Civilization: The West and the Rest (Ferguson)

This was a difficult book for me – both in principle (I worry about books that have as their thesis that something – in this case the dominance of Western Civilization – is ending) and practice (some of the history, particularly the economic history) is a bit outside of my comfort zone. Still, Ferguson takes an interesting and time-specific approach. There are, in his mind, six “apps” (the word made me cringe each time – how will it look in 50 years?) that the West ‘downloaded’ that other countries (notably China) have now accessed. This, he argues for 250+ pages, is what will cause not the cyclical fall of the Western Empire (a notion only assigned in romantic retrospect in Ferguson’s mind), but the sudden one. In the end, though, he backs off. He says, “this Western package still seems to offer human societies the best available set of economic, social and political institutions – the ones most likely to unleash the individual human creativity capable of solving the problems the twenty-first century faces” (324). He also underplays the impact of China proceeding with their business is business approach “with few questions asked about human rights abuses or political corruption” (317). [See Chen Guangcheng case.]

Ferguson is writing for a mass audience. This is a kind of Cliff Notes writing. He uses the phrase, “In short” and various incarnations of it A LOT. His writing can also be, well, provocative, especially in his footnotes. Example – when he suggests that the disproportionate number of Jews in certain areas of life implies a genetic predisposition for that particular talent.

I’m going to watch the movieĀ Miracle again!


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