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Why The West Rules – For Now

The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future

By Ian Morris
18-minute read
Audio available
Why The West Rules – For Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future by Ian Morris

Why The West Rules – For Now (2010) is a treatise on Western rule. It examines what “the West” is and how its current dominance came about. Starting with the earliest development of humankind, it rules out racist genetic beliefs and theories of cultural superiority. It describes how East and West have been locked neck and neck in a race for advancement up to the present day. And, of course, it goes on to address the question: will the West’s dominance last?

  • Anyone wondering why or if the West rules – and what “the West” is
  • Historians and archaeologists
  • Politicians and those interested in politics

Ian Morris is the Jean and Rebecca Willard Professor of Classics and a fellow of the Stanford Archaeology Center. He has written and edited a number of academic books, including The Greeks and The Dynamics of Ancient Empires. Morris is a popular guest on television shows.

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Why The West Rules – For Now

The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future

By Ian Morris
  • Read in 18 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 11 key ideas
Why The West Rules – For Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future by Ian Morris
Synopsis

Why The West Rules – For Now (2010) is a treatise on Western rule. It examines what “the West” is and how its current dominance came about. Starting with the earliest development of humankind, it rules out racist genetic beliefs and theories of cultural superiority. It describes how East and West have been locked neck and neck in a race for advancement up to the present day. And, of course, it goes on to address the question: will the West’s dominance last?

Key idea 1 of 11

Common theories for today’s Western dominance are easily debunked.

There’s no escaping it. The West still dominates global politics and development. The explanations for how this came about are varied, but they broadly fall into two schools of thought.

There are what have been termed “short-term accident” theories. They argue that today’s Western rule results from mere historical luck. In contrast, “long-term lock-in” theories advocate that some sort of critical factor exists in the foundations of the West, consequently "locking in” the certainty of Western dominance millennia ago. Unfortunately, many proponents of lock-in theories favor arguments for Western genetic or cultural superiority.

It’s not just that lock-in theories are problematic; they also don’t hold water.

Let’s take long-term lock-in theories based on biological reasoning as an example. They argue that the genetic lock-in occurred 600,000 years ago when two distinct species of Homo developed, the Eastern Homo erectus and the Western Homo antecessor.

But that means nothing, as Homo sapiens – modern humans – superseded both of these species around 300,000 years ago. Racial theories based on genetic superiority can, therefore, be disproved.

But how do cultural lock-in theories stack up?

In 1879, archaeologists discovered incredible cave paintings of animals in Altamira, dating back 30,000 years. No other art this old has been found. This information is used by some lock-in theorists to suggest that Western culture is uniquely creative.

But it’s just coincidence. At the time, Europe was confronted with the Ice Age. Consequently, early Western humans spent more time in caves keeping warm. That’s where they refined their drawing skills. The argument’s strengthened by the fact that after the Ice Age ended, we have no more evidence of similar cave drawings.

We’re going to have to delve a good deal deeper to explain today’s Western dominance. We'll find that neither long-term lock-in nor short-term accident theories can explain it.

As we’ll see, it’s all about a dynamic interplay between biology, sociology and geography.

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