Researchers in many fields have tried to answer the question that has been in the air for decades and even centuries. However, it is still unclear why the Western world has dominated for the largest part of the human history. Some scientists and historians claim that geographic factors played the main role in the empowerment of Western civilizations, while others question this assumption without giving a direct answer. This paper is an attempt to provide a response based on a review of several theories and ideas on the matter.
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In his Guns, germs, and steel, Jared Diamond argues that the key factor contributing to the success of the Western nations is biogeography. The author claims that the civilizations that originated from the Fertile Crescent were simply in more favorable conditions compared to other groups that lived in Africa, the Americas, or Australia (Diamond, n.d.). The fertility of the land was the pivotal premise for the shift from hunting to agriculture.
The availability of resources in the area equipped people with the necessary tools to work and make war. This territory was also home to species that could be domesticated comparatively easily. This potent start empowered nations that spread throughout Eurasia and continued their technological, social, political, scientific, and cultural development. They eventually conquered other continents with the help of their guns and diseases that were not typical of other parts of the world, and local people had no immunity (Conquest, 2004). Therefore, geography, biology, and immunology can be regarded as the foundation of Diamond’s claims.
Although the book was published in 1997, it still evokes quite a vigorous debate. One of the major arguments of Diamond’s opponents is the focus on geography and his far-fetched conclusions (McNeill, 2001). McNeill (2001) emphasizes that Diamond’s framework does not explain various things including the reason for the rise and fall of states in Eurasia. Andrade (2010) also notes that Diamond does not provide a feasible explanation for the rise of certain countries as many states had similar resources and opportunities at certain periods of their history. Frum (1998) adds that the anti-racist approach Diamond utilized can be misleading as it results in more negative ideas from both camps. At the same time, the book is still praised for many innovative insights into the problem.
When examining the factors that contributed to the empowerment of the West, it is necessary to pay attention to the aspects outlined by Diamond. Eurasia had a favorable environment for the change from a society of hunters to the society of food producers. The availability of resources was accompanied by the need to accumulate them to survive during a year. For instance, people who inhabited the fertile lands of Egypt depended heavily on floods (Lockard, 2010). Humans’ ability to control the process ensured their survival, so they were bound to create canals, develop new tools, and employ new agricultural patterns.
The competition among communities and societies was also rather fierce that made people develop the corresponding cultures and seek dominance in the area or new territories. Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan can be regarded as an illustration of the cultures of expansion and the search for glory based on taking control over more resources (Lockard, 2010). The rise and fall of new empires can be regarded as one of the major factors contributing to the creation of countries and nations. For instance, the end of the Roman Empire paved the way for European countries to develop and become serious players on the historical map.
New leading nations of the West appeared as they had the necessary resources and relative peace to innovate. France, Spain, and Great Britain emerged as the conquerors of new lands that were across oceans. They were looking for new ways to achieve dominance as Eurasia had well-established trade routes and inter-state relations. Importantly, these countries did not waste their chances as even though they sometimes failed to achieve their primary goals, they seized new opportunities.
For instance, the first Christopher Columbus’s expedition aimed at finding a new route to India (Lockard, 2010). This goal was failed, but Europeans understood that new lands had resources that could be used to empower them. Since Western civilization was technologically more advanced and had the weapons of mass destruction such as diseases new to other continents, the conquest of the rest of the world was a matter of time.
The dominance of the West after the 15th century is one of the pillars of the contemporary world. The development of technology is another important pillar as it ensured a fast spread of news and ideas, rather easy ways to travel, and various efficient approaches to extract resources and produce goods. The 15-17th centuries were the period of great conquest, while the 18-19th centuries were the periods of making nations mainly through the use of guns and technological (as well as scientific) progress.
The United States appeared as a part of an empire, but in a century, it became an independent country (Lockard, 2010). The 20th century can be regarded as the start of the era of globalization when countries had numerous political, economic, social, and cultural links. These ties had both positive and negative effects as they helped humanity to evolve, but they also led to many global economic crises and two World Wars.
The Second World War was one the major shocks humanity has gone through, so nations tried to make sure that nothing similar could ever happen. International organizations that now cover almost all the countries in the world were established. Ironically, actual power is still in the hands of several nations that are representatives (the USA, the UK, Australia) or adapters (for example, Japan) of the Western way of thinking or values. Moreover, the economic approaches of the Western world that proved to be effective have also served as the platform for further adoption of the western culture. The world is now mainly built on a set of western principles and local peculiarities, which is a result of the technological dominance and ability to inflict values and views on other nations.
In conclusion, it is necessary to state that science, technology, and environment had a major impact on the development of humanity. The availability of resources and the need to accumulate them made some groups and communities to make a great leap towards new forms of existence. The struggle for resources was another important factor that made communities, and later countries, dominate over other ones. Eurasia was the most favorable continent characterized by a combination of these features. Eventually, technological advances and globalization ensured the leading role of western nations. It is necessary to note that some of Diamond’s assumptions can be seen as far-fetched, but he is mainly correct when outlining the primary reasons for the dominance of certain countries. However, the researcher, as well as many other scientists, pay little attention to the origins of some innovations and innovative ideas, which can shed light on the making of this world.
Andrade, T. (2010), Beyond guns, germs, and steel: European expansion and maritime Asia, 1400-1750. Journal of Early Modern History, 14(1/2), 165-186.
Conquest. (2004). Web.
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Diamond, J. (n.d.). Guns, germs, and steel: The fates of human societies. Web.
Frum, D. (1998). How the West won: History that feels good usually isn’t. Foreign Affairs, 77(5), 132-135.
Lockard, C. A. (2010). World. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
McNeil, J. R. (2001). The world according to Jared Diamond. History Teacher, 34(2), 165-175.