Where is the historical West? Part 2 of 5

Carleton Coon

What follows is a revised paper trying to answer the same question while taking account of the prohibited criteria of race. This is not a paper on the geographical distribution of the Caucasoid race. The objective is to ascertain the historical geography of Western civilization/culture without ignoring race. The concept of race will be implicit rather than the subject of investigation. I will accept as generally true the standard investigation of Carleton S. Coon’s book, The Living Races of Man, published in 1965. Humans are members of the species Homo sapiens, and all the members of this species, regardless of geographic location, can breed together and produce mixed offspring.  However, “humans also vary racially to an unusual degree,” and thus it is possible to divide humans into sub-species of races. While there is (still) no general consensus on the number of races, the term “race” is sufficiently precise to allow for a general classification of humans on earth. For the purposes of this paper, it should suffice to mention that, according to Coon, the three major sub-species of races are: Caucasoid, Mongoloid, and Congoid. He identifies four more races. He also draws further divisions within each of these main racial types to take account of important additional morphological differences, geographical variations, and the ways in which different environments engendered cultures which “profoundly” affected the character of the races. The following succinct statement by Coon is worth quoting:

A race is a major segment of a species originally occupying, since the first dispersal of mankind, a large, geographically unified, and distinct region, and touching on the territories of other races only by relatively narrow corridors. Within such a region each race acquired its distinctive genetic attributes – both its visible physical appearance and its invisible biological properties – through the selective forces of all aspects of the environment, including culture. After having become differentiated in this fashion, each race filled out its space, resisting, because of its superior local adaptation, the encroachment of outsiders with whom it mixed, from time to time if not continuously, along its borders (p. 10).

But what about the much talked-about difference between ethnicity and race? The more we emphasize culture the closer we are to the concept of ethnicity. The term “race” pays closer attention to the genetic attributes of a given group, whereas when the term “ethnicity” pays closer attention to the cultural attributes of a group, i.e., language, religion, customs, institutions, and historical experiences. This does not mean that ethnicity excludes the genetics of race. Liberals think they can suppress the concept of race by defining ethnicity in cultural terms and thereby defining race as a “cultural construct”. Coon correctly avoids this arbitrary elimination of physiological and genetic factors from his definition of race without ignoring the importance of culture. I use the term ethnicity as an intermediate term between race and culture. Western civilization comprises many ethnic groups with difference languages, cuisines, histories, which are nevertheless members of the Caucasoid race. Likewise there are many ethnic groups within the Mongoloid and Congoid sub-species.   

Non-Western Civilizations are Easy

Now, with this nod to the importance of race, here is a revised answer to the question: where is the historical West? The West is, by far, the most difficult civilization to trace geographically. Non-Western civilizations are relatively easy to locate on historical maps. Their borders and sizes may have changed over time, they may have disappeared altogether, but we can straightforwardly identify Mesopotamian civilizations, the ancient Sumerian city-states (3000-2340 BC), the Akkadian Empire (2340-2150 BC), the rise of the Sumerian city at Ur (2112-2000), which witnessed a final flowering of Sumerian culture, or the Amorites/Old Babylonians, rulers of this region from 2000 to about 1550, best known for the Code of Hammurabi (1700s).  We can identify the cultures/civilizations of ancient Egypt, the Mayas, Aztecs, Incas, the empire of Ghana (900-1180 AD), the Songhai Kingdom in Africa (1450-1600). We can also identify the Shang dynasty (1766-1050 BC), known as the first Chinese civilization, and all subsequent kingdoms up until the current territory of China. The borders of China certainly changed over time, sometimes it was unified under a stable dynastic order extended over a wide area, sometimes it was divided into two dynasties, sometimes occupied by external rulers (as was the case when the Mongols ruled, 1206-1368), and sometimes the country was characterized by intense competition between city-states each dominated by its own dynasty (as was the case during the Warring States period, 481-221 BC).   But these happenings occurred within a clearly identifiable geographic location. The overall tendency of China’s history has been toward occupation and dispossession of non-Han ethnic peoples by the Han majority. From their original homeland along the Yellow River, the Han Chinese, through successive waves of immigration, demographic expansion, and bureaucratic consolidation, dispossessed one ethnic group after another, from the tropical regions below the Yangtze River, from the jungles of the southwest regions known as Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, and from Yunnan and Sichuan. During the 1700s, “Outer China,” a vast territory controlled by Mongols, Turkish and Tibetan-stock peoples, was taken over politically and demographically. During 1800s, Manchuria and Taiwan were forcibly colonized and the indigenous cultures liquidated. Tibet’s inhabitants are currently experiencing displacement by masses of Chinese migrants. Thus was born The People’s Republic of China, a clearly identifiable civilization with a clearly identifiable ethnic character.  According to the 2010 census, 91.51% of the population in China is ethnic Han.

