The West and the Rest: The Science of the Great Divergence

Peter Turchin
Cliodynamics June 1, 2013 Journal Link


There is now a huge literature attempting to explain the ‘Great Divergence’ between Europe and the rest of the world during the early modern period. The Uniqueness of Western Civilization by Ricardo Duchesne follows a distinct route in both framing the question and proposing an answer to it. I see two serious problems with Duchesne’s work. The first one is how he resolves the intrinsic tension between his ideological goals and the requirements of the scientific method. The second problematic aspect, which is shared by most of the broader literature on this topic, is that there are serious methodological difficulties in explaining unique historical events. This article discusses general approaches to the study of unique events, such as the Great Divergence. It also critiques two myths of European exceptionalism that are discussed by Duchesne and, even more importantly, still have broad currency in the historical literature: the supposed geographic uniqueness of Europe and the so-called Western Way of War.
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