2003 August 23 Saturday
Charles Murray On Europe's Run As Dominant Culture

Charles Murray argues that, contrary to all claims by postmodern scholars that other parts of the world have made as many contributions to science, art, and literature, Europe was overwhelmingly the biggest source of intellectual accomplishment from the end of the Middle Ages thru 1950.

The third caution is to remember that many civilizations arose independently of Europe, and rose to similar technological levels-developing tools and techniques that enabled them to build large structures and road networks, develop complex agricultural practices and distribution mechanisms, conduct commerce, and build thriving cities. Evidence scattered from Angkor Wat to Machu Picchu attests to the ability of human beings throughout the world to achieve amazing technological feats.

And yet the underlying reality is that Europe since 1400 has overwhelmingly dominated accomplishment in both the arts and sciences. The estimates of the European contribution are robust. I write at a time when Europe's run appears to be over. Bleaker yet, there is reason to wonder whether European culture as we have known it will even exist by the end of this century. Perhaps this is an especially appropriate time to stand back in admiration. What the human species can claim to its credit in the arts and sciences is owed in astonishing degree to what was accomplished in just a half-dozen centuries by the peoples of one small portion of the northwestern Eurasian land mass.

Murray explains why he came to those conclusions in the text of the article.

The article is an overview of the topics covered by his new book Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 August 23 01:43 PM  Cultural Wars Western


Comments
linden said at October 26, 2003 10:06 PM:

I've not read his book yet, but from reviews I've learned he believes the rate of accomplishment has severely diminished since the 1800s, does he have any ideas regarding how to reverse this upsetting trend?

Boomslang said at November 27, 2003 11:35 PM:

I guess I'll need to read his full text before I form a final judgement, but on the face of it, it's asinine. Can you name one non-Western significant intellectual development since 1950? Can you name a new class of technology pioneered by a non-Western society? How about a significant philosopical concept? Even the successes that non-Western nations have made since the end of WWII are based on their adoption of some Western practices while keeping the essence of their traditional societies. But none has pioneered any new concepts.

Talking about the decline in the rate of accomplishment is like describing a smaller increase in spending as a "cut". It's done all the time, but that doesn't make it right.

Steve Russell said at December 19, 2004 8:41 AM:

When addressing Murray's point, it is important to understand what he means by "meta inventions." These are inventions--scientific or artistic--that truely change civilization. For example, the written language and artistic realism are meta inventions, while post modern soup cans on canvass, and "The Simpsons" are not meta inventions.

I find his "punch line" at the end of the book to be most illuminating, at least when it comes to the production of great art. He tells a story of the masons working on the gargoyles to be placed atop the Notre Dame Cathedral. Someone asked them why they were taking such great care in crafting them since they would not be seen by the people below. One of the masons replied that God would see them. I believe Murray was implying that truly great art was the result of spiritual inspiration.

He gives no such diagnosis for scientific advancement. It could be that we have simply reached the end of history. However, I still hold out hope for the future production of my George Jetson mobile (floating car) which uses negative gravity created by negative pressure (as opposed to positive gravity created by positive pressure, see Einstien's theaory of special relativity).

The 12 year old boy from gifted school said at May 20, 2006 8:36 AM:

i think that europe has accomplished a lot however, many of the things credited to the european civilizations were found centuries ago by other civilizations. many of this information traveled across the silk route from india, china and japan to europe, so that the european people would learn eventually. the europeans were the first to write the stuff down and declare it a european acheivement, however, it was already known in many places around the globe. many developing nations would have discovered the lightbulb, tv , computer etc. if they had the time or freedom to do. however, europe massacred and wrongly dominated the countries and stopped all freedom and creativity or ingeneuity. for instance, we know that the indians were the first to have the number 0 and integers, algebra (and now calculus, the pythagorem theorum and quadriactric equations have been found in old ancient hindu texts and was used by hindu mathematecians)and india had the first spinning wheel in the world. they had yoga, meditation, science, surgery found over 2000 years ago, ayurveda or advanced medicine, astronomy and astrology. nicholas copernicus is credited with the heliocentric theory, the theory of the sun being the center of the solar system, however, recently european archelogists and brittish indian historians have found that the hindu mathematician arayadutta had already learnt of the heliocentric theory of hindu sages through meditationl. also, kung fu (one of the oldest martial arts ) has a legend of a dark-skinned monk coming from the south and teaching them the martial arts. this legend has been connected with the evidence of an indian monk named bohdidharma who taught the chinese a varient of kalaripayuttu, an ancient indian martial art associated with yoga meditation and prayer to the hindu gods and godesses. now archelogists think that the martial art spread from india to china to japan and korea. now the art has transformed into kung fu, tai kwon do, bushido, samurai swordfighting,and many other martial arts. india was the richest country in the world before the european invasion and was the only source of diamonds till sfrica was found. to invade such a proserous country and stop them from inventing greater things to help mankind and massacre and dominate them, take their riches to a small european country, use the money to send many people to the americas and give them lives of luxury and then after they have invented things, call europe a great continent. who knows howmany great inventions the indians could have invented is they had not been massacred. and the hindus were so kind to the europeans and gave the english, french, portuguese, spanish, dutch and danish settleers food. in return they got killed, plundered and robbed. (robert clive's plunder of the small indian state of bengal is estimated at an amzazing 1 trillion dollars taking in inflation rates and other economical changes). the reason that europe had more of a "civilization" that africa is because they could get easy information from the asians due to their connected land ( europe is directly connectedf to asia while africa is far away and is barely connected). would a truly intellegent race stop their own brother's creativity, plunder them, bring desease and robb them? or help them and stop their suffering? before the european invsions, there were barely any starving people in india and now look at the masses of starving, deseased poor children? if india wasn't invaded it would have been the greatest country and would have invented everything the europeans and americans invented. people credit europe with amazing language when sanskrit is the sister language of latin and far more older. in fact, american computer ingeneers have found that sanskrit would be an easier language to uise in programming counputers. this website itself is named parapundit when pundit is a word from sanskrit. you cannot credit a place with inventions of something unless they did it all by themselves without stopping another country from inventing such things.


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