Monday, December 17, 2018

Rise of the West

Soldats sénégalais au camp de Mailly (1917) by Félix Vallotton. During WWI, France recruited half a million Africans to fight in Europe.

When did "the West" begin? Usually historians look back to the 17th century, when the maritime nations of northwest Europe—Great Britain, France, and Holland—overtook Spain and Portugal in colonizing the Americas, Africa, and Asia. One can look farther back. Greer (2013a, 2013b) pinpoints the 14th century as the time when the North Sea economies began to diverge from the rest of the world:

[...] the two exceptions are Netherlands and Great Britain. These North Sea economies experienced sustained GDP per capita growth for six straight centuries. The North Sea begins to diverge from the rest of Europe long before the 'West' begins its more famous split from 'the rest.'

[...] we can pin point the beginning of this 'little divergence' with greater detail. In 1348 Holland's GDP per capita was $876. England's was $777. In less than 60 years time Holland's jumps to $1,245 and England's to 1090. The North Sea's revolutionary divergence started at this time. (Greer 2013b; see also Hbd *chick 2013)

This process began before the European conquest of the Americas, the invention of printing, the creation of modern finance institutions, the Atlantic slave trade, or the Protestant Reformation. None of these can be proper explanations for this "little divergence." (Greer 2013a)

One can look even farther back to the 7th century, when North Sea trade began an expansion that would later eclipse Mediterranean trade (Callmer 2002, also see Barrett et al. 2004).

Coevolution with the market economy

There is reason to believe that northwest Europeans were pre-adapted to the market economy. They were not the first to create markets, but they were the first to replace kinship with the market as the main way of organizing social and economic life. Already in the fourteenth century, their kinship ties were weaker than those of other human populations, as attested by marriage data going back to before the Black Death and in some cases to the seventh century (Frost 2017). The data reveal a characteristic pattern:

- men and women marry relatively late

- many people never marry

- children usually leave the nuclear family to form new households

- households often have non-kin members

This behavioral pattern was associated with a psychological one:

- weaker kinship and stronger individualism;

- framing of social rules in terms of moral universalism and moral absolutism, as opposed to kinship-based morality (nepotism, amoral familialism);

- greater tendency to use internal controls on behavior (guilt proneness, empathy) than external controls (public shaming, community surveillance, etc.)

This is the mindset that enabled northwest Europeans to exploit the possibilities of the market economy. Because they could more easily move toward individualism and social atomization, they could go farther in reorganizing social relationships along market-oriented lines. They could thus mobilize capital, labor, and raw resources more efficiently, thereby gaining more wealth and, ultimately, more military power.

This new cultural environment in turn led to further behavioral and psychological changes. Northwest Europeans have adapted to it just as humans elsewhere have adapted to their own cultural environments, through gene-culture coevolution:

1.      People adapt to the new environment by pushing their envelope of phenotypic plasticity.

2.      Natural selection then favors those individuals whose genotype more closely matches the new phenotype.

3.      Over time, the mean genotype of the population moves closer and closer to the new phenotype.

Northwest Europeans adapted to the market economy, especially those who formed the nascent middle class of merchants, yeomen, and petty traders. Over time, this class enjoyed higher fertility and became demographically more important, as shown by Clark (2007, 2009a, 2009b) in his study of medieval and post-medieval England: the lower classes had negative population growth and were steadily replaced, generation after generation, by downwardly mobile individuals from the middle class. By the early 19th century most English people were either middle-class or impoverished descendants of the middle class.

This demographic change was associated with behavioral and psychological changes to the average English person. Time orientation became shifted toward the future, as seen by increased willingness to save money and defer gratification. There was also a long-term decline in personal violence, with male homicide falling steadily from 1150 to 1800 and, parallel to this, a decline in blood sports and other violent though legal practices (cock fighting, bear and bull baiting, public executions). This change can largely be attributed to the State's monopoly on violence and the consequent removal of violence-prone individuals through court-ordered or extrajudicial executions. Between 1500 and 1750, court-ordered executions removed 0.5 to 1.0% of all men of each generation, with perhaps just as many dying at the scene of the crime or in prison while awaiting trial (Clark 2007; Frost and Harpending 2015).

Similarly, Rindermann (2018) has argued that mean IQ steadily rose in Western Europe during late medieval and post-medieval times. More people were able to reach higher stages of mental development. Previously, the average person could learn language and social norms well enough, but their ability to reason was hindered by cognitive egocentrism, anthropomorphism, finalism, and animism (Rindermann 2018, p. 49). From the sixteenth century onward, more and more people could better understand probability, cause and effect, and the perspective of another person, whether real or hypothetical. This improvement preceded universal education and improvements in nutrition and sanitation (Rindermann 2018, pp. 86-87).

Ideology of the market economy: the rise of liberalism

Finally, the emergence of the middle class was associated with ideological change: the rise of liberalism and its belief in the supremacy of the individual. John Locke (1632-1704) is considered to be the "father of liberalism," but belief in the individual as the ultimate moral arbiter was already evident in Protestant and pre-Protestant thinkers going back to John Wycliffe (1320s-1384) and earlier. These are all elaborations and refinements of the same mindset.