Throughout its entire history Japanese civilization, except for its short lived empire in the 1930s and 40s, has generally remained located where Japan is today, with its own unique ethnicity even though it borrowed much from China (its writing system, the ideas of Confucianism and Buddhism, the bureaucratic methods of government, city-planning, road systems, artistic and architectural styles). The ethnic Japanese, which is often use in some contexts to refer to smaller sub-ethnic Japanese groups such as the Yamato, Ainu and Ryukyuan people, comprise 98.5 percent of the total population, with the rest consisting mostly of Koreans and Chinese.  Today, as the world’s third largest trading nation, Japan’s economy is tightly enmeshed with the world’s economy; and yet Japan is still a separate place enjoying the same ethnic homogeneity of the past, unwilling to open its borders to immigration despite a fertility rate standing at 1.1 children per woman, coupled with the oldest population in the world. When we look at a historic map of Japan we are certain it is the land of the Japanese.

Islamic civilization is trickier to identify on a map. The term “Islamic” and Muslim” do not refer to a common racial, ethnic, or national group. It refers today, and through the course of much of its history, after Islam expanded out of the Arabian lands in the 7th century, to a wide variety of cultures, ethnic groups, and nation-states. From its beginnings, it expanded into areas previously populated not just by other ethnic groups and cultures but by far more advanced civilizations. These civilizations were conquered by Arabic forces, including the lands of ancient Mesopotamia, Persia, Egypt, and former Roman lands. although historians speak of the “golden age of Islamic civilization” under the Abbasid Dynasty, which ruled from the mid-8th century until the mid-13th century across the near East, north Africa, and Spain, this “golden age” was a blending of Persian, Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Greco-Roman achievements, mostly borrowings with some Muslim input in pharmaceutics, optics, and astronomy.

In the 1400s, the Turks, a people from the steppes, who had converted to Islam, conquered much of Greece (widely seen as the birth place of Western civilization), capturing Constantinople in 1453, and replacing Byzantium with the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans would expand right to the “gates of Vienna” in the 1500s. Earlier Muslims came to occupy most of the Visigoth Kingdom in Spain in 716 AD (only the northern reaches of Spain remaining in Christian hands), though Islamic Spain was eventually reconquered by the Spaniards by the end of the 15th century. Today, all of North Africa, parts of sub-Sahara Africa and most of Eastern Africa is Muslim; and so is Pakistan, huge parts of India, and Indonesia.

Despite this geographical and cultural diversity, scholars readily identify these lands as part of the Muslim world. They do so in the degree to which they agree that the term “Muslim world” is a religious term which refers to those who adhere to the teachings of Islam. While the Islamic world covers countries with varying ethnicities; religiously speaking Muslim places include locations where one can identify a community of Muslims (Ummah) living under the precepts of the Koran, a religious text which universalizes the term “Muslim” by applying it to the tribe-writ-large, the whole Muslim world envisioned as a single people. The Islamic world numbers between 1.2 and 1.6 billion people, roughly one-fifth of humanity, spread across many different sovereign states and ethnic groups but consisting almost entirely of non-Whites and non-Orientals. The initial expansion during the Umayyad period (660-750) should be seen as an Arabic effort to wrest control away from Greco-Roman and Persian influences in the name of a Semitic Empire with its own Semitic religion determined to govern the fates of men with the arbitrary despotism typical of an Eastern monarch.

India is touted today as the most multicultural, ethnically diverse country in the world. This country is home to four major racial groups, which overlap due to racial admixture: Caucasoids, Australoids, Mongoloids and Negritos. With over two thousand ethnic groups, four major families of languages, and multiple religions (Hindus do comprise the vast majority at 80.5 percent with Islam at 13.4 percent), India, in the words of Coon, is “the most complicated geographically, racially, and culturally” (191). Yet all these racial groups are descendants of waves of invaders centuries ago; immigration is practically non-existent today, apart from a trickling of Bangladeshi, Pakistani, and Burmese migrants. With its endogamous rules, India has remained racially stable for centuries; its caste divisions have been historically deep, with limited gene flows across racial boundaries.  The racial differences that exist can still be traced back to the migrations into India before Christ. The Indian racial populations can be well demarcated as separate from most of the other Asian populations, from the Persian Gulf, Arabia, Burma, China, Vietnamese and Malayan lands. It is not a complicated land to locate on a map; historically the country has always been located more or less in the same place.

Go to Part 3 of 5.

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