Why Europe Was First

Economic growth and social change in Europe and East Asia, 1500-2050
London: Anthem Press, 2007.

"Given this situation we might as well give up on the attempt to look for causes. Neither modern society, change nor economic growth have easily identifiable causes as causes usually are understood."

Why Europe was first, The Mechanics of Modernity, Erik Ringmar
2017-04-21T03:16:18+00:00
"Given this situation we might as well give up on the attempt to look for causes. Neither modern society, change nor economic growth have easily identifiable causes as causes usually are understood."

"The institution comes first and the needs develop only later. Far from being functionally required, institutions, once in place, create the needs they then go on to satisfy. The functions are consequences of the existence of the institution but consequences cannot be the causes of that which they are the consequences of."

Why Europe was first, The Mechanics of Modernity, Erik Ringmar
2017-04-21T03:38:48+00:00
"The institution comes first and the needs develop only later. Far from being functionally required, institutions, once in place, create the needs they then go on to satisfy. The functions are consequences of the existence of the institution but consequences cannot be the causes of that which they are the consequences of."
Modern societies are highly sophisticated and complex but the sophistication and complexity are almost exclusively located at an institutional level. As far as individuals are concerned the tasks they perform have instead steadily become less complex and less sophisticated."
Why Europe was first, The Mechanics of Modernity, Erik Ringmar
2017-04-22T00:33:17+00:00
Modern societies are highly sophisticated and complex but the sophistication and complexity are almost exclusively located at an institutional level. As far as individuals are concerned the tasks they perform have instead steadily become less complex and less sophisticated."

Then something happened which in a comparatively short time made European societies radically different both from previous versions of themselves and from other societies. Agriculture became more productive; people moved to cities to work in factories where production took place according to increasingly sophisticated techniques; people's life expectancy and level of education went up and science made rapid and amazing progress. Instead of being slaves to nature, the Europeans became nature's masters, and instead of living side by side with other cultures, they set off to conquer the world. No longer ad hoc and coincidental, change became continuous and progressive. This restless, ruthless, expanding and ever-changing world is the modern Western world. This is modernity as we still know it.

Why Europe was first, The Mechanics of Modernity, Erik Ringmar
2017-04-21T02:22:27+00:00
Then something happened which in a comparatively short time made European societies radically different both from previous versions of themselves and from other societies. Agriculture became more productive; people moved to cities to work in factories where production took place according to increasingly sophisticated techniques; people's life expectancy and level of education went up and science made rapid and amazing progress. Instead of being slaves to nature, the Europeans became nature's masters, and instead of living side by side with other cultures, they set off to conquer the world. No longer ad hoc and coincidental, change became continuous and progressive. This restless, ruthless, expanding and ever-changing world is the modern Western world. This is modernity as we still know it.

"The first step is that of reflection. This is where the potentialities that exist in the world first are discovered and explored. To be a human being is constantly to reflect on the world and to try to envision alternatives to it; we day-dream, make-believe and philosophize, we write or paint, work for think-tanks or research institutions. It is through such activities and many other like them that the difference between the actual and the potential is discovered. Suddenly we realize how much better, or at least different, our lives would be if only this, that, or the other feature of it were altered."

Why Europe was first, The Mechanics of Modernity, Erik Ringmar
2017-04-21T03:18:43+00:00
"The first step is that of reflection. This is where the potentialities that exist in the world first are discovered and explored. To be a human being is constantly to reflect on the world and to try to envision alternatives to it; we day-dream, make-believe and philosophize, we write or paint, work for think-tanks or research institutions. It is through such activities and many other like them that the difference between the actual and the potential is discovered. Suddenly we realize how much better, or at least different, our lives would be if only this, that, or the other feature of it were altered."
  • For most of its history Europe was a thoroughly average part of the world: poor, uncouth, technologically and culturally backward. By contrast, China was always far richer, more sophisticated and advanced. Yet it was Europe that first became modern, and by the nineteenth century China was struggling to catch up. This book explains why. Why did Europe succeed and why was China left behind? The answer, as we will see, does not only solve a long-standing historical puzzle, it also provides an explanation of the contemporary success of East Asia, and it shows what is wrong with current theories of development and modernization.

    The book is published twice, under different titles. For the paperback, published by Athem Press, I came up with the idea of calling it "Why Europe Was First." The idea was that it would sound less boring and academic (to go with the man on the dragon roller-coaster). Yet it's the same book as "Mechanics of Modernity," published by Routledge. Take your pick.
  • It is brilliant: beautifully argued and written, and (mostly) correct.
    Deirdre McCloskey, University of Illinois, author of Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce.
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