Is Niall Ferguson Reading Up 2ndlook

Posted in Current Affairs, Desert Bloc, European History, History, politics by Anuraag Sanghi on November 14, 2011

A reader’s request for a 2ndlook at Nial Ferguson’s (NF) speech turned out to be an interesting read. Niall Ferguson’s lecture at the TED conference in July 2011 was posted on the TED website in September 2011.

Packaged with some shiny new wrapping paper, Niall Ferguson re-presented his TEDGlobal speech in Newsweek of Oct 2011 – with more polish to his rhetoric, repeating the same points.

NF says,

The West first surged ahead of the Rest after about 1500 thanks to a series of institutional innovations that I call the “killer applications”:

1. Competition. Europe was politically fragmented into multiple monarchies and republics, which were in turn internally divided into competing corporate entities, among them the ancestors of modern business corporations.

Western societies divided into competing factions, leading to progressive improvements.

2. The Scientific Revolution. All the major 17th-century breakthroughs in mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, and biology happened in Western Europe.

Breakthroughs in mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, and biology.

3. The Rule of Law and Representative Government. An optimal system of social and political order emerged in the English-speaking world, based on private-property rights and the representation of property owners in elected legislatures.

Representative government based on private-property rights and democratic elections.

4. Modern Medicine. Nearly all the major 19th- and 20th-century breakthroughs in health care were made by Western Europeans and North Americans.

19th- and 20th-century advances in germ theory, antibiotics, and anesthesia.

5. The Consumer Society. The Industrial Revolution took place where there was both a supply of productivity-enhancing technologies and a demand for more, better, and cheaper goods, beginning with cotton garments.

Leaps in productivity combined with widespread demand for more, better, and cheaper goods.

6. The Work Ethic. Westerners were the first people in the world to combine more extensive and intensive labor with higher savings rates, permitting sustained capital accumulation.

Combination of intensive labor with higher savings rates, permitting sustained capital accumulation.

For hundreds of years, these killer apps were essentially monopolized by Europeans and their cousins who settled in North America and Australasia. They are the best explanation for what economic historians call “the great divergence”: the astonishing gap that arose between Western standards of living and those in the rest of the world. (via Niall Ferguson: How American Civilization Can Avoid Collapse – The Daily Beast).

On reading NF’s first app, (NF on competing factions) got my 100% attention.

2ndlook readers will be stuck with the similarity between 2ndlook’s model of Desert Bloc behavior and NF’s first app. This model of Desert Bloc behavior was outlined by 2ndlook in February 2011 – well before NF started with his 6 apps story.

The Desert Bloc depends on extreme competitiveness between its own factions to gain leadership – extending the analogy of survival of the fittest. Some of its defining struggles in the last 1000 years were Islam vs Christianity; Spain vs Portugal; England vs France; USA vs USSR.

Such factions spring up around deified leaders based on a sharp identity – race, tribe, language, region, religion. Significant leadership struggles have broken out between even intra-religious sects – like Catholics and Protestants, Shias vs Sunnis.

Can different factions of the Desert Bloc, like the Christian West and Islam collaborate? The Islāmic Ottoman Empire and the Christian European powers could not get around to colluding with each other. Even the collusion between the Christian European colonizers was  difficult.  Unless it was over carving the spoils, dividing areas for exploitation – like Papal Bulls (between Spain and Portugal) or the Berlin Conference which triggered the ‘scramble for Africa.’

Post-WWII world has been been seriously influenced by the Desert Bloc. The Desert Bloc split into two factions. The liberal-progressive, democratic, Judeo-Christian faction led by America. Significant parts of the world has moved to the Desert Bloc orbit, and adopted the religion of Westernization.

To the very best of my knowledge, before 2ndlook, no one has ever outlined this model of behaviour – using these terms and this concept. NF also does not give credit for his first app.

Looks like NF has been boning up on 2ndlook – at Harvard University. Even the examples that NF uses are the same as the 2ndlook posts.

The first, he says, was competition. On Mr. Ferguson’s reading, political and economic decentralization made nation-states and capitalism possible. It was the intense rivalries between Western powers that gave them the edge … Remarkably, Mr. Ferguson notes, the most serious challenges to the West have come not from the outside but from within: for example, Hitler’s Germany and Soviet Russia.

the Cold War was not a struggle between East and West but “between two rival Wests, a capitalist one and a communist one.”

I was yanked back to two 2ndlook posts. One was nearly four-year old post – on the country model of the West. The other was a more than 3-year old post on the rise of corporations and their use by the West. Or the more recent posts that expanded on this subject.

Is this how Harvard professors build their careers – and reputations?

5 Responses

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  1. jim pivonka said, on November 15, 2011 at 2:03 am

    Ha! I find 2nd Look much more interesting than N. Ferguson, whom I think quite the jackass – especially in his Newsweek incarnation.

  2. Kumar Iyer said, on November 15, 2011 at 3:47 am

    Not only loot of wealth but also Plagiarism is in the genes of westerners. What a shame.

  3. Raman said, on November 15, 2011 at 4:51 am

    hi anurag, this is also “typical” desert bloc behavior: cannibalizing from other culture / people / societies without either giving credit or anything useful in return. Witness how hatha yoga (and host of other Hindu / Indic traditions) is/ are being “cannibalized” by the West. Christian yoga, kabbalah yoga, Islamic yoga etc. etc. So now you have become a “desert bloc victim”!!!

  4. Ram said, on November 15, 2011 at 5:06 am

    Are u surprised, astound? Have u not clearly identified their traits and elaborate reasons behind their so called progress in advance. Obviously it is not happening first time. In fact a series of incidents from time immemorial and continuing can be aligned with this behavior.
    Let us take some examples- search for European identity with the help of Sanskrit, use of Indian knowledge resources in their so called progress and industrial revolutions, shameless plagiarism or “independently rediscoveries” by some of their tallest figures- use of calculus by Newton, snatching Poincaré’s work by Einstein in the field of relativity and recently the Prof.C.K. Raju and Atiyah case in the garb of so called ‘peer revew’.
    Plz refer – http://ckraju.net.

    You are hitting so hard on their hard earned pride( by our ’eminent’ brown and white historians) and still expecting its recognition by them. How dare u even think that. He might have made an ‘independent discovery’ as u are not ‘peer reviewed’.Are u not expecting tooo much?
    Very bad very bad!!

    (If possible at least let NF know about this).

  5. senthil said, on November 15, 2011 at 8:26 am


    i want to ask NF one question – “Why all those Technological Innovcations, which he excites, happen only after 1500, when europeans came in to contact with india?”.. Why NOT innovation before that?

    Definitely he does not have answer.. and even if he knows, he does not have the honesty to admit it..

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