Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Ricardo Duchesne's Review of Niall Ferguson's Civilization: The Six Ways the West Beat the Rest?

Prof. Ricardo Duchesne's Review

Ricardo Duchesne has an intriguing review of Niall Ferguson's book on the success of the West, i.e., Civilization: The West and the Rest, except that there appears to be some confusion as to this book's title. Duchesne's review calls it Civilization: The Six Ways the West Beat the Rest. I've not found that title at Amazon, but I did find this: Civilization: The Six Killer Apps of Western Power. These three titles seem to indicate the same book. Perhaps it has three differently titled editions? There are at least two editions, the US (West and Rest) and the UK (Six Killer Apps).

However that is to be resolved, Duchesne's review is titled "Dr Ricardo Duchesne, review of Civilization: The Six Ways the West Beat the Rest, (review no. 1225)," Reviews in History, and after some positive remarks, Duchesne finds the book wanting:
Ferguson reduces the uniqueness of the West to the question: 'how it came to dominate the Rest?' According to him, the West rose above the Rest through the development of six 'killer apps': i) a more fragmented political setting that worked to encourage competition and innovation both between and within states; ii) a predilection for open inquiry and a scientific attitude towards nature; iii) property rights and the representation of property-owners in elected assemblies; iv) modern medicine, v) an industrial revolution based on both a supply of sustained innovations and a demand for mass consumer goods; and vi) a work ethic that included more productive labor with higher savings and capital accumulation. Ferguson does not claim originality here, but credit is due for his command of the subject and his ability to engage a wide audience of lay readers and students alike with ease, intelligence, good judgment, and a keen command of comparative history.

Regrettably, Ferguson's idea of the West is devoid of any pre-modern past. Less historically literate readers will wrongly think that the West came into existence sometime in the 1600s with the arrival of these apps. He writes early on that the West is merely 'a set of norms, behaviors, and institutions with borders that are blurred in the extreme' (p. 15). This idea is consistent with his neoconservative universalism. Westerners are no more than individuals who have managed to download successfully the killer apps -- regardless of location, religion, ethnicity, and historical background. The world, after all, has been converging with the West, or so he argues, with only a few bothersome radical Muslims standing in the way.
Duchesne, by contrast, argues that the West has a longer tradition, one stretching back even earlier than the ancient Greeks, all the way back to the Indo-Europeans, as we have seen before. And it has a cultural identity, Duchesne argues, an identity that other groups will not necessarily feel akin to even if they do emigrate to the West and adopt some of what Ferguson calls "killer apps," as Duchesne points out:
[Ferguson] is clearly worried by the lack of assimilation of Muslims in Europe, and the key role being played at universities and elsewhere by Islamic centres. He tabulates that if the current Muslim population of the UK continues to grow at the current rate, its share of the total population would pass 50 per cent in 2050 (p. 290). So, it looks like the West needs to show resolve on Muslim immigration and assimilation . . . by teaching kids Western liberal arts? I doubt a population built on mass migration from non-Western lands would be enthusiastic about Elizabethan England, Homer, Chaucer, Aquinas, or even Shakespeare.
Duchesne has a point. Will immigrants from other civilizations, especially Islamic Civilization, identify with a deeper tradition of the West? Given the recent beheading of British soldier by two radical Islamists on a busy London street, the throat-stabbing of a French soldier by an apparent Islamist in Paris, and the week-long nightly riots by Muslim youth burning cars and destroying property in Stockholm, a positive answer would seem to be in grave doubt.

Some of us will live long enough to learn the answer . . .

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home