When people complain about globalization, they’re often complaining about the increasing dominance of Western, i.e. American, culture. Many theories have been advanced on why the West ‘rules’. Some are long-term lock-in – the West rules because it had Greek democracy or the Renaissance. Some are short-term accident – the West just happened to have an industrial revolution before the East. In Why the West Rules – For Now Ian Morris ignores both classes of theory and tries to determine why the West ‘rules’, and whether it will continue to do so. He measures the social development of East and West using a points system, covering energy capture, urbanism, information processing and ability to make war. These measures and the way points are allocated are described in Chapter 3 of Why the West Rules.
One of the first things Morris does is to define ‘the West’. To do this he goes a long way back in time – to about 10,000 BCE. It turns out the West started life in the Middle East. The East, on the other hand, started where you might expect – in China. He then combines biology, sociology and geography to examine the variations in the social development scores for East and West over the course of the past 12,000 years. Throughout the book we see ups and downs on both sides. Sometimes the West rules. Sometimes it doesn’t.
The final chapter is both thought-provoking and chilling. The East looks set to overtake the West in terms of social development by the middle of the 21st century. That, in itself, is not worrying. The cause for concern is over what will happen if social development rockets up the way Why the West Rules predicts that it will.
It has been said that ‘the past is a foreign country – they do things differently there’. Having read this book, I feel that the past is not so foreign after all. We have better technology, faster transport, more productive crops. But the basic concerns of everyday life are the same now as they were hundreds, even thousands, of years ago – food, shelter, clothing, a mate, security of one’s territory. I understand why the West rules, for now. The concern for everybody should be: What do we do next?
Why the West Rules – For Now is not light reading, but I did find it interesting. It made me look at history from a perspective other than the Western, European viewpoint that I grew up with.l