Civilization: Is the West History?

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Niall Ferguson asks why it was that Western civilization, from inauspicious roots in the 15th century, came to dominate the rest of the world; and if the West is about to be overtaken by the rest.

Ferguson reveals the killer apps of the West’s success – competition, science, the property owning democracy, modern medicine, the consumer society and the Protestant work ethic – the real explanation of how, for five centuries, a clear minority of mankind managed to secure the lion’s share of the earth’s resources.

Competition. The first programme in the series begins in 1420 when Ming China had a credible claim to be the most advanced civilization in the world: ‘All Under Heaven’. England on the eve of the Wars of the Roses would have seemed quite primitive by contrast.

Science. In 1683 the Ottoman army laid siege to Vienna, the capital of Europe’s most powerful empire. Domination of West by East was an alarmingly plausible scenario. But Islam was defeated: not so much by firepower as by science.

Property. Professor Ferguson asks why North America succeeded while South America for so many centuries lagged behind. The two had much in common (not least the subjugation of indigenous peoples and the use of slavery by European immigrants), but they differed profoundly on individual property rights, the rule of law and representative government.

Medicine. The French Empire consciously set out to civilize West Africa by improving public health as well as building a modern infrastructure. Yet in other European empires – notably Germany’s in southwest Africa – colonial rule led to genocide. What was the link from medical science to racial pseudo-science?

Consumerism. Today the world is becoming more homogenous and, with increasingly few exceptions, big-name brands dominate main streets, high streets and shopping malls all over the globe.

Work. The sixth element that enabled the West to dominate the rest was the work ethic. Max Weber famously linked it to Protestantism, but the reality is that any culture, regardless of religion, is capable of embracing the spirit of capitalism by working hard, saving, and accumulating capital.

Civilization: Is the West History?, 7.6 out of 10 based on 25 ratings

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  • Metoo

    how about inferior races in the west, with lower iqs and higher crime rates they bring with them to the gene pool?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1562163558 Nat Where You At

    Unwatchable, his voice is soo annoying. He has to make everything so dramatic

  • Ryan

    Anything to avoid the all-important factor of race, even by a “conservative.”

  • Anonymous

    To the people below who are saying race is a factor in IQ I disagree. I know of stupid red necks as well as stupid wiggers. I know of intelligent black people as well as stupid black people. It’s funny because I bet if Caucasian was the only race, people would just find another scapegoat to place blame on and as white people we have a rather frequent history of creating scapegoats. I feel IQs may be being lowered because our society has devalued education and created jobs and environments in which there is no need to have a high IQ and this isn’t the fault of any race, it’s the fault of those who place the dollar over human knowledge.

    • Roy

      This “I can’t grok statistical generalizations if my life depended on it” thing is way beyond old.

      The following statements are not contradictory:

      (1) I’ve known stupid whites.
      (2) I’ve known smart blacks.
      (3) Blacks, as a group, are less intelligent than whites.

      As for society having little place for high IQ’s — technological advancements are happening every day. Whites and East/South Asians are responsible for the lion’s share. Blacks, none.

      Blacks are notorious for devaluing education, not “society.”

      And as for it being someone’s “fault,” blame Nature.

       

      • Anonymous

        “Blacks are notorious for devaluing education, not “society.”

        Some of our worlds greatest minds and astrophysiscs are black, like Neil deGrasse Tyson (director of the Hayden Planetarium). deGrasse Tyson is working hard with educative science TV-shows, like PBS Science Now.

        The color of the skin has nothing do to if some of us want’s to use our brain or not.

        • Roy

          Tyson is an administrator and a media-generated talking head.

          A real Ph.D., no doubt, but to call him one of our “greatest minds and astrophysicists” is pitiful. He doesn’t advance the knowledge of his field, he just talks about those who do.

          • Anonymous

            For übermensch like you other qualifications is always not enough.

            You’re fixed looking at the ground, not looking up, not looking towards the future…

            Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is also Distinguished Speaker and Educator. He has devoted his life to inspire our youngsters to advance the knowledge, the wonder of science, and desire to explore or push envelopes.

            Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of the most inspirational person in the world to me.  Here is his eminent talk at at the University at Buffalo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQhNZENMG1o

            We, the mankind, has to move on and etablish ouposts in the solar system, at Moon, Mars, Titan, the Asteroid Belt’s and other celestial bodies. Or our civilsations should stagnate.

