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of meum, if not of tuum. From a positive point of view, the whole notion of property rights has been built upon it.


Clausewitz’s dictum “War is merely the continuation of policy by other means”24 puts succincly the ultimate problem of inter- national politics. Whereas within states legal systems evolved which prevented, to a greater or lesser extent, competition from degenerating into theft and murder, no legal systems existed between states — or none that were enforceable. Under such circumstances war could become endemic, and did. A study of the political systems devised or described by Plato and Aris- totle, for example, indicate that the City State (the largest viable unit that either seemed to consider desirable) was an en- tity organized for the purpose of fighting its neighbours, a situ- ation well borne out by the facts of their contemporary power politics. A similar situation developed in Northern Italy during the later Middle Ages. It cannot be an accident that in both cases inter-state competition was concurrent with products of high intellectual, literary and artistic merit, but the impact on the ordinary individual was severe risk to life, limb and property.

In theory, therefore, warfare results from competition for re- sources and living space. A well-known example is the Viking impact on Europe, which began as looting expeditions and con- tinued as invasions, settlement and conquest. These were merely the last of aggressive mass-population movements which had impinged on Western Europe for centuries. Central and Southern Europe continued to experience them for cen- turies to come. It would be hard to think of any time, in his- tory or (from the evidence available) prehistory, when some peoples were not trying to occupy space where others were liv- ing. Yet if this trend seems apparent when human behaviour is viewed at a distance, it dissolves when human motives are looked at up close and in detail, differing as they do consider- ably from straight acquisitiveness. The human aggressive in- stinct,25 evolved (as in other species) to ensure that an individual got as much as he could that was going and then kept it, could be channelled into less obviously rational func- tions that would take us too much out of our way to investi- gate. Suffice it to say that they all come under the heading of “politics”, with a subsection for “religion”.


It must have taken some time for it to dawn on people’s minds that the industrial process was increasing total wealth not just by multiples, but by orders of magnitude. However, even if and when this was perceived, it seemed less apparent that it was now no longer the case that what one person gained, an- other lost, that the whistle had been blown on the Zero Sum Game and that cakes were constantly being baked to satisfy anyone who wanted a slice.


With hindsight it can be stated that the outcome of the Indus- trial Revolution was that human beings no longer needed to go out and grab other people’s possessions by force, but merely to settle down, work hard and exchange the considerable surplus they produced for something they wanted from the surplus someone else produced. How simple it all seems! Yet how hard to put into practice.



This, indeed, is the burden of Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man.26 The way to achieve world peace and prosperity has been found: the market economy and democracy. If this statement seems breathtakingly simplistic and naive, consider the facts. Even the author’s names are sig- nificant in this respect.

Whatever aspect of civilization we turn to, the overwhelming bulk of information on any subject is of Western origin and in a European language, preponderantly English. Science and tech- nology are entirely Western products. The modes and attitudes of thought that have evolved with science are Western values. By a kind of evil irony, the most troublesome ideologies, na- tionalism and communism, are also of Western origin; indeed, Western civilization is the only culture whose own values and basis are, as a traditional and tolerated feature of that culture, open to systematic attack by its own members.

Perhaps it is also the only one whose problems are caused by its success and compassion rather than its failure and male- volence. For any species, the criterion for success has been numerical, something so abundantly accomplished by the human race that it is now touted as a problem, despite the fact that, overall, humanity has never been better fed or healthier. Nor have raw materials ever been cheaper,27 a constant com- plaint of those countries which supply them. Indeed, concern has shifted from our own species to others. As for compassion, no civilization has worried more about its poor, disabled and disadvantaged. Many would not be alive but for the progress of techniques to enable them to survive or even to be born. Others are kept dependent by well-meaning measures that pre- vent them from working,28 while children and criminals (quite often the same) are kept undisciplined from a concern for their “rights” or pending the discovery of the “underlying causes” of their behaviour.


Like it or not, World Civilization is Western Civilization, and no self-denigration, no search in the mystic East, or up the Amazon or anywhere else, mentally or physically, is going to alter this fact. Any culture, past, present or (one is tempted to say) to come can be appreciated, studied, digested and, to a greater or lesser extent assimilated or rejected. This itself is a characteristic of our civilization and so also is the open compe- tition between technologies, ideas, theories and, one has to add, values and virtues.

What emerges will be the product of millions of individual choices. Of course these will have to run the gauntlet of spe- cial interests, scare-stories and blandishments, price-wars and amazing free offers. The alternative, political control, also has to run the same gauntlet, with this difference, that those seeking to influence decisions have merely to persuade a Legislature, or a Government, instead of millions of individuals. Who, for example, is going to try to persuade everyone to stay away from the shops on Sunday, when they can lean on the Govern- ment to close them?

The problems remain enormous. Human nature is not lightly going to abandon its characteristics of aggression, territoriality and xenophobia, so useful in the past. Politicians will continue to remain convinced that they know better than we do what’s good for us. Yet the solutions are to hand. And, we can say, with a small spark of pride (however much our contemporary culture tries to deny it us), they were evolved in these islands.

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