The Empire of Civilization
The Evolution of an Imperial Idea
The term “civilization” comes with considerable baggage, dichotomizing people, cultures, and histories as “civilized”—or not. While the idea of civilization has been deployed throughout history to justify all manner of interventions and sociopolitical engineering, few scholars have stopped to consider what the concept actually means. Here, Brett Bowden examines how the idea of civilization has informed our thinking about international relations over the course of ten centuries.
From the Crusades to the colonial era to the global war on terror, this sweeping volume exposes “civilization” as a stage-managed account of history that legitimizes imperialism, uniformity, and conformity to Western standards, culminating in a liberal-democratic global order. Along the way, Bowden explores the variety of confrontations and conquests—as well as those peoples and places excluded or swept aside—undertaken in the name of civilization. Concluding that the “West and the rest” have more commonalities than differences, this provocative and engaging book ultimately points the way toward an authentic intercivilizational dialogue that emphasizes cooperation over clashes.
“Deeply researched, well argued, and readable despite the density of the material. . . . A rewarding read.”
“Offers a sophisticated and remarkably wide-ranging discussion of how the concept of civilization became central to philosophy, legal discourse, scientific progress, socio-political institutions and colonial ambitions. . . . Bowden’s inquiry . . . makes an important contribution to this political task.”
“A timely and significant book that advances our understanding not only of how the discourse of civilization emerged after 1492 and crystallized during the Enlightenment but, above all, how it continues to structure contemporary world politics. Bowden develops a unique multi-disciplinary approach that speaks directly to international relations, international law, and political theory. The book deserves to find its place alongside other key texts written by the likes of Richard Tuck, James Tully, and Antony Anghie.”
“This well-argued, carefully researched book shows how valid and useful Lucien Febvre’s remark that ‘it is never a waste of time to study the history of a word’ remains even today. Bowden’s discussion of words such as 'civilization’ and ‘cosmopolitanism’ ranges widely over Spanish debates on colonization, Enlightenment discourse, and contemporary Anglo-American writings. But what makes this book special is the fact that the colonized are never left out of view in Bowden’s history of European thought. A remarkable achievement.”
“This is an extremely erudite book that clearly illustrates Brett Bowden’s mastery of a wide variety of philosophical and historical sources. There is a lot of very interesting material here that is of enormous relevance to any contemporary intellectual reader attempting to place the concepts of ‘civilization’ and ‘civilizations’ in their proper historical contexts.”
“Much has been written in recent times about Empire. But few of these works possess the quality of Brett Bowden’s far reaching historical study which is particularly timely and important because it explicates the intellectual foundations of Empire—particularly, the idea of civilization—with such clarity and depth. This is a superb book that will be of interest to everyone concerned about the enduring issues of Empire and their impact on some of the fundamental questions of our time.”