Great Divergence and the Rise of the West

  • Grinin L
  • Korotayev A
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In this chapter the authors first of all give a sketch of the whole process of the Great Divergence and its transformation into the Great Convergence. This is followed by a detailed analysis of those factors that allowed the West to overtake the East in the Modern Period, as well as those factors that put in motion the process of the Great Divergence. This necessitates the consideration of certain aspects of the development of the East and the West from the mid-fifteenth century (and even earlier in some respects) till the late twentieth century. Among the most important provisions that the authors develop in this chapter is the idea that, starting with the early second millennium BC, one can distinguish the potential that later enabled Europe to overtake the East. However, for a long time Europe lagged far behind the East, and it managed to develop its potential advantages only in the Early Modern Period. The chapter analyzes in detail the reasons that enabled Europe to achieve this. Another important idea in this chapter is that the authors believe it is much more reasonable to consider the Industrial Revolution as a rather long-term process that started in the late fifteenth century and continued till the mid-nineteenth century. This process went through several phases, and, in our understanding, the period between the last third of the eighteenth and the first third of the nineteenth century (this period is traditionally denoted as the period of the “Industrial Revolution”) was only the final phase of the Industrial Revolution, at which an irreversible transition to machine technology and at the same time to a new kind of energy occurred. But it was the most prominent and visible phase of the industrial revolution. The authors do not consider the European nineteenth-century breakthrough as a really unexpected development, they rather view it as a fairly long process that continued from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century, during which in some respects (e.g. military-technical and scientific) Europe was already ahead of the advanced countries of Asia, whereas in others (such as the level of craftsmanship) it still lagged behind. But in general, we denote this period as “catching up divergence”. All of the above said has allowed the authors to express their own opinion on the reasons for the Britain leadership in that period. Although Britain was clearly the leader at that point, but in that period one also observes a number of important processes that can be identified as pan-European (including the development of military technology, trade, science, pan-European commercial and industrial crises of the second half of the eighteenth century, and the beginning of the demographic transition). From this perspective, the authors clearly trace in the Industrial Revolution the result of the collective achievements of different European societies.




Grinin, L., & Korotayev, A. (2015). Great Divergence and the Rise of the West. In Great Divergence and Great Convergence (pp. 17–84). Springer International Publishing.

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