WESTERN CIVILIZATION AND THE MODERN/COLONIAL WORLD SYSTEM
WESTERN CIVILIZATION AND THE MODERN/COLONIAL WORLD SYSTEM
The concept and image of “modernity” is not equivalent to that of the “modern-world system.” There are several differences between the two. First, “modernity” is associated with literature, philosophy, and the history of ideas, whereas “modern world-system” is associated with the vocabulary of the social sciences. Secondly, this first characterization is important if we remember that both concepts, since the 1970s, have occupied defined spaces in academic as well as public discourses. During the Cold War, the social sciences gained ground within cultures of scholarship, in the U.S., particularly in relation to the relevance purchased by area studies (Fals Borda 1971 : Wallerstein 1997b, Lamber 1990 : Rafael 1994). Consequently, “postmodernity” is understood both as a historical process in which “modernity” encountered its limits, as well as a critical discourse on “modernity” which was housed in the humanities, even though social scientists were not deaf to its noise (Seidman and Wagner, eds., 1992). Thirdly, “modernity” (and obviously “postmodernity”) maintained the idea of Western Civilization in its pristine imaginary “development” from ancient Greece to eighteenth century Europe, where the bases of “modernity” were laid out. In contrast, the conceptualization of the “modern world-system” does not locate its “beginning” in Greece. Furthermore, the concept of the “modern world-system” underlines a spatial articulation of power rather than a linear succession of events. Thus, the “modern world-system” locates its beginning toward the end of the fifteenth century and links it to capitalism (Braudel 1949 ; Wallerstein 1974 ; Braudel 1979 ; Arrighi 1994). This spatial articulation of power, since the sixteenth century and the emergence of the Atlantic commercial circuit, is what Quijano theorizes as “coloniality of power” (Quijano and Wallerstein 1992 ; Mignolo 2000).
Borrowing the word “paradigm” for explanatory convenience, I would say that “modernity” and the “modern world-system” are indeed two interrelated, although distinct, paradigms. The advantage of the latter over the former is that it made visible the spatiality of Western history in the past 500 years, along with the need for looking at modernity and coloniality together. “Modernity” places the accent in Europe. Modern world-system brings colonialism into the picture, although as a derivative rather than a constitutive component of modernity. Modern world-system, in other words, does not make visible “coloniality” as a necessary complement to “modernity.” It is Quijano’s merit to have shown “coloniality” as the overall dimension of “modernity” and, therefore, distinguishing “coloniality” from “colonialism.” Quijano’s has also brought to light that the emergence of the Atlantic circuit during the sixteenth century made coloniality constitutive of modernity. If modernity is chronologically located in the eighteenth century, coloniality becomes derivative. Thus, the Iberian foundational period of capitalistic expansion and coloniality is erased or relegated to the middle ages as the Black Legend as the enlightenment construction of the “South” of Europe testifies (Santos 1998 ; 161-192 ; 369-454 ; Cassano 1995). In this scenario first comes modernity then colonialism and coloniality becomes invisible. Quijano and Dussel made it possible not only to conceive the “modern/colonial world-system” as a socio-historical structure coinciding with the expansion of capitalism but, also, to conceive coloniality and the colonial difference as loci of enunciation. This is precisely what I mean by the geopolitics of knowledge and the colonial difference (Mignolo 2000a and 2000b).
The eighteenth century (or more exactly, the period between approximately 1760 and 1800) was dominated by two distinctive shifts. First, there was the displacement of power in the Atlantic circuit from the South to the North. Secondly, the main concern in Europe, from the Peace of Westfalia (1648) until the end of the eighteenth century, was nation-state building rather than colonialism (Anderson 1975). England, France and Germany were not yet colonial powers in the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries and when they became so, they mutually reinforced nation building with colonial expansion, particularly since the nineteenth century. Secondly, the strong preoccupation, in the North, of the Europe of Nations placed colonialism on the backburner, so to speak. “Colonialism” was a second concern for nations such as England and France, whose presence in the Americas was commercial rather than evangelistic, which comprised a major part of Spain and Portugal’s project. France and England did not have at that point, in the Americas, a civilizing mission to accomplish, as they would have in Asia and Africa after the Napoleonic era. Current conceptualizations of “modernity” and “postmodernity” are historically grounded in that period. The second stage of modernity was part of the German restitution of the Greek legacy as the foundation of Western Civilization.
Although there is a discussion whether the “world-system” is 500 or 5000 years old, I do not consider this issue to be relevant. It is relevant, instead, that the “modern/colonial world-system” can be described in conjunction with the emergence of the Atlantic commercial circuit (Mignolo 2000a), and that such conceptualization is linked to the making of “colonial difference(s).’ The colonial difference, in short, refers to the changing faces of colonial differences throughout the history of the modern/colonial world-system and brings to the foreground the planetary dimension of human history silenced by discourses centering on modernity, postmodernity, and Western civilization.