Triumph of the West

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”

  1. Nige Cook says:14th March 2011 at 9:28 amYes, it wasn’t too bad. I saw it and Niall Ferguson half won me over with his discussion of the role of science in the military, showing off Benjamin Robins’ book which attempted to mathematically predict air resistance effects on cannon shell in his 1742 New principles of gunnery were enthusiastically taken up and extended three years later by the German language translator, the ubiquous mathematician Leonard Euler, in his improved Neue Grundsätze der Artillerie, 1745. Robins argued that the effect of air resistance increases with the initial velocity of the projective, which was revolutionary because the previous half-baked analysis by Tartaglia in 1537 and made parabolic by Galileo in 1638, claimed that air resistance was only important near the end of the trajectory.

    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!

  2. Nige Cook says:14th March 2011 at 9:41 am(Sorry, I was interrupted while writing the comment above; the second sentence is a dog’s breakfast.)
  3. JimmyGiro says:14th March 2011 at 6:04 pmI totally agree with your assessment of the Headmaster, in Jamie’s Dream School, as being the weakest link. And therein lies the value of the show; not so much for Jamie’s hopes, but for the way this show promises to expose some of the excuses that professional teachers (and their unions) come up with, such as blaming parents.

    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.

  4. Velocity says:15th March 2011 at 2:30 amNial Ferguson nailed only 1 major force for Europes, and latterly Americas, economic success: competition. It’s the most powerful force in capitalism.
    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)

  5. herkinderkin says:15th March 2011 at 2:37 pmJames – Nailed, pretty much. I cannot disagree about the key advantages:
    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 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.

Comments are closed.

Jamie’s Nightmare School

"Hmm. Col Gaddafi - International Relations? Martin McGuinness - knitwear? Alastair Campbell....."

“Hmm. Col Gaddafi – International Relations? Martin McGuinness – knitwear?”

Michael Gove’s education policies, as I think most of us agree, are one of the very, very, very, very few things David Cameron’s abysmally dismal Coalition has got going for it. That’s why, as dear brave Katharine Birbalsingh and Toby Young find every day, the lefties have been driven into such paroxysms of sphincter-bursting rage. But Gove does have his critics on the right, too, the most sensible of whom is surely the mighty, great and wise Chris Woodhead.

Woodhead’s argument as expressed in Standpoint is an impeccably free market conservative one.

The voucher is the key to the schools revolution Gove wants to initiate. It would increase demand for private education and attract more suppliers into the market. The state monopoly would be broken. There would be real competition between schools, as there is in the independent sector. And competition means that schools would have to respond to the aspirations of their parents and potential parents. If their teachers chose to pursue the ideological enthusiasms of their predecessors in the Sixties, then they would be likely to find themselves out of work. A handful of Guardian readers might hanker after child-centred progressive schooling, but the vast majority of parents would, I predict, want the traditional approaches to education that for so long have been derided and ignored.

In other words, if schools are really to be set free from the shackles of the liberal-left educational establishment, they must be exposed to the full force of the market. Only that way will it be revealed conclusively what parents really want for their children when given genuinely free choice. (Probably what parents really want will not differ greatly from the kind of core liberal arts curriculum that Gove’s department is seeking to impose on them, nor on the classics heavy curriculum Toby Young is planning for his free school. But that’s besides the point. What Woodhead means here is that a) top down directives are against the principles of real conservatism and b) if a liberal arts curriculum and rigour generally become too closely associated with a Conservative-ish administration, then of course the first thing the left will do when it regains power is set out to dismantle it.

Anyway, I mention all this in relation to the Dream School being set up by TV chef Jamie Oliver. Suppose such an academy were to be established just down the road from you and this is something Jamie really wants to do one day how happy would you be to send your kids there?

Personally, I’d rather be eaten alive by bullet ants.

David Starkey teaching history? No complaints there.

Simon Callow teaching drama? Very important, I’m sure, for the young thesps of the future to learn that being an actor is like trying to climb Mt Everest with a shark strapped to your back.

Mary Beard teaching classics? Splendid.

Alvin Hall teaching maths? Alvin can sort out my kids’ finances any day.

But wait, just when it was all starting to look so promising, why in the name of Satan and all his monstrous hordes did Jamie have to include the following:

Alastair Campbell teaching politics?

Cherie Blair teaching human rights?

These choices horrify and appall me on so many levels I’m not sure I’m quite capable of expressing just how bad and wrongheaded they are. In fact, they’ve definitely joined my growing list of Reasons Why I’m Definitely Going To Get Out Of This Doomed Socialistic Hell Hole The Second I Get A Decent Job Offer From America.

All right, so Campbell and Cherie aren’t actually Tony Blair himself, but they’re about as close as you can get. And what does Blair represent? Why, almost everything that has gone wrong with Britain in the last fifteen years. So among the values Jamie’s wonderful new school will apparently be celebrating are: the “I know my rights” culture of greed, selfishness and entitlement; the endless growth of tiresome bureaucracy and regulation; cultural relativism; the spivvy new Uberclass of media-friendly chancers who continue to earn a fortune even as the rest of us starve; style over content; spin over honesty. Great!

I can only assume that some unutterable prat obsessed as is the way of our state-funded TV stations with “balance” insisted on tossing these two into the mix to make up for the known right-wingness of David Starkey. I refuse to accept the alternative: that Jamie, dear nice heroic Jamie Oliver who has done so much good in the world, can seriously have selected them of his own volition.

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