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.
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?
- Niall Ferguson Ted Talk: Author Discusses ‘The Six Killer Apps’ (huffingtonpost.com)
- India’s decline! Nabobs & Nautch Girls? (behind2ndlook.wordpress.com)
- Euro has better odds of survival than EU: Niall Ferguson (ctv.ca)
- China’s rise means resource-rich Canada should beware, historian Niall Ferguson says (canada.com)
- Gandhiji – A 2ndlook (behind2ndlook.wordpress.com)
- Niall Ferguson v Pankaj Mishra: battle of the historians (guardian.co.uk)
After ravaging North and South Americas, Europe laid its hands on Inca, Maya gold which financed European conquests across the world. By 19th century, Europe had defeated most military leaderships in the world.
Faced with new standards of barbarity, the newly enslaved and oppressed found new leaders to confront the West. In Haiti, the slaves freed themselves after defeating the French, Spanish and English armies that tried to re-enslave them. In India, wars and battles raged continuously – forcing the British to surrender their American colonies. Soon after the London Expo of 1851, the British had to face a bloody war in India where hundreds of thousands of Indian soldiers, waged war, led by a determined alliance of leaders.
In the midst of this, ranging from the majestic Mayan achievements and of the Incas in Andes, to the spirit of the Haitians, to the ancient and continuous traditions in India, the Europeans found a barren cultural cupboard at home.
To fill up this cupboard, the West has been on a campaign of cultural dacoity for the last 2 centuries now. One of the first places to start was Greece.
Modern Greece has little in common with Pericles or Plato. If anything, it is a failed German project.
The year was 1832, and Greece had just won its independence from the Ottoman Empire. The “Big Powers” of the time — Britain, France and Russia — appointed a Bavarian prince as Greece’s first king – Otto. He arrived in his new kingdom with an entourage of German architects, engineers, doctors and soldiers — and set out to reconfigure the country to the romantic ideal of the times.
The 19th century had seen a resurgence of Europeans’ interest in ancient Greece. Big names such as Goethe, Shelley, Byron, Delacroix and many other artists, poets and musicians sought inspiration in classical beauty. They marveled at the white marble and solemn temples of Hellas, and longed for a lost purity in thought, aesthetics and warm-blooded passion. Revisiting the sensual Greece of Orpheus and Sappho was ballast to the detached coolness of science or the dehumanizing onslaught of the Industrial Revolution.
Otto saw to it that modern Greece lived up to that romantic image. Athens, at that time a small hamlet of a few goatherds, was inaugurated as the new national capital. The architects from Munich designed and built a royal palace, an academy, a library, a university and all the beautiful neoclassical edifices that contemporary Greek anarchists adorn with graffiti. There was no Sparta in Otto’s kingdom, so a new Sparta was constructed from scratch by the banks of the Eurotas River, where brave Lacedemonians used to take their baths. Modern Greece was thus invented as a backdrop to contemporary European art and imagination, a historical precursor of many Disneylands to come.
Despite the Bavarian soldiers who escorted him, King Otto was eventually expelled by a coup. But the foundations of historical misunderstanding had been laid, to haunt Greece and its relations with itself and other European nations forever.
No matter what Otto may have imagined, the truth was that the brave people who started fighting for their freedom against the Turks in 1821, had not been in suspended animation for 2,000 years. Although their bonds with the land, the ruined temples, the living Greek language, the names and the myths were strong and rich, they were not walking around in white cloaks wearing laurels on their heads. They were Christian orthodox, conservative and fiercely antagonistic toward their governing institutions. In other words, they were an embarrassment to all those folks in Berlin, Paris and London who expected resurrected philosophers sacrificing to Zeus. The profound gap between the ancient and the modern had to be bridged somehow, in order to satisfy the romantic expectations that Europe had of Greece. So a historical narrative was put together claiming uninterrupted continuity with the ancient past. With time, this narrative became the central dogma of Greek national policy and identity.
Growing up in Greece in the 1970s, (one) had to learn not one, but three Greek languages. First, it was the parlance of everyday life, the living words people exchanged at the marketplaces and in the streets. But at school, we were taught something different: It was called “katharevousa” — “cleansed” — a language designed by 19th-century intellectuals to purify demotic from the cornucopia of borrowed Turkish, Slavic and Latin words. Finally, we had to study ancient Greek, the language of our classical ancestors, the heroes of Marathon and Thermopylae. We were supposed to learn “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” in the original, by heart, in case some time machine transported us back to Homeric times. As it happened, most of us managed to learn none of the three, ending up mixing them in one grammatically anarchic jargon that communicated mostly the confusion of our age.
Greece – a country designed as a romantic theme park two centuries ago, propped up with loans ever since, and unable to adjust to the crude realities of 21st-century globalization. (via Modern Greece’s real problem? Ancient Greece. – The Washington Post; parts excised for brevity; few link words in brackets supplied).
- A Dumb Question About Greece And The Euro (businessinsider.com)
- Spectre of Greek eurozone exit looms as tour firm plans for drachma comeback (guardian.co.uk)
- Angry and ashamed, we Greeks need to see a just solution to our ills | Nikos Konstantaras (guardian.co.uk)
- Tui prepares for Greek euro exit (bbc.co.uk)
- Greek leaders to pick new prime minister (cbc.ca)
- And Greece created Europe: the cultural legacy of a nation in crisis (guardian.co.uk)
- Oil Rises as Greece Moves to Salvage Bailout (abcnews.go.com)