History Final Exam


The End of Eurocentrism Author(s): Mark Mazower Source: Critical Inquiry, Vol. 40, No. 4, Around 1948: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Global Transformation, edited by Leela Gandhi and Deborah L. Nelson (Summer 2014), pp. 298-313 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/676409 . Accessed: 06/08/2014 19:23

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The End of Eurocentrism

Mark Mazower

Georges Bidault, the French foreign minister, in London for the first United Nations General Assembly meeting in January 1946, looked around the room and noted his surprise at “the extent to which Europe is absent.”1

A few months later, Gilbert Murray, who was a supporter of the League of Nations and a prominent internationalist, touched on the same theme. In an article entitled “Retrospect and Prospect” on the shift from the League of Nations to the United Nations, he wrote that we need to restore Europe to restore civilization: “Some great movement for unity and constructive reconciliation in Europe is an absolute necessity for civilization. . . . Of course Europe is not everything. There are other continents.”2

From one viewpoint, the years from 1945 to 1948 can be seen as a story about European reconstruction; from another, they emerge as the opening chapter of decolonization. Putting these two stories together raises the question of how Europe’s relations with the world changed in these years and, in particular, how contemporaries thought about Europe’s changing place in the world. This in turn was bound up with the ways in which they read the war and how the experience itself shaped their sense of Europe’s relationship with the world. This helps explain both Bidault’s surprise and Murray’s anxious discovery that there are other continents.

The Second World War marked the end of a long period of European ascendency, whose critical starting point was not the sixteenth century, let alone the Renaissance, but somewhere at the end of the eighteenth or the

1. Quoted in Mark Mazower, No Enchanted Palace: The End of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations (Princeton, N.J., 2009), p. 151; hereafter abbreviated N.

2. Gilbert Murray, “Retrospect and Prospect,” From the League to the U.N. (New York, 1948), pp. 191, 197.

Critical Inquiry 40 (Summer 2014)

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early nineteenth century. The age of Eurocentrism spanned the period from 1800 to 1945 in several senses. First, it marked the emergence of Eu- rope as a center of world power through its formal colonialism and the technology gap created by the Industrial Revolution. Concurrently, there was the rise of settler societies, of which the “Anglo-world,” as James Belich tells it, was the most successful—although there was also the German- Russian settlement expansion south and eastwards, as well as its smaller Ottoman version.3 Subsequently, there was a kind of diplomatic intellec- tual counterpart to this European ascendancy: a new discipline of interna- tional law, one that enshrined the notion of a standard of civilization, that Gerrit Gong wrote about and that rested on a differentiated categorization of sovereignties in different parts of the world.4 This was accompanied by a changing conception of Europe. Paradoxically, as Europe expanded in power, Europe as a concept shrank. In 1840, for instance, the European powers could plausibly propose to Mehmet Ali that if he stopped threat- ening to invade Istanbul they would allow him to become part of the system of Europe. Forty years later, that was not an offer anybody was making. The geographical conception of Europe had become more fo- cused even as Europe became more powerful.

In this epoch, the rest of the world increasingly functioned as a place for exploration and scientific inquiry, as a resource base for commod- ities and labor, and as a proving ground for ruling virtues and the spread of civilization. The notable exception to most of this was, of course, the Western hemisphere. It was of enormous significance that the Americas came to define themselves, or to be defined by Washing- ton, as a place where European states could not do as they pleased. The emergence of the United States initially, as a hemispheric power (as distinguished from a world power) pitted against European ascen- dancy, was critical to later developments.

Taking the story through to 1945 implies that this great age of European expansion did not, as it is sometimes presented in older history books, end with the Scramble for Africa between 1880 and 1914. It would be more

3. See James Belich, Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Anglo- World, 1783–1939 (New York, 2009).

4. See Gerrit W. Gong, The Standard of “Civilization” in International Society (New York, 1984).

M A R K M A Z O W E R is Ira D. Wallach Professor of History at Columbia University. His most recent work is Governing the World: The History of an Idea, 1815 to the Present (2012).

