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A Legacy of Competition

4 min read

While international apologists might cite a myriad of unfair factors, of the six complexes Niall Ferguson proposed in his seminal work “Civilization: The West and the Rest,” likewise, only one rises above the rest. [Niall] It is the adamant resolve of the author that unbridled competition, with all of its strengths and flaws, gave birth to the other components that ensured the success of Western civilization. This naturally cuts the other five ‘killer applications’ down to size as mere progeny or symptomatic benefits but also implicates other civilized regions as insufficiently or improperly capable of competition.

Just as Ayn Rand taught that “the smallest minority on earth is the individual” it is essential to understand that pure Competition’s “decentralization of both political and economic life” was fundamentally embodied and applied at the ground level between people.[Niall, Ayn], So while it is easy to focus on the macrocosmic systems of communities, nations, alliances, and regions all of them were ultimately driven, directed, and fueled by the contained people; competing to fulfill all matter of desires. This continues to be a theme repeatedly explored by the author:

“Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs when simplified (as all unnecessarily complex things can and should be) reveals the triarchic natural needs of man as first physical survival, emotional desires, and then the intangible fulfillment of self-actualization… Alvin Toffler found these ideals informed our major revolutions and subsequently the forms of power and political structures built to contain them. First physical needs are fulfilled by the Agricultural Revolution that gave birth to civilization with farming and warfare.”[Kabeia Rineaki Brock Sutton Allen “A Noble Theory”]

Viewed through this lense, what might have humbly started as a survival instinct and later developed into resource extraction at international level is in its purest form competition, expressed by individuals; individuals who form communities and society. It follows then, that society and all of its machinations, namely- the other five complexes of Science, Property Rights, Medicine, Consumption, and Work Ethic are but by products of the cataclysm of Competition.[Niall] It is, in a sense, the granddaddy to all others.

The tempting conclusion that Niall (and admittedly the author) are drawn to is that the success of the West is indicative of the failure of individuals in counterpart civilized regions of the world, as they would normally be held responsible for success. However, additional analysis reveals that this false dichotomy is but the misapplication of the subject material- Competition. “The West and the Rest” as they are referred to by Ferguson are not parallel experiments operating vacuums but intertwined peers.[Niall] While the West has undoubtedly emerged as the location for the greatest developments in civilization (and the application thereof) its success was not earned independently and one might even argue that its cohesion required the existence of a competing, external world. Furthermore, such geographic distinctions, while objective, are historically whimsical. So if individuals are seen as the final units most responsible the decentralized nature of Competition could ultimately lead to the rise of a new world powers; be they certain regions, empires, nations, businesses or even a single person. As the author expressed before:

“Even if it is as a pathetic peasant, an apathetic citizen or haughty noble this gift endows all with the ability to impose order on the frontiers and civilize nature or to strengthen or upending the existing social order. In this sense, each individual acts as a carrier of the current conquering ideals, ethics, collective cultural knowledge. No matter what is decided, one is either propagating or improving civilization.”[Kabeia Rineaki Brock Sutton Allen “We, the Conquerors and Conquered”]

From individuals interacting, competition was born and from competition was born society and all other complexes. So while Niall obsesses over where it happened best, one must understand that the success that came from all of those complexes was ultimately the fruits of the labors of individuals. And individuals can be found anywhere.


Sources Cited

Ayn Rand, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (New York: New American Library, 1966)

Kabeia Rineaki Brock Sutton Allen “A Noble Theory” (paper, POLS 2300, Utah State University, February 9, 2018)

Kabeia Rineaki Brock Sutton Allen “We, the Conquerors and Conquered” (paper, USU 1320, Utah State University, September 19, 2018)

Niall Ferguson, Civilization: The West and the Rest (New York: Penguin Books, 2012), 13.