Over at The Critic, Yuan Yi Zhu argues that Pocock’s “Antipodean” (New Zealand) view of the world was the source of the “originality of his contribution to the history of European political thought, of which he was one of the greatest scholars of the last century.”
Here is a taste:
Pocock called for a new sort of British history, one which would include the “Atlantic Archipelago” that was Britain, Ireland, and the surrounding islands, as well as the outre-mer which was the consequence of centuries of archipelagic expansion. It was a plea against Little Englanders; but it was really an attack on the progressive historians who insisted that Britain had an European history and none other. The latter, to Pocock, were every bit as parochial as the former. They might even be the same people.
Pocock disliked “Europe” (he used the scare quotes around the word freely) as embodied by the political union for many other reasons besides. To him, it was an anti-democratic “empire of the market” (the antipodean social democracy of the New Zealand of his youth never having left him), which denied peoples their independent pasts and therefore their future. And it was incapable of accepting criticism, dismissing any questioning of itself as irrational and archaic. He did not even think that Europe merited the title of continent, but only of a sub-continent of Eurasia. And whereas the Indian one had the Himalayas to delineate it, the Urals are decidedly flat. This idea of Europe, for Pocock, was an ideology before it was anything else.
Pocock retired in 1994 and wrote a fearsome six volume cycle of books on Gibbon’s Decline and Fall and of Europe’s multiple Enlightenments. In his final years turned again to New Zealand, which had absorbed the shock of the British betrayal and the identitarian conundrums it posed better than he had perhaps expected. After all, both the Māori and the Pākehā had arrived to that strange land, so unlike the rest of Oceania, by sea at different times, and that counted for something. Almost his last public remark was a laconic response to the Brexit vote, in which he predicted the difficult road ahead.
To the last, Pocock remained the ultimate outsider-insider, which is perhaps just as well. Maybe only those who neither belonged to nor were alien from the charmed circle of Europe could think about its history with such clarity. After all, as Pocock once wrote, “what do they know of Europe who only Europe know?”
Read the entire piece here.