Civilization: The West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson is an excellent book about why the West dominated the rest of the world for so long and why that advantage has recently faded. Ferguson uses historical evidence of technological innovation, religious effects, and economic differences, among other factors, to explain why the West, and Western Europe especially, was the dominant force in the world for centuries. While some might be annoyed by Ferguson’s overt praise of the West, Civilization: The West and the Rest is a book that all conservatives should parade about and implore the entire world to read.
Why is that? Well, because the factors that allowed the West to succeed are the same virtues that conservatives today stand for. Hard work, free thought and free exchange of ideas, national pride, freedom of religion while still remaining religious, and innovation are all values that we conservatives believe in. Those values are what made our section of the world such a great force in international affairs. The West used to be hugely powerful. That was not because of chance. It was because of distinct traits that made us more innovative and intrepid than the rest of the world.
Read the rest of this review and the book itself if you want to learn more about why the West reigned supreme! Now, there is rising global competition as other countries take our lead and start to pursue the policies that made the West so much more successful than “the rest.” But there was one time when we were undoubtedly on top of the world. This is a book about why that happened and what lessons we can take away from it. I can’t recommend Civilization: The West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson highly enough, for the reasons you will read in this review of it!
Summary of Civilization: The West and the Rest
Ferguson begins Civilization: The West and the Rest by describing when and why he came to the realization that the West, which he defines as Western Europe and America, was able to dominate the rest of the world for so long.
It’s a powerful preface, so I’ll leave it to you to read. But, read it you should because then you’ll understand how the Great Recession affected people. Then, Ferguson launches into his defense of western culture and explanation for its dominance. He breaks that dominance down into six factors. They are:
In each of those sections, there are multiple subsections explaining how they were innovative factors for the West to adopt and what advantage they gave. But, in my opinion, that’s mostly self-explanatory if you already agree with conservative political thought. Conservatives should already know why ideas such as a strong work ethic and respect of private property are important for advancing a civilization. But, if you don’t know that, or want to learn more about it, Civilization: The West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson is a great way to learn more!
Of course, we know that work, property, consumption, and competition are good, and the others are not only good, but are generally thought by all to be good. Who, other than insane people, would hate western innovations in medicine and science? Well, no one, which is why nations like China are rapidly taking those advances and incorporating them into their own societies.
In America, all you need to succeed is a work ethic. That is what made us so powerful in the late 19th Century, and the fact that it was the same way (or at least close) in much of Western Europe is what gave the West its advantage over the rest in that time period. Now, they’re emulating it in the same way that they are using and incorporating into their own societies our advances in science and medicine. And that’s a good thing, it means billions of people are living better because Western ideas and ideals are being adopted!
So, what makes Civilization: The West and the Rest exceptional? How Ferguson weaves all six of those factors together. Rather than presenting each one as distinct, he instead shows how each one is a corollary of the others and how they all fit in together to create the historical narrative of the West dominating “the rest.”
And, throughout Civilization: The West and the Rest, Ferguson defends Western Europe and its actions. He remains objective by calling out nations like Germany that were horrible to their colonial subjects, but overall, he remains mostly positive about the West and its accomplishments. There’s a reason he divides it into “the West and the rest.” The West was exceptional.
By providing factual evidence about schools, hospitals, and infrastructure that colonial powers such as Britain and France built, Ferguson is even able to show the beneficial side of colonialism, which few modern western apologists are willing to do. Colonialism, despite its occasional brutality, was largely beneficial because it brought civilization and the attendant advances to areas of the world that were still living in barbaric versions of the Stone Age.
That’s not racist; it’s just an objective fact. Medicine, rule of law, education, and free markets make the world a better place. Colonialism, made possible by the fact that the West was more powerful than “the rest” is what led to the rest of the world getting to experience the benefits of Western civilization, which Ferguson discusses in-depth in Civilization: The West and the Rest.
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Analysis of Civilization: The West and the Rest
Civilization: The West and the Rest is about why countries like American and Britain used to be great. Our citizens were Christian, worked hard, prized liberty, and were natural innovators. Meanwhile, other countries that Ferguson profiles, such as China and India, fell behind because their citizens were controlled by a rigid hierarchy that precluded innovation or advancement. Instead, everything stayed constantly bad in “the Rest” while the West became a geopolitical behemoth that gradually exported the benefits of its minds to the rest of the world.
But, The Great Degeneration is the opposite. Taking place after the end of Civilization: The West and the Rest, The Great Degeneration shows how the West fell apart and behind once it gave up on religion, hard work, and liberty. During that time, China embraced more of all three of those, as did India, even Christianity, and was thus able to start overtaking Western nations. While China was embracing capitalism (or at least corporatism) and rising, Americans and Europeans were using drugs and living off welfare checks.
It’s no surprise China is slowly overtaking us; it has embodied the six values Ferguson said allowed the West to rule the world not so long ago. While the West has slid into decadence, many Asian nations have adopted our ideas and used them to overtake us. That’s one of the most crucial lessons of Civilization: The West and the Rest.
I also enjoyed reading Civilization: The West and the Rest because of the vast depth of knowledge Ferguson taps into to support his arguments. Books from economic works such as Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations to political theory like The Road to Serfdom to sociologic books such as The Bell Curve are discussed and portions of them are presented as evidence.
His vast reservoir of knowledge helps make his points believable and gives even his more controversial arguments, such as his defense of the colonization of Africa, a great deal of credibility.
You should read Civilization: The West and the Rest for two reasons.
The first is that it is a great bird’s eye view of Western history. Ferguson doesn’t go too in-depth because of the broad overview of the book, but he does give a well-researched, positive summary of the West’s history. In a time where historical knowledge is lacking, history is something everyone needs to read so that we remember our once common culture.
The second reason is that reading Civilization: The West and the Rest might help us remember the values we’ve lost. Hard work and personal liberty aren’t hard concepts to understand, yet a huge proportion of the country is on welfare, as Charles Murray discusses in Coming Apart, and individual liberty is all but dead because of the surveillance state. If we discover the values we used to hold but have since lost, perhaps we will again stand on top of the world.
By: Gen Z Conservative