Listen to Professor Mignolo's lectures on The Spirit Returns to the East
Lecture 1: 14 Mar 2012: Hegel’s Spirit and the Opium War
Walter D. Mignolo is William H. Wannamaker Distinguished Professor and Director of the Center for Global Studies and the Humanities at Duke University. He has been working for the past 25 years on the formation and transformation of the modern/colonial world system and on the idea of Western Civilization. Among his major works are The Darker Side of The Renaissance: Literacy, Territoriality and Colonization (1995), which received the Katherine Singer Kovacs Prize from the Modern Languages Association of America in 1996. The book is now being translated into Chinese. Local Histories / Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledge and Border Thinking (2000) was translated into Spanish and Portuguese and now is being translated into Korean. The Idea of Latin America (2005) received the Frantz Fanon Award from the Caribbean Philosophical Association in 2006, and has been translated into Spanish, Korean and Italian. His most recent book, The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options was released in December of 2011. Professor Mignolo holds an Associate Research Position at the Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar in Quito and he has co-organized, with Rolando Vazquez, summer schools on “coloniality and decoloniality” at the Roosevelt Academy of the University of Utrecht at Middleburgh, the Netherlands. He is a member of numerous international advisory boards, including the advisory board of the Hong Kong Advanced Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Studies. Currently, Professor Mignolo is also advising an Argentinian documentary filmmaker on a project concerning “modernity / coloniality / decoloniality” — a school of thought that originated in South America and the Caribbean among several prominent thinkers including Professor Mignolo himself.
Christopher Mattison is a Visiting Fellow at the Hong Kong Advanced Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Studies (HKAICS) and co-curator of its Hong Kong Atlas—an online archive of Hong Kong writing.
Christopher Mattison: To continue our earlier discussion about Bolivia in relation to “refunding” or “decolonizing”—you’ve stated on a number of occasions that capitalism or socialism, as they are currently constituted, are not the answers? One of the alternatives that you offer to this issue is “delinking.”—Could you expand on what you mean by delinking in this particular instance and how it integrates into modes of dewesternization and the various layers of decolonization?
Walter Mignolo: Let me first re-state that the world is currently moving towards both rewesternization and dewesternization. The political ambition of the US (announced by Hillary Clinton in Honolulu and followed up by President Obama) is to mold the Pacific into the American Century. This is in line with President Obama’s politics of regaining world leadership for the US, which was severely shaken by the presidency of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Obama’s famous discourse in Cairo was one of the first moves in this direction. The turn to the Pacific was the second. However, this move came too late because of the growing confidence of the remaining world, most specifically in the Pacific.
The unavoidable next step will be the conflictive co-existence of rewesternization with dewesternization. One way to delink is precisely through dewesternization. Dewesternization is not a geographic but a political concept and refers to all States (corporate states) which are consolidating their economies without following the dictates of the US, the EU, the IMF or the World Bank. Delinking here does not mean delinking from “a type of economy” but from the instructions of the World Bank, the IMF and related institutions. The delinking is contained in the sphere of authority. Let’s remember that it was President Harry Truman that introduced the word “underdevelopment”: the US foresaw that the waves of decolonization in Indonesia in 1945—followed by India in 1947—were not going to stop there. In 1949, Truman understood that Asia, Africa and South America were made up of underdeveloped countries. Thus, the politics of development and modernization became vital in recasting the preexisting idea of progress, which was a cornerstone of the British Empire’s hegemony. The US appointed itself to lead the world toward development and modernization. The first formal step was taken by the US in 1945, with the creation of the Bretton Woods agreement, which was signed by delegates of 44 nation-states (at the time). Bretton Woods was established to regulate the international monetary system. From this agreement emerged the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the IBRD (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development), which mutated into today’s World Bank. Other regional banks were created later, such as the IDB (Inter-American Development Bank). The ascending control of finances, the economy and US international politics from the end of WWII to 2000 allowed it to unilaterally end the convertibility of the dollar to gold. Thus, the dollar became the ungrounded currency for all international transactions.
