Eurocentrism can be defined as the idea that the Roman and Greek cultures gave rise to the modern explosion of ideas and learning. Within this idea is contained the notion that the origins of Greek culture lie strictly within the borders of what is currently considered Western Europe, making the ancestors of Western Europeans responsible for all the progress of the modern world (Dussel, 465). This idea is considered by modern historians to be false and based not on factual accounts but rather on the distortion of history by colonizers (Blaut, 10).
This distortion of history is based on the Inside-Outside or Center-Periphery models of civilization which pinpoint an area of the world as the peak of civilization, and the areas outside of it as barbaric. This model depicts Greater Europe as the insider area which contained the civilized culture, and it posits a gradual diffusion of that culture to the other parts of the world surrounding it. Yet this model presents an erroneous view of the world’s process of civilization.
The ideas that are based on the models above tend to identify Europe on the one hand as being civilized and making strides in scientific and technological advancement.
On the other hand, this view places the world outside of Europe in a position of stagnancy, with knowledge remaining static unless ideas were learned from Europe. This idea also gives rise to an ethnocentric idea of “European” intellectualism as being the reason for the centralization of knowledge within that area. It also gives rise to the antipathetic idea of non-West European culture as necessarily consisting of inferior ideas which might be described as “savage, atavistic, uncivilized [and] evil” (Blaut, 16).
The truth is very different, however, as the Greek and Roman cultures that contributed to the “civilization” of Europe must give attribution for its ideas to a wide array of cultural influences whose origins span areas as far as Africa and Asia (Dussel, 465-468). According to Dussel, Europe cannot claim Greece as a part of its earliest origins. Furthermore, during the height of Greek cultural dominance, awareness existed in the Greek world of the progressive nature of the Egyptian (African) and Turkish (Asian) civilizations (Dussel, 465; Yurco, 1).
Yet, while this Greek center civilization was aware of the existence of civilized Africans and Asians, their knowledge of what is now Modern Europe was minimal and the area considered to be populated by “the uncivilized, the non-political and the non-human” (465). The idea that Greece bequeathed civilization to Rome and to Europe is false. Rather, a dichotomy existed between the Latin (West) and Greek (East) cultures, and this configuration did not include a strict conception of Europe. The Greek culture was dominated in classical times as much by the Arab (Muslim) culture as it was by the Byzantine (Christian) culture.
Therefore, the Aristotelian basis of civilization was historically strongly connected to the Middle Eastern and even Asian (Turk) civilizations (466). What actually occurred to lead to the development of civilization in Europe is based on an interplay of cultures from all over the continents of Africa and Eurasia. Such thinkers as Thomas Aquinas and Albertus Magnus relied heavily on the ideas that came from the Turkish-derived Aristotelian ideas (Dussel, 466). The ideas generated by Aristotle were actually studied in what is now modern-day Iraq (Baghdad) before Aquinas became exposed to them.
Indeed, Aquinas’ exposure came only after the Muslims in Spain translated these works into the Latin vernacular. The arrival of these works in Paris during the late 1100s B. C. marks the initial period in which differentiation occurs between Europe and Africa/Asia (466). The Crusades, which followed during this era, therefore may be seen as the first attempt made by Europe to become dominant in the newly differentiated territories of Africa and the East—and these campaigns might be considered failures (466).
Eurocentric ideas concerning the Old World can therefore be seen to be a myth based on the colonially driven histories that have been passed down in the recent past. The failure of the Crusades might be seen as a way in which Europe itself was kept out of the civilization encompassed by the Turkish and Muslim regions, which spread their dominance from Morocco to India and even to the Philippine island of Mindanao. Even the Roman Empire, which dominated Europe for centuries, never penetrated to become the center of civilization in the African and Asian worlds (Dussel, 466).
