Realising Eurasia. Empire and Connectivity during Three Millennia
This introductory paper outlines a frame that places the dynamics of the Eurasian landmass (flexibly defined) at the centre of world history in the last three millennia. Concepts of culture area, civilization and world system are critically reviewed. Particular attention is paid to Axial Age theories, including both religious and secular variants of transcendence, and their role inthe legitimation of political institutions. These approaches are supplemented with recourse to the anthropo-archaeological materialism of Jack Goody, who emphasizes “alternating leadership” between East and West. Goody’s focus on increasing urban differentiation in the agrarian empires of the Bronze Age can be expanded by widening the range of civilizations considered beyond those based on intensive agriculture. This approach can be fruitfully combined with theoretical insights of Karl Polanyi to inspire a new historical economic anthropology that allows us to trace multiple varieties of socialism back to the forms of social inclusion and “imperial social responsibility” that emerged in the Axial Age. It is further argued that, in the light of the contradictions of contemporary neoliberal political economy, the Eurasian civilizations that launched the “great dialectic” between redistribution and market exchange are the best hope we have for resolving the tensions of the Capitalocene (which might be more appropriately termed Eurasiacene).