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accurate to identify a longer process of acute imperial rivalry that began with the Scramble for Africa but that continued into the 1950s. It was, after all, the scramble for the Middle East between 1914 and 1939 that saw the emergence of a new British empire in the region, while the Second World War was, among other things, an attempt by the Axis powers, their allies, and supporters to continue this struggle in the Mediterranean. We can date the start of this phase to 1935, when the Italians invaded Ethiopia, or perhaps further back to 1911 and the invasion of Libya. After Abyssinia came further efforts to overthrow the Mediterranean status quo in Albania and Greece. The French defeat in 1940 and the German desire to bring Spain into the war that summer and autumn once again threw into ques- tion the early twentieth-century North African settlement. Trying to ad- judicate among the impossibly contradictory claims of three powers that had once been on the same side (the Spaniards, the Italians, and the French), the Germans complicated an already impossible task by looking for territories of their own. The following year, Germany also became the arbiter of the Balkans and potentially, if only Adolf Hitler had woken up to this, of the Middle East, too. Fortunately he failed to do so.

These events underscored the importance of the Middle East in an on- going intra-European imperial contestation. If the Germans failed to un- derstand its significance, the British certainly did not. At the heart of the British involvment was the extraordinary figure of Robert Jackson, the young Australian naval officer who ran the Middle East Supply Center, which started off trying to unblock supply bottlenecks in the ports of the eastern Mediterranean and ended up essentially coordinating the entire Middle East as a regional economy. (Apparently, more than one British general had received a telegram from Churchill instructing him that “when Jackson appears in front of him, do whatever this man says.”)5 Jackson virtually ran the Middle East as a unified realm. When the war ended, the British tried to preserve this unity politically through a new creation, the Arab League, which was founded just as the Middle East Supply Center wound down.

The key new element of the 1940s was the emergence of the United States as a world power, as a result of the war. The shift from its hemi- spheric to global role can be traced through the discussions that took place in 1939 and 1940 about the Monroe Doctrine. These discussions began among historians, who were joined by political commentators once Hitler started talking about a Monroe Doctrine for Europe. (The Japanese had

5. Anecdote conveyed in Robert Jackson oral testimony, Oral History Archives, Butler Library, Columbia University.

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been talking about a similar doctrine for Japan for some years prior.) In this period, the Monroe Doctrine was redefined to justify a vastly intensi- fied American air presence, including bases and new flight paths through South America in the middle of the war in order to stop the Germans. The Americas thus become an American zone in a way that they had not been before. By the end of the war, the American Navy was moving toward a view that permanent bases in the Pacific Ocean were necessary for Amer- ican national security. Even Africa came to be defined as an American security concern; after all, there were American technicians all over the Belgian Congo by the end of the war because of its uranium. If a European diplomat in the 1880s had been told that in the spring of 1943 American diplomats would be sitting in Morocco deciding the future of Europe, he would have thought the prospect completely ludicrous.

At this point, two things are worth bearing in mind. First, it was not in any way predetermined that the United States would commit to a peace- time global role of the kind that it did when the war ended. A massive demobilization of the American army took place in 1945 that was only reversed well into the cold war. The year 1947 was obviously a critical turning point—the moment when the Truman administration overcame the considerable political opposition within Congress to any major redef- inition of America’s peacetime role in the world. But the real break with Eurocentrism did not come until 1949. Second, the European empires obviously did not simply roll over and die. Fred Cooper has been helping us reassess the degree to which the Europeans, on the contrary, came out of the war and the attendant experiences of occupation and humiliation de- termined not only to hang on to empire but also to reconquer lost territo- ries wherever possible. Where necessary, the Europeans deployed a very high level of force, as at Setif in Algeria in May 1945, in the Dutch East Indies, or briefly in Syria. Is the explanation for this simply that they did not recognize that the age of empire was over? Perhaps. It was not only that empire and European hierarchy had been assumptions naturalized in peo- ples’ minds but also the fact that wartime thinking about the causes of the war itself had actually helped to reinforce older views about Europe’s re- lationship with the rest of the world. This confirmed the economic and strategic importance of colonies and thus helped to explain the tenacity of the procolonial argument.