            The technologies we’d have to research and develop to make it to Moon, Mars, Titan, the Asteroid Belt’s
            would spur economic growth and an increase in prosperity here at home,
            with those technologies also being capable of being applied to
            situations we face here on Earth, and in themselves spuring even more
            technologies. Technology drives economies.

          • Anonymous

            For übermensch like you other qualifications is always not enough.

            You’re fixed looking at the ground, not looking up, not looking towards the future…

            Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is also Distinguished Speaker and Educator. He has devoted his life to inspire our youngsters to advance the knowledge, the wonder of science, and desire to explore or push envelopes.

            Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of the most inspirational person in the world to me.  Here is his eminent talk at at the University at Buffalo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQhNZENMG1o

            We, the mankind, has to move on and etablish ouposts in the solar system, at Moon, Mars, Titan, the Asteroid Belt’s and other celestial bodies. Or our civilsations should stagnate.

            The technologies we’d have to research and develop to make it to Moon, Mars, Titan, the Asteroid Belt’s
            would spur economic growth and an increase in prosperity here at home,
            with those technologies also being capable of being applied to
            situations we face here on Earth, and in themselves spuring even more
            technologies. Technology drives economies.

        • Roy

          Tyson is an administrator and a media-generated talking head.

          A real Ph.D., no doubt, but to call him one of our “greatest minds and astrophysicists” is pitiful. He doesn’t advance the knowledge of his field, he just talks about those who do.

      • Anonymous

        “Blacks are notorious for devaluing education, not “society.”

        Some of our worlds greatest minds and astrophysiscs are black, like Neil deGrasse Tyson (director of the Hayden Planetarium). deGrasse Tyson is working hard with educative science TV-shows, like PBS Science Now.

        The color of the skin has nothing do to if some of us want’s to use our brain or not.

      • mister d

        Why the need to put people in groups?

      • mister d

        Why the need to put people in groups?

        • Roy

          Because it’s not nice to argue with Mother Nature.

        • Roy

          Because it’s not nice to argue with Mother Nature.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Drew-Jordan-Maharaj/1651620050 Drew-Jordan Maharaj

            1) the evidence that african americans have lower IQs on average is weak at best, not to deny that statistically they perform worst on IQ tests; there are better scientific explanations for those results besides race (which isn’t even a proper scientific construct to begin with)
            2) If it is determined that it is in fact true that there is an intelligence gap race cannot be the cause. I would look to the slave days of murdering those who learned to read and ‘breeding’ specifically for strength and against wit. These evil practices could very quickly produce changes in the population, artificial selection is much more efficient than natural selection at producing change. In any case, this would NOT be a case of lacking intelligence because of your ethnicity, but because of the history of your ancestors and the evil practices of a certain society. educate yourself in genetics, roy, and maybe you’ll understand a few things about the human species and why you should apologize for your currently held ignorance and racism

          • Roy

            Sub-Saharan Africans have an average IQ about one standard deviation below that of US blacks, and this has occurred without the dysgenic selection you claim was imposed on imported slaves. Unless you’re prepared to claim that the slave hunters administered IQ tests to the natives, and only took the brightest ones.

            Even a casual observation of blacks in their native habitats reveals them to be, as a group, unintelligent, violent, and lacking in the capacity for what most of us would consider “civilization.”

          • Roy

            Sub-Saharan Africans have an average IQ about one standard deviation below that of US blacks, and this has occurred without the dysgenic selection you claim was imposed on imported slaves. Unless you’re prepared to claim that the slave hunters administered IQ tests to the natives, and only took the brightest ones.

            Even a casual observation of blacks in their native habitats reveals them to be, as a group, unintelligent, violent, and lacking in the capacity for what most of us would consider “civilization.”