Dewesternization is now in the process of ending international dependency on the legacies of Bretton Woods as well as ending the reign of the dollar. Dewesternization is, at a basic level, a political delinking from economic decisions, as made abundantly clear at the recent declaration of the fourth BRICS summit in New Delhi. Two outcomes from this meeting are important for this conversation: BRICS countries have, as critics have noted repeatedly, very different local and geopolitical histories. What they do not mention is what BRICS countries have in common—a long history of overcoming Western interventions: Brazil was colonized by the Portuguese, South Africa and India by the British, China and Russia were never formally colonized but they were unable to avoid Western intervention—China’s Opium War and Russia’s self-inflicted westernization by Peter and Catherine the Great, and the subsequent mutation of the Russian Czarate into the Soviet Union. The second point of interest concerns the confrontation with the IMF; a proposal that counterbalances the historical unilateralism of the IMF. Point 13 of their resolution is as follows:
Here we have a clear case of dewesternization as delinking. It is not delinking from the economy of growth (which in decolonial vocabulary is “economic coloniality” and in the liberal and Marxist vocabulary “capitalism”). When you read the BRICS Declaration it is clear that the “idea of development” goes unquestioned; what is brought into question is who is making the decisions regarding the politics of development, so that the delinking occurs at the level of economic control; that is, the political delinking from economic decisions.
There are other ways of “delinking” among the wide array of dewesternizing trajectories, beyond the politics of the State in international relations. What is most remarkable in my view is the politization of civil society. A sector of the civil society has started to take destiny into their own hands. This civil society is not “revolutionary,” and it has reached a point of no return (e.g., the “indignados” in Greece and Spain and “Occupy Wall Street” in the US). Institutions are also being formed as a consequence of the politization of the civil society.
The most notable recent case I can think of within the institutionalization of the civil society is the World Public Forum (WPF). The WPF is to civil society what the World Social Forum (WSF) is to political society and what Davos is to rewesternization. According to some, the WSF was initially an idea of Mr. Vladimir Putin, which would make sense if we look at the history of Russian participation as one of the BRICS countries and the overall dewesternizing agenda of the group. The current President is Mr. Vladimir Yakunin. Mr. Jagdish Kapur (Indian solar scientist, entrepreneur and futurist) was a co-founder and co-president until he recently passed away. Russia and India have led the intellectual and political agenda of the WPF from the beginning, and the Middle East and China have gradually increased their participation. I noticed during the 9th Forum in October 2011, that the 600 or so invitees did include individuals from Europe and the US, but their numbers and presence appeared to be minimal. What this means practically is that the intellectual and political agenda is not being set by Western scholars, journalists, religious figures and officers of the state or economists. The WPF is a forum where “delinking” is the norm, the method and the orientation.
Another sphere of civil society in which dewesternization currently is being discussed is within a domain that I refer to as religious-political and epistemic delinking. The most visible, though certainly not the only line of thinking, has been advanced by Islamic scholarship. One key scholar is Syed Muhammad al Naquib bin Ali al-Attas, a distinguished Muslim philosopher from Malaysia. Related and parallel to Islamic dewesternization, there is a movement among Christians to “dewesternize the Gospels.” If these tendencies persist it will facilitate a dialogue among civilizations that the WPF is seeking, and make visible that both Islam and Christianity are, in a way, forces of liberation that are captive within their own institutions and belief systems. To do so, Christians must delink from the imperial/colonial trap of Christianity in different ways and through different routs. Dewesternizing Christianity is a more complex phenomenon than Islamic dewesternization. Although Christianity was, originally, a non-Western religion, it became Westernized and imperial. Islam, on the other hand, imperial at one time, has endured the consequences of Western coloniality since the late fifteenth century, when the Muslims were expelled from Gahrnata (e.g., Granada) and the Ottomans were defeated in the battle of Lepanto (1571).
