The Anthropology Cartel vs. the Heliolithic School
by Joshua Snyder
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Commerce and Honest Friendship With... North Korea?
Having apparently enjoyed an earlier article of mine of these pages,
Science Cartel vs. Immanuel Velikovsky, author Joshua D.
Smith contacted me thinking I might enjoy his recently published
and the Origin of Civilization: The British School of Culture Diffusion,
1890s-1940s (Volume 1). Published in March of this year,
this intriguing and accessible book explores, as did my article
Velikovsky, a highly plausible and fascinating interdisciplinary
theory that encountered not only hostility but outright suppression
from the academic powers-that-be.
As the reader will see, there are many resonances between the
school of diffusionism, also known as the Heliolithic school,
and the Austrian
school of economics, not only in the treatment both schools
received but also in the conclusions they reached; indeed, the "anti-state,
anti-war, pro-market" orientation championed by LewRockwell.com
finds support by many of the diffusionists' findings. But first,
let us examine what this school taught before we examine why it
The book examines primary source materials written by W.
H. R. Rivers,Grafton
Elliot Smith, and William
James Perry, the British diffusionists. These thinkers, the
author informs us, believing in the "uniqueness of civilization"
(46), argued that "Egpyt passed on key innovations over time to
all peoples – but not through direct or intentional contacts, contrary
to the claims of anti-diffusionist detractors" (12). They concluded
that human civilization had spread, "like the addition of one link
after another to a chain, or a series of chains, that stretched...
from Egpyt to India to China and out through the Pacific islands
to the higher centers of civilization in the New World" (65). If
one ponders the accepted timelines of the history of civilizations,
the theory is plausible, and their goal was "to create a scientifically
sound synthesis of the best research then available, which they
thought pointed to ancient culture movements across broad spans
of the globe" (92).
About this theory's plausibility, I must add two insights from
my own field of study, linguistics, that came to mind upon learning
of it and which, if indirectly, support it. Linguistic
monogenesis holds that all human languages have a common ancestor,
bringing to mind the Biblical narrative of the Tower
of Babel. Proto-Human
language, of course, would have been spoken and subsequently
diffused long before any Egyptian civilizational developments would
have been diffused, but the point here is that our remote ancestors
were capable of travelling far greater distances than many moderns
care to admit. More to the point, it is widely held that all
the world's alphabets are descended, that is to say were diffused,
from that of the Phoenician
language, which itself was based on the Proto-Canaanite
alphabet, descended from Egyptian
Like Velikovsky and indeed the Austrian economists, the diffusionists
arguing against the "hyper-scientific, anti-humanistic, and 'posivitist'
attitude[s]" (50) of the day. They desired "to merge the sciences
and the humanities into a 'unified discipline' or a 'science of
history,' yet carefully pointed out that human behavior does not
fit neatly into any 'laws of nature'" (105). Also like Velikovsky
and the Austrians, the diffusionists faced powerful opposition,
in their case rising from the "unlikely alliance" that was "formed
among anthropologists, colonial policy makers, and philanthropists"
(114). Author Smith informs, "Colonial regimes were intrigued by
structural-functionalism because it seemed to adhere to their aims
of applicable, practical, and utilitarian science." The structural-functionalist
"method included a combination of climatic determinism and progressionism
with a defense of authoritarian or autocratic notions" (76). Funding
for the diffusionists dried up, and the school withered by the 1940s.
That brief history of the diffusionists outlined, let us turn our
attention to the school's "anti-state, anti-war, pro-market" themes
a LewRockwell.com reader might
The diffusionists countered the prominent "social evolutionist"
schools of thought and their "implicit and explicit cult of progress"
(27). Instead of this vision of "an inexorable progressive direction
in history that was impeded only by irrational resistance to the
inevitable," (ibid) the diffusionists, bringing to mind Velikovsky,
saw history as "periods of stasis intermittently punctuated by moments
of drastic change" (ibid). Importantly, the diffusionists
fought against the social evolutionists' assertions that "all worthwhile
progressive change in the human past resulted from conflicts with
the stronger necessarily prevailing over the weaker" (26), i.e.
that "progress stemmed directly from violence" (ibid). These
same social evolutionists whom the diffusionists opposed "proclaimed
individualism akin to 'primitive barbarism'" (28).
Rejecting these "assumptions which represented violence as natural
and progressively developmental for humanity and that a conflict-oriented
culture has been endemic as an overall component of human nature"
(94), the diffusionists instead saw in history as an "oscillatory
interchange of 'progress' and 'barbarism'" (75). In all of this
one can see parallels with Albert
Jay Nock's delineation of the civilizational struggle between
"state power and social power."
diffusionists also rejected "then current social psychology that
explained modern violence and warfare by projecting it into humanity's
ancient past and, by implication, asserting that this behavior was
innate to humankind, leaving warfare as an inevitably and an intrinsic
component of the human future" (63). The diffusionists argued that
it was not by war and conquest that civilization was diffused, but
rather by trade, a component of "the movements of culture that have
obviously taken place" (62). Thus, they "placed human selectivity
and behavior at the center of change rather than blind natural forces
as the key determinants of cultural developments" (ibid).
The diffusionists' "anti-state, anti-war, pro-market" vision is,
in short, one of "all humanity as intricately connected over a vast
Readers of LewRockwell.com,
as well as anyone interested in the history of ideas and the history
of civilization, would be wise to add this insightful and illuminating
little book to their shelves. Fortunately, author Joshua D. Smith
has two more books planned in his series.
Catholic son-in-law of Korea, Joshua Snyder [send
him mail] lives with his wife and two children in Pohang, where
he lectures English at a science and technology university. He blogs
at The Western Confucian.
© 2011 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in
part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.
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