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Drew-Jordan-Maharaj/1651620050 Drew-Jordan Maharaj

            1) the evidence that african americans have lower IQs on average is weak at best, not to deny that statistically they perform worst on IQ tests; there are better scientific explanations for those results besides race (which isn’t even a proper scientific construct to begin with)
            2) If it is determined that it is in fact true that there is an intelligence gap race cannot be the cause. I would look to the slave days of murdering those who learned to read and ‘breeding’ specifically for strength and against wit. These evil practices could very quickly produce changes in the population, artificial selection is much more efficient than natural selection at producing change. In any case, this would NOT be a case of lacking intelligence because of your ethnicity, but because of the history of your ancestors and the evil practices of a certain society. educate yourself in genetics, roy, and maybe you’ll understand a few things about the human species and why you should apologize for your currently held ignorance and racism

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_VQKXVDW5DQYRDMOLKEVB52D5GI Soundjata

        Here’s a very and real and never cited fact about Americans, they do not like intelligent Black people.  On the surface it seems like an odd thing to say but the reality is that America and perhaps the world are much more comfortable with us excelling in sports and show biz.  There is often an angry visceral reaction to an intelligent black man as if he’s throwing nature out of balance.  And without a doubt this culture’s media has worked overtime for decades to point black youths away from academia.  Back when slavery existed in this country it was illegal to teach Blacks how to read, and a Black person caught reading was executed.  Subconsciously this still exists on many institutional levels.  
        Ask any minority, people are always more comfortable around you if you fit into their racial preconceptions.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_VQKXVDW5DQYRDMOLKEVB52D5GI Soundjata

        Here’s a very and real and never cited fact about Americans, they do not like intelligent Black people.  On the surface it seems like an odd thing to say but the reality is that America and perhaps the world are much more comfortable with us excelling in sports and show biz.  There is often an angry visceral reaction to an intelligent black man as if he’s throwing nature out of balance.  And without a doubt this culture’s media has worked overtime for decades to point black youths away from academia.  Back when slavery existed in this country it was illegal to teach Blacks how to read, and a Black person caught reading was executed.  Subconsciously this still exists on many institutional levels.  
        Ask any minority, people are always more comfortable around you if you fit into their racial preconceptions.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_VQKXVDW5DQYRDMOLKEVB52D5GI Soundjata

        Here’s a very and real and never cited fact about Americans, they do not like intelligent Black people.  On the surface it seems like an odd thing to say but the reality is that America and perhaps the world are much more comfortable with us excelling in sports and show biz.  There is often an angry visceral reaction to an intelligent black man as if he’s throwing nature out of balance.  And without a doubt this culture’s media has worked overtime for decades to point black youths away from academia.  Back when slavery existed in this country it was illegal to teach Blacks how to read, and a Black person caught reading was executed.  Subconsciously this still exists on many institutional levels.  
        Ask any minority, people are always more comfortable around you if you fit into their racial preconceptions.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=503156316 Beng’yela Ngwa

        To generalize any kind of race alongside a measure of intelligence is ignorance in itself. The first real documented form of civilization comes from Egypt (Black-Africans). If you read in to Egyptology you will understand that our societal structure came from there. In terms of intelligence (as a group); In the western world the whites have had a head start on everyone else. It’s the white people who control the world behind the scenes and who have made sure the blacks stay as suppressed as possible. It’s the evil of the whites which has taken all the natural resources of Africa to increase the wealth of the west. Intelligence is over-rated as well as subjective. What matters more is moral and conscious awareness. It is more important to be a moral and conscious group of people than an intelligent group of people, although the two work in parallel. I just wish ‘the whites’ would use their intelligence to solve world poverty, stop the wars.. but wait a minute they need all this to stay at the top of the chain. 

      • http://www.facebook.com/NANDGated NAND Gate

        lol a black dude stole your woman, right?

        • Anonymous

          In the history of Africa as a continent…no group there invented the wheel, it had to be imported as a concept from Europe & Asia. This might have a wee bit influence on the lack of cultural development comparable between black & white people. Just saying.

      • kris

        And yet if we compared your IQ to blacks as a group you would rank in the bottom ;)

      • mr. SSimon

        it is not the color of the skin that makes us… cultural patterns are those most responsible for shaping people’s minds; also media (TV, newspapers…) and above all state induced school brainwashing that produces human resources for the economic system;
        saying that blacks are not as intelligent is same as saying poor are not as intelligent…
        reading your statement it became obvious to me you lack intelligent reflective critical thinking Roy

    • mr.SSimon

      strongly agree!

  • Anonymous

    Seemed to me as more of a comparison between England and China. Inventions came out earlier in India and sub-continent far before than in China, few inventions even dating back to BCs.

  • Anonymous

    Seemed to me as more of a comparison between England and China. Inventions came out earlier in India and sub-continent far before than in China, few inventions even dating back to BCs.

  • Anonymous

    and it should be titled as “history of the west”, it has to do more with rise of western civilization than fall of it.