Two distinctions are necessary in order to understand the different layers and levels of delinking, some being argued as dewesternization and others as decoloniality. The first is the distinction between civil and political society. I have already made several observations regarding this distinction in Part I of our conversation. I should add that while the “politization of civil society” is a movement that comes from non-Western countries and regions, it is still encroaching on the State and the Market, although questioning unilateral decisions in politics, economy and everyday life (when it comes to the basics—health, food and education). The “global political society,” on the other hand, is more radical in its demands: in general, it is working and arguing for the end of “economic coloniality,” which is an economy based on growth and development that has created and continues to increase poverty. “Economic coloniality” is more or less what liberals and Marxists call “capitalism.” The difference is that when decolonial thinkers talk about “economic coloniality,” it refers to one of the domains of the colonial matrix of power, and the colonial matrix of power is a structure of management much more complex than “capitalism” or the sphere of “economic coloniality.” I have given several examples in the previous interview of the global political society, for instance, La via campesina (The Peasants Way), an international organization that works for the sovereignty of food (http://viacampesina.org/en/).
But, you can ask, who is actually conceptualizing the activities in terms of dewesternization and who in terms of decoloniality? And I can suggest that both ideas originated during the Bandung Conference of 1955. What is important to note here is that dewesternization and decoloniality did not originate in Europe or the US but in the “Third World.” “Decolonization” was the term used at the Bandung Conference. Decoloniality is more recent, beginning in the early nineties. But, in general, the vocabulary of decolonization/decoloniality came out of the Bandung Conference and has had a significant effect in Africa, South and South East Asia, South America (among thinkers of European descent, Indigenous and of Afro-descent), the Caribbean, Native American and Latino/as societies in the US, New Zealand and Australia. That is to say: geo-historical locations with enduring histories of colonization. On the other hand, the term “dewesternization” is more common within local histories that were not directly colonized, but that did not escape the logic of coloniality: for example, East Asia and Russia as well as the Islamic corridor from West Asia (or the Middle East for Westerners) to Malaysia and Indonesia. However, in Malaysia and Indonesia it is common to find both terms, in Islamic thinkers and philosophers, as well as among social scientists who reflect on the coloniality of knowledge through the social sciences and the need to decolonize them or, in another expression they commonly use, “the Islamization of knowledge.” Interestingly enough, the project that operates under “the Islamization of knowledge” runs parallel to the expression of “indigenizing the academy,” which, among Native Americans, is synonymous with the “decolonization of knowledge.” A similar project emerged in Ecuador, under indigenous leadership, and the creation of Amawtay Wasi (House of Wisdom), translated in official documents as Universidad Intercultural de los Pueblos y Naciones Indigenas de Ecuador (Intercultural University of People and Indigenous Nations of Ecuador).
CM: And this polycentric discussion relates to your call for the communal, “to start thinking from our bodies, their geopolitical position?”
WM: I have been arguing in different places, but chiefly in my latest book (The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options, 2011), that the present and the future are being defined by the confrontations and co-participation of various options. To think in terms of options helps us to understand that “modernity (i.e., Western civilization, capitalism and development”) is only one option, and that this option was defined by those who lead and benefit from it, which is in part how it became hegemonic: economic, political, epistemic and institutional benefits coalesced to suggest that there is only one option and that the best we can do is to improve on this single option. When I refer to rewesternization I am speaking about recent efforts to maintain this option and to argue that there is no better choice; that capitalism and Western modernity are the best options for a majority of the people. This option is founded on what I (and my colleagues in the project) define, describe and explain as the “colonial matrix of power” or “coloniality” for short. Delinking means that there are other options looming large on the horizon, which dispute the monopoly of the colonial matrix of power that has been controlled for five hundred years by Western Europe and the US. Two trajectories of delinking, as explained previously, are dewesternization and decoloniality. What does this mean? It means that dewesternization is a necessary and welcome trajectory for the future but, as far as coloniality is disputed but still maintained, the legacy of coloniality prevents the construction of an economically just world, of equitable and ethical future social organizations. Dewesternization is important in terms of political decisions on economic matters, and ethical decisions on scientific research, but it remains still within the fantasy of development and growth at the expense of life.
Now, the concept of the communal requires, like many other concepts, to be clearly defined so that it is not confused with and appropriated by what is known as Western ideas of “the common good" or "the common wealth” and of the “commons”: The first is liberal, the second Marxist. The communal is neither liberal nor Marxist, but decolonial. The communal is a way to advance one of the legacies of the Bandung Conference: neither capitalism nor communism, but decoloniality.
Decoloniality works toward delinking from economic coloniality (e.g., a capitalist economy within which there can be no peace, equality or democracy). So, how do you delink decolonially? First, you need to build knowledge and arguments that supersede the current hegemony of Western knowledge. It is the hegemony of Western knowledge that justifies the hegemony of capitalism and the State, for example, and that establishes development as a condition of freedom. “Development” is not its own justification! This is why the struggle for the control of knowledge is crucial: it is necessary to build convincing arguments for people to realize that “development” is an option, justified by actors, categories of thought, institutions, the media, etc. It is one option and not the only option, which carries with it its own splendors, together with certain miseries (e.g., the rhetoric of modernity and the logic of coloniality). This is the struggle for the control of knowledge. Otherwise, hegemonic knowledge has the power to convince that people who are dying of cancer because the water and lands around them are being polluted with cyanide, who are rising up to defend their very lives, are considered “delinquents” because they dare to confront modernity and development. This current world dis/order has been, on the one hand, provoked by the forces of dewesternization and decoloniality. At the same time, it requires other ways of conceptualizing beyond the narrow Western Right/Left dichotomy, or common wealth versus the commons.
The communal means, then, the present-day re-inscription of non-capitalist economic organizations and non-modern knowledges that have co-existed with capitalism, but that have been marginalized (e.g., informal economies) or incorporated into a capitalist mentality (the so called BoP, “Base of the Pyramid” or the Grameen Bank founded by Muhammad Yunus). The global political society has organized itself in myriad ways because neither the State nor the Market has taken care of them. The recasting of spirituality plays an important role here. We know that religion has many faces, and I will not go into this now, but simply mention that significant sectors of religions, different religions in different parts of the world, are joining the political society without abandoning their religious foundations. One of the tasks is to decolonize religion so as to liberate spirituality.
Returning to your question, the communal in the history of Andean Aymaras and Quechuas was a socio-economic organization dismantled by the Spaniards. The communal has survived until now alongside the colonial and current ruling government. Now it is being re-inscribed, but the re-inscription is grounded in the revamping and expansion of Aymara and Quechua categories of thought, which must pass through the Western categories that denied them epistemic legitimacy. Thus, the communal goes hand in hand with border thinking or border epistemology: thinking from non-Western categories of thought through Western-categories of thought. The first step of decolonial “delinking” is to re-inscribe, in contemporary debates and toward the future, social organizations and economic conceptions that were banned and silenced by the progressive discourse of modernity, both in its liberal capitalist and socialist communist vein. I have recently published a long op-ed where I introduce the concept of the “communal” (which is neither the liberal “common good” nor the Marxist “common”). There is no master model of the communal: the communal is inscribed in all non-modern memories that, since 1500, have been pushed aside and placed in the past in relation to Western ideas of modernity.
CM: Before moving too far into the communal, could we linger for a moment on the role of the church, with a specific focus on the Spanish jurist Juan López de Palacios Rubios’s Requerimiento—where the “invitation to conversion” takes on more of a fist. In one of your recent lectures at CityU you mentioned Christianity’s move to create a measure of “purity of blood” as a way of giving credence to conversion and the subjugation of layers of race. Insidious for sure, but I think that the Requerimiento was potentially far more destructive, as it was the basis for the moral justification of colonization and massacres around the globe, and required the collusion of the church hierarchy, economic forces and the judicial structure. This seems to have been an ultimate moment of enunciation.
