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Political Competition, Innovation and Growth in the History of Asian Civilizations

Edited by Peter Bernholz and Roland Vaubel

Do political decentralisation and inter state competition favour innovation and growth? There has long been a lively debate surrounding this question, going back to David Hume and Immanuel Kant. This book is a new attempt to test its veracity. The existing literature tends to assume that the beneficial effects of inter state competition have been confined to European history. By contrast, China, India and the Islamic Middle East are regarded as inherently imperial and overcentralised. However, these civilisations have not always been unified politically. In their history, there have been long spells of decentralised rule or inter state competition. The same is true for Japan. If the Hume–Kant hypothesis is correct, it should also apply to those periods. This volume analyses the qualitative and quantitative evidence.
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Chapter 2: The political pattern of historical creativity: a theoretical case

Jean Baechler, Michael Cook and Mark Elvin


Jean Baechler Even at the level of regional and local history, the historian cannot but notice that human creativity in all matters, not only economic ones, has a broad pattern of flashes of light extending into more or less sustained illumination, separated by long periods of somnolence. If the historian takes a world historical point of view and applies it to the last five millennia, the pattern becomes even more striking. Without entering into the details of the evidence, the historian sees that China experienced two major periods of cultural creativity, between the sixth and third centuries BC and the third and sixth AD; that India defined itself between the eighth and sixth centuries BC and between the third century BC and the third century AD; that Western Asia went through a series of peaks of achievement over many millennia; that Europe can boast of at least three major cultural upsurges, between the sixth and third centuries BC, the eleventh and fourteenth centuries AD, and since the seventeenth century. Of course, the above dates can be contested and replaced by quite different ones, but nobody could argue that the flux of cultural and historical creativity is smooth and straightforward. The historian records the facts. The sociologist tries to explain them by comparing at least two and preferably many occurrences of analogous cases, and by imagining a theoretical framework. Such broad historical objects as those outlined here cannot possibly be explained by a crude line of argument of the kind: ‘If...

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