Immanuel Wallerstein, the founder of World-Systems Analysis, has for years provided a compelling insight into the dynamics of the capitalist world-system. A senior research scholar at Yale, and the director emeritus of the Fernand Braudel Center at Binghamton University, his writings have appeared in left-wing publications such as Monthly Review and New Left Review, while his twice monthly e-mail commentaries attempt to analyze current events from a "long-duration" standpoint. With the publication of his recent book European Universalism; the Rhetoric of Power Wallerstein examines long held philosophical assumptions which historically have had a real-world effect on issues of hegemony and subalternity.
European Universalism is an examination of the claims by which the hegemonic powers of the capitalist world-system, such as the United States, justify their dominance. Historically this has been justified by an appeal to "universal values," which supposedly are or should be held by all cultures and societies. It is on the basis of these allegedly "universal values" that established power tries to defuse criticism of it's actions including imperialism, colonialism and militarism. We see these justifications being invoked today: in regard to "humanitarian" military interventions, such as in the former Yugoslavia; in the invasion of Iraq, where the overthrow of dictators and the spread of "democracy" is used to justify preemptive war; in the imposition of neoliberal policies resulting from economic "science" and its claims about the necessity of markets. Wallerstein shows that these justifications are nothing more than the masks behind which self-interest hides. In reality these "universal values" do not exist; they are the creation of western societies and do not reflect universally held norms.
The history of appeals to universality goes back to the founding of the capitalist world-system in the 16th century. Wallerstein demonstrates they can be found in the debates between Las Casas and Sepulveda regarding the treatment of Native Americans by the Spanish Conquistadors. Las Casas had argued against the policy of conquest and enslavement of Native American societies and demanded a more humane treatment for them. In this he was opposed by Sepulveda, who based his defense of the conquistadors upon supposedly "universal" values such as curtailing barbarism, ending human sacrifice and idolatry, and the spreading of Christianity.
Las Casas answered...