by "capitulations", and shipping back finished products manufactured in industrialized Europe at great profit, destroying the Ottoman craft industries in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. By the time the Ottomans realized this trade disadvantage, European imperialism was too entrenched to permit belated industrialization in the Ottoman Dominion.

    Against the mercantilist policies of the European powers, Ottoman officials clung to an open-free-market policy, the main concern being to provide the home market with an abundant supply of imported commodities and luxuries. The Ottomans mistook mercantilist imports from Europe as tributes that they had traditionally enjoyed for centuries from other nations. Ottoman elites became compradors for foreign interests rather than national industrialists. Unable to formulate a comprehensive protectionist policy for the entire dominion because of its local autonomous structure, the Ottoman sultans allowed the European powers gradually to take control of trade within the Ottoman realm by playing one locality against another, in a race toward the bottom, in much the same way neo-liberalism plays one emerging economy against another today, putting them in the position of competing for the privilege of being exploited at a lower cost.

    The character of the "capitulation" tariff concessions originally granted to France by Suleyman as part of his balance-of-power strategy three centuries earlier gradually changed to reduce the Ottoman economy to a dependency of European masters. These treaties of capitulation robbed the Ottomans of their economic independence. With the loss of control of its custom tariffs, the Ottoman Dominion was unable to protect its economy from European mercantilism. Wealth flowed from the Ottoman region into Europe, depriving the local formation of capital needed for industrialization and fueled further advances in European industrialization. European investment and loans in the Ottoman Dominion went only to enterprises that reinforced foreign domination and further reduced the Ottoman state to total financial dependency. The Ottoman Bank, founded in 1856 as a state bank, fell into the total control by English and French capital. Public work and industrial exploitation were financed by foreign capital with all profits flowing abroad and funding only projects that furthered European control.

    Ottoman history in the 19th century was dominated by European wars and expansion. The Europeans scrambled for territory throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, some of which was European territory through inter-European rivalry, but the bulk of which was increasingly outside Western Europe. History had never seen such rapid and frenetic annexation of territory as in the 19th and early 20th centuries by the Western Europeans. A new attitude emerged through the acquisition of non-Western territory in what historians call the New Imperialism, in which the newly subjugated peoples were not absorbed as equals but were considered inferior, notwithstanding their ancient culture and history. The result for the Ottomans was not only the loss of dominion territory and, finally, the demise of the Ottoman dynasty itself, but also an imposed arrest of further development of Ottomanism and its civilization and set it along a path of inevitable decline.

    Throughout the non-Western world, anything non-Western was by definition considered by Western cultural hegemony as backward and not modern. Reform and modernization movements in most non-Western systems were conditioned to accept erroneously as a prerequisite to modernization the wholesale rejection of local indigenous culture and tradition, throwing out the timeless good with the obsolete. Modernization was abducted by Western cultural imperialism as Westernization.

    But since Westernization is unnatural and inhibiting to indigenous creativeness for non-Westerners, whose instinctive indigenous thought processes and creativeness are systematically and categorically dismissed by Western cultural hegemony, modernization has condemned the non-Western world to centuries of cultural stagnation and de facto inferiority as measured against artificial Western standards. Learned discourses increasingly are conducted only in European languages, making non-Western concepts obscure and difficult to articulate. This was most evident in the two highly sophisticated and cultured living civilizations - the Ottoman/Arab and the Chinese, both of which fell victim to Western political, economic and cultural imperialism at about the same time. Even the culture of ancient Greece was abducted by the West from the Arabs, through whose scholarly translations the West had rediscovered the Greek classics.

    Non-Western nationalism was promoted by the Western European new monarchies as a tool to weaken and break up ancient superstates, from the Holy Roman Empire to the Ottoman Dominion to China, not for creating new powerful non-Western states against Western imperialism. Early-20th-century nationalist leaders in both China and Turkey, and in fact the world over, in focusing on political struggles against Western imperialism, unwittingly allowed themselves to be victimized by Western cultural hegemony. They made the serious error of confusing modernity with Westernization, an error from which their successors are not entirely free even today. These nationalist leaders by and large accepted the proposition that the way to resist Western oppression was to out-Western the Westerners, thus setting themselves in a no-win game, and played directly into the hands of the hegemonic West.

    Next: Imperialism and fragmentation

    Henry C K Liu
    is chairman of the New York-based Liu Investment Group.

    (Copyright 2003 Asia Times Online Co, Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact [email protected] for information on our sales and syndication policies.)
    Oct 10, 2003


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