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Orientalism and Islam
European Thinkers on Oriental Despotism in the Middle East and India


  • Date Published: August 2009
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521749619

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About the Authors
  • Through an historical analysis of the theme of Oriental despotism, Michael Curtis reveals the complex positive and negative interaction between Europe and the Orient. The book also criticizes the misconception that the Orient was the constant victim of Western imperialism and the view that Westerners cannot comment objectively on Eastern and Muslim societies. The book views the European concept of Oriental despotism as based not on arbitrary prejudicial observation, but rather on perceptions of real processes and behavior in Eastern systems of government. Curtis considers how the concept developed and was expressed in the context of Western political thought and intellectual history, and of the changing realities in the Middle East and India. The book includes discussion of the observations of Western travelers in Muslim countries and analysis of the reflections of seven major thinkers: Montesquieu, Edmund Burke, Tocqueville, James and John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, and Max Weber.

    • Contrary to the prevalent post-colonialist view, argues that Western perceptions of Muslim societies have not generally been racist, imperialist, and colonialist
    • Shows relevance of historical European political philosophers, neglected in post colonial writing, to the Middle East conflicts and the role of Islam
    • In lively, accessible prose, Curtis relates the political analyses of historical thinkers to the arts, literature, and popular culture of Europe
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Michael Curtis has written a discerning, authoritative book of intellectual history. He takes us back to the greats - Burke and Mill and Marx and Tocqueville and Weber - and throws a floodlight on the present. He has read widely and thoughtfully. From his pages, and from the company of those intellectual giants, we return with a new understanding of the civilizational conflicts that mark our contemporary world. This is a book of deep scholarship and learning, but it is written with ease and grace. A book of political theory, and of history as well. An essential book, for it retrieves for us a big piece of Western intellectual history and thought.' Fouad Ajami, Johns Hopkins University

    'This erudite study reveals the nature of oriental despotism through six major Western thinkers, showing a profound knowledge of these major intellectual figures. Michael Curtis draws on a large variety of sources, providing an analysis of their work that is very scholarly indeed. His surprising conclusion is that more often than not the West was the victim of Islamic aggression from the seventh century onwards, and it was not until the nineteenth century that the West became imperialist in its contacts with the Orient. This very important book illuminates the background of the present struggle between the West and militant Islam and should definitely attract the attention of the modern reader. I recommend this book in the strongest possible terms because it is both original and timely.' Marius Deeb, Johns Hopkins University

    'Michael Curtis has written an erudite and perspicacious volume … [he] has given the reader still another exploration into the human condition, and most notable into the revival of true-believer movements that fashion their instruments of discourse not from technological and scientific progress, but from the spiritual underpinnings of ancient and often obscurantist belief systems.' The Review of Politics

    '… provides clear evidence of the persistence and deep-rootedness of the Orient in both the foreground and background of the European mind.' A. N. Isstaif, Journal of Islamic Studies

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    Product details

    • Date Published: August 2009
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521749619
    • length: 392 pages
    • dimensions: 234 x 155 x 22 mm
    • weight: 0.55kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. European views of Islam and their correlation with Oriental despotism
    2. Observant travelers
    3. Political thinkers and the orient
    4. The Oriental despotic university of Montesquieu
    5. Edmund Burke and despotism in India
    6. Alexis de Tocqueville and colonization
    7. James Mill and John Stuart Mill: despotism in India
    8. Karl Marx: the Asiatic mode of production and Oriental despotism
    9. Max Weber: patrimonialism as a political type
    10. Conclusion.

  • Instructors have used or reviewed this title for the following courses

    • Honor Shame Cultures: Middle Ages, Middle East
    • Middle East from the Rise of Islam
    • Topics in Early Am. Beyond the Atlantic World
  • Author

    Michael Curtis, Rutgers University, New Jersey
    Michael Curtis is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of political science at Rutgers University. He is the author of approximately 30 books, most notably Verdict on Vichy (2004), Three Against the Third Republic (1959),Totalitarianism (1979), and Antisemitism in the Contemporary World (1973). For many years, he was the president of American Professors for Peace in the Middle East and editor of the Middle East Review.

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