Niall Ferguson: why the West is now in decline

Source: Telegraph UK, 3-6-11

For 500 years Western civilisation was full of self-belief, but now, historian Niall Ferguson argues in his new Channel 4 series, its dominance is coming to an end.

Niall Fergurson in his new Channel 4 series, Civilization: is the West History?

Niall Ferguson in his new Channel 4 series, Civilization: is the West History? Photo: Channel 4

…Yet any history of the world’s civilisations that underplays the degree of their gradual subordination to the West after 1500 is missing the essential point – the thing most in need of explanation. The rise of the West is, quite simply, the pre-eminent historical phenomenon of the second half of the second millennium after Christ. It is the story at the very heart of modern history. It is perhaps the most challenging riddle historians have to solve.

In my new book and series, I argue that what distinguished the West from the Rest – the mainsprings of global power – were six identifiably novel complexes of institutions and associated ideas and behaviours. For the sake of simplicity, I summarise them under six headings: 1. Competition 2. Science 3. Property rights 4. Medicine 5. The consumer society 6. The work ethic.

To use the language of today’s computerised, synchronised world, these were the six killer applications – the killer apps – that allowed a minority of mankind originating on the western edge of Eurasia to dominate the world for the better part of 500 years.

This is of more than purely historical interest. For it is only by identifying the causes of Western ascendancy that we can hope to estimate with any degree of accuracy the imminence of our fall.

My conclusion is that we are already living through the twilight of Western predominance. But that is not just because most of the Rest have now downloaded all or nearly all of our killer apps. It is also because we ourselves have lost faith in our own civilisation.

Civilization: the West and the Rest (Allen Lane) costs £25 T £23 plus £1.25 p&p. Call 0844 871 1515 or click here. The series starts on Sunday 6 March on Channel 4 at 8.00pm

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1 Comment

  1. Jim

     /  March 13, 2011

    In episode 2 of his documentary on Channel 4, Ferguson claims that as religion in Turkey was causing impeding scientific discovery there, science and scientists were being rewarded and embraced in Europe. Many would qualifiy Ferguson’s sweeping statement.

    One example is the treatment meted out to Galileo Galilei. After 1610, when he began publicly supporting the heliocentric view, which placed the Sun at the centre of the universe, he met with bitter opposition from some philosophers and clerics, and two of the latter eventually denounced him to the Roman Inquisition early in 1615. In February 1616, although he had been cleared of any offence, the Catholic Church nevertheless condemned heliocentrism as “false and contrary to Scripture”,[10] and Galileo was warned to abandon his support for it—which he promised to do. When he later defended his views in his most famous work, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, published in 1632, he was tried by the Inquisition, found “vehemently suspect of heresy”, forced to recant, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

    Reply

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