  • Anonymous

    and it should be titled as “history of the west”, it has to do more with rise of western civilization than fall of it.

  • Anonymous

    and it should be titled as “history of the west”, it has to do more with rise of western civilization than fall of it.

  • Ilya

    i love how when the kid said ‘they got on boats and decided to invade everybody’ the guy made it into ‘exploration’ LOL

  • Milkman

    http://www.lovedocumentaries.com has a better listingthe only race, people would just find another scapegoat to place blame on and as white people we have a rather frequent history of creating scapegoats. I feel IQs may be being lowered because our society has devalued education and created jobs and environments in which there is no need to have a high IQ and this isn’t the fault of any race, it’s the fault of those who place the dollar over human knowledge

  • Milkman

    http://www.lovedocumentaries.com has a better listingthe only race, people would just find another scapegoat to place blame on and as white people we have a rather frequent history of creating scapegoats. I feel IQs may be being lowered because our society has devalued education and created jobs and environments in which there is no need to have a high IQ and this isn’t the fault of any race, it’s the fault of those who place the dollar over human knowledge

  • Alphadom

    This is propaganda. The rest of the world was over populated the Wheat fields of North Africa collapsed and a bounty of unlimited resources was discovered. It Doubled the resources of the world. All they had to do was eliminate or assimilate the indigenous populations and who better than Christians to do away with another culture and take over. North America and it’s natural resources Won by Default. The rest of the world needed what North America has. The mechanisms that have been propertied as the reasons all are lies. Medicine would have developed without North America. Competition is also a means of violence. Let’s talk about competition for resources. Do they Quantify the equation with the aboriginal. Healthy competition does not mean the destruction of a relatively peaceful society through means of violence. 

  • Alphadom

    This is propaganda. The rest of the world was over populated the Wheat fields of North Africa collapsed and a bounty of unlimited resources was discovered. It Doubled the resources of the world. All they had to do was eliminate or assimilate the indigenous populations and who better than Christians to do away with another culture and take over. North America and it’s natural resources Won by Default. The rest of the world needed what North America has. The mechanisms that have been propertied as the reasons all are lies. Medicine would have developed without North America. Competition is also a means of violence. Let’s talk about competition for resources. Do they Quantify the equation with the aboriginal. Healthy competition does not mean the destruction of a relatively peaceful society through means of violence. 

  • Alphadom

    This is propaganda. The rest of the world was over populated the Wheat fields of North Africa collapsed and a bounty of unlimited resources was discovered. It Doubled the resources of the world. All they had to do was eliminate or assimilate the indigenous populations and who better than Christians to do away with another culture and take over. North America and it’s natural resources Won by Default. The rest of the world needed what North America has. The mechanisms that have been propertied as the reasons all are lies. Medicine would have developed without North America. Competition is also a means of violence. Let’s talk about competition for resources. Do they Quantify the equation with the aboriginal. Healthy competition does not mean the destruction of a relatively peaceful society through means of violence. 

  • Guest from Finland

    please dont raise the race-question here. As the documentary showed, its a matter of political determination and especially timing that lead westerns to “domination” during THOSE times… The balance is of course shifting to the east now, but it’s just what happens when greed western companies want efficient, cheap manufacturing in a country filled with resources and manpower. The same progress happens there as in west when it comes to industrialism. We just feed it. And we are responsible to the consequences – which btw are good, especially for Asians. They deserve it.

    I just cannot stand your racist comments about the “whites, asians and blacks” when it has nothing to do with the colour of your skin. Please just grow up and concentrate on the more relevant points of the documentary

  • Guest from Finland

    please dont raise the race-question here. As the documentary showed, its a matter of political determination and especially timing that lead westerns to “domination” during THOSE times… The balance is of course shifting to the east now, but it’s just what happens when greed western companies want efficient, cheap manufacturing in a country filled with resources and manpower. The same progress happens there as in west when it comes to industrialism. We just feed it. And we are responsible to the consequences – which btw are good, especially for Asians. They deserve it.

    I just cannot stand your racist comments about the “whites, asians and blacks” when it has nothing to do with the colour of your skin. Please just grow up and concentrate on the more relevant points of the documentary

  • Guest from Finland

    please dont raise the race-question here. As the documentary showed, its a matter of political determination and especially timing that lead westerns to “domination” during THOSE times… The balance is of course shifting to the east now, but it’s just what happens when greed western companies want efficient, cheap manufacturing in a country filled with resources and manpower. The same progress happens there as in west when it comes to industrialism. We just feed it. And we are responsible to the consequences – which btw are good, especially for Asians. They deserve it.