Liberalism has been dominant in Britain and its main overseas offshoot, the United States, since the 18th century. There is some difference between right-liberals and left-liberals, but both see the individual as the fundamental unit of society and both seek to maximize personal autonomy at the expense of kinship-based forms of social organization, i.e., the nuclear family, the extended family, the kin group, the community, and the ethnie. Right-liberals are willing to tolerate these older forms and let them gradually self-liquidate, whereas left-liberals want to use the power of the State to liquidate them. Some left-liberals say they simply want to redefine these older forms of sociality to make them voluntary and open to everyone. Redefine, however, means eliminate. If you make a community truly "open" it will eventually become little more than a motel: a place where people share space, where they may or may not know each other, and where very few if any are linked by longstanding ties—certainly not ties of kinship.

For a long time, liberalism was merely dominant in Britain and the U.S. The market economy coexisted with kinship as the proper way to organize social and economic life. The latter form of sociality was even dominant in some groups and regions, such as the Celtic fringe, Catholic communities, the American “Bible Belt,” and rural or semi-rural areas in general. Today, those subcultures are largely gone. Opposition to liberalism is for the most part limited, ironically, to individuals who act on their own. 

Success of the liberal model, in peace and in war

How did liberalism become so dominant, even hegemonic? In a word, it delivered the goods. Liberal regimes were better able to mobilize labor, capital, and raw resources over long distances and across different communities. Conservative regimes were less flexible and, by their very nature, tied to a single ethnocultural community. Liberals pushed and pushed for more individualism and social atomization, thereby reaping the benefits of access to an ever larger market economy.

The benefits included not only more wealth but also more military power. During the American Civil War, the North benefitted not only from a greater capacity to produce arms and ammunition but also from a more extensive railway system and a larger pool of recruits, including young migrants of diverse origins—one in four members of the Union army was an immigrant (Doyle 2015). 

During the First World War, Britain and France could likewise draw on not only their own manpower but also that of their colonies and elsewhere. France recruited half a million African soldiers to fight in Europe, and Britain over a million Indian troops to fight in Europe, the Middle East, and East Africa (Koller 2014; Wikipedia 2018b). An additional 300,000 laborers were brought to Europe and the Middle East for non-combat roles from China, Egypt, India, and South Africa (Wikipedia 2018a). In contrast, the Central Powers had to rely almost entirely on their own human resources. The Allied powers thus turned a European civil war into a truly global conflict.

The same imbalance developed during the Second World War. The Allies could produce arms and ammunition in greater quantities and far from enemy attack in North America, India, and South Africa, while recruiting large numbers of soldiers overseas. More than a million African soldiers fought for Britain and France, their contribution being particularly critical to the Burma campaign, the Italian campaign, and the invasion of southern France (Krinninger and Mwanamilongo 2015; Wikipedia 2018c). Meanwhile, India provided over 2.5 million soldiers, who fought in North Africa, Europe, and Asia (Wikipedia 2018d). India also produced armaments and resources for the war effort, notably coal, iron ore, and steel.

Liberalism thus succeeded not so much in the battle of ideas as on the actual battlefield. 

To be cont'd


Barrett, J.H., Locker, A.M. and Roberts, C.M. (2004). Dark Age Economics revisited: The English fish bone evidence AD 600-1600. Antiquity 78 (301): 618-636.

Callmer, J. (2002). North-European trading centres and the early medieval craftsman. Craftsmen at Åhus, North-Eastern Scania, Sweden ca. AD 750-850+, UppSkrastudier 6 (Acta Archaeologica Lundensia Ser. in 8, no. 39), 133-158.

Clark, G. (2007). A Farewell to Alms. A Brief Economic History of the World. Princeton University Press: Princeton and Oxford.

Clark, G. (2009a). The indicted and the wealthy: surnames, reproductive success, genetic selection and social class in pre-industrial England.

Clark, G. (2009b). The domestication of man: The social implications of Darwin. ArtefaCTos 2: 64-80. 

Doyle, D.H. (2015). The Civil War Was Won by Immigrant Soldiers, June 29, Time

Frost, P. (2017). The Hajnal line and gene-culture coevolution in northwest Europe. Advances in Anthropology 7: 154-174.

Frost, P. and H. Harpending. (2015b). Western Europe, state formation, and genetic pacification. Evolutionary Psychology 13: 230-243.

Greer, T. (2013a). The Rise of the West: Asking the Right Questions. July 7, The Scholar's Stage

Greer, T. (2013b). Another look at the 'Rise of the West' - but with better numbers. November 20, The Scholar's Stage

Hbd *chick (2013). Going Dutch, November 29

Koller, C. (2014). Colonial military participation in Europe. International Encyclopedia of the First World War. 

Krinninger, T., and Mwanamilongo, S. (2015). Africa in World War II: the forgotten veterans. July 5, DW

Rindermann, H. (2018). Cognitive Capitalism. Human Capital and the Wellbeing of Nations. Cambridge University Press.

