We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

The West – how did the West really get so rich? – Episode 5

Recommended once again

14 comments to The West – how did the West really get so rich? – Episode 5

  • Paul Marks.

    Secure private property rights, low taxes, and freedom of production and trade – that is how Britain became rich and other Western countries copied these principles by, for example, ending compulsory (compulsory) guilds.

    Sadly the young are taught that “slavery” and “empire” are the reasons that the West got rich – the “education” people get now is incredibly bad, incredibly dishonest. Modern “education” (in the schools, universities, and media – including the entertainment media) is basically Marxist agitprop, the old lies about “exploitation” and “oppression” being the basis of economic life, repackaged as “anti racism” by the Frankfurt School “Critical Theory” (“Woke”) Marxists.

  • Paul Marks.

    The difference between the West and other parts of the world goes back a very long way – for example as far back as 877 AD King Charles the Bald of France formally accepted that there were limits on his lawful powers, for example that he could not (lawfully) take land from on family and give it to another family – where else in the world, outside the West, would a ruler make such a formal admission?

    In the Middle Ages in 1102 in England it was legally accepted that buying and selling human beings was a crime – leave aside that this was not perfectly enforced in England (right to the 1770s), where else in the world, outside the West, was such a legal statement made at all?

    Nor was it just England – for example in France under King Louis X it was declared that slavery was a crime against natural justice. “But serfdom….” – he got rid of almost all serfdom as well (no it was not the Revolution of 1789 that did this).

    In Bologna (the site of the oldest still existing university in the world – the university there is a thousand years old) both slavery and serfdom were abolished.

    No where else in the world, outside the West, was the idea that the state was limited (not absolute) entertained, and no where else in the world, outside the West, was the idea that individual freedom has moral vale entertained.

    “But the West did not hold to its principles – the Portuguese bought African slaves and the British copied the Portuguese”.

    Quite true, and the slave trade was a disgrace – but it was NOT the source of British wealth (domestic farming and manufacturing was the source of British wealth – international trade, let alone the slave trade, was an add-on NOT the foundation) – and slavery has been endemic in Africa for thousands of years before the Portuguese starting to buy African slaves.

    Slavery and serfdom would dominate in Africa and India and the rest of the world, right now (today) had it not been for the West – had it not been for Western, indeed CHRISTAIN, ideas about human freedom.

    “The West has not always lived by its principles” is true – and is terrible. But it does not alter the fact that the principles are good.

  • Paul Marks.

    If one looks at the great cathedral in Florence (which is in the opening shots for this film) one sees something as wonderful as any of the great buildings of the ancient world – but the cathedral in Florence was not built by slave labour.

    So how was the cathedral in Florence created? It was created by the genius of Brunelleschi.

    Just as the British mass production of pottery, high quality ceramics on a scale that had not been seen since the Romans – and then on a scale far beyond the Romans, was created by the genius of Josiah Wedgewood – a great enemy of slavery.

    How could you get some (some – not unlimited amounts) of Wedgewood pottery for free? Simple – ask for the range that had the anti slavery slogans on it “Am I not a man and a brother” with an illustration of a black man in chains. Then any guest to your house would see the message that Mr Wedgewood was pushing – no wonder that the Predestinationist (person who believes that who goes to heaven and who goes to Hell was decided at the start of the universe before anyone was born – as, according to the doctrine, all actions and all beliefs are predetermined – for example if you rape children it was because it was decided at the start of the universe that you would rape children, but then God burns you for all eternity for the things He programmed you to do – such is the “logic” of determinism) who introduced slavery to Georgia (against the founding document of the colony – which forbad slavery) wanted to ban Wedgewood pottery.

    No one in Africa was producing such slogans on any of their works.

  • Paul Marks.

    If one asked Johnathan Edwards or George Whitfield (the person who introduced slavery into Georgia – against the founding document of the colony) why they were preaching – as, according to them, who would be damned and who would be saved was decided at the start of the universe (so why preach?), they would reply that their preaching was also predetermined – because everything was (thus the supposed difference between predestination and determinism collapses).

