The Conceit Of Nations And The Conceit Of Scholars

" />
The Conceit Of Nations And The Conceit Of Scholars

Ekenedirichukwu Anselm Alita



The world from ab initio has been governed by ideas.  the world itself is the eternal thought or  idea of one being, named gone. So right from the wee hours of humanity and its history  people have got different ideas, different schema of thoughts born out of their imagination, which they try to transfer to reality and  of use to shape, invent and reinvent realities that have always existed even before they as a group as a people ever existed.  In this process they sometimes which less subtlety try to universalize this ideas and try to impose it on others  and often seeing as the best and sometimes, such people or such nations set themselves as standards of measurement of other nations, such that any nations that doesn’t buckle down to drink from the milk of its ideas is considered backward.

There is also the tendency of these nations viewing themselves as the oldest and that civilization began solely with them and thus they have the patent right to all history and ideas, thus they are the only one capable of telling about others history, thus that is why Greek up till today is considered the citadel of ancient knowledge and as at then they had to group non Greek countries  and those who don’t share the same ideas with them as barbarians. This is also evident in Israel who considered themselves the’ God chosen ‘ and saw God as their birthright, that is why they have to classify others as gentiles and as those cut off from the kingdom of God.

when Christianity came to Africa, this was the mindset that was infused into the people little wonder africa to a large extent lost touch with its root, having being made to see almost everything concerning it as  heathen and evil. Thus those who stuck to the traditions and culture of the land were regarded not as traditionalists  but as heathens, those lost in the doldrums of darkness forever.  Thus the Europeanization and Americanization  of Africa and other continents are all offshoots of trying to universalize the ideas of Europe  and America, trying to make white men of black people. This of course took a major chunk of African history. What makes this right ? it is because it was made in Europe. It was this false note that has been travelling about that the Italian historian and philosopher Giambattista Vico tries to draw back.



Vico was a 17th  and 18th century Italian lawyer and philosopher. He produced the work THE NEW SCIENCE  in 1725, one of the most influential and important works of  philosophy  in the modern western tradition. He is often credited with the invention of the philosophy of history. Specifically he was the first to take seriously the possibility that people had fundamentally different schema of thought in different historical eras. Thus, it is said that Vico  became the first to chart  a course of history  that depended on the way the structure of thought changed over time, whence he talked about the age of gods, which he considered the starting point of all cultures.  It  was majorly an unlettered and thrived on myths, legends, poems etc. who gave no rational interpretation of history later it disintergrated into the age of heroes; the age of heroes, this age was lettered  and there was rise in education  and civilization, thus  the age established what is called a civil society;  and the age of men, this emerges after the break down of the age of heroes and the gods, and establishes  itself as the controller of institutions, laws, political economy in pursuit of their  interpretation of the old ideal. This is the age of industrialization and great advance in science and technology . At this final age also, there is revolution, which boils down back to the age of the gods.  With this he was able to point out that history is cyclic and not linear as some others like St.Augustine has posited in his history of eschatology.  Therefore each age has its own linguistic, psychological, jurisprudential, and political economical manifestations that reflects the rise of society’s ideas and how it tries to make this ideas manifest in the world. The move is however not simultaneous throughout the world as each people move at their own pace.

However it is in the attempt of each age to manifest its own ideas and world views in the world that the danger creeps in,  especially those ahead in the cycle. It is that tendency wherein it seeks  to make  itself the measure of all things even for those who are not in the same age with them, thus here those who are far behind, who do not follow their ideas are ruled out and often beaten to submission by the very fact they have become more advanced in the age cycle. It is here that they try to universalize their ideas without much care how it affects the people of other age, and due to the fact that they are ahead theres is the general tendency to think they are the oldest age, but this is not true. It is based on this that vico talked about the conceit of nations and the  conceit of scholars.


