Yesterday as I began reading the penultimate chapter of Anievas and Nisancioglu’s “How the West Came to Rule”, one which deals with the “great divergence” between the West and Asia, I was surprised to see a history professor at the University of New Brunswick in Canada named Ricardo Duchesne mentioned as a believer in the “miracle” of the West. Like the more straightforward believers of Western superiority covered by Jim Blaut in “Eight Eurocentrist Historians”, Duchesne attributes its domination of the rest of the world to its “higher intellectual and artistic creativity”.
The last time Duchesne came to my attention was in September 2003 when I commented on a critique of the Brenner thesis that he had written for Rethinking Marxism.
Duchesne’s article is not only worth tracking down as a very effective rebuttal to Brenner and Wood but as a rarity in the academic world: a witty and highly readable essay that entertains while it educates. For veterans of PEN-L, it might come as some surprise to discover that he has written such an article for in the past he was one of the most vociferous opponents of James M. Blaut, both on that list and other lists where the origins of capitalism was a hot topic. For example in January 1998, he wrote the following on PEN-L:
“Now consider the dilemma Blaut finds himself: why did Europe came to dominate the rest of the World? Answer: geographical proximity of Europe to the Americas(!) gave it access to its metals and labor leading to the industrial revolution. Obviously the notion that European capitalism developed as a result of the exploitation of the Third World has been so roundly refuted I need not elaborate this here. Just a handy, if incomplete, stats: At most 2% of Europe’s GNP at the end of 18th century took the form of profits derived from commerce with Americas, Asia, Africa! (I think source is K.O’Brien).”
However, Duchesne now believes:
“The major drawback of Wood’s Origins is its Eurocentric presumption that explaining the transition to capitalism is simply a matter of looking for those ‘unique’ traits that set Europe or England apart from the rest of the world. Marxists can no longer rest comfortably with the story that England and Europe emerged from the Middle Ages with an internally generated advantage over the rest of Asia.”
As it turns out, his dissertation was on the “transition debate”. Written in 1994, it claimed that it would apply a “Hegelian” procedure to resolve a debate that reached an impasse in his view. His dissertation adviser was Robert Albritton, a Marxist scholar generally associated with the anti-Brenner camp. He also thanks David McNally, who we assume was on his dissertation committee, as being “helpful” despite their differences over deconstruction. Since I had just heard McNally paying loving tribute to Ellen Meiksins Wood yesterday, a person who never met a deconstructionist she wouldn’t have had for breakfast, I wondered what that was about.
Out of curiosity, I downloaded Duchesne’s dissertation that is titled “All contraries confounded: Historical materialism and the transition-to-capitalism debate” and turned to the conclusion. It certainly confirms his approaching the “transition debate” from a Hegelian standpoint, as this gibberish from his final paragraph would confirm:
Throughout this movement, however, it is crucial that we do not lose sight of our initial object of knowledge, our explanadum. Our explanadum must be the point of departure for the construction of our concrete whole: it sets the site of over-determination. It is the point from which we will derive a totality which is pertinent to our object of study, as opposed to an indifferent totality in which everything is related to everything else. It is also crucial that we remember our starting point in order to avoid the conclusion that this process of concretization is a reconstruction of history or society as such. Marx’s method of political economy comprehends one area of what Hegel called objective spirit, namely, socio-economic life. Our totality will be a part of a larger and still more complex whole – a totality which will always remain incomplete.
Having followed Duchesne’s interventions around the Brenner thesis on two different mailing lists in the early 2000s, the Hegelian influence is obvious to me seen in retrospect. I state that as someone who studied Hegel’s “Phenomenology of Mind” in 1966 at the New School when I was dodging the draft. Key to Hegel is the dialectic, which poses one set of ideas against another in an ongoing struggle that finally resolves itself in the Prussian state that Hegel bowed down to. Whenever Hegel’s name came up on Marxmail, Jim Blaut raised a stink since he considered Hegel an arch-reactionary and urged us to steer clear of him. Whether Duchesne was a Marxist at the time was open to question but there is little doubt what he turned into today, a vicious racist who has the same worshipful attitude toward the Canadian state of his dreams—one that is devoted to Western values and the White Race–that Hegel had toward the Prussian state.
The first indication that Duchesne had thrown in his lot with the Eurocentrists was a 2005 article taking issue with Kenneth Pomeranz, the author of “The Great Divergence”, a book that held that China was superior to Britain in many respects in the 18th century, and that if not for British access to New World plunder and the availability of coal in the early stages of the industrial revolution it would have remained subordinate to China. Duchesne’s article remained within the parameters of scholarly norms, even though one might wonder whether it harbored a willingness to break ranks with the anti-Eurocentrists that the capricious scholar had tenuous ties to.