This brings us to the question of what people during the war thought the war was about. In 1948, the crucial year for this special issue, an émigré Russian demographer named Eugene Kulischer published his magnum opus, still worth reading, called Europe on the Move—a study of popula-

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tion movements in Europe between 1917 and 1947.6 In it, Kulischer, who had been doing a lot of work for the Office of Strategic Services and the International Labor Organization during the war, presented a picture in which population movements formed, as he puts it, the mechanical foun- dations of history (a view he learned, of course, from his imperial Russian geography teachers). In particular, Kulischer was inclined to posit a very close connection between war and migration; migration caused by over- population becomes in his telling a major source of international conflict. History, in his view (and, for that matter, in the Nazis’ view, too) is essen- tially a movement of peoples from east to west. It had been thus for G. W. F. Hegel, too. Europe’s surplus population had been bottled up between the wars by American immigration quotas and the impact of the Russian Civil War, but actually erecting barriers to migration was futile because that simply provoked conflict (as it will always do). In Kulischer’s words, “millions in desperate search of outlets may become an aggressive force, especially if led by totalitarian governments.”7 In 1948, everybody was terribly worried that the Germanies were going to turn into another Weimar, that there was another Hitler waiting in the wings, in fact, that it was going to be far worse the second time because there were far more millions of refugees in Germany than there had been in 1919. As late as 1956, Elizabeth Wiskemann (an English commentator who was very knowledge- able about Germany) wrote a very good book about Germany’s eastern neighbors. The preface reflects her disbelief that there had been no return to the problems of the interwar period.8

For Kulischer, and for many other people, the basic problem was that Europe was overcrowded; the only solution was for the surplus to be set- tled in underdeveloped areas by what he calls migratory and colonizing movements.9 There was an international aspect to this because, if war in Europe meant world war—and two wars in Europe had just meant world war—then world peace meant solving Europe’s demographic problems. Of course, the connections among overpopulation, refugees, and the growth of war tensions in Europe had been around since the late 1930s, and in 1938 an international conference at Evian had attempted to find a solu- tion and failed. After that, as we learn in Neil Smith’s biography of Isaiah Bowman, Franklin D. Roosevelt approached Bowman, the most famous

6. See Eugene Kulischer, Europe on the Move: War and Population Changes, 1917– 47 (New York, 1948).

7. Ibid., p. 312. 8. See Elizabeth Wiskemann, Germany’s Eastern Neighbours: Problems Relating to the Oder-

Neisse Line and the Czech Frontier Regions (London, 1956). 9. See Kulischer, Europe on the Move, chap. 2.

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geographer in America at that time, and asked him to try and find unin- habited parts of the world where Europeans could be settled.10 This was the origin of a secret Washington wartime project called the M project (M stood for migration). Kulischer himself had worked for the M project, in which dozens of geographers were set to work, eventually producing hun- dreds of studies of different bits of the world in the search for places where surplus Europeans might be settled. Thus, there was a postwar vision in the air that, as part of this new international organization of the globe, there would be an international settlement agency to rationally resettle surplus Europeans all around the world, thus carving out a path to world peace.

Of course, none of that happened, and refugee resettlement was han- dled instead as if it was a temporary problem. One of the reasons for that was the wartime shift in attitudes to minority rights. The war saw the demise of the idea that had been prevalent in the interwar period (or that at least had been tried in the interwar period), that minority rights schemes were the way to solve the problem of minorities; the League of Nations had aimed to be the guarantor of minority rights in Eastern Europe, and the hope in 1919 had been that these would be rights enshrined in international law and connected to the peace treaties that the various new states of Eastern Europe would sign. In effect, it tied international recognition of new states to their commitment to minority rights. By 1939 the general view on all sides was that this had been a complete failure. In fact, many said that it had been worse than a failure. Because of the minority rights regime of the Germans in Eastern Europe, the largest minority there had been exploited or had allowed themselves to be exploited by Berlin and turned into a fifth column. Consequently, Europe had slid to war much faster than if there had been no minority rights regime and the Poles and the Czechs had been able to do what they wanted with their minorities. And so, somewhere in the middle of the war, sentiment shifted rather abruptly toward the idea of transfer. (It is in this context that Palestine took on a new significance in Zionist thought.) Transfer was a policy that was implemented initially by the Nazis. Indeed one of the first things the Nazis did in October 1939 was to draw up the agreement with Italy to repatriate German speakers from northeastern Italy. As in the case of Israel/Palestine, there were dimensions both of homecoming and of expulsion to it. From 1944 onwards, this was the policy that was in effect put into place in Eastern Europe by the conquerors of the Nazis as well. Perhaps this helps to explain why the 1947 UN General Assembly resolution on Palestine, calling for

10. See Neil Smith, American Empire: Roosevelt’s Geographer and the Prelude to Globalization (Berkeley, 2003).

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partition and minority rights in the two halves of Palestine, made no men- tion of monitoring compliance (which would have been too reminiscent of the old international minority rights regime).

