le 31 mai 2011
Formidable bouquin d'un grand historien britannique. Il s'interroge sur les causes de la domination du monde par les Occidentaux - qui n'aura duré, finalement, que quelques 4 siècles. Développement de l'esprit critique, rationalité scientifique, libre concurrence entre systèmes politiques et sociaux, entre petites nations commerçantes - que le meilleur gagne et tout le monde le copie ; droits de propriété garantis très tôt qui poussent à investir et à développer son bien ; système représentatif poussant les dirigeants à donner satisfaction aux populations ; médecine et hygiène permettant un extraordinaire allongement de l'espérance de vie, etc.
Sa manière de procéder est archi-pédagogique ; dans chaque domaine, il oppose un modèle historique qui a réussi à un autre qui a échoué. Exemple archi-probant : la révolution nord-américaine menée par Washington (révolution de petits propriétaires habitués à gérer localement leurs affaires et habitués à la liberté religieuse) et la révolution sud-américaine de Simon Bolivar (la classe des possédants est archi-réduite, le droit de propriété révocable, l'instabilité constitutionnelle permanente, les conflits sociaux se doublent de conflits raciaux... et le dictateur meurt en maudissant son oeuvre "la seule chose qu'on puisse faire dans les Amériques, c'est d'émigrer", écrit-il sur son lit de mort...) Dans un cas, la prospérité et, une fois réglé le conflit entre Nord et Sud, la paix civile et la puissance, dans l'autre, des révolutions permanentes et une litanie de dictatures, le sous-développement.
A la fin de l'ouvrage, il montre que cette domination occidentale a déjà pris fin, que l'Europe, en particulier, est exsangue et condamnée à un déclin qui va s'accélérer très vite. La conversion des grandes nations asiatiques au libre-échange, leur insertion intelligente dans le processus de mondialisation, font de la Chine et de l'Inde les grandes puissances du XXI° siècle.
L'Occident, au sens large (y compris Amérique du Nord et Australie) qui représentait encore 20 % de la population du globe en 1950, va tomber à 10 % en 2050.
La domination occidentale était une parenthèse historique. Elle se referme donc. Tous les yeux sont à présent tournés vers l'Asie orientale, nouveau moteur de l'histoire mondiale.
le 10 février 2012
This book is not the Bible or the Gospels of the 21st century. To say so would be a lie, but it sure is the aprocryphal Thorah as it could emerge from The Book of Revelation. It proposes both debatable historical patterns that the author turns into laws, and an apocalyptic prediction of the end of civilization in the global confrontation between and among all civilizations. He may hopes that would not happen.
From beginning to end he will irritate you with a propensity to generalize his west-oriented observations into predictions of the future that are nothing but negative projections of his own mental patterns. But I will not harp too long on his biased color but let me shift to the more positive.
First and foremost it is absurd to defend a reified if not deified, definitely fetishized civilization founded on so-called universal principles that are nothing but the principles the winning powers in 1945 considered as universal and sanctified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. These were the rights the West and only the West imposed - after their victory over Germany, Italy and Japan - to the whole world as expressed mostly in the constitutions of the western countries that had a constitution, or eventually a Bill of Rights. We must keep in mind that this brilliant generalization of western principles was the result of two world wars, fifty million casualties in the second in five years, the development of industrial genocide, the barbaric terrorizing and killing of civilian populations in Dresden, Hamburg, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and a few other places like that. I do not forget nor underestimate Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau, Ravensbrück and all other concentration camps, plus Stalingrad, the Warsaw Ghetto and the gulag, plus a few other systematic repressive and cleansing killing of broad categories of people discriminated in their ethnic origins, religions, languages, political ideas, or whatever may have pleased the leaders of the time and their apparatchiks.
Then Niall Ferguson is trying, and only trying, to be an historian and he sees six "killing apps", i.e. six forces that produced the West.
1- Competition (political, national, commercial...);
2- The scientific revolution (and he forgets the necessary loosening of the fundamentalist Christian vice that controlled minds and bodies up to Gutenberg's invention, and even beyond);
3- The rule of law and representative government (and he forgets to insist it took five centuries to finally get to universal ballot and thus real representation);
4- Modern Medicine (and it only really started four centuries after the beginning of that West);
5- Consumer society (and that took five centuries to emerge);
6- The work ethic (that he basically casts in the sole protestant ethics of the Lutheran and Calvinist Reformation, and very little else).
His demonstration is a circular one. And he does not take the six killing apps in a global and common historical frame, but rather take each one separately, which enables him to forget they appeared one at a time over a period of five to six centuries; That also enables him to forget what had occurred before, the very history of the emergence of each one of these applications.
Each of the possible challenging civilizations, the Moslem empire, the Ottaman empire and the Chinese empire, are shown as failing because they don't demonstrate generally one or two of these killing apps the West used to succeed. He forgets that since for instance the ballot was really invented at the end of the 18th century in the US Constitution and on a very limited basis, the West should have failed. Since The West did not have any industrial revolution before the mid-18th century, the west should have failed. Since religion has slowly disappeared from the west, starting with the religious wars and the Enlightenment in the 18th century, and since it only survives in the US as some kind of Sunday entertainment and TV variety shows, not to speak of funeral social events, the West should be failing right now. He does not of course foresee that possibility of such a future, though he apocalyptically evokes the end of the West and its falling over the brink in the space of one generation. But this is only the spectre he brandishes to reinforce his own prediction.