WM: I am glad that you are bringing the Requerimiento into the conversation for this is certainly a pillar that allows us to understand the denial of the communal and to understand what was at stake in the sixteenth century, and why the sixteenth century is undeniably the colonial foundation of the modern world. A few things I would like to stress about the Requerimiento, in full agreement with the framing that you provided. First of all, the Requerimiento was issued after the Papal Bull Inter Caetera, issued on May 4, 1493, by Pope Alexander the VI, granting full title of “Indias Occidentales” (the idea of “America” was introduced in 1505 by a group of scholars in the gymnasium of Saint-Dié-des-Vosges where Martin Waldseemuller came up with the name of “America” to honor Amerigo Vespucci who realized, contrary to Columbus, that he was not in Asia but in a “Mondo Nuovo”) to the Spaniards. One year later, with the Treaty of Tordesillas, Alexander VI recognized a portion of “Indias Occidentales” and donated it to the Crown of Portugal. The Requerimiento is the second aberration (the first was Pope Alexander VI appropriating and donating Indias Occidentales to the Spaniards and Portuguese), an aberration that became a pillar of modernity, capitalism and Western Civilization.
The second point that deserves attention is that the entitlement and supremacy of Western Christians, in this case Spaniards (for Western Christians were not only Spaniards), was manifested in the Requerimiento. Read in Spanish (some say in 1513, some in 1514) by Spanish Jurist Martin de Enciso to a group of natives who did not understand Spanish, it stated that the Spanish Monarch was entitled to “this land” (they say “this” not “your” land) by God, and that if the Natives wanted to remain on the land they needed to pay a gold tribute to the Monarch. This move was vehemently criticized by some Spanish missionaries, chief among them Dominican Friar Bartolomé de las Casas. However, what we ultimately take away from this foundational move is that arrogance and racism were the basis for the document. It is arrogance to believe that one’s state and beliefs carry a global truth for the rest of humanity. And racism, as based on viewing another human being as inferior (this is what racism is, rather than an issue of skin color), thereby justifying the appropriation of land and the means of production (labor), slavery and deprivation.
Finally, I will say that if by “ultimate moment of enunciation” you mean a “historical, foundational moment of enunciation”—then I would say, yes. It was a historically foundational moment because of the control of knowledge that established Latin and Spanish as the languages of knowledge, and Christian theological categories of thought as the basis for politics and ethics. After dispossessing the Natives of their land, the Church next began a campaign of dispossessing them of their souls, of attempting to convert them to Christianity. The first assault was successful and the second failed radically, which is what germinated in the decolonial option and the current re-inscription of the communal, because Christianization and westernization (which at that moment was the mission of Western Christians) utterly failed. As you point out, it was a foundational moment of the locus of enunciation upon which Western civilization was built. The British and French, three centuries later, benefited from what the Requerimiento achieved, and proceeded in their own way. Wasn’t the Opium War another legacy of the Requerimiento? Didn’t the British feel entitled to intervene and force the Chinese rulers to open up their trade routes? Weren’t the British acting as the bearers of historical destiny (secular at the time), viewing themselves as White and Christian, who were, within their construct, above the Yellow Confucians and Buddhists?