Before this time, the only empire that came close to being dominant and of Eurasian origin are the Hellenistic empires. Yet these empires are not one and the same as Europe, and never gained as large a dominance as the Muslims had after them (467). In contrast to the Eurocentric model of civilization is the strong Turkish (Muslim) civilization—historically represented by the term “Asia” (Blaut, 20). This area, which later became known as the Ottoman Empire, was dominant within its region.
It even began conquering territory into south-eastern Europe, and this idea falsifies the theory of all civilization issuing from Europe. Even in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, European presence in the African and Asian continents was merely a matter of trade rather than dominance. The idea of a Eurocentric world actually found root only during the nineteenth century when colonization occurred in areas of the Old World (India, Asia, African and China). During this period, the multifaceted Greek culture was adopted and re-classified as European.
The Greek culture is then identified with that of the Romans and then the two are placed at the center of the world’s historical civilization. It is at this point that Europe is able to emerge as the world’s intellectual benefactor. However, the fact that at this point no united “world history” existed and their location made it impossible for them to be central in providing for the surrounding territories an impetus toward civilization (468). Colonization in the nineteenth century can be seen as the chief mechanism through which Eurocentrism has been able to become dominant in global thinking.
In order to maintain the colonial thrust, European colonizers were prompted to create ideologies that support the dominance that European countries had gained in their respective colonies. Religious, social, and scientific ideas that were spawned during that time gave rise to the Eurocentric ideas that are extant even in modernity. According to Blaut, “A [Christian] missionary might have great love and respect for the people among whom he or she worked, but could not be expected to believe that the culture and mind of these non-Christians was on par with that of Christian Europeans” (24).
The social and legal theories being fashioned at the time were created by those who were in charge of making the policies that the theories should support. Therefore, intellectual history became biased in its outlook regarding the comparative worth of the cultures that stand alongside the European culture. However, in the disciplines of economics and anthropology ideas and truths were discovered which did not fit well with the tendency toward Eurocentrism.
Such ideas as equilibrium and stasis developed in Keynesian economics. In geography, stasis was found to be a natural occurrence in regionalism. Theories of equilibrium and stability were embodied in such anthropological ideas as functionalism, while cultural relativism “declared in essence that each culture has intrinsic worth” (Blaut, 27). However, within the discipline of Anthropology, political motives can be found for publicizing the fact of cultural relativism, though tempered with a Eurocentric overtone.
The notion of the intrinsic worth of the culture would have the effect of discouraging unrest, while the Eurocentric overtones would have the complementary effect of evoking gratitude in the heart of the colonists toward the colonizers (27). Overall, however, colonial indoctrination has been characterized by a teleological view of the West’s advancement, which is responsible for the benefits accorded Latin American, Asian, and African nations. Many other cultures outside of Europe experienced great progress and civilization throughout history.
Yet, the result of inattention to the civilization status of Europe and other regions at other time periods has given rise to contemporary confusion surrounding these cultures. One such problem can be found in the misunderstood racial composition of Egyptians. In fact, the analysis of the racial composition of the Egyptian royalty gives credence to the idea that multiculturalism existed in the Egyptian civilizations of the past. Peoples from lands traditionally connected with Europe became traders and settlers in Egypt—and this underscores the centrality of this civilization during the ancient times.
Such centrality naturally rebuts the idea behind Eurocentrism. However, the fact that interbreeding led to the Europeanized features of many of the Egyptian drawings and mummies has helped fuel the myth that European cultures played all the dominant roles in the civilizations of the past (Yurco, 2). Eurocentrism involves the idea that civilization was generated from a European center and somehow diffused to the other areas of the world. This idea finds its strength in the recent dominance that Europeans have had in the several continents of the world.
Colonialism needed justification, and the method by which this was done involved the creation of ideas and systems that placed Europeans at the forefront of history. It involved the Europeanization of the Greek cultures and the oversimplification of the factors leading up to the current socio-political state of the world. Furthermore, the fact that world history has been written down and propagated mainly during the period European dominance has facilitated the Eurocentrism that can now be seen in the historical understanding of the world.