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Summation

Putting aside ethnic and occupational sensitivities, it could be said that the debate over the origins of Greek civilization is not that different from debates about other origins. Ideas and inventions are typically associated with those who first brought them to light. But it is rare that there are no contentions as to influences and who else should appropriately lay claim to them.

One reviewer of the manuscript for this book, for example, questioned the reference to the Magna Carta as the seminal document in modern democracy. “[M]any historians would disagree with Ibelema, that England led the way toward the democratization of Europe,” the reviewer writes. “They might point to the arguments of the French Enlightenment as crucial toward teaching people to use their critical capacities rather than follow the guidance of clergymen, princes and kings.”

The reference to the Magna Carta has been kept not because the reviewer’s point is necessarily mistaken, but because the Enlightenment is also given its due. Rather than being in competition, the two historical developments actually played distinct roles at distinct points in the history of democracy. Accordingly, the Magna Carta is described in Chapter 12 as the ignition and the Enlightenment as the fuel.

In any case, there is a fundamental problem with according credit for historical and intellectual developments. Though the Magna Carta is widely credited as the origin of democracy in Anglo-American history, it cannot rationally be said to be the first instance in world history that devolution of power was compelled by a monarch’s political rivals. It just happens to be the first documented case that could be directly linked to modern democratization.

A similar argument would be true of the Enlightenment. Given the diversity of human thoughts and characters in all societies, it is certain that some people somewhere else have expressed the same thoughts that came to define the Enlightenment. It may have been individuals in African villages or obscure sages in Asia. In all likelihood, they were regarded as cultural outliers or misfits. And just like the pioneers of the Enlightenment in Europe, they were probably harassed and persecuted. The difference is that the latter group coalesced and over time began to gain converts and ultimately triumphed.

Back to the Eurocentric/Afrocentric debate, one only needs to note that it might never have become so contentious had MacMillan’s conception of civilization stood that it is “a higher synthesis of the best experience of all the human race.” There is a joke that God cannot change history, but historians do. It could be said that the Eurocen-tric/Afrocentric contestation is over restoration of the history that was changed in the 18th/19th centuries.

 
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