    I just cannot stand your racist comments about the “whites, asians and blacks” when it has nothing to do with the colour of your skin. Please just grow up and concentrate on the more relevant points of the documentary

  • Guest from Finland

    please dont raise the race-question here. As the documentary showed, its a matter of political determination and especially timing that lead westerns to “domination” during THOSE times… The balance is of course shifting to the east now, but it’s just what happens when greed western companies want efficient, cheap manufacturing in a country filled with resources and manpower. The same progress happens there as in west when it comes to industrialism. We just feed it. And we are responsible to the consequences – which btw are good, especially for Asians. They deserve it.

    I just cannot stand your racist comments about the “whites, asians and blacks” when it has nothing to do with the colour of your skin. Please just grow up and concentrate on the more relevant points of the documentary

  • Guest from Finland

    please dont raise the race-question here. As the documentary showed, its a matter of political determination and especially timing that lead westerns to “domination” during THOSE times… The balance is of course shifting to the east now, but it’s just what happens when greed western companies want efficient, cheap manufacturing in a country filled with resources and manpower. The same progress happens there as in west when it comes to industrialism. We just feed it. And we are responsible to the consequences – which btw are good, especially for Asians. They deserve it.

    I just cannot stand your racist comments about the “whites, asians and blacks” when it has nothing to do with the colour of your skin. Please just grow up and concentrate on the more relevant points of the documentary

  • Fadooh4

    how the hell there is no coverage of middle eastern civilisations, and the islamic golden age, with the contribution of Muslim scientists while Europe science suffered under the church control!! this is an unprofessional study to ignore the middle eastern empire, technically the center of the world with at least halh of the world population at this time! i cant believe how stupid is that???

  • Fadooh4

    i apologize, i was watching the first part which was only talking about china as representative of eastern civilization! sorry my mistake :)

  • Fadooh4

    i apologize, i was watching the first part which was only talking about china as representative of eastern civilization! sorry my mistake :)

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  • kris

    Please marry me Niall Ferguson!!

    Just kidding :P Wouldnt expect him to either with hot wife he has.

    That aside, he is fucking awesome. The real bad boy professor who you dont want teaching your kids if you are progressive want something for nothin douchebag

  • Guest from California

    Well at least the Peruvians have democracia!

  • Intelligent Brown Person, designated “Black”

    Let’s say that the claim that “black” people on average have lower I.Q.’s is valid. There may be a statistic out there to support that. Maybe many. BUT the question is WHY. Could it be because when the concept of race was created (race is not genetic, it is a social category within a hierarchy), the term “black” was meant to imply that a person was less human, less intelligent and therefore deserving of captivity, exploitation, manipulation and control. If European colonizers did not have “race” to justify their actions, they might have realized just how sick and twisted they were.

    Fast forward 500 years, where race still exists and *obviously* those racist assumptions, as well. How do you think educational opportunities for people designated “black” compare to those designated “white”? What about job opportunities, which are necessary for quality education in a Capitalist society? Besides, do you really think the amount of melatonin in your skin, or lack thereof, is directly correlated to intelligence??? What exactly is YOUR I.Q.?

    To point out a disparity between “black” and “white” people isn’t racist. That disparity is all too real for many people. But to suggest that that disparity is based on GENETICS and not a RACIST SOCIETY is the definition of racist. It doesn’t make you a bad or evil person. It just means that you’re a product of this society and either unable or unmotivated to be critical of it, especially if you are in a social category that benefits from the current structure. I’d hope that after this documentary you all would understand that THIS COUNTRY WAS BUILT ON SLAVERY. SLAVERY is to AMERICA what STEEL (and exploitation of immigrant workers) is to PITTSBURGH. It was the first institution to form the foundation of this country, before the Constitution or anything else. It was a primary motivation, not that “Freedom of Religion” line you might have heard in school.

    Can we also point out that the way we as a society measure and judge intelligence is incredible biased, established by institutions that maintain the heirarchy, both designed and formed primarily by people who consider themselves “white” “male” and “heterosexual”.

    I hope you all learn to be a little more critical, skeptical and aware of what is actually going on.