Re: Why the West has 'won'.

Chris R. Tame (
Mon, 4 Aug 1997 23:40:46 +0100

In message <>, Sarah
Marr <> writes
>Has anybody read any well though out, cogently argued and evidentially
>supported theories as to why technology, commerce, exploration, science,
>etc. developed in the West (and East) whilst the African sub-continent
>remained isolated and communites there relied on gatherer-hunter activities
>and basic agriculture?
>I'm sure I read somewhere that the Christian concept of God had a lot to do
>with it, since it includes the concept of free agency of the individual: a
>freedom for self-achievement which is itself a form of worship. But then,
>the Chinese invented gunpowder, etc. without Christianity. Equally, the
>civilizations of the Roman and Greek empires were founded before Christianity.
>It strikes me that the rapid pace of Western development must have had a
>certain spark, and that once it started it snowballed (from spark to
>snowball, hmmm). So why didn't that spark occur in Africa, or amongst
>tribes in Indonesia, etc.
>I want to try to get a grasp on this issue, because it seems so similar to
>the one we face now, as Extropians. What is it that sparks us to desire
>technological progression, whilst others are happy with the status quo, or
>fearful of development?
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There is a huge body of literature in the field of the philosophy of
history that deals with this, some of it from a broadly classical
liberal orientation:

* Firstly, there are racist explanations. I do not believe that these
should be rejected apriori. Amongst the many works one should consult

John A. Baker, Race, Oxford University Press, 1974/Foundation for Human
Understanding, Athens, Georgia, 1995

J. Phillip Rushton, Race, Evolution and Behavior: A Life History
Perspective, Transcation Books, New Brinswick, New Jersey, 1994

Nathaniel Weyl, The Creative Elite in America, Public Affairs Press,
Washington, DC, 1966
& Steffan T. Possony, The Geography of Intellect, Regnery, Chicago, 1963

* There are environmental/geographic explanations. Henry Thomas Buckle,
a great classical liberal, in his famous work The History of
Civilization in England (1857), Grant Richards, London, 1904/D.
Appleton, New York, 1895, discusses both geographical determinants,
economic determinants and the role of ideas.

My hero the great liberal J. M. Robertson deals very well with Buckle in
his Buckle and His Critics: A Study in Sociology, Swan Sonnenschein,
London, 1895

* Frederick J. Teggart, who was classical liberal in his orientation,
and is now almost totally forgotten, offered a very interesting broad
philosophical approach to human social evolution based on "external"
stimulative forces. His major works The Processes of History, Yale
University Press, 1910 and Theory of History, Yale University Press,
1925 can be found in a one-volume reprint as Theory and Processes of
History, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1978

* There is a huge literature on the causes of capitalism and the causes
of the "rise of the West". There are many conflicting views of the
impact of Christianity in its various versions (eg the Weber-Protestant
Ethic thesis). Many recent works, informed by a fairly positive view
of the nature of free markets and of individual liberty, ascribe much
influence to the "anarchic"/polycentric nature of European civilisation
(ie a lack of a continent-wide monopoly state). See, for example:

Douglas North & Robert P. Thomas, The Rise of the Western World: A New
Economic History, Cambridge University Press, 1973

Mancur Olson, The Rise and Decline of Nations, Yale University Press,
New Haven, Conn., 1982

Gerard Radnitzky (1987), "A Economic Theory of the Rise of Civilization
and Its Policy Implications", Ordo, Vol. 30, pp. 47-90

John A. Hall, Powers and Liberties: An Account of the Causes and
Consequences of the Rise of the West, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1985

E. L. Jones, The European Miracle: Environments, Economics and
Geopolitics in the History of Europe and asia, Cambridge University
Press, 1981/2nd edn, 1987

Nathan Rosenberg & L. E. Birdzell, How the West Grew Rich, Basic Books,
New York/I. VB. Tauris, London, 1986

*An interesting discussion of the influence of different types of family
structures, their differing "ethos" and apparent poltical consequences
can be found in the works of the French anthropologist Emmanuel Todd:
The Explanation of Ideology: Family Structures and Social Systems, Basil
Blackwell, Oxford, 1985
The Causes of Progress: Culture, Authority and Change, Basil Blackwell,
Oxford, 1987

* A recent book addressing the whole question is Jared Diamond, Guns,
Germs and Steel: The Types of Human Societies, Jonathan Cape, London,
1997 (sorry, don't have the details of the US edn). William McNeil
critically reviews it The New York Review of Books, 15 May 1997, and
there is an exchange between them in the 26 June 1997 edn, pp. 69-70

This is only a taster to some of the fascinating work that exists
addressing the general topic. My own view is that the ultimate answer
will lay in a "multi-factorial" (ugh!) answer that integrates external/
geographic/climactic/environmental factors, sheer historical contingency
(ie luck and accident), psychological factors, the role of ideas, and
the influence of differing political structures (ie how far they can
cripple market forces or not).

Yes, I am working on a long work on this subject - but don't ask me when
I'll have it finished!

Chris R. Tame, Director                 
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