If at the beginning of the 15th century you’d had to predict who was going to dominate the world for the next 500 years, the answer would surely have been China. From the sophistication of its sanitation system to the size of its fleet, China — under the Emperor Zhu Di and his eunuch naval commander Cheng Ho — was a country going places. Its mighty, 400-foot-long ships sailed as far as Malindi on the East African coast and probably Australia. It had invented the clock and, of course, gunpowder.
Europe, during the same period, was — relatively speaking — a stagnant, backward mess. Architecturally, it had nothing modern that could match the glories of the Forbidden City in Peking or imperial Nanjing. It was decidedly lacking in Confucian harmony and cohesion: a mishmash of violent, squabbling, plague-ravaged city states and warring kingdoms. Between 1330 and 1479, one quarter of deaths among the English aristocracy was violent.
By the end of the century, though, something had changed. Columbus, in a ship one tenth the size of Cheng Ho’s, had discovered the New World, while Vasco da Gama had opened a new trade route to India. And by 1842, the power imbalance had grown so great that to punish China for confiscating some of its opium Britain was able to demand reparations, including $21 million, the opening of five trade treaty ports and the establishment of a crown colony on Hong Kong.
Where did Europe get it so right and the Chinese so badly wrong? This was the question asked by Niall Ferguson in the first episode of his six-part series Civilisation: Is the West History? (Channel 4, Sunday). I can’t say I’ve been a particular fan of his earlier stuff, which has always struck me as a bit abstruse and pleased with itself. But this new one looks set to be an absolute cracker: cogent, urgent, persuasive and compelling.
Read the rest at the Spectator.
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5 thoughts on “Triumph of the West”
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In fact air resistance is highest when the velocity is highest (in the early stages), because the drag is due to dynamic pressure, which as Euler found is clearly proportional to the square of the velocity of the shell. So as it slows down, air resistance becomes smaller, not bigger (as previously believed from intuitive guesswork). The key problem was determining the shell’s range as a function of gun elevation angle and the initial velocity of the shell. Napoleon studied the French version of Euler’s revision, and was able to get his gunnery more efficient than his rivals, whose military relied on an excessive amount of preliminary “test shots” to empirically determine the best elevation angle (wasting time, wasting cannon, and forewarning the enemy!). So the basis of Napoleon’s success was the brainpower of an English physicist!
Whether these ‘dream teachers’ succeed or fail becomes dwarfed by the incite we will all get by watching the reactions of real kids in real lessons. And I’ll bet a pound to a penny that the Headmaster will inadvertently expose his political training, along with the culpability of the teaching profession as it currently stands.
The other key he missed was freedom. Freedom of the individual to push boundaries, wether that be technology, industry or science (ie. knowledge).
He touched on Chinas regression from being the most advanced nation but he didn’t nail the reason: authority or centralising of power.
Centralising power of economic progress is fatal. Ity proved fatal to China.
Whereas in Europe entrepeneurs, primarily agricultural and industrial, had room to breath. However Americas freedom surpassed Europes increasingly stifling Govts which is why America overtook authoritarian Europe so rapidly.
Incidentally James ‘The Abyss’ is about to kick off i believe. The Euro and US stock markets have just taken what looks like the beginning of an accelerating wave down.
This is important because it’s a lead indicator for the economy. And it also leads all political events (markets = horse… politics = cart).
This last stock rally is being nicely ‘peeked’ by Merkals Emperor like orders for the minnows of Europe and agreeing to increase the Eurozone bailout fund. But this stock collapse is marking the beginning of the end for these last ‘chummy’ and ‘friendly’ Euro Clubbers. The declining stock market will now bring on devision, fall out and the inevitable split of the Eurozone in the next year.
Tell Hannan… he’ll like the news… in fact if he knew how events unfold he could make the news and mark his place in history! He was very brave to use my line that business does not need the EU/Govts to trade across Europe in his speech at the EU. He gulped a bit delivering such a powerful message but deliver it he did (kudos for that)
competition, science, property rights, medicine, the consumer society and the work ethic.
Neither can I disagree about that these are negatives:
bunny-hugging, diversity awareness training, renewable energy and the EU. The last is taxation (and regulation) without representation.
The way that successive UK politicians of both left and right have ceded sovereignty to the EU.is treason in my book. NZ politicians have similarly ceded sovereignty to foreign interests and the UN. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the same leaders have abolished the death sentence for treason. Playing it safe, no doubt.
Two comments are necessary.
It is ironic that China, which is growing very fast, has central control, but does it in such a way that it now at last has all of the key advantages you identified. (Actually, they always did have the last, the work ethic.) I am uncomfortable with the excesses of the control the Chinese exercise, but it seems to be working overall. The Chinese are out-performing the West.
Part of their success – a big part, arises from the headlong rush of western businesses to source their manufactured goods from the cheapest sources. As a result, manufacturing in the West has severely diminished. The short-term profits have been made, but the overall wealth of western nations has declined sharply.
And the Chinese, and latterly the Indians, are beginning to laugh all the way to the bank.
Competition, science, property rights, medicine, the consumer society and the work ethic. greed may not be such a crash-hot idea. It might be a good thing if western governments exercised some controls designed to promote growth. And abandoned the cloying, unecessary growth-limiting controls of carbon taxes.