Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds In discussions on the meaning of Europe, on a possible European identity, and the history of European integration, Europe is still largely explained out of itself. Scholars of European affairs assume that the key answers to most questions about Europe are to be found in Europe itself. We have seen this in previous videos. I would like to pose a very simple and at the same time profound question. Can the history and present of Europe be understood out of itself? Is it enough in our efforts to understand European political culture to focus on what happened and is still happening within Europe? However, Europe has a long history of transcontinental connections and interdependencies. And this is also how we should analyse European affairs.
Skip to 1 minute and 2 seconds In brief, the hypothesis here is that Europe is not only the oeuvre of Europeans. Let me illustrate this point with a brief look at the political biography of Dadabhai Naoroji, a man usually ignored in European history. Naoroji was born in 1825 in Bombay, at that time part of the British empire, and trained as a mathematician. In 1855 he moved to London where he set up his own commercial house and the influential East India Association to educate the English public on Indian Affairs. His motivation was that Europeans in general and the British in particular had little knowledge and thus understanding of people outside of Europe, despite intense trade relations and their colonise of many non-European societies.
Skip to 1 minute and 59 seconds The most remarkable point in his biography though is the year 1892 when Naoroji became the first Indian to be elected to the British House of Commons. The four subsequent years in Parliament were not only significant for Naoroji himself, but also for European and British political history. For the first time, a prominent non-European critic of colonialism became part of European legislature, and thus influenced European debates and laws. In his speeches in the Palace of Westminster, he triggered numerous discussions on the question in how far colonial rule was in line with European civilisation, European legal achievements, and the European sense of humanity. His judgement on European colonialism was differentiated. He distinguished between what he called benefits and detriments of European colonial rule.
Skip to 2 minutes and 58 seconds On the positive side, he saw achievements, such as education for both men and women. Although the latter was only in its beginnings. Peace and order, the freedom of speech, and the liberty of press, the abolition of repressive traditions such as widow burning in India, or the prohibition for widows to marry again. On the negative side, Naoroji saw sold several un-European patterns. Including for example, that the British did not allow Indians to represent themselves, disregarding Europe’s modern democratic representation. He also criticised the undemocratic nature of the colonial economy that sustained and deepened mass poverty, instead of trying to improve the lot of peasants and workers as happened gradually in Europe.
Skip to 3 minutes and 50 seconds Naoroji not only triggered controversies about the fairness and legitimacy of colonialism, but also about the meaning of Europe, European civilisation, and European culture. Consequently, he named European rule in India un-British as well as un-European. He reminded the British as Europeans in their own Parliament that there was a profound contradiction between European civilisation and philosophy, between European achievements in social and political affairs on the one hand, and the practises of their rule in India and other colonies on the other hand. The lesson of Naoroji’s life is not only that non-Europeans had an important role in defining and defending the European. There is also a theoretical lesson this case can teach.
Skip to 4 minutes and 39 seconds An Indian member of British parliament discussing European modernity is counter evidence against any universalistic notion of modernity, which assumes that modernity expanded from Europe to the rest of the globe. Intellectuals and activists from the colonies, such as Naoroji were not simply bystanders, but co-authors of this modernity. What is more, Naoroji’s political life should also make us sceptical about concepts of multiple modernities that assume a distinction between a British, and Indian, or a Japanese modernity. Modernity itself, with its core achievements that Naoroji highlighted for his fellow parliamentarians, seems to have been the result of transcontinental interdependencies, transcultural negotiations, as well as conflicting interests within societies here in Europe and elsewhere.
Skip to 5 minutes and 38 seconds It is on this matrix of intercultural communication on the one hand, and controversies within societies on the other hand that we should locate the historical efforts to define and defend modernity.
Postcolonialism and reflexive modernities
One framework through which to understand and study inequality is postcolonialism. In this video, Dr Clemens Six invites you to look at Europe from outside: ‘Europe is not only the oeuvre of Europeans.’
Postcolonial studies argues that modernity should and cannot be understood as having developed solely in or by Europe. Structures of government were developed in or in response to developments in overseas territories, for example. That is to say that modernity did not come into being in Europe to consequently be ‘exported’ elsewhere.
Rather, modernity is based on transcontinental interdependencies and transcultural negotiations. Dr Six’s case study, the life and work of Dadabhai Naoroji, a Bombay-born mathematician who was elected to the British House of Commons in 1892, shows that colonial activists and intellectuals are co-authors of modernity.
© University of Groningen