    The logical response to this is to punch them in the face – and, if they complain, point out that just as (according to their doctrine) enslaving people was predetermined at the start of the universe (because everything was predetermined) so it was predetermined that one would punch them in the face.

    This is also the correct response to non religious determinists, or “compatiblists” – a distinction without a difference, such as Mr Thomas Hobbes or Mr David Hume. “If I can not choose to do other than I do – then you have no grounds for complaint when I punch you in the face, as I could not have chosen to do otherwise – as, according to your doctrine, the “I” does not really exist”.

    One can not get the outlawing of slavery from their theology or secular philosophy – nor any other statement of fundamental rights.

    Such basic documents of the West as Magna Carta (1215) and the Bill of Rights (British or American) can not come from this theology or this secular philosophy.

    So when, for example, F.A. Hayek tried to keep the political and economic policy principles of the “Old Whigs” whilst rejecting their philosophy (their philosophy of human personhood) he cut the ground from under his own feet.

    If there are no human persons – no moral beings with the ability to choose to do other than they do, then economic and political freedom are just empty words, with no value. And such things as slavery or genocide are of no moral importance – for there would be no morality, as morality rests on the ability to tell moral right from moral wrong and to choose to do what is morally right against one’s desire (one’s “passion”) to do what is morally wrong.

    The decline of liberty in the economic and political world, rests on the rise of the denial of human personhood itself – a rejection of what a human person is.

    The foundation of the West is the human person (the free will agent) without this conception of what a human is, that a human is a human being (a person – a moral agent) then economic and political liberty must fall.

    To be fair to, for example, Dr Martin Luther he was consistent – his view of what a human is (that we do not have free will – that we are NOT persons, see, for example, his work “The Bondage of the Will”) led him to be indifferent to such things as slavery, serfdom, and the despotism of the Ottoman Empire – and, given his philosophical position, it was consistent for him to be indifferent to such things.

    Both the Anglian Church and some other churches in Britain, such as the followers of John Wesley, took a very different theological view – which led them to a different philosophical and political view.

    This division goes back a long way – for example, see the attack of Ralph Cudworth against the anti Western philosophy of Mr Hobbes.

    The anti Western philosophy that now dominates the West (which holds, for example, that ChatGPT is an intelligence, because this philosophy denies the existence of personhood) naturally leads to despotism. It cuts the philosophical foundation away from political and economic freedom.

    It is no surprise that such organisations as the World Economic Forum love this determinist philosophy – and have pet philosophers who push it. They know this philosophy (the position of Mr Hobbes and so on) can not lead to Magna Carta or the Bill of Rights – and, to them, that is a feature, not a bug.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    A lot of factors contributed to the ideas around individualism. I remember reading, about a decade back, that some Western University, and some Chinese University, had together looked into the differences between the West and the East, and they had concluded that one major factor would have been that rice, which became a staple crop in the East, requires a lot of water to grow, so a whole village would need to allocate the local water fairly amongst the local farmers. Wheat is hardier and not as water-needy, so a western farmer could be more insular and less community-minded. No doubt this is not the whole answer, but it is interesting.

  • Fraser Orr

    I don’t like the word “capitalism”. It invokes in people the idea of Mr Monopoly or Scrooge McDuck. It makes people think of fat cats in bed with politicians laughing as they send children up the chimneys. I don’t think it is even really a good word etymologically. Capital is important, but it is freedom that is far more important. The freedom to innovate, the freedom to profit from innovation, the freedom to enter into whatever deal seems best for both parties.

    The west is rich because of this freedom. The freedom produces innovation, innovation produces capital, and capital funds more innovation. That along with a stable legal system, stable property rights, stable money and an educated workforce are the foundational principles on which our wealth is built.

    It is a sad, sad thing that every one of these key points is under constant, vicious attack. We will all be poorer, sicker, unhappier, less free and dead sooner because of it. Especially so the people who the attackers purport to help.

    Please, lets get rid of that ugly word “capitalism” and replace it with “free markets”, or just simply “freedom.”

  • Snorri Godhi

    This might be the first time that i agree with Fraser Orr on a controversial proposition.

