In the annual Torah cycle, we Jews always read the story of the Tower of Babel shortly before Halloween. This year we read it last Saturday. A strange coincidence. Although it’s not quite a horror story, the story of Babel is about evil. In particular, it is about the evil that men might do when they all speak the same language. So empowered, Genesis informs us, men seek to glorify themselves rather than serving God. Frankenstein, the quintessential modern horror story, tells the same tale.
Niall Ferguson calls his latest 300-page best-seller, Civilization: The West and the Rest “a history of the world, in which Western dominance is the phenomenon to be explained.” (xxv) It’s a rollicking fun read, to be sure, though one would hardly call it a “history.” It is more like an historical essay, woven together with cultural commentary that has a specific trigger in mind. The trigger is the financial meltdown of 2008, and the key questions it raises for the author are: Could 2008 be the harbinger of a sudden collapse of Western dominance and its replacement by an ascendant China? And: What, if anything, could the West do to avoid such an unappetizing prospect?