Why the West has bested the rest

By Ellis Washington

Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man (circa 1487) a symbol of Western civilization and Renaissance thought.

The sleep of reason brings forth monsters.~ Goya

To educate in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.

~ President Theodore Roosevelt


Harvard historian and best-selling author Niall Ferguson’s latest book, “Civilization: The West and the Rest,” presents this compelling historical thesis:

At the beginning in the 15th century, the West developed six powerful new concepts that the Rest lacked: competition, science, rule of law, consumerism, modern medicine, and the work ethic … that allowed the West to leap ahead of the Rest, opening global trade routes, exploiting newly discovered scientific laws, evolving a system of representative government, more than doubling life expectancy, unleashing the Industrial Revolution, and embracing a dynamic work ethic.

Ferguson asks: Has the days of Western predominance reached an end not because of clashes with rival civilizations, but simply because the Rest have now downloaded the six “killer apps” we once monopolized while the West has literally lost faith in itself?


Merriam-Webster defines competition in business as “the effort of two or more parties acting independently to secure the business of a third party by offering the most favorable terms.” It was the 1400s that began the paradigm shift from East to West. In 1776 it was described by Adam Smith in “The Wealth of Nations” and by subsequent economists as allocating productive resources to their most highly valued uses and encouraging efficiency. Competition causes more choices (liberty), which usually causes lower prices for the products, compared to what the price would be if there were no competition (monopoly) or little competition (oligopoly, crony socialism).


Notwithstanding great scientific achievements in the Orient and by Arabs in the Middle Ages, the scientific revolution is generally associated with the West: an era associated mainly in Europe toward the end of the Renaissance era with the 16th and 17th centuries and continued through the Enlightenment of the late 18th and 19th centuries.

Western civilization created innovative ideas and information in medicine, astronomy, biology, chemistry and physics, changed medieval and ancient understanding of nature and laid the foundations for modern science. A key year of the scientific revolution was 1543 when two works were published that fundamentally revolutionized the course of science – Nicolaus Copernicus’ “De revolutionibus orbium coelestium” (“On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres”) and Andreas Vesalius’ “De humani corporis fabrica” (“On the Fabric of the Human Body”).

The rule of law

An early example of the phrase “rule of law” is found in Samuel Rutherford’s “Lex, Rex” (1644). The title is Latin for “the law is king” and reversed the traditional rex lex (“the king is the law”). John Locke also examined this issue in his “Second Treatise of Government” (1690), as did Montesquieu in “The Spirit of the Laws” (1748).

The idea that no one is above the law was popular during the founding of the United States and in 1776, when America declared independence from England and the tyranny of King George III. For example Thomas Paine wrote in his pamphlet “Common Sense” that “in America, the law is king. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other.” In 1780 John Adams enshrined this principle in the Massachusetts Constitution by seeking to establish “a government of laws and not of men.”


Consumerism has tentative connections to the Western world, for the idea of people purchasing goods and consuming materials above their basic needs originates in the world’s oldest civilizations (e.g. Ancient Egypt, Babylon and Ancient Rome). Yet Western civilization caused a great consumerism revolution that preceded the Industrial Revolution (circa 1760-1830). In the 19th century, capitalist development and the Industrial Revolution were primarily focused on the capital goods sector and industrial infrastructure (i.e., mining, steel, oil, transportation networks, communications networks, industrial cities, financial centers, etc.).

Modern medicine

Another great paradigm shift in medical thinking was the gradual rejection, especially during the Black Death in the 14th and 15th centuries, of what may be called the “traditional authority” idea to medicine and science. This was the concept that since some famous person in the past said a thing, ergo it must be so, and that evidence to the contrary was the exception not the rule. This change in European society was comparable to Copernicus’ (heliocentrism) rejection of Ptolemy’s theories on astronomy (geocentrism).

The [Protestant] work ethic

Protestants, beginning with Martin Luther (1517), had redefined worldly work as a duty that benefits both the individual and society as a whole. Thus, the Catholic idea of good works was reconceptualized into a duty to work assiduously as a sign of grace. It was a visible sign or result (not a cause) of personal salvation.


Dr. Ferguson’s “Civilization” eloquently demonstrates just how fewer than a dozen Western empires came to control over half of humanity and four-fifths of the world economy. My primary concern with Ferguson’s thesis is that he should have included a seventh pillar of Western civilization – God (e.g., monotheism, religion, natural law). The West integrated a Christian worldview with the six pillars of Western civilization, which caused it to triumph and dominate the East for the past 600 years. Demonstrative of this idea was the West translating the Bible into the vernacular languages of Europe, which unshackled the Bible from Catholic hegemony (Latin) and gave religious liberty to all the people to read, understand and interpret the Bible for themselves, opening the floodgates to the democratization of knowledge.

In general, liberals hate Western civilization, and conservatives want to preserve its contributions. America, don’t allow President Obama, Democratic socialists and progressives to drag Western civilization back to our pagan past by their regressive policies based on liberal fascism and perverting the Constitution to legalize the stealing of liberties, money, property and life from one group of people and giving it to another group of people who didn’t earn it and don’t constitutionally deserve it (e.g., the welfare state, public pensions, Social Security, global socialism, Obamacare).

These treacherous socialist policies have not only pi–ed away our legacy of Western civilization inherited from our forefathers, but even worse, have destroyed American and European global hegemony as once-great nations – nations that now stand at the brink of moral, social and economic collapse.

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