May, 2023

Civilization by Niall Ferguson

The Big Idea: The West has achieved global dominance thanks to competition, science, rule of law, modern medicine, consumerism, and work ethic. In recent decades, the West has lost its monopoly over these and the balance of power has begun to shift back towards other civilizations.

Why did the West, for the past five hundred years, become more economically successful and politically powerful than other civilizations?

1. Competition: Political instability forced small European states to constantly compete and innovate. Asia was ruled by stable imperial monopolies that led to less economic growth and innovation.

2. Science: The West broke free from the shackles of superstition and dogma, leading to a scientific revolution that would change the world. While the East had initially been technologically superior, they failed to keep pace with the West’s scientific advancements.

3. The Rule of Law: Property rights, consistently enforced, provided the basis for individual freedoms and economic success. By contrast, non-Western societies were often manipulated by rulers at their discretion.

4. Modern Medicine: The application of scientific methods to health led to groundbreaking discoveries, extended life spans, and improved quality of life in the West. This change led to population growth, which further spurred economic development.

5. Consumerism: The West developed a culture that valued and demanded innovation, quality, and, above all, abundance. The rise of consumer society fueled industry, creating a positive feedback loop that generated wealth and drove technological progress.

6. Work Ethic: Protestantism, with its emphasis on hard work, thrift, and a “calling,” led to the spirit of capitalism. This cultural mindset further contributed to the West’s economic advantage.

Western societies may be losing their edge, partly due to complacency and internal challenges such as fiscal imbalance, failing educational systems, and societal decay. While Eastern powers, especially China, have started to catch up, their long-term potential might be constrained by the absence of rule of law and limited political freedoms.

The Crusades by Thomas Asbridge

The Big Idea: From the 11th to the 15th century, popes and Christian nobles attempted, mostly unsuccessfully, to take back Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the Muslims. The first crusades was the most successful, establishing, for a time, 4 Latin Christian kingdoms within the Holy Land.

Date Started
Date Ended
Key Battles
Primary Goal/Reason Started
Key People
First Crusade
1099Siege of Antioch, Siege of JerusalemReclaim the Holy Land from Muslim controlThe Crusaders captured Jerusalem and established several Christian states in the region, including the Kingdom of Jerusalem.Raymond of Toulouse, Godfrey of Bouillon, Bohemond of Taranto, Pope Urban II
Second Crusade11471149Battle of Dorylaeum, Siege of DamascusRespond to the fall of the County of EdessaThe Crusaders failed to recapture Edessa and suffered several defeats in battles against Muslim forces.King Louis VII of France, Holy Roman Emperor Conrad III
Third Crusade11891192Battle of Arsuf, Siege of Acre, Battle of JaffaRetake Jerusalem from Muslim controlThe Crusaders failed to recapture Jerusalem but secured a truce with Muslim forces that allowed Christian access to the city.Richard the Lionheart, King Philip II of France, Saladin
Fourth Crusade12021204Siege of Zara, Siege of ConstantinopleReclaim the Holy Land by conquering the city of ConstantinopleThe Crusaders captured Constantinople and established a Latin Empire in the region, but did not achieve their original objective of reaching the Holy Land.Doge Enrico Dandolo of Venice, Baldwin IX of Flanders
Children’s Crusade12121212N/AChildren and teenagers attempted to peacefully convert Muslims to Christianity and recapture the Holy LandThe crusade failed, and most of the participants were either killed, enslaved, or returned home.Stephen of Cloyes, Nicholas
Fifth Crusade12171221Battle of Damietta, Siege of CairoRecapture JerusalemThe Crusaders captured Damietta but were ultimately defeated and forced to sign a treaty that allowed Christian pilgrims to visit Jerusalem.King Andrew II of Hungary, Duke Leopold VI of Austria
Sixth Crusade12281229N/ARetake Jerusalem from Muslim control through diplomacy