Ferguson: The Descent of the West

Harvard historian attributes Western dominance to "killer apps"

HONG KONG, November 21, 2012 — Niall Ferguson delivered the keynote address of the Asia Society Hong Kong Center Fall Gala Dinner, contrasting the diminishing preeminence of the West with the ascendancy of the rest of the world, especially that of Asia.

Ferguson, the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University, explained that for the past five centuries, Western powers had a monopoly on six "killer applications," which allowed them to overtake their Eastern competitors.

The six killer apps, which he details in his book Civilization: The West and the Rest, are: competition, science, the rule of law, modern medicine, consumerism, and the work ethic. These concepts, according to Ferguson, became firmly established in Western civilizations hundreds of years before they did in other parts of the world and helped the West dominate global affairs until today.

Over the past few decades, however, Asia and the rest of the world have downloaded the killer apps, industrialized with breathtaking speed, caught up with the West, and, by some measures, surpassed it, he said.

"This is an amazing discontinuity in our history," explained Ferguson. A new global order is in the making but "it's a cause for celebration that the world is becoming a more balanced place," he added.

Even so, Ferguson noted that he worries about the decline of the West, which he described as "something we need to correct."

Reported by Audrey Yoo

Video: Watch the complete program (1 hr., 19 min.)