Monday’s Mtg: Why Did the West “Beat the Rest?” Was It Culturally Superior?

I think this will be the first topic we’ve done suggested by Ali. It’s a good one. Already I’m learning that how Europe came to dominate the globe in the last 200 (as opposed to another region of the world, like Asia or Africa or Latin America) is a hugely controversial topic. You may, like me, know a bit about the “how the West beat the rest” issue from reading one of the popular history books on the subject that have been written in the last 20 years. Maybe you read Guns, Germs, and Steel (Jared Diamond), or Civilization: The West and the Rest (Niall Ferguson), or maybe you’re old-school and prefer Max Weber’s Protestant work ethic theory. There are many other theorists and theories, it seems.

Even if you’ve never pondered the reasons for the West’s century+ of dominance, you’ve got to admit it’s an intriguing question. Why did Cortes and Pizarro sail west and conquer the Aztecs and Incas and not the other way around? Why didn’t India colonize Great Britain? What lurched Europe forward and held the rest back? And, what do the answers tell us about the 21st century, with China and India and others becoming major powers in their own right while other countries still lag or go backwards?

There are many theories. Ali asks us to consider one that has been debated for a century, albeit sometimes with discomfort: Was the key reason for its success simply that the West had a superior culture – or at least a culture that led much more quickly to industrial and military development? Other theories discount culture. They say the reason for Western dominance had more to do with geography, resource endowments, financial organization, or just plain luck or path dependency (I’ll explain what that is).

Anyway, I’m looking forward to another good meeting that integrates history, sociology, and politics. Ali: If you want to open the meeting just let me know. Otherwise, I’ll do a brief summary of the main schools of thought to the extent I’m familiar with them.

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –

The West got there first because it had…

Next Week: Why are so many rhetorically–valued jobs so low-paying?  (Zelekha’s idea)

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3 responses

  1. I think you should probably do the intro yourself.
    I will speak after you briefly about what I meant when i suggested this topic.

    ps. this is not the first topic of mine to discuss
    a- pornography
    b- the militarization of American society.

  2. One can’t address this topic, it seems, without addressing Zheng He, the Moslem eunuch who sailed as far as Africa in the 15th century for the Yongle Emperor.
    It is quite instructive. Had Zheng He been a few years later, sailing west, he might have met Da Gama, sailing east.
    I have, I think, some perspectives on this topic, and I hope I’ll be able to attend the meeting.

    1. That is a great point to introduce.

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