Wikipedia (2018a). Chinese Labour Corps.

Wikipedia (2018b). Indian Army during World War I

Wikipedia (2018c). Débarquement de Provence

Wikipedia (2018d). Indian army during World War II


Luke Lea said...

So when does individualism go too far? A completely atomized society might be efficient, but what are the down sides for human happiness? Might there be a reaction? For instance, like this:

Anonymous said...

Civilizations, societies, cultures, etc., exist t serve their respective populations- not the other way around. These people feel they exist to serve economies, and they imposed this vile culture on the rest of the planet. But hey, they "saved us from 'totalitarinism'" to bring us that there freedumb, thanks.

Sean said...

Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain.

It seems to be among people on the north-coast of continental Europe and the Baltic where all this trading originated. Shellfish?

Anonymous said...

It is interesting how fussy the British are about fish and seafood, like the Irish, despite being islanders and having historical connections to North Sea cultures. The ubiquitous fish and chips actually originated from a Sephardic immigrant relatively recently, and the frying removes or obscures a lot of the fishiness. As far as cuisine and traditional rural culture go, the Brits are known for their pastoral culture, their dairying and meat ('les rosbifs'), which presumably derives from the Celtic migrations.

Peter Frost said...


It's already gone too far. Phenotype is usually one step ahead of genotype, but in this case it's probably several steps ahead. On the one hand, people in the West stopped coevolving with their culture about a century ago. On the other hand, our cultural evolution toward increasing social atomization has actually accelerated. To make things worse, we're exporting our culture to the rest of the world and telling other people it's the secret to our success.


At the time it seemed like a great idea, and it still does to many people. Part of the problem is that we think we are looking at history critically when in fact we are turning it into a fairy tale where the good guys win and the bad guys lose.

Bartolo said...

So the secret about "inclusive" liberalism is, quite simply, that it allows to gather more resources/power and crush whatever competitive system/ethos happens to be around. Compelling and, I would say, very important insight. It reminds me of Islam. During its expansion, it "included" the last conquered people... so it could better crush and exploit the next target people. This is sold as "tolerance".
On a different note, thank you for this blog. It is a delight to read.

Bartolo said...

Although, come to think of it... Aren't the examples provided (winning wars through extra resources and manpower) an example of the "force multiplying" effects of *empire* rather than liberalism?

Anonymous said...

I don't care about the origins of liberalism, I care about the fact that a WAR is looming between the left and the right, i.e. between conservatives and liberals. The left has become for open borders, anarchy, degeneracy, the destruction of heterosexual sex (#MeToo), and the decline of the white race. The right is for the opposite of all these things. Broadly speaking, it is for traditional sovereignty with borders, heterosexual sex (and reproduction), and white/European civilization.

We've reached a point now where the left/right tensions in the United States are so extreme that some foresee a civil war. This current shutdown over the border wall (to prevent America from turning into a 3rd-world country) is only the beginning. What if Democrats and Republicans really turn on each other? There's no solution to this crisis the way I see it.

Anon 12/17/18 said...


At the time it seemed like a great idea, and it still does to many people. Part of the problem is that we think we are looking at history critically when in fact we are turning it into a fairy tale where the good guys win and the bad guys lose."

Well said sir, well said. Most people really are lost in believing they exist to support their stuff, rather than their stuff existing for them. We are definitely not looking at anything critically. Everything gets filtered through the status signaling, pseudo-sentimental gobbledygook that spills out of liberal/conservative/whatever mouths daily.

And it began with what this article describes. How sad and ironic.

Peter Frost said...


Russia had an empire in WWI, yet it did very poorly --- essentially it lost to the loser. This was partly because many of its subject peoples resented Russian domination and were willing to collaborate with the Central powers. Another reason was its weaker market economy. Russia had plenty of raw resources but was less able to mobilize those resources for the war effort. Stalin understood this weakness and adopted market mechanisms for the production of arms and ammunition. The Soviet Union wasn't a market economy, but it imitated Western market economies in this ability to mobilize resources across large distances and across different ethnic communities.

"The right is for the opposite of all these things"

Interesting … Your description of the "right" seems to exclude Theresa May, Angela Merkel, George Bush, Brian Mulroney, Ronald Reagan ...

Seriously, the push for global immigration was the result of a bipartisan consensus in all Western countries. One cannot even argue that the Right was a passive partner in this consensus. It was Reagan who pushed for the first mass amnesty and it was Bush Senior who greatly increased the level of legal immigration to the U.S.

See my post:

harpersnotes said...

Hajnal Line --> Protestantism --> Shift from covert privileged knowledge of priests to mass shared knowledge and mass literacy --> late 18th c. mass public education --> assortative mating in high schools / gymnasiums --> higher fertility among higher IQ's under the conditions of that time --> Flynn Effect. Scientific Revolution. Also, now (??) --> open science movement dominated by persons mostly from Protestant cultures?? (speculation) .. versus expressions of fear of dangerous science coming from persons in mostly non-Protestant cultures? (Also speculative.)(All broad generalizations of course.)