Niall Ferguson tackles the ultimate historian’s question in an essay for the London Times (via The Spectator): Why the West became so dominant.
The Harvard professor identifies six reasons:
1. Competition: a decentralisation of political and economic life, which created the launch pad for both nation states and capitalism.
2. Science: a way of understanding and ultimately changing the natural world, which gave the West (among other things) a major military advantage over the Rest.
3. Property rights: the rule of law as a means of protecting private owners and peacefully resolving disputes between them, which formed the basis for the most stable form of representative government.
4. Medicine: a branch of science that allowed a major improvement in health and life expectancy, beginning in Western societies, but also in their colonies.
5. The consumer society: a mode of material living in which the production and purchase of clothing and other consumer goods play a central economic role, and without which the Industrial Revolution would have been unsustainable.
6. The work ethic: a moral framework and mode of activity derivable from (among other sources) Protestant Christianity, which provides the glue for the dynamic and potentially unstable society created by apps 1 to 5
Can the rest of the world catch up? Ferguson says countries like China will have to adopt some form of these six features to achieve long-term prominence. China obviously has a ways to go in terms of property rights, consumption and competition.
But don’t forget the professor’s other thesis. The entire west is verging on a sovereign debt crisis, like nothing since the collapse of the Roman empire.
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