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20130331 God and Gold + Bourgeois Dignity = Power and Prosperity

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I think this is a very profound book about contemporary history and, quite possibly, with implication for future development. It talks about sources and meaning of maritime powers that were represented first by Dutch, then by British, and currently by American power. It aims to answer 6 questions:

1. Why Anglo-Saxon powers are always winning in clash of civilization against other powers either continental European powers of France / Germany / Russia or ancient states that fallen behind in XVII – XVIII centuries like India and China?
2. What moves people who passionately hate Anglo-Saxon civilization and all that it represents?
3. How relatively small Anglo-Saxon powers were able to put together economic and military resources that enabled them to defeat all enemies for hundreds of years
4. How the great philosophical idea of invisible hand become deep seated foundational notion of Anglo-Saxon culture leading to tolerance in all areas of life – economics, religion, entertainment, and all other areas of human activity that resulted in diversity of ideas and, consequently, continuous growth in economic and military power.
5. Why Anglo-Saxon optimism about future is nearly always was wrong.
6. What three centuries of Anglo-Saxon success means for world history.

Walter Russell Mead uses some 400 pages to answer to all these questions in details. I think he gives pretty good answers, but I’d like to add one thing that seems to be missing. In my opinion a lot of this is explained by different relationship between individuals at the top layers of society and individuals at the bottom.

To put it mildly the individuals at the bottom of Dutch-Anglo-Saxon culture always had a lot more appreciation of their own value then individuals in other cultures. Whether it is coming from religious specifics of Protestantism or from simple fact that sailor is always more skilled and therefore more valuable then soldier, or from tradition of clearly identified private property of individuals versus everything belonging to the king, but result is the same – individual in maritime culture has much more space for incentive, wealth creation, and wealth acquisition then in other cultures.

This is transferred into technological and overall material advantage, which in every long lasting military encounter overcomes ability of other cultures easily sacrifice regular individuals to whatever objective leaders deem worth of persecuting.

Actually the issue of dignity of self sufficient and productive individual as driver of Western prosperity is thoroughly explored by Deirdre McCloskey in her book “Bourgeois dignity”. She adds a human dimension sorely missing in typical analysis not only history, but also current politics either internal or external. Her meticulous review of all other conceivable causes of Western prosperity seems to leave very little space for these alternatives.

I actually believe that all of these causes interplayed in the creation of Western civilization that provided for unprecedented level of prosperity and hope that currently ongoing destruction of this civilization form inside is just a temporary setback which will be stopped and reversed as soon as negative impact of this destruction on their lives and well being will become obvious for significant enough numbers of individuals in Western world.


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