This comprehensive shift of attitudes had implications far beyond Eu- rope. Take the plan, cooked up (or reheated) in the German foreign office in the summer of 1940 to resettle Jews in Madagascar. This was one of many instances that might be seen as a kind of common conversation or repertoire of attitudes and policies running right across war lines. In the late 1930s there had been lots of discussion, already involving Polish dip- lomats, the French, and some Zionists, about how to “evacuate” Poland’s surplus Jewish population outside Europe. The Polish ambassador in Washington discussed the possibility of using Angola, for instance. In 1941 David Ben-Gurion and Lord Moyn discussed the possibility of using South America and Madagascar (see N, chap. 3). So around the time that Fritz Rademacher in Berlin was suggesting using Madagascar as—he actually uses the term, bizarrely—a Nazi mandate, Ben-Gurion and Lord Moyn were discussing much the same thing.11

Such thinking did not end in 1941. In 1943, Jan Smuts called for the international management of Jewish refugee resettlement in Africa be- cause, at least in his mind, they would have counted as white and thus helped to build a larger white population in Africa (see N, p. 121). Behind all this lies the broader idea of seeing the world as a resource to solve Europe’s problems. Of course, it is not surprising that Nazis and anti- Nazis should have shared this outlook, as almost everyone in Europe was inclined to see things that way, at least at the turn of the century. J. A. Hobson talks about international control of Africa as a way of insuring the impartial and equitable sharing of its resources.12 What he doesn’t like is private sector selfishness. In the 1920s it was common for white racial theorists to see Africa in much the same way, as a kind of common pos- session of the white race. The American Lothrop Stoddard, who in 1920 wrote the bestselling The Rising Tide of Color against White World- Supremacy, worried about whether Europeans could hang on in Africa precisely because, as he put it, Africa is the natural source of Europe’s tropical raw materials and food stuffs.13 In the late 1930s, there were very similar arguments when the Germans briefly raised the issue of colonial compensation in Africa, and some British and French politicians toyed with the idea that the Germans might be bought off in Africa.

11. See Mazower, Hitler’s Empire: How the Nazis Ruled Europe (New York, 2008), p. 119. 12. See J. A. Hobson, Imperialism: A Study (London, 1902). 13. See Lothrop Stoddard, The Rising Tide of Color against White World-Supremacy (New

York, 1920).

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As for the war itself, surely one thing it did, or could be forgiven for seeming to do, was demonstrate the indispensability of empire. Britain survived solely because of its empire, along with the help of a former colonial possession in North America; the Free French similarly survived thanks to the fact that Vichy and the Nazis really could not gain full control over the French colonies. Likewise, the fact that they hung on to their colonies and that the Germans couldn’t really control them meant that the Nazis also treated Belgium and the Netherlands very differently when they were occupied, compared to how they would have been treated if they hadn’t had colonies. The Dutch and Belgians retained some leverage in negotiations with the German occupying power because the latter had no direct control over those colonial resources. This outlook continued after the war. Hjalmar Schacht, the former Nazi economics minister, believed that while he was in Allied captivity he could gain a sympathetic hearing among his captors if he offered to help the Allies by drawing up a plan for the mass migration of Germans to Africa, as this would simultaneously bring peace to Germany by removing overcrowding and secure white con- trol in Africa.14

The problem for those who took these racial fears seriously was that much of the world seemed indifferent. Smuts feared that “the world is reeling between the two poles of white and color”; it was “in a precarious and dangerous position such as has not existed since the fall of Rome” (quoted in N, p. 183). Yet, whenever he approached Whitehall with schemes for increasing white settler population in Africa the British civil servants basically responded that they had enough problems with white settlers as it was. As I have written elsewhere: “settler colonialism in general was an expensive proposition for the modern state” (N, p. 121). That was another lesson of the war.

