I liked your piece in the June edition of Quadrant. I have been fascinated with this and related subjects.
In addition to the factors listed by you and by Morris, the rise of the West was enabled by:
a) The geographic remoteness of western Europe, Scandinavia and the British Isles protected these regions from pillage and slave-raiding by the Mongols, Tartars and Turks (contrast this with the histories of Russia, the Balkans, Old Persia, India and China).
b) The lingering effect of the massive mortality of the Black Death, coupled with the absence of polygamy, late marriage and marriage as a matter of individual contract/consent kept population low, so wages were higher, thereby offering incentives for labour saving innovation and a focus on individual productivity.
c) The relative early abolition of serfdom in Western Europe ensured that some dignity of labour was possible, leading to a disenchanted, modern, view of labour – contrast this with the Indian caste system, the miserable status of the fellaheen in the Fertile Crescent or the Chinese masses even today.
d) A unique tendency to encourage the dispersal of knowledge and skill. In the Muslim, Hindu and Confucian East advanced knowledge was the preserve of the elite. In the West, it was comparatively widespread. For example, by the late Middle Ages mathematics was widely studied by artisans and craftsmen across Europe. This meant that there was a large pool of skilled labour able to develop the precision machinery necessary for observational science to take off. The wide dispersal of mathematical knowledge was eventually to give the Brits the leg up with the accurate calculation of longitude using maritime chronometers...the true foundation of the British mastery of the seas.
e) A ready predisposition to apply knowledge of all sorts to material enrichment and to allow synergies to develop between researchers/inventors and commercial interests. The advancement of elite level Baconian science in England went hand in hand with a self-conscious desire to make money and to develop the English economy – Thomas Sprat’s amazing History of the Royal Society (1667) made the case that ‘national greatness’ depended on the further development of the natural sciences.
f) The essential pluralism of Western culture (derived from wildly disparate and difficult to reconcile Judaic, Christian, Greco-Roman and Teutonic sources) ensured that thinking minds were not necessarily held captive by one or other self-referential totalising tradition (either religious or secular) , but had recourse to competing narratives and sensibilities. This makes for tortured and messy thought processes and endless deliberation, but it postpones intellectual/moral stagnation.
g) The legacy of Roman law and Roman politics – especially the existence of corporations that exist independently of the individuals who occupy them – gave Westerners the edge in all manner of organisational matters.
h) The constant warfare of feudal elites in N.Western Europe meant that princes/lords needed professional standing armies which in turn needed to be paid. The need for military pay meant that feudal dues got turned into taxes paid in money. The need for money ensured that farmers had to produce for exchange...the beginning of modern commercial society that in turn led to capitalism.
i) The Western way of war emphasises the maximum use of force in rare decisive combat rather than constant skirmishing and raiding – ideal for empire building. Western warfare also emphasises innovation and the use of technology – witness the amazing achievement of Cortes and his men building sea-worthy ships on the land-locked Mexican lakes to defeat the Aztecs in their canoes. The Western way of warfare also emphasise the quality of training, cohesion of the troops and tactics over mere numbers. Organisation/discipline is the greatest multiplier effect of them all.
j) The Atlantic gave Western Europe proximity to the treasures of North, Central and South America. In time, trans-Atlantic trade was so cheap that non-essential goods for mass consumption (sugar) could be produced in large volume in the Caribbean and then exported to Europe, creating the first global market for non-luxuries (quite a contrast to the old silk, gem or spice trades which all involved luxuries alone). Most importantly, the exploration of the Atlantic and beyond was not just a gov’t sponsored frolic, but involved commercial interests (shipowners, traders, fisherman) that sough commercial returns...thereby focussing things on viable opportunities for development rather than opportunities for tribute exaction or diplomatic showing off.
k) The existence of competing political jurisdictions in Europe meant that people and ideas that could not survive in one hostile environment could thrive in a neighbouring one.
l) The fortuitous development of modern finance in the 17th c ensured that creditable or creditworthy people could rely on the accumulated savings of others for the means necessary for enterprise and innovation. This gave Europeans an incredible advantage over other cultures that were finance-phobic (ie Islam which forbids interest) or the Hindu and Confucian worlds (where trust is reserved for family and caste alone, never strangers). The eventual widespread acceptance of impersonal instruments of debt marks a milestone in the development of trust in institutions and the law, and a giant step forward for civility and commerce.