What he does not see is that up to the mid-20th century, or even the end of it, if empires have systematically followed the pattern of being born, prospering, decaying and dying, and we could discuss every single element in this pattern, there is no historical reason to believe it will be the same with the US and China, since the present conditions are in no way comparable to what they might have been before. If he had spoken of market economy instead of capitalism and consumer society, he may have understood that for the first time ever in human history the vast majority of if not the whole world are unified at that level. And that's only a question of size here since market economy has existed as soon as Homo Sapiens had something to trade, strating with procreators both male and female. Today this market economy is not making two empires built on different principles live together in some peaceful coexistence, but it is bringing the whole global market economy of the whole world up to possible general principles that would have to be seen as flexible, adaptable and progressively evolutionary. There will never be a final point in that construction of these general principles that cannot be seen as universal.
If we accept that debatable pattern or law of birth-growth-decay-death, then we only reify, deify and fetishize an observation. There is no reason for that cycle to be anything else but an ideology, then there are myriads of reasons for the future to be different, for human global behaviour not to be the same as that of a time when there was no globality in any empire. Today we have a global situation, the principles are different, dictators or autocrats are ousted and brought to trial, genocides are followed by international trials against the genocidal leaders, etc. The last imperialistic war was in Iraq. Even Libya was not an imperialistic intervention. Coercion seems to be a political governing principle that is waning out.
So he could have maybe developed some alternative ideas. Let me suggest a few.
1- The Christian religion was more a brake than an accelerator, though it was both. The work ethic does not come so much from religion than from the survival instinct boosted by the recognition of the individual. This recognition was worked within the Christian context but it is in fact already contained in feudalism that recognizes the value of the chattel of a territory, and that chattel includes the serfs who are human beings, with a soul, recognized and protected by the church and the law: The Peace of God or Peace of the King movement starting in the 10th century with important demonstrations, called pilgrimages or gatherings, summoned by the archbishops and bishops of Aurillac, Le Puy, Clermont (today Clermont-Ferrand) and Poitiers, imposed some limits for warlike activities among Christian barons or kings. The same movement imposed the respect of Sundays and holidays as non-working days. If you do not work on some days, then the work you perform on the other days is magnified: it is the daily work from angelus to angelus that is dedicated to God in order to be able to serve God properly and the people He has appointed on earth. If anything, the Reformation is a movement back to these already old ideas that suffered a lot due to the Black Death and the 100 Years War, among others.
2- He should have studied Buddhism, which is extremely strong in China or Japan, and the whole of South East Asia. Buddhism is the recognition that the future of each individual is his or hers, that all men and women are equal in front of the choice to get on the path of enlightenment that can only come from him or her. What's more each individual, including the monks, is supposed to be beneficial to their society and if successful over the average to share the fruits of that success with the others who they also have to help get on the path of enlightenment with education, religious practice, health care and inspiration. After 1945, within the small vehicle of Buddhism a deep reflection has been carried out on work, the market economy, the need to support and moralize this market economy with social and ethical principles that at times even lead some Buddhist thinkers to referring to Buddha as a socialist thinker, or even a revolutionary. Buddhism is not contemplative. It is a vision of personal improvement and action with and for others. Ferguson ignored all that.
3- Ferguson is a very conservative thinker perfectly comparable in his mental functioning to Ron Hubbard or some others along such lines. He is founding his whole vision on the principle of birth-life-death, hence on the only principle of survival with inescapable death. Hubbard imagined in his great metaphysical delirium the possibility of immortality. Ferguson avoids that ridiculous hypothesis, though Ray Kurzweil comes close to it, but locks himself in a cyclical mental pattern. If the sole instinct of survival had been the Homo Sapiens principle Homo Sapiens would never have conquered the world in the first place. He would be a small animal species in Eastern Africa and we would not be here to see it. The basic principle should be development.
a- Personal development (psychological, moral, cultural);
b- Empathetic development: the slow emergence of love and emotions in the place of the dyad libido-death-instinct that only leads to using the other. We have just reached the moment when that empathy can be successful.
c- Relational development that is the consequence of the previous one based on the recognition of the other(s) as being our equal(s) and as worthy of our establishing with them relations that lead to a political, social, cultural system of individuals contracted together.
d- Social development is the consequence of this and it started with Homo Sapiens who invented some at least 250,000 years ago the division of labor, the mapping of various activities on the living space of the group, the systematic understanding that survival and development could only come from and through the organized group. And that required/requires language.
e- Finally human development states that man is an organism that has to develop to reach their objectives: intellectual, mental, psychological, etc. development.
That should have brought Ferguson to the idea - along with Winston Churchill he quotes - that the future cannot be bipolar, nor multi-polar either, cannot be the victory of one over the other(s) into mono-polarity, but that it can only be a two-or-multi-headed global organization or equal members. The end of the Cold War was the first step towards that objective and there is a long way still to go.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU