There was a time when the economic confrontation between East and West was perceived as a confrontation between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft. ‘East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,’—thus wrote J. H. Boeke, quoting Rudyard Kipling with warm approval. The notion has since been undermined by deeper explorations into the history of the Chinese and Indian merchant bankers, and the Jews of the Islamic world. Over large parts of Java, with which Boeke was most familiar, there was indeed a sharp contrast between the local communal economy and the sophisticated capitalism of the Dutch colonists. It appeared an inevitable process of history that the Dutch corporations should subjugate the petty Javanese communities of princes, peasants and pedlars. It was also taken for granted that the phenomenon was general and that European gesellschaft did not confront and conquer such petty gemeinschaften in Java alone. But when the individual studies of the Chinese, Indian and Islamic—Jewish long-distance trade and credit networks are seen in over-all perspective, the impression that emerges is one of confrontation, at the higher level, between two gesellschaften: one of European origin, the other Eastern. Nor does it appear to be the sort of outright collision that simply resulted in the latter being broken up and relegated to a corner. The idea nevertheless persists that the ‘bazaar economy’ of the East was a debased, fragmented and marginal sector absorbed and peripheralized within the capitalist world economy of the West.
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