Dinesh D’souza has an article that summarizes what he has written about extensively elsewhere regarding what makes the West great. The international socialists, unfortunately, have been spreading a myth that the West has become rich, only to the extent that it has victimized non-Western nations…as if there were “pre-existing wealth” located all over the world that the West has collected to the exclusion of everybody else. D’souza is one of the best at smashing this erroneous point of view. He argues that if anything, colonialism tremendously benefited non-Western nations by putting them in contact with Western ideas, which would bring them closer to freedom and prosperity:
Did the West enrich itself at the expense of minorities and the Third World through its distinctive crimes of slavery and colonialism? This thesis is hard to sustain, because there is nothing distinctively Western about slavery or colonialism. The West had its empires, but so did the Persians, the Mongols, the Chinese, and the Turks. Some Western empires like Britain and France grew rich, while others like Spain and Portugal remained poor. And if colonialism is a universal institution, so is slavery. Slavery has existed in every known civilization, from China to India to Africa to pre-Columbian America.
What is uniquely Western is not slavery but the movement to abolish slavery. Of course in every society, slaves have strongly resisted being slaves. Runaways and slave revolts occurred frequently in all slave cultures. But never in history, outside the West, did a movement arise of potential slave-owners to oppose slavery in principle. Only in the West, and specifically in America, did hundreds of thousands of people expend a good deal of treasure and ultimately a great deal of blood to bring freedom to African Americans—a group that was not in a position to secure freedom for itself.
After defeating George Foreman for the heavyweight title in Zaire, Muhammad Ali returned to the United States where he was asked by a reporter, “Champ, what did you think of Africa?” Ali replied, “Thank God my grand-daddy got on that boat!” Ali’s point was that although the institution of slavery was oppressive for the slaves, paradoxically it benefited their descendants because slavery was the transmission belt that brought African Americans into the orbit of Western freedom. The same is true of colonialism: against the intentions of the European powers, who came mainly to conquer and rule, colonialism proved to be the mechanism by which Western ideas like democracy, self-determination, and unalienable human rights came to the peoples of Asia, Africa, and South America.
Elsewhere D’souza has written that we can’t claim that exposure to Western ideas has been 100% positive—that there were indeed some pernicious ideas (at least one big one) that have Western origins that did take off in many non-Western nations, most notably Marxism.
On the other hand, I think of Hong Kong, who now long for the days of British colonialism. Even without democracy, Hong Kong implemented a laissez faire economic system which enabled it to transform from a lesser developed nation to a rich industrialized one within a shockingly short period of time. And they did so while existing on land with virtually no natural resources—just one big rock.
From what I remember about Hong Kong’s history, it was as if Britain had one long lease (around one hundred years?) that recently expired, and they had to give it back to China. China hasn’t yet destroyed Hong Kong’s free market system. Indeed, China seems to be embracing free markets in the homeland. But they rule with a far heavier hand than Britain ever did (or at least than Britain did in the modern era).