Decoupling "Modern" from "European"
Let's take as an example the "modern" trait of a state's
attempt to promote a national culture for political purposes:
Throughout Chinese history, much went on in Chinese intellectual
life outside of Confucianism. There was much that happens in popular
culture, certainly, outside Confucian precepts, and I do not mean
to suggest anything to the contrary. But I do want to suggest that
there was a deliberate, conscious, and instrumental usage of certain
ideas and institutions by the Chinese state, under the rubric of
"Confucianism," in order to promote a kind of unity, which
has, in part, a cultural and social dimension. And it was political
in nature. Now, does that mean when I see a kind of equivalence
or connection between politics and culture I want to claim that
the Chinese empire was modern?
No. But I want to claim instead that the congruence between politics
and culture in nineteenth-century Europe was not modern; it was
nineteenth century and European. And it is a fundamentally different
proposition. It disengages the notion of modernity from those traits
that appeared in Europe in the nineteenth century. And it says to
us, "Let's be careful." Some of those features new to Europe in
the nineteenth century may have been new in a global sense as well,
and some of them not. And let's be very careful as a first step
to distinguish between these two distinct possibilities.
It was the conjunction of a whole set of traits in nineteenth-century
Europe that we may still want to call modern. But let us
be clear that it really was the conjunction and not the individual
traits. And I am using the noun conjunction deliberately
because the causality between these various phenomena is, at least
in my mind, often quite open and contingent or at least different
across different cases. This situation suggests that part of our
challenge is to explain how different kinds of phenomena end up
getting connected together.
Why is it in the European case that at the same time as industrial
capitalism developed, states wanted to promote national culture?
I mean, these are things that happened together in Europe, but the
connections don't have to exist in other parts of the world in the
same ways or in the same period. And it seems to me that being able
to decouple the various traits of what we think of was European
modernity gives us a much more flexible approach to thinking about
what modern means.