"Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay."
S. E. Finer, historian of government, quoted this line by Tennyson, noting that "It is fashionable to mock" (S.E. Finer, The History of Government from the Earliest Times, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), p 1303).
As a seemingly objective historian, he needs to keep his preferences well-nigh invisible: but the tenor is clear.
Europe was a civilization of mutability (his word) while the rest of us suffered stagnation - Muslims, Chinese, Japanese, Hindus... the oriental list. The usual suspects.
While in the despotic east (he never uses the adjective, but, again, the tenor is clear) the individual was a "mere" subject, already in 16th-century Europe he/she was a citizen with rights to "life, liberty, and above all, property". He/she could even sue the state, something inconceivable among Orientals.
Finer is fond of the word "nomocracy" - rule of law versus the capricious will of a monarch.
The Catholic Church is credited with having effectively created a buffer against despotic monarchy in Europe - an institution unique in history.
What are we to make of all this?
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