Much history of the West has been dominated by the view that the seeds of modernity began in Greek Antiquity and that the birth of capitalism and the urbanization that created a bourgeoisie lay with the European communes of northern Italy in the Middle Ages. But from the wider perspective of world civilizations, did Europe in fact diverge significantly from the common Eurasiatic cultures of the Bronze Age, delineated by the Marxist Australian prehistorian, Gordon Childe, either in Antiquity or in the Middle Ages? Clearly there was a significant divergence in the nineteenth century, after the Industrial Revolution, and in certain respects after the Renaissance, but does that warrant the teleological search for what Wallerstein (1999) calls “civilizational” as distinct from “conjunctural” factors? I argue that the starting point for historical research into either Asiatic or European “exceptionalism,” as Marx called it, should be the convergences of the urban civilizations of the Bronze Age rather than the divergent paths of the nineteenth century.
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