Why the West Rules—For Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal about the Future (review)
- Classical Association of Canada
- Volume 67, Number 1-2, Spring-printemps/Summer-été 2013
- pp. 213-216
- Additional Information
BOOK REVIEWS/COMPTES RENDUS 213 son principat, un persécuteur de l’arianisme et du paganisme : il le deviendra surtout à la fin de son règne, sous l’influence d’Ambroise de Milan (99). Mais ces quelques détails ne sauraient masquer la richesse, la précision et la fermeté de la pensée de Polymnia Athanassiadi : elle jette sur le Bas Empire un regard à la fois original et juste. Aussi cet ouvrage fera-t-il date, à n’en pas douter, dans l’historiographie de la période. Â Ecole nationale des chartes (Paris) Franc Ëois Ploton-Nicollet Why the West Rules—For Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal about the Future. By Ian Morris. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. 2010. Pp. xiv, 750, 91 figs., 6 tables. This fascinating book is framed by two big questions that are likely to shatter the complacency of some of its readers. One question looks backward to the past: why has the West dominated the globe for the past two hundred years, in ways without parallel in history? The other question looks forward to the future: will its dominance last or give way to the newly rising superpowers, China and India? Morris argues that the best way to tackle these questions is to step back from the details. The historian can detect broader trends by ranging across thousands of years of history, looking at millions of square miles of territory, and bringing together billions of people. Consequently Morris probes connections and interrelationships between worlds as ostensibly removed from each other as the Stone, Bronze and Iron ages, the Ancient Near East and Egypt, the Greek and the Roman worlds, India and China and, of course, the “West,” properly speaking: Europe and North America since the eve of the Industrial Revolution. He enlists the help of two methods of analysis—history, in the traditional sense of the term, as the meticulous analysis of past events on the basis of surviving evidence, and historicism, in the sense suggested by Karl Popper, as the attempt to predict the future by discovering regularities in the historical process—and at least four academic disciplines: archaeology, biology, sociology, and geography. The end product is a kind of world history that seeks to provide guidance about a vexing question of an age by referring to the successes and breakdowns of a wide sweep of past civilizations. A tour de force, no doubt, Why the West Rules? is both thought-provoking and entertaining: Morris’s text teems with anecdotes, hypothetical scenarios, humorous titles, and anachronisms. His command of the evidence, both classical and non-classical, and of analytical techniques of all sorts, is exemplary. For a scholar trained as a classical archaeologist and ancient historian, this is a bold and laudable departure from the bounds of classical scholarship. Morris exposes the futility of two current classes of theories of why the West rules, which he calls the “long-term lock-in” and “short term accident.” For example, the view that ancient Greek culture forged a distinctive way of life which was bequeathed to the West making it better than the rest, is countered by the argument that insights similar to Socrates’ concerning the nature of reality, the good life, and the perfect society were made by Chinese sages in more or less the same period. The claim, often labelled as racist, that the West rules by virtue of some kind of genetic superiority, is dismissed on two grounds: humanity’s biological unity, and scores on tests of “social development.” Homo sapiens, according to Morris, evolved between 200,000 and 70,000 years ago in Africa. Between roughly 60,000 and 12,000 years ago homo sapiens colonized the earth. 214 PHOENIX This means that the same genes have spread wherever humans have gone, “wiping the slate clean of all the genetic differences that had emerged over the previous half million years” (73). Whatever genetic divergences have occurred since (colour of skin, eyes, or hair) are superficial, not going deep enough to account for Western superiority. Humans are, after all, “much the same, wherever we find them” (a statement repeated more than once in this book...