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New Left Review 47, September-October 2007


Vivek Chibber on C. A. Bayly, The Birth of the Modern World, 1780–1914. Modernity’s origins sought among Safavid, Ottoman and Mughal crises—with cameo roles for Western capital and labour.

VIVEK CHIBBER

SIDELINING THE WEST?

How and, just as importantly, where did the modern era come into being? The driving forces of the period—industrialization, the spread of colonial rule, the financial integration of the globe, the advent of mass consumer society, the growth of working-class and anti-colonial movements—were seen, in Hobsbawm’s influential account of the long nineteenth century, as being propelled by twin economic and political revolutions: the former embodied in the emergence of England as the workshop of the world and the latter in the French Revolution, with its reverberations throughout the post-Napoleonic era. The consolidation of industrial capitalism in Europe then drove, or crucially inflected, transformations in Asia, Africa and elsewhere. C. A. Bayly’s The Birth of the Modern World sets out to tackle the same period within a globalized framework: to trace ‘the rise of global uniformities in the state, religion, political ideologies and economic life’ between 1780 and 1914, while also noting that growing interconnectedness and interdependence could ‘heighten the sense of difference, and even antagonism, between people in different societies’.

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