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Civilization

The Six Killer Apps of Western Power

By Niall Ferguson
16-minute read
Audio available
Civilization: The Six Killer Apps of Western Power by Niall Ferguson

There seems to be a crisis of confidence in the West. In the face of the rising power of China, and with a seeming lack of interest in its own history and civilization, many fear that the West has somehow lost it way.

Civilization aims to explain why the West grew so powerful and dominated the rest of the world. The answer lies with six killer applications, which enabled the West to overcome the rest. Yet vital questions arise: Has the West forgotten these killer apps and will this lead to its collapse?

  • Students of history and politics
  • Those who wonder how the West became so powerful compared to the rest of the world
  • Anyone who fears the collapse of Western civilization

Niall Ferguson is one of the leading and most controversial historians of his generation. He is the author of many bestsellers on financial and political history, including The Ascent of Money, Empire and War of the World.

In addition to his academic work he has written and presented many highly successful television series based on his books, including Civilization.

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Civilization

The Six Killer Apps of Western Power

By Niall Ferguson
  • Read in 16 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 10 key ideas
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Civilization: The Six Killer Apps of Western Power by Niall Ferguson
Synopsis

There seems to be a crisis of confidence in the West. In the face of the rising power of China, and with a seeming lack of interest in its own history and civilization, many fear that the West has somehow lost it way.

Civilization aims to explain why the West grew so powerful and dominated the rest of the world. The answer lies with six killer applications, which enabled the West to overcome the rest. Yet vital questions arise: Has the West forgotten these killer apps and will this lead to its collapse?

Key idea 1 of 10

Western civilization developed six killer applications, which enabled it to dominate the rest of the world.

Historians have long theorized why a few Western nations managed to transform themselves from a position of relative poverty to world dominance. Some have argued that their imperialism, through which they subdued and exploited the rest of the world, was the key. Yet empires have existed throughout history, and many Eastern civilizations, such as the Chinese and Ottomans, had huge empires too. Hence, this and the majority of the other explanations for Western domination are too narrow and simplistic.

The truth is that Western civilization accomplished a series of six institutional developments. Institutions are crucial because they frame the values and norms in which a society operates; hence advances in those institutions carried great importance. These six developments (or, to use the language of the modern, computerized world, killer applications) propelled the West forward. The rest of the world, lacking these developments, was left behind.

An example of such an app is the development of rational scientific thinking, which enabled technological advancements and improved military hardware, among other things.

Another example is the spirit of competition, which arose from the constant wars and battles between European nations, and later formed a basis for the development of free market capitalism.

The remaining ‘apps’: property rights, medicine, work ethic and the consumer society all had similarly profound and powerful effects.

These six killer apps developed in different areas of the West at different times, but all of them contributed to the creation of ideals crucial to the improvement of human society, among them democracy, political freedom and capitalism. It is important to note though, that some developments weren’t so positive; mechanized war, ethnic genocide and the slave trade were also products of Western civilization.

Western civilization developed six killer applications, which enabled it to dominate the rest of the world.

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