Before returning to the communal, let me first say something about delinking and border epistemology, which I introduced in the previous answer. Border epistemology goes hand in hand with decoloniality. Why?—because decoloniality focuses on changing the terms of the conversation and not just its content. How does border epistemology work? And once you delink, where do you go? You have to go back to the reservoir of the modes of thought that were disqualified by Christian theology during the Renaissance and that continue to expand during the Enlightenment through secular philosophy and the sciences. You cannot find your way out of the reservoir of modernity (Greece, Rome, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment). If you go there, you remain chained to the illusion that there is no other way of thinking, doing and living. Modern/colonial racism (the logic of racialization that emerged in the sixteenth century) has two dimensions (ontological and epistemic) and one single purpose: to rank as inferior all languages beyond the Greek and Latin and the six modern European languages from the domain of sustainable knowledge and to maintain the privileges of enunciation held by Renaissance and Enlightenment European institutions—men and categories of thought. Languages that were considered ill “suited” for rational thinking (either theological or secular: Indians have no word for God, Christians say; and Africans are utterly deficient in matters of intelligence, Kant thought) were considered to be languages that revealed the inferiority of the human beings speaking them. What could a person do who was not born speaking one of these privileged languages, and who was not educated in a privileged institution? Either accept his or her inferiority or make an effort to demonstrate that he or she was a human being equal to those who had placed him or her into a second-class category. That is, two of the choices are either to accept the humiliation of being inferior to those who have decided that you are inferior, or to assimilate. And to assimilate means that you accept your inferiority and resign yourself to playing the game that is not yours but that has been imposed upon you. And then there is the third option—border thinking/border epistemology and decolonial action.
CM: We’ve witnessed the “domain of sustainable knowledge” rear its head at any number of conferences and workshops here in Hong Kong over the past year. Panelists and discussants consistently rely almost entirely on Western theory in English translation—Foucault, Habermas, Hegel, Arendt, Bourdieu—in discussing (post)-coloniality as it relates to the Hong Kong/East Asian experience. I realize that this is not exactly what you are referring to as the communal, but it is an aspect, and there does need to be more of a balance between the established canon and “local” thinkers in creating a common philosophical language of dissent—so that the local has equal footing in the discussion about the present and future. One also must remain aware of subjectivity so as not to recolonize through the appropriation of those “established” voices from the West.
WM: This is a huge issue for both dewestern and decolonial thinking. You are right, what is most common is the rewesternizing discussions of sustainable knowledge. And the agents of rewesternization are not only “local” Western actors (in England or the US) but “local” actors in non-Western locals—Hong Kong or Argentina, Tunisia or the Republic of South Africa. It is good that those who are still attached to Western categories of thought realize that development, as it currently stands, is unsustainable and unsustainable precisely because the knowledge that supports the arguments in favor of development are no longer sustainable. Certainly those who rely on the limited scope of Western conceptualization are, like Las Casas or Marx, confronting their own genealogy of thought and the subjectivity of their own local histories. For dewesternizers and decolonials, that is “their game” and of course we cannot stop them from playing it, but as we have seen, decoloniality moves toward delinking from every domain (economy, authority, gender and sexual heteronormativity and racism) while dewesternization from every domain, except from the economy of growth and development; that is, of economic coloniality. When indigenous people and peasants, as well as mestizos and people of European descent, join forces to stop and denounce the devastating consequences of open pit mining, they know that the struggle is not only to stop the digging but rather, and primarily, to halt the knowledge that legitimizes digging and criminalizes the protesters. To stop knowledge here doesn’t mean to stop the technical knowledge that allows extraction, but the knowledge that justifies (for the corporation and the state) a type of activity that “sustains development” for the corporations and the State and “destroys life” for those who can no longer drink their water, use their land or have the resources to deal with illnesses and birth defects that are the consequences of unsustainable development. Now, for sustainable knowledge in South America and in Africa, you do not need Habermas, Bourdieu, Arendt or Foucault. They know a lot about their own experiences and European history, but are of little use in South America and Africa. And if you rely on them to address problems specific to Hong Kong, Argentina, Zimbabwe or Tunisia, and not to Paris, Tubingen or Berlin, then you are demonstrating either that you are afraid to think on your own, or else that you believe you are superior to your local peers because you “know” European thinkers. In this way, you fall, willingly or not, into the hands of rewesternization.
For these reasons I would say that if Foucault, Habermas and others are invoked at conferences in Hong Kong, it is similar to what happens in other parts of the world. Many non-Western scholars, intellectuals, scientists and artists still believe in the superiority of the West. They have been self-colonized and are afraid to think for themselves, as if serious thought and innovation requires a Western security blanket. Another point is that the discussion of sustainable knowledge in locales such as Hong Kong allows the local community to display their “modernity,” and allows the foreign Euro-Americans to maintain the belief that they are “educating the Easterners.” This form of politics is not only being enacted by scholars; it is also promoted by foundations such as Fulbright, Rockefeller, and MacArthur. The same thing happens in Africa, South America and the Caribbean. It is the modern, secular and capitalist version of Christian missionaries in the sixteenth century; they are secular missionaries and agents of westernization and rewesternization.
