“The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do.” from Samuel Huntington

Ran across this quote before, most lately in a post from Tim Bray. The quote bothered me because it both contains an element of truth, and seems somehow incomplete. In what respect the quote was incomplete - this took a bit longer to elaborate.

The word you want to focus on is “organized”.

Violence is not a special quality of the West. Far from it. So how was it the “West won the world”? When one human attempts to kill another human, the better trained, equipped, and supplied will win. On the individual scale luck may be a significant factor. On the large scale and over the long haul - luck only counts when opposing sides are near evenly matched. Economic battles are not very different.

The West “won” because the sides were not evenly matched. Simply put, the West was better organized. Better social organization, better economic organization, better technology - we can argue about the definition of “better” - but in this case the final sum was when it came down to “organized violence”, the West won. What made the difference was the productive - not destructive - side of the equation.

The booming economies in China, India, and southeast Asia are enabled by the infusion of “Western” ideas and organization. Those economies are kept relatively safe by the threat of Western violence against those who would disrupt existing order.

In the long run, the human race is still very young. Our notions of social organization - on the large and small scale - are still very uncertain. Within that context of approximation - there is no escaping the conclusion that the West did indeed win the world on the superiority of its ideas.

As a quote: “The West won the world by its superiority in farming.” - contains more truth - if not as memorable as the quote from Huntington.