In the conceit of nations a nation believes itself to be the perfect example of the pinnacle of human development and civilization. The nation subsequently categorizes other nations in relation to itself (in a negative manner). My nation is superior to other nations and vice versa and that nations attempt to universalize itself over the world and think their ideas as central axiom of all reality. Hellenization, Romanization, Americanization and Europeanization would be all examples of nations attempting to project their universal of itself onto all others. It seems itself as the oldest of civilization and thus superior

Conversely, in the conceit of scholars, the intellectual, the intellectual believes his ideas to be universally true and valid. His idea is what is real, and ought to be a reality in the present. Therefore everyone should think and act like the scholar, and therefore you would actualize that idea in reality. Thus in the conceit of scholars, the intellectual tries to make his worldview the general worldview and tries to impose it on all others and considers all others who does not have the same world view or agree with him as backward per se.  thus the intellectual attempts to translate his own idea into reality by socially constructing this reality stemming from their thought image or imagination. Thus history becomes what but a universalized figment of their imagination, thus verum factum, that is what is made is true.

In both cases, VIco calls the conceit of nations and the conceit of scholars as ‘the imaginative universal’ these two terms have wider applications in the modern day world, as major structures  and histories of the world are but product of the conceit of nations and the conceit of scholars.


The major effect of the above conceits is that, it makes one story the only story, it universalizes one idea without giving room for others. Africa as group, have been at the very receiving end of these conceits. This is evidenced in the pre-colonial novels and ideas about Africa by English writers like Joseph Conrad in his ‘Heart of Darkness’ and John locke in his depiction of Africa , who are in the words of Rudyard Kippling as asserted by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her TED talk of 2009, titled ‘Danger of a single story’ are a half devil and a half child. It is these dark ideas of Africa as a place of negatives that has been universalized and unfortunately Africans bought the idea, thus mentally they were already enslaved. Little wonder the West has always remained a standard and has consistently universalized her ideas and forcing Africans to accept them, which on refusal they would pull certain strings to make life more unbearable for them since they are the world power. A typical example is the imposition of the idea of abortion, gay marriage, lesbianism, on Africa. The subsequent rejection of these ideas, by some countries in Africa, of course had their consequences. Therefore the danger of these conceits is that it entrenches the dictum propounded by the sophist THrastymachus, that power is right. Thus whatever idea the big powers universalize should be accepted without question. Another effect is that the history of many people have been rewritten to suit and nurse the ego of the big powers and achieve ulterior motives, who more often than naught present  themselves as the victim in history. This is perfectly exemplified in the words of the Palestinian poet  MOurid Barghouti “it is easy to blur the truth with a simple linguistic trick: start your story from ‘secondly.’ Yes , this is what Rabin did. He simply neglected to speak of what happened first. Start your story with “secondly,” and the world will be turned upside down. Start your story with ‘secondly,’ and the arrows of the Red Indians are the original criminals and the guns of the white man are entirely the victims. It is enough to start with “ secondly,”  for the anger of the black man against the White to be barbarous. Start with “secondly,” and Ghandhi becomes responsible for the tragedies of the British”


From the above we notice that each group of people have their own story and history, their system of thoughts, laws and so forth, some have evolved and others are still evolving. In all history remains according to Vico a cyclic process, so that one group is ahead of the other in the cycle does not mean that culture is the oldest, neither does it mean that every culture is moving at the same pace. This also is not an excuse for underdevelopment. The aim of this article is majorly to point out the dangers that comes when the nations that are already advanced in this cyclic movement tries to bully others, by imposing their systems of thoughts, ideas and so on on the less advanced nations; the danger that comes with the universalization of their ideas and considering as the measure of all things without regard for the peculiarities and the uniqueness of others. The danger that comes with all these conceits is that it closes up all avenues for learning from the less advanced nations, which is wrong and egotistical, for even the so called advanced nations were once in the stage of the less advanced ones. Even in human relationship these conceits exist, which blocks off any room for moral improvement, because one begins to see himself as the alpha and omega, without much room to learn. One also imposes his ideas on the weaker ones whether they are right or not, for the mere fact that it is his ideas makes its right. This situation hampers development and gives no possible room for growth and eventually leads to revolt and break down of the whole system.  This is the danger.

Follow us