All of this raised in the mind of Smuts, but also of Smuts’s opponents, the question of world organization and what the proposed new world organization was really going to be about. Smuts himself had been very clear when he proposed to the League of Nations back in 1917 that its great advantage would be that it would bolster the power of the British empire in the world—keeping the empire in existence at a time when it would oth- erwise decline. As the discussion turned to the successor of the league in 1945, the people asked what a future United Nations organization would be for. Was it to rescue or to marginalize Europe? To preserve empire or to end it? Nobody in 1945 was quite clear.

As others and I have described elsewhere in greater detail, this new

14. See Mazower, Hitler’s Empire, p. 595.

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United Nations organization became the crucial forum for this debate. In particular, the domestic racial policies of Smuts in South Africa brought to the fore the confrontation between the older assumption of imperial hier- archy and the new claims, for instance, of Indian nationalists and pan- Asianists. The critical ideological preparation for this was provided by arguments that had been going on from the late 1930s onwards about the collapse of European civilization. And two brief illustrations. First, in the mid-1940s, one can chart a crisis of intellectual orientation, a shift from an older vision of civilization based on the classics—by which, obviously, was meant ancient Greek and Latin and a belief in the applicability of the eternal truths of Hellenism—to the universalism of science and scientific humanism. That shift from a world dominated by elites with one forma- tion to a world dominated by elites with a different formation, happens, I think, exactly then. You can map it very precisely in UNESCO. The pre- cursor to UNESCO under the League of Nations, the Institute for Intellec- tual Cooperation (IIC), had no mention of science in the title because, perhaps, it was run by classicists. These were men like Murray and, more directly, the once-deputy director of the IIC Alfred Zimmern. In 1945, Zimmern organized the meeting that gave rise to IIC’s successor organi- zation, UNESCO (now with science in the title), and hoped to be named its first director general. In fact, Zimmern was passed over for that post in favor of the biologist and science popularizer Julian Huxley. Evidently there was, at the war’s end, no problem in anyone’s mind in having a stalwart member of the British Eugenics Society at the head of UNESCO. What was preposterous in Zimmern’s mind was that they’d choose a sci- entist instead of a classicist. But he was now outgunned. That’s the key point.

We can also see a deep crisis in what remained of a Victorian conception of an international civilization among those who hoped that international law would become the instrument of world government and world peace. In fact, they learned from the 1930s that international law norms had failed to win sufficient adherence to stem the move to war or regulate the way it was waged; worse than that, a prominent European power, Germany, had led the charge against the old assumptions. Wolfgang Friedmann, a young émigré international lawyer in London, writes before migrating to the US that the rise of the Third Reich itself means the disintegration of European civilization. This was a very typical sentiment for the time and one that raised the question of the very future of international law. US Secretary of State Cordell Hull said that international law was seriously discredited and on the defensive (see N, p. 123). And, in fact, the diplomatic uses of the term standard of civilization, which had provided the criteria for the recognition

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of new states in international legal discourse at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, basically vanished in this new world of the United Nations. There was a much more open attitude to the basis upon which a new state could obtain recognition, and many more new states were recognized as a result. It was not that they conformed to a European norm; it was rather that the European norm was discredited and ceased to apply.

This suggests that a reinvigorated international law regime did not emerge from the United Nations in 1945, as some have argued. Take, for example, the debates inside the UN over the genocide convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). These two international law achievements took place concurrently and were enacted within a day of one another. Yet, rather then seeing them as emerging in tandem, we should see them as pulling in entirely opposite directions, which is how they were seen by many of the lawyers involved in the drafting at the time. The genocide convention was basically a one-man show—Raphael Lem- kin trying to shore up the older idea of a powerful international law re- gime. Yet Lemkin angered many of his former colleagues who were at the time trying to draft and get support for the UDHR precisely because he insisted it was still possible to have a powerful and binding legal regime and to make states obey international legal obligations that would cut deep into their domestic jurisdiction.15 Bear in mind that the UN charter, unlike …