Niall Ferguson, in his recently-published book titled Civilization: The West and the Rest, cites six criteria which enabled the West to surpass civilizations that were more advanced. These “killer apps”, as he calls them, are listed below. Against each there is a short summary of how the current South African regime compares.
- Competition, in that Europe itself was politically fragmented and that within each monarchy or republic there were multiple competing corporate entities. A decentralization of both political and economic life, which created the launch pad for both nation-states and capitalism.
We have one-party dominance with the African National Congress in collusion with labour (COSATU) and compromised by failed/discredited communist (SACP) ideals and policies of centralism.
- The Scientific Revolution, in that all the major seventeenth-century breakthroughs in mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry and biology happened in Western Europe. A way of studying, understanding and ultimately changing the natural world, which gave the west (among other things) a major military advantage over the rest.
We have a complete failure in education, especially in the sciences with no apparent will to fix the problem. This is exacerbated by the alliance member SADTU (Democratic Teachers Union); an unwillingness to import skills; and cadre deployment over academic excellence and meritocracy. Movements to decolonize tertiary education are growing.
- The rule of law and representative government, in that an optimal system of social and political order emerged in the English-speaking world, based on private property rights and the representation of property-owners in elected legislatures. The rule of law as means of protecting private owners and peacefully resolving disputes between them which formed the basis for the most stable form of representative government.
We have calls for nationalisation, property seizures without compensation, threats to the independence of the judiciary and confusion of power between ruling party and state; ANC cadre deployment in all spheres of power including the judiciary; we have the proposed secrecy bill and ANC paranoia regarding ‘threats’ from within and without the governing alliance; we have communal tribal trust lands not privately held and vast tracts of unproductive government owned land. In short, we have a kakistocracy: government by the least qualified or most unprincipled citizens.
- Modern medicine, in that nearly all the major nineteenth- and twentieth-century breakthroughs in healthcare, including the control of tropical diseases, were made by Western Europeans and North Americans. A branch of science that allowed a major improvement in health and life expectancy, beginning in the western societies, but also in their colonies.
We have a complete failure to sustain or improve on healthcare delivery; former AIDS denial; official support of traditional medicine and quackery; underfunding of medical facilities, education and research; an attitude of hostility to pharmaceutical companies; resentment of effective private healthcare systems and breaking what is fixed rather than fixing what is broken, with the National Health Insurance (NHI),
- The consumer society, in that the Industrial Revolution took place where there was both a supply of productivity-enhancing technologies and a demand for more, better and cheaper goods, beginning with cotton garments
We have labour laws impairing employment, production and productivity; labour (and other administered costs) which increases costs, and with it the rate of inflation. Every facet of our lives is being regulated. There is a surfeit of demand but its fulfilment is seen as an entitlement as opposed to an earned right.
- The work ethic, in that Westerners were the first people in the world to combine more extensive and intensive labour with higher savings rates, permitting sustained capital accumulation. A moral framework and mode of activity derivable from (among other sources) Protestant Christianity which provides the glue for the dynamic and potentially unstable society created by 1 – 5 above.
We have work as an entitlement; BEE; a spend-now attitude; no savings ethos; capital consumption (lack of maintenance or new infrastructure) rather than capital accumulation; wastage of tax revenue through corruption, flawed tenders, fronting, grandiose projects (FIFA stadia, Gautrain, Nkandla, e-tolling); no credible role models; communalism, uBuntu and collective responsibility.
In summary, Ferguson states “… Western civilisation is more than just one thing; it is a package. It is about political pluralism (multiple states and multiple authorities) as well as capitalism; it is about the freedom of thought as well as scientific method; it is about the rule of law and property rights as well as democracy.”
This is all true, but what is not said is that these factors operate as multipliers on each other – they are not linear. If any one is missing (or negative) a negative multiplier is introduced. This is the concept of holism and symbiosis; for example, if capitalism is replaced by communism the formula would turn negative, even if all the other criteria are fulfilled.
George C Roche III, in Power: Legacy of Freedom, says it all:
“So long as government is viewed as an agency through which virtue and happiness for the individual may be attained, so long as governments are viewed as causes rather than effects, so long as individuals believe that self-responsibility may be escaped through retreat to the collective ethic, power will be rampant in our society. As the state grows more and more powerful, the individual citizen will tend to grow weaker and weaker.”
The current regime sells itself as just such an agency and, sadly, the majority believes that it can derive an enduring benefit from government of this kind.
Time will prove them wrong.