AT&D #26. Global Enlightenments

Armesto’s first chapter in his book on globalization is entitled “Global Enlightenments: 1700-1800.” His approach challenges claims that the Age of Enlightenment is a European phenomenon. How successful is the author in this endeavor? How has he attempted to do this?

Armesto’s claim that the Age of Enlightenment is a European phenomenon is virtually unchallenged in my opinion. This is firmly supported by various statements made throughout the unit.

In chapter 20, Armesto notes the advantages that the West (Europe) has had in its advancements in the field of science. Regarding this, Armesto points to how civilizations such as the Chinese restrained industrial output whereas the Europeans promoted it. As a result, Europe was able to develop more quickly and sophisticatedly than other regions to the point where its advancements made exploration feasible than ever. This in turn would lead Europeans to focus on imperialism, where a world economy would be tied to the several empires that make up the main powers of Europe (with this, inevitably spreading idealisms of the European Enlightenment to foreign areas under influence through conquering).

Tying in to the above in Chapter 21, Armesto dedicates a section of discussion on whether or not Asia was competent in imperialism. Sure enough, in the following sections, Armesto explains how China (the Qing Dynasty), India (the Mughal Empire), and Persia (the Safavid Empire) were experiencing internal problems in their bodies of power (i.e. rebellions) which eventually led to their imminent falls. The Europeans, exploiting these struggling powers, seized and invaded those territories for the purpose of (additional) colonizing.

Lastly, in Chapter 22, Armesto explains how the Chinese example of enlightenment clashed with the European’s own example in that the Chinese were seen as arrogant and unaccepting of traditions outside their own. By contrast, Europeans (namely groups including the Jesuits) penetrated through various societies in and out of Europe and introduced Christianity, among other Western concepts to various native regions, thus undermining the Age of Enlightenment coming into another form within the confines of a different region or culture.

Gathering from all these historical facts, should we fairly ask if the Age of Enlightenment is not strictly a European phenomenon? I think there is a case for why it isn’t; while the Age of Enlightenment as we know it may have not been the first wave ever to spread, the “modernized” term of Enlightenment would in Armesto’s viewpoint be European. Despite this, Armesto does acknowledge the Age of Enlightenment in other regions of the world but highly emphasizes the displacement of those ideals in favor of Europe’s own due to historical impact and legacy, undoubtedly through Europe’s major colonization of the world.

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