Introduction to Comparative Politics with Timothy Pachirat
Fatih Cetin (TA), September 28, 2019 9:05am to 9:55am
Critical Analysis Of Comparative Politics
Comparison gives us better views and ideas about the place in the world and help in setting goals to achieve. Comparative politics is based on the same principle. Looking at the narrow definition of comparative politics stating, “One of the four subfields in academics discipline of political science that focuses on the politics of countries outside the US”, gives us the most basic definition that makes us understand what this field is about.
However, this definition excludes the US, giving rise to the question that whether the US is incomparable. Considering the extensive definition of comparative politics, ” The interdisciplinary study of how power is organized across time and space”, provides us the complete view on what is comparative politics. (Lecture by Timothy)
It is a matter of deep concern that the study of comparative politics should be Eurocentric or poly-centric.
Eurocentric means Europe is the center of power; the rest of the world is its periphery.
According to Karl Marx, the centrality of Europe to an understanding of world history did not imply any innate European superiority, but he nevertheless assumed that Europe provided a model for the whole world as a whole. I fully agree that West became dominant due to technology advancement, demographic accounts, political and military accounts, geographical or environmental accounts, or I can say the combination of above. “All that glitters are not gold” that is, this may be an “accident” too.
This can be proved by the story of coal and its relationship to industrialization. Some coal deposits were very near to people and some were very far and hence unusable. The Dutch had peat, not coal. This was one reason that their growth slowed while that of Britain accelerated. The distribution of coal deposits is thus an “accident”, which had a great impact on countries for industrialization.
This must be subject to scrutiny. I agree that the issue of the rise of West matters a lot. It is critical to explain the nature of the world we live in, and how capitalism and democratic institutions originated within Western civilization. However, according to me, the making of the world canNOT be understood by simply studying about Europe. It would be better to construct an alternative way to history by getting outside of the rise of the West matrix.” Those who only know one country know no country.” (Seymour Martin Lipset. PUBP 800 class). So, the study of comparative politics must be poly-centric.
Poly-centric means that there are more centers of power. There is no single dominance of power. The world is interconnected; each one is densely populated and industrially advanced cores supplied from their peripheries. This could be better illustrated by the voyages of Zheng He. During 1405, “Treasure Ships” of Zheng along with warships sailed on the east coast of Africa, all around the Indian Ocean. They traded with the local rulers, collected rare gems, giraffe, and intervened in local affairs to install rulers more friendly to China. Feeling secure, China used the Indian Ocean, opening a sea route linking the eastern and western parts of the Eurasian continent with India and Africa. It can be seen that the purpose of his voyage was to spread the influence of China on the world and exert their domination.
The rise of the West was not inevitable but it was highly contingent. The dominance of the West not only happens later, maybe the nineteenth century, but it also becomes clear that it was contingent on other development that has taken elsewhere in the world. For instance, Asia was a source of the huge demand for silver. Economies of China and India were growing, thereby stimulating the entire Eurasian continent. Furthermore, the Islamic empires expanded westward into the Mediterranean Sea and eastward into the Indian Ocean, thereby, blocking the direct European access to riches of Asia, stimulating a need to find new sea routes to the Indian Ocean. Apart from this, the Columbus’s discovery of America and Vasco da Gama’s sail around Africa to get the Indian Ocean would have not done much for Europe fortunes if they had not found both vast quantities of silver in the New World with which to buy Asian goods and a supply of slaves to work New plantations after European diseases killed off most of the Native American populations. World today might have been different if Zheng He, instead of Columbus found America: Counterfactual Reasoning.
Some people will argue that after the Black Death, various economic and environmental pressures prompted European families to reduce the family size by marrying late. Less the children more the capital contributed by farming families leading to the industrial revolution. However, recent work on China shows that it had also rural families with limited family size. Scholars have shown that the so-called “European miracle” can be found in other parts of the world, thereby making Europe not unique.
Analyzing the idea of conjuncture: things happening somewhere else comes together to interact and become globally important, one can see that China’s decision to use silver as their monetary system had a global impact when Europeans discovered both massive supplies of silver in the new world. As a result, silver flowed into China and porcelains flowed into Europe bringing the first age of globalization.
The making of the modern world involved several causes. Considering just only Europe will be like nailing jelly to the wall. I can say that other parts of the world were either more advanced or at least equivalent to most developed parts of Europe. So, we have to take all possible factors to understand comparative politics. “View things not only from different sides but with different eyes” (Pascal).
Coming to the argument that the study of comparative politics should be State-centric or not. The State is organized domination. A State is a human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory. The State is considered to be the sole source of “right” to use violence (Weber, 1946).
I claim that to understand how things work as a foundational political unit of our comparative politics, we should take account of non-State people also which have challenged the principles of State. By looking at non-state actors, we can gain some new information and a new understanding of our comparative politics that we could not get just by focusing on States. I don’t agree with Robert Marks’s views on State centrism that focuses on centers of political power and neglects the perspective of those who resisted by the state. James Scott provided the example of Zomia, a southeast region where individuals were free, equal, and healthy. “You couldn’t tell rich from poor. Everyone spoke the same way·.No one bent down and bowed before others” (James C. Scott, The Art Not Being Governed, pg135) successfully tells that people of Zomia had freedom.
States imposed taxes on people, made them slaves, there was constant warfare, as a result, people climbed the hill to get out of State. Many people having diverse cultures and languages fled to geographical inaccessible areas. They were called the Barbarians. They grew crops that matured quickly, could be hidden and had low value to weight ratios. There was mainly an agriculture trade; barbarians occupied different ecological zones and they were naturally partner with the low land state. Most importantly they lived a life of dignity and independence. James Scott mentioned his hero, “Pierre” who remarks that people in South America, who were considered neolithic by anthropologists were not neolithic Stone Age people, rather people who have given up centrally cultivation because of fear of forced labor in Spanish settlement and diseases brought by Old World (Online lecture, Pierre, Society against the State). This shows that there is more to focus than just to study the States.
Some critics may argue that studying the State helps us to know how people become civilized. Nevertheless, Scott provided a defensive statement, “Hill peoples are not pre-anything, instead they are better understood as post-irrigated rice, post sedentary, post subject, and perhaps even post-literate.”(James Scott. The Art Not Being Governed, p337). Thus, Hill people were post civilized. Grasping just non-state actors can make us aware of the history of politics.
Studies have found that there are still non-state spaces that still resits the Leviathan ( a supreme authority of unlimited power). These non-state organizations are shaped by global flows of goods, people, wealth, and ideas. For instance, there are areas on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan that don’t have state rules. These areas are mostly inhabited by tribal people( It would help in building our strong concepts of comparative politics about how power can be organized efficiently in the present world.
I think focusing on locations where state has difficulty in establishing its authority can not only allow us to think about the politics that are not dominated by nation-state narratives, but also opens a wide view of cross-border socio-cultural episodes, regional inequalities, their attempts to build their own politics rather than depending on the centralized state narratives.
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