Tuesday, February 2, 2016

What Accounts for the Past 500 Years of Western Global Dominance? Race, Culture or Blind Chance?

By Canspeccy

I have no sympathy for the imperialist enthusiasm of Oxford cum Harvard and Stanford Professor, Niall Ferguson. I am prompted, however, to come to his defense in the face of a viciously false allegation of white supremacism by a Pankaj Mishra, a cousin-in-law to the pseudo-Conservative and imperialist war criminal British Prime Minister, David Cameron.

Mishra's contemptible smear was published by the London Review of Books under the guise of a review of Ferguson's book, Civilization: The West and the Rest.

Mishra is a skilled exponent of defamation by insinuation.

Beginning with a dozen paragraphs making no reference whatever to the book supposedly under review, Mishra first notes that the white supremacist, Tom Buchanan, in Scott Fitzgerald's novel the Great Gatsby was modeled in part on Theodore Lothrop Stoddard, the author of the bestseller The Rising Tide of Color against White World Supremacy. Then, following a paragraph of sneering contempt for those engaging in "Hysteria about ‘white civilisation’ ... after Europe’s self-mutilation in the First World War" (who care's after all, about 35 million dead white men?) and bringing in the Nazis he speaks of other books published under what he calls the "banner of white supremacism," including Philip Bobbitt’s Terror and Consent, which so Mishra claims, Niall Ferguson reviewed enthusiastically.

In other words, Mishra deliberately implies, Ferguson is a white supremacist.

From there, through a mass of irrelevant verbiage signifying little that is either interesting or true, Mishra summarizes Civilization thus:
To ask, as Ferguson does, why the West broke through to capitalist modernity and became the originator of globalization is to assume that this was inevitable, and that it resulted basically from the wonderfulness of the West, not to mention the hopelessness of the East.
So now the mask is off. Having established by implication that Ferguson is a racist, the fact can be stated explicitly. Ferguson thinks the West dominated the Rest for 500 years because the West was populated by racially superior white men.

This is not a travesty. This is a straightforward and contemptible lie, and a libel, for which Niall Ferguson has stated he will sue Mishra unless he retracts and apologizes.

I wish Ferguson luck, which he will need since, as the Hudson Institute of New York indicates in the post preceding this one, British courts seem generally disposed to sacrifice the interests of the indigenous people if it will boost the power and self esteem of the burgeoning immigrant community.

The absurdity of Mishra's synopsis of Ferguson's book is irrefutable. Ferguson's thesis is based entirely on the supposition that world mastery was achieved by the nations of Western Europe -- over a 500-year-long period, which is clearly now ending -- by virtue of the essentially chance emergence and dissemination throughout the West of a particular set of cultural and political factors. These factors being:
Competition, i.e., among the continually waring nations of Europe and among businesses in a free market, which drove technological innovation in both war and business;

Science: an activity in which at various times Chinese, Indians, Muslims, Greeks and others had made important contributions, but which from the 16th century until recent times was advanced far more rapidly in Northern Europe than elsewhere, resulting among other things, in the development of the World's most effective military and medical technologies;

Property rights;

the work ethic;

and, seemingly in opposition to the work ethic, the consumer society.
Quite clearly, however good or bad his theory, Ferguson attributes nothing to innate Western racial superiority in his account of the rise of the West. His thesis completely negates Mishra's blatantly mendacious allegation of white supremacism.

New Dehli: As laid out by British architect Edward Lutyens
If any party to this dispute is a racist, it is Mishra who is perhaps resentful that it was the British, not the Indians, who created the unified modern state of India, with its Parliamentary democracy, the rule of law recognizing the equality of all races, castes and religions, a magnificent capital city and huge investments in road, rail and other infrastructure. To add insult to injury, the Brits then handed the government to the Indians voluntarily and in accordance with a long-held and well-known plan.

In fact, Ferguson's account of the rise of the West seems needlessly complex. The West ruled because it had the industrial revolution, which fact directs attention to the single question of why it was Europe, and in the first place Britain, that had the industrial revolution. This question is comprehensively addressed by Bill Clinton's mentor, the American historian Carroll Quigley.

Carroll Quigley (1910-1977)

Ferguson quotes Carroll Quigley but only to dismiss him as someone "still enjoyed by conspiracy theorists." This is strange indeed, since Quigley presented a vastly more plausible theory of Western dominance during the last half millennium than the relatively incoherent mish-mash of ideas presented in Civilization.

Quigley, like Ferguson, believed that the British empire owed nothing to innate British genius. It depended, so Quigley held, solely on an unusual run of luck arising from Britain’s unique geographic position in Europe.

As an offshore island, Britain required no standing army. With no standing army, a totalitarian government was impossible. This is what gave Parliament the edge in its struggle with the Stuart kings.

Once Parliament had relieved the monarch of absolute authority, it asserted the interests of the landowning members of Parliament. Thus Parliament enacted legislation permitting enclosure of common land. Enclosure of the common land made it worthwhile to invest capital in agricultural improvements. Agricultural improvements, including mechanization, increased the profits of the landowners while creating a surplus of rural population that was driven to find work in mines and factories, initially financed largely from the increased profits of improved agriculture.

Thus Britain achieve the industrial revolution before any continental power.

Free of the expense of a standing army, Britain was able to equip the world’s most powerful navy. This gave her control of the World’s oceans during the age of colonization. Meantime, by making small investments in continental wars, Britain could play the balance of power game, thus preventing the rise of a Continental superpower without risk of payback since her control of the English Channel made invasion impossible.

The continental powers were unable to compete with Britain in the struggle for the best colonies both because their naval power was inferior and because they had to invest so heavily in territorial defense.

And once Britain had established its Caribbean and American colonies, it generated huge industries in cotton, sugar, tobacco and rum, the profits from which enabled her to finance much of the industrial development throughout the rest of the world.

In other words, until the German Luftwaffe and V weapons ended Britain’s invulnerability to foreign attack, she was on a near 500-year roll. The United States and the other European powers, having the closest cultural and commercial relations with Britain, were the first to emulate Britain's industrialization, and so global domination by the West was inevitable. Or as Hilaire Belloc put it:
Whatever happens, we have got
The Maxim gun, and they have not.
The thing is, now, the Indians, the Chinese and others have the dirt cheap labor, and we have not, which means Western de-industrialization and the inevitability of relative decline in Western global power and technological expertise.

Niall Ferguson's comments on Mishra's review are here.

First posted December 15, 2011


  1. I just discovered this site through Unz. Wow.

    Are you trained as an economist?

  2. Hi!

    No, I have no training in economics, but I have read some of the classics in the field, the most influential being Adam Smith.

    Smith's work is both empirical and analytical. It is superbly written and deeply informed about the forces that shape human society.

    The rest of economics seems mostly to be a matter of technical detail of little practical use except as a qualification to teach another generation of university-trained economists.

  3. Just a quick tip: your site would be a lot better if your posts were tagged. Right now I have to keep clicking "older post" to view stuff you've already written, and being able to "search" through what is archived is almost worthless unless you know what you're searching for. Until then I am condemned to either reading what you wrote in the last few months or hoping that I win the search query lottery.


    1. Good idea. Then, I'll know what I've written, even if no one else cares.