In the time that I have been in Hong Kong, I have noticed that one of the recurring threads throughout my reading and research has been “coloniality” and not “colonialism.” A recurrent observation that comes up in conversation on this topic is that Hong Kong was not colonized like the islands of Cuba, Puerto Rico or Jamaica and, as many have pointed out, Hong Kong was not decolonized like India or Algeria: the end of British colonial rule has meant the return to the Republic of China. Whether this return is seen as a liberation or change of colonial rulers, it is a deep-seated debate in Hong Kong, and provides Hong Kong with its singular profile. As you here know better than I, Hong Kong was, from the beginning, a city founded by the British who appropriated the land through a treaty with the Chinese authorities, rather than through presenting a legal writ to fishermen and villagers. It later unfolded into what Professor Law Wing Sang has described as “collaborative colonialism”; that is, a collaboration not with the villagers, but with migrants from mainland China to Hong Kong. Coloniality here runs in two streams; on the one hand, Western coloniality through the economy, political authority, knowledge, morality, etc. On the other hand, there is the concern that, after the hand-over, what transpired was merely a shift of imperial/colonial rulers. This may very well be the case, but from a decolonial standpoint—which may not necessarily be shared or supported by Hong Kong scholars focused on coloniality—what deserves our attention is that British and Chinese coloniality are similar but different, to think of it in the non-Western terms of either/or.
What I describe as coloniality or the colonial matrix of power was set up, maintained, transformed and controlled by the Western imperial States (theological and monarchic first and then secular) from Spain and Portugal to the US—primarily via Holland, France and England. But also by Germany, Italy and Belgium, who had their own small colonies. Now China (as well as Japan and Russia) became imperial by following the rules of the game set up by the Western states. These states, as Madina Tlostanova argues, were Janus-faced—one eye toward their Western imperial masters and the other toward their own colonies. This created a complex situation, of which dewesternization offers a way out: if Russia, Japan and China at one time did dutifully follow the teachings of the “master,” they have since learned and grown to respect this master, but to act on their own. From the point of view of Hong Kong, the question concerns the crossroads between the history of British colonialism and the present-day confrontation between China and US interests in the Pacific. At this crossroads, Hong Kong endures the legacies of westernization and the temptations that rewesternization (the US belief that the 21st is the Asia-Pacific American century) offer. On the other hand, Hong Kong is well established in the land of dewesternization (China, Singapore, Japan, Korea and Taiwan), which doesn’t mean that all Chinese, Hong Kongers and Singaporeans are pro-dewesternization. Some certainly support rewesternization. What remains an undeniable fact is that Hong Kong is part of the “return” of Asia and of the “Asian Century.” Finally, I would like to remark that I have heard quite a bit about colonization and coloniality in Hong Kong, but not much about decoloniality. The discourse of decoloniality is more familiar in Taiwan (through outlets such as the Inter-Asia Cultural Studies journal) and due to Malaysia’s plantation economy (common to this region and the Caribbean since the seventeenth century, because of the Dutch and British). This is not meant as a critique, but simply that in Hong Kong—for the moment—the stakes are higher at the crossroads of dewesternization and rewesternization than in terms of decoloniality.
