'universalism' (was Re: Asia and hormones)

Mathew Forstater forstate at levy.org
Mon Jul 6 19:27:49 PDT 1998

The most dangerous kind of nationalism is the nationalism that disguises itself as universalism. Someone mentioned "African Socialism." There are many kinds and this is a complex topic the exploration of which would take me beyond the point of this post. Let's take the example of "literature." "African literature" is used to indicate, generally, the oral and written literary traditions of the people of Africa, often including the diaspora. But "Literature" is often--not always, not by everyone, maybe not by most on this list, but certainly as a dominant tendency and an institutionalized tendency, to mean European or Anglo-American literary traditions. This is treating the particular as universal, and that is ideology (in the pejorative sense). It is also NATIONALISM, and the worst kind, because it denies it is nationalism, by masquerading as universal. Now replace "literature" with "socialism" "philosophy" or anything else.

This has been the primary simple yet fundamental point of all of the serious and thoughtful folks who try to promote an awareness of the dangers of this, who have tried to craft alternatives to eurocentrism, whether African-centered or otherwise. They do not even ask that those who want to work within a euro-centered framework discontinue doing so (though they may examine the effects of dominant eurocentrism, especially when put forward as superior, the negative impacts, etc.). All they have asked is that it be labeled for what it is, and not presented as "universal."


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