Thoughts on How the West Came to Rule

Ayse Zarakol

How the West Came to Rule: The Geopolitical Origins of Capitalism by Alexander Anievas and Kerem Nişancıoğlu is a remarkable book that offers much needed correctives to mainstream accounts of the emergence of capitalism. Working generally within the “uneven and combined development” framework as first articulated by Leon Trotsky, Anievas and Nişancıoğlu argue that “capitalism is best understood as a set of configurations, assemblages, or bundles of social relations and processes oriented around the systematic reproduction of the capital relation, but not reducible — either historically or logically — to that relation alone” (2015, 9). Seen as such, its emergence cannot be explained by studying national histories alone. This insight gives rise to the two main contributions of the book. On the one hand, the authors advance very compelling criticisms of other influential Marxist inspired accounts of the emergence of capitalism, such as that of Wallerstein and Brenner, as being Eurocentric.On the other hand, the authors offer their own substantive account of the emergence of capitalism, pointing to factors heretofore either ignored or under-scrutinised in the literature: “a demographic crisis brought about by the Black Death; the Ottoman-Habsburg rivalry; the discovery of the New World and its division along linearly demarcated spaces of sovereignty; the festering atmosphere of revolt and rebellion; the economic significance of colonisation” (4). Especially significant in their account is the ‘contributions’ of the Mongolians and the Ottoman Empire to the development of capitalism.

Full Paper