The rise to global predominance of Western civilization is the single most important historical phenomenon of the past five hundred years. Six centuries ago, the petty kingdoms of Western Europe seemed unlikely to achieve much more than perpetual internecine warfare. Ming China and Ottoman Turkey, on the other hand, had the look of world civilizations. The Forbidden City was under construction, work had begun on reopening and improving the Grand Canal, and the Ottomans were closing in on Constantinople, which they would finally capture in 1453.
By contrast, Western Europe in 1411 resembled “a miserable backwater, recuperating from the ravages of the Black Death—which had reduced population by as much as half—and still plagued by bad sanitation and war,” avers historian Niall Ferguson. How then did fewer than a dozen small polities on the western end of the Eurasian landmass come to dominate the rest of the world, including the more populous societies of Eastern Eurasia?
As Ferguson shows in Civilization, the power shift occurred in the 15th century when the West developed six powerful new concepts that the rest of the world lacked: competition, science, the rule of law, consumerism, modern medicine and work ethic. According to the author, these were the “killer applications” that allowed the West to leap ahead, opening global trade routes, exploiting newly discovered scientific laws, evolving a system of representative government, more than doubling life expectancy, unleashing the Industrial Revolution and embracing a dynamic work ethic.
Yet current Western civilization appears to have lost all confidence in itself. In demographic terms, the population of Western societies has long represented a minority of the world’s inhabitants. Today that population is also a dwindling one. The present financial crisis seems to indicate a fundamental flaw at the heart of consumer society. And the Protestant ethic of thrift that once seemed so central to the West has all but vanished.
The once dominant economies of both the U.S. and Europe are facing the real prospect of being overtaken by China within the next few decades. With their flourishing economies, Brazil and India are also poised to become the next global financial leaders, after China. Has the zenith of Western power now passed? Ferguson suggests that we are witnessing the end of the West’s world and the advent of a new Eastern epoch.
This is not because of clashes with rival civilizations, he contends, but simply because the rest of the world has now downloaded the six killer apps the West once monopolized. With clarity and wit, Civilization reveals the epic story of the West’s slow rise and sudden demise.
Hardcover Book : 432 pages
Publisher: Penguin Group (Usa) ( October 13, 2011 )
Item #: 13-407871
Product Dimensions: 6.0 x 9.0 x 1.08inches
Product Weight: 25.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)