Coming back to one of your points, concerning the question of “sustainable knowledge,” I would like to note that it cannot be solved within the same genealogy of thought that created the problem. That is, “sustainable development” cannot be achieved within the structure and archives of knowledge that created “unsustainable development.” The debate in the Andean region of South America on “Sumak Kawsay” (a Quechua concept which means “to live in plenitude and harmony”) confronts the myth of sustainable development. Those who control the knowledge that justifies development argue that “Sumak Kawsay” is unsustainable because it opposes “development, modernization and progress.” And this takes us to the second point of your question about the urgent need to think from the problems and the history of the problem rather than thinking from theories that have been put forward to solve other problems. The example that should be followed is what Habermas, Foucault, Bourdieu did and not what they said. What they did was to think on and about their own local histories, situations, languages and subjectivities.
So that the communal, as you mention at the end of your question, is a case in point for people in the Andes, and not for people in the South of France or Germany. European thinkers don’t have much to say about the Andean concept of the communal, unless they take it as “an object of study” and not as “a living and lived experience,” which is the case for indigenous people. When the communal was revamped into the debates about a new constitution for Bolivia, the European tradition of political theory (and there goes Habermas and Bourdieu) was displaced: the communal demanded to think in terms of a future plurinational state, while European states have been, since their inception, mono-national. Europeans may need to consider plurinational states to solve their immigration problems. In this case, they will have much to learn from Aymara and Quechua thinkers, for there is no tradition in the history of Western thought that matches up with the legacy of Tawantinsuyu (from where the communal is derived).
The idea of plurinational states introducing the communal into the debate is a fascinating case that makes the traditional/modern notions of democracy and socialism obsolete, based on their pretense of universality. The communal option reduces democracy and socialism to options and disposes of their pretense for the universal (or at least global) truth. Therefore, the open ended question is: why would democracy and socialism be the only, and universal, vision of a just and equitable society? Certainly the communal has its problems and we should not romanticize it. But we also should not romanticize democracy and socialism that, as we know, both had and have serious shortcomings. Decolonizing democracy and socialism means reducing them down to size, recognizing their contributions but severing their arrogance and the dreams of universal “solutions” for all, and building knowledge that allows for the enactment and legitimization of the communal option.
Last but not least, the communal is not an indigenous proposal solely for Indians, as democracy and socialism were not a European proposal only for Europeans. And it is not a proposal to be “universalized.” The communal is—in different forms and rationales—what we encounter when we look into the history of different societies and civilizations pre-1500. These non-modern formations and communal organizations (not pre-modern because they did not vanish with the advent of the European idea of modernity; it is only the narrative of modernity by modern thinkers that made them pre-modern) are thriving, although constantly being eroded by the expansion of development and by one of its consequences: the concentration of mega-cities as rural life vanishes, absorbed by developers’ thirst for land. The communal as a lifestyle is already a global concern, expressed in different vocabularies. Once we recognize the communal as a legitimate vision for the present and the future, we should expect that parallel contributions will come from other local histories that had been suppressed by imperial global designs. The future is open beyond democracy and socialism, a pluriversal world where democracy and socialism will have their place, but where universal claims are already unsustainable.
It is obvious that a similar potential is being found within Chinese and Asian-Indian histories. Now the problem we (those engaged in these debates) are confronting is, as it has been pointed out in a number of venues—China, India or Singapore are “using” a particular interpretation of the past to justify state authority. This is not surprising. The same thing is happening in the US, France and Bolivia. In Bolivia, the vice-president, at least on the public stage, talks constantly about decolonization, about indigenous ways of thinking and government (a clear “use” of a history that belongs to the Aymaras and Quechuas, Chiquitanos and other Indian nations) to justify the authority of the State. What this all amounts to is the use of indigenous memories and social organizations to advance a “Corporate State” with a leftist persuasion. Indigenous organizations such as CONAMAQ do not for a minute believe the discourse of decolonization, as several of the recent decisions made by the government of Evo Morales have betrayed indigenous interests and have been in direct opposition to many of the vice-president’s statements. What is crucial here is that new elements have entered the economic, political, philosophical and ethical debates: you cannot give up difference because the State is appropriating it. The struggle between dewesternization and decoloniality lies precisely here. The “communal” is precisely what CONAMAQ is arguing for and promoting. The vice-president is arguing for “the commons” to begin using the language of decolonization.