    I also agree with Noam Chomsky when he said that there is no such thing as capitalism today: to the extent that there ever was, it disappeared at the beginning of the xx century.

    I accept that ‘capitalism’ means different things to different people; but to me, it means the rule of capitalists, that is, owners of capital. That is not what we have today: owners of massive amounts of capital have a large amount of political power, but not most of political power.
    And anyway, they tend to support anti-“capitalist” policies.

    — The above is not much relevant to the substance of the video, however. I’ll return to that tomorrow.

  • Mark

    How did the west get so rich?

    By its own efforts.

    This simple truth seems to be awfully upsetting to many non-westerners.

  • Paul Marks.

    Fraser and Snorri – yes freedom has massively declined, the state has been on the rise for one and half centuries – slowly at first, but with the First World War the expansion of the state (both in government spending and taxes – and in regulations) became much more rapid. In the United States there was a major effort to roll back government after both World Wars – but in the United Kingdom this was not so.

    Think of the United States when Eisenhower was a young man – there was no Income Tax or Federal Reserve, and most of the government spending departments did not just have a smaller budget, they did-not-exist-at-all.

    As for the monetary and financial system – it was never 100% straight, but there was some basic connection to reality, to commodity money and to the lending out of Real Savings (the actual sacrifice of consumption). There is not now.

    There really is no connection between the monetary and financial system and reality now – the money is just lights on computer screens that can be manipulated on the whims of the powerful. Lending has no real connection to Real Savings now. I doubt that Noam Chomsky has ever heard of Richard Cantillon – but we live in a Cantillon Effect world, where Credit Money (created from nothing) has, with the help of tax law and regulations, concentrated the economy into the hands of a few vast “Woke” corporations.

    If the West is not quite dead – it is certainly very ill indeed.

  • Paul Marks.


    There is a strong idea of the individual in Taoist philosophy in China – and even in the writings of Confucius and his followers, although they stressed ritual (not ritual for its own sake – the idea of Confucius and his followers was that if good conduct was ritualised then it would become a habit, that it would become easier for people to behave well against the passions to do various evils).

    In farming – it varies, some areas of China historically had village communal farming and it was backed by the regulations of some Emperors. One could say the same of some areas of England – for example the county I am sitting in (Northamptonshire) had most of the land in the Middle Ages under village farming – strips handed out to families by the village elders and so on.

    More basically the idea of the individual was central to Christianity – hence the, eventual, opposition to slavery and serfdom (the idea being that each individual soul is sacred to God).

    But not all Christian thinkers held to this idea – for example Dr Martin Luther was a Determinist (see his “Bondage of the Will”) hence his indifference to serfdom, slavery and despotism (his politics were consistent with his philosophy – leading to what used to be called “Prussianism” the worship of the state one sees in Frederick the Great, Bismarck, General “War Socialism” Ludendorff and so on).

    Non Christian thinkers in the West, such as Thomas Hobbes, David Hume and Jeremy Bentham, also mocked the idea of the free will moral agent – the individual (the “I”).

    For example, “reason is the slave of the passions” might be a statement of despair, i.e. that people struggle against the evil in themselves, but are doomed to lose. But “reason is, and ought to be, the slave of the passions” is a vicious statement. Just as “one can not get an ought from an is” is a direct attack upon “this IS wrong so I OUGHT not to do it” – which is how a normal person thinks (every day).

    The denial of moral agency, our ability, with moral effort, to do other than we do – is more than a denial of mainstream Christianity, it is also a denial of the culture of the West (including its legal systems) which is based upon the idea of the free will person, the “I” (moral agency – the ability to choose to do other than we do, to resist the passions – greed, lust, cruelty and-so-on, the desire to steal, rape and murder). Successfully resisting the passions is what the good person does – no one is perfect, but we can resist the passions most of the time if we really make a moral effort. Moral reason – as opposed to instrumental reason (instrumental reason as “how do I get away with doing this vicious thing – how do I avoid getting caught”).