But it was the next article that appeared that year that amounted to a “coming out”. Titled “Defending the rise of Western Culture against its Multicultural critics”, it was the sort of article that you would expect to read in The New Criterion or The Weekly Standard. From that point on, everything that Duchesne has written is in the same vein with a brazen disregard for scholarly impartiality. It culminated in a 528-page book titled “The Uniqueness of Western Civilization” that was published in 2011. It has a chapter titled “The Restlessness of the Western Spirit from a Hegelian Perspective” that is a reminder that Blaut knew what he was talking about. It is followed by one titled “The Aristocratic Egalitarianism of Indo-Europeans and the Primordial Origins of Western Civilization”. I am sure that you know that Aryan is another word for Indo-Europeans.
But nothing would prepare you for Duchesne’s personal blog that is a blatant defense of White Nationalism of the sort that is tracked by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Political Research Associates and other groups that follow the KKK, neo-Nazis, et al.
The blog is titled Council of European Canadians and describes its goals as follows:
We believe that existing strategies for immigration reform have not been successful and must be abandoned. We believe that assimilation (of non-Europeans in the current state of mass immigration) would be fatal to our European heritage, and that if we aim to enhance European Canada we must rely upon the current mechanisms afforded by multiculturalism while it lasts. Multiculturalism recognizes the right of ethnic groups to preserve and enhance their identity and cultural heritage.
We are against an establishment that is determined to destroy European Canada through fanatical immigration, imposition of a diversity curriculum, affirmative action in favor of non-Europeans, and promotion of white guilt. The domination of the cultural Marxists is so deeply seated, so entrenched inside the psychology of Canadians that we cannot engage only in ordinary party politics.
It has racist articles by Duchesne and crosspostings from other fascist-minded filth such as Tim Murray, the author of “Ban Muslim Immigration? Trump Is Right” and “Students for Western Civilization”, a group at York University that was formed by “White/European students to challenge those arguments about the inherent illegitimacy of our civilisation’s existence.”
Over the past couple of years, Duchesne has become a public figure in Canada for his racist views. On May 26 2014, he wrote a blog post titled “Chinese Head Tax, White Apologies, and “Inclusive Redress” that assailed Vancouver City Councilor Raymond Louie for urging that discriminatory laws and policies imposed on Chinese immigrants in the city between 1886 and 1947 be investigated. For Duchesne, this was a “cultural Marxist” assault on the city’s White values. (I should mention that his use of this term is consistent with the way it was used by Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik.)
Kerry Jang, another Chinese-Canadian councilperson, complained to the administration at Duchesne’s college that predictably defended his academic freedom. Meanwhile, some of his peers wrote a letter to the Toronto Star disassociating themselves from Duchesne:
The principle of academic freedom has long been established in Canada and continues to be a cornerstone of the Canadian university system. As such, Dr. Ricardo Duchesne has a right to use that freedom as a member of the Sociology Unit in the Department of Social Science, University of New Brunswick, Saint John.
However, academic freedom entails neither a right to be listened to, nor a right to an audience. We, the undersigned, also exercise our academic freedom and state categorically that we reject Dr. Duchesne’s expressed views on “Western civilization” and consider them void of academic merit. His views are his alone and are not shared by the ten signatories below from the Department of Sociology, UNB Fredericton.
Professors Gary Bowden, Dan Crouse, Tia Dafnos, Nick Hardy, Catherine Holtmann, Jacqueline Low, Nancy Nason-Clark, Paul Peters, Lucia Tramonte and Maria Costanza Torri, Department of Sociology, UNB, Fredericton
I don’t know enough about Duchesne personally to speculate on how he could have ended up as White Nationalist except to say that he was born and raised in Puerto Rico. Apparently the colonial condition was insufficient to keep his head screwed on right. In contrast, Jim Blaut had a very close connection to the island that sustained him until his death. He was married to America Sorrentini-Blaut, whom he met when he was teaching at the University of Puerto Rico. She was a central leader of the Puerto Rican Socialist Party, a group that he strongly identified with and no doubt that influenced his decision to take up the question of Eurocentrism. Long after riffraff like Ricardo Duchesne are six feet under, serious scholars will be reading Blaut to get ideas on how to understand the phenomenon that Mahatma Gandhi once described in the following terms when asked what he thought of Western Civilization: “I think it would be a good idea.”