In 1500 Ming China had a credible claim to be the most advanced civilization in the world: "All Under Heaven". England at the end of the Wars of the Roses would have seemed quite primitive by contrast. Far fewer people lived along the Thames than lived along the Yangtze. Yet the lead that China had established in technology was not to be translated into sustained economic growth. In China a monolithic empire stifled colonial expansion and economic innovation in the Middle Kingdom. In Europe political division bred competition. Now the tables have turned. Is this the end of Western ascendency?
In 1683 a vast Ottoman army laid siege to Vienna, capital of Europe's most powerful empire. Domination of East over West was within the grasp of Islam. But Islam was defeated: not so much with firepower as brainpower-the application of science. Why was it that the Islamic world failed to absorb the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment? The key question today is how far the West is still capable of maintaining its scientific lead, at a time when educational attainment in science subjects is declining, while countries from Iran to Pakistan are showing themselves capable of building their own nuclear weapons.
The division within the West. Why it was that North America succeeded where South America failed. The two had much in common - not least the subjugation of indigenous peoples and the use of slavery by European immigrants - but they differed profoundly on individual property rights and representative democracy. There were two revolutions against crown rule in the Americas yet Simon Bolivar never turned out to be a George Washington. The property owning democracy was born in North America while the South was consigned to centuries of underdevelopment.
The transformational development of modern medicine made it possible to export Western Civilization to the "Dark Continent". But why was it that Europe's empires failed in their mission to "civilize" Africa, exposing the most violent side of Western dominance ...and the violent side of medical science? Competing nation states, power and might became an essential component of the domination of the West and eventually brought the heart of darkness home to Europe in 1914. The ensuing world wars endangered the West's hold on cultural, political and economic dominance.
Why does the world dress like we do? After the Second World Ware the West was resurrected as the "consumer society" which spread relentlessly around the globe. Led by the Japanese, most of the world's people have now embraced the Western way of shopping and dressing. Only the Muslim world has resisted. But how long can the burkha hold out against Gap? Or are we beginning to see the first signs of a challenge to the global dominance of Western dress codes?
Why has Europe lost faith in itself, but America hasn't? The Protestant work ethic has faded in Europe, but Americans, by contrast, have kept the faith. And in China there is an explosion of both the entrepreneurial spirit and Protestantism. Europeans fear that the biggest threat to Western Civilization may be the environmental consequences of Asian growth. Yet these fears of a secular apocalypse may underestimate the ability of Western civilization to solve the problems we have created for ourselves. Perhaps the real threat to our survival is our loss of faith ... in ourselves.
Presenter and Writer - Niall Ferguson
Series Producer - Melanie Fall
Series Director - Adrian Pennink
Producer - Susannah Price
Director - James Runcie
Director of Photography - Dewald Aukema
Series Editor - Julian Hart
Editors: Bill Coates; Ortly Danon; Joby Gee; Sam Billinge; Paul Binns
Executive Producer - Simon Berthon