    Such figures as Thomas Hobbes, David Hume and Jeremy Bentham were critics of the mainstream Western tradition (the tradition of individual moral agency – the “I”, the soul in the Aristotelian sense) – but in modern times they have been made the mainstream.

    In short – the West has committed philosophical suicide, which has led to the political and economic decline of liberty.

  • Snorri Godhi

    I felt that the role of the agricultural revolution is not emphasized enough in this episode.

    Potatoes, and other New World crops, didn’t even get a mention, if i am not mistaken; and yet, they were the link between the European explorations and the Agricultural Revolution.

  • Paul Marks.

    Snorri – agreed.

    Without the agricultural revolution in England and Wales (it did not really place in most of Ireland or the Highlands of Scotland) the industrial revolution would have been impossible.

    The expanding population would have starved to death – so no workers for the factories (people were not “driven off the land” in England and Wales, the farm workforce peaked as late as the mid 19th century – it was the rising population that went to the towns and cities).

    And profits for industrial investment did not mainly come for “the slave trade” or “Empire” (as people are now taught) – they mostly came from the profits of English and Welsh farming.

    Profits that depended on the new methods of farming that we call the Agricultural Revolution.

  • Paul Marks.

    As for the indifference of now fashionable philosophers to traditional liberties in government.

    Well I do not believe anyone would hold that, say, Thomas Hobbes was a fan of Magna Carta – indeed any limits on the powers of government (other than a desire to save his own life – NOT the lives of other people at the risk of one’s own life, just one’s own physical existence) were not his cup of tea – to put the matter mildly.

    One can not get to the Bill of Rights (British or American) from the philosophy of David Hume – and he seemed to know that, hence the indifferent tone in which his essay on the Euthanasia of the Constitution is written (Mr Hume did not care – and, to be fair to him, if one takes his philosophical assumptions to be correct, there is no reason why he should have cared about constitutional liberties in Britain or anywhere else).

    As for Jeremy Bentham – “rights are nonsense, natural rights are nonsense on stilts” the 13 Departments of State (or whatever number it is to be) will control all aspects of life – very Agenda 2030, United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

    Such philosophers were, in their time, considered critics of the Western tradition (Thomas Hobbes regarded as his natural opponent a “student of the Common Law of England” – and it was much the same with Hume and Bentham) – but now they have been made the philosophical mainstream.

    In short, the West committed philosophical suicide (rejecting its own philosophical tradition – and making critics of that tradition into its new mainstream) – and this has, gradually, translated into the decline of liberty in the economic and political areas.

    F.A. Hayek accepted the new philosophy, rejecting the Western philosophical tradition of both Old Whigs and Tory folk (such as Dr Johnson) which is based upon the human person (the free will moral agent) – but tried to keep the political conclusions of the Old Whigs whilst rejecting their philosophy in favour of the philosophy that is now fashionable.

    His effort fails – as, if you reject the philosophical foundation of the West both economic and political liberty fall with it.

  • Paul Marks.

    As for the worship of state bureaucracy one finds in Hegel – and the idea that rationality itself is that state bureaucracy (not even a King or an elected government – the bureaucracy and its rules).

    Well when one hears (in public life) “but this is POLICY” (said in hushed tones – and with, perhaps a reference to “the experts”) one is hearing the voice of Hegel – which is indeed the voice of death as far as liberty is concerned. The voice of bureaucracy – held as a sacred thing, and called (in modern America) “democracy” even though modern American Hegelians are quite clear that they do not want the people to have any influence at all in this “democracy” (it is the officials and “experts” who are to decide – very Economist magazine).

    Hegel even hits architecture – when one hears “one can not build in an old style – it would be a pastiche” or “this is against the spirit of the age” – one is hearing the voice of Hegel. Although to be fair to the man – I suspect he would have been horrified by the mess of modern architecture (and modern “spirit of the age” fashions in everything else as well).

    The only move away from Hegel (apart from a weird move in language – calling bureaucracy “democracy” which Hegel would not have done) is the move away from a stress on a national bureaucracy to an international bureaucracy – both government and corporate.

    World governance – rather than the governance of Prussia.