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June 2012

Educating a NationRenewing the Promise

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Office of the Chancellor, University of California–Irvine.

Arch Ophthalmol. 2012;130(6):785-786. doi:10.1001/archophthalmol.2011.1095

In his recent book, Why the West Rules . . . For Now,1 archeologist and philosopher Ian Morris examines several millennia of the human record in an attempt to determine what makes one or another nation, society, or culture dominate others. His work is exhaustive and intriguing, and the ultimate answer seems to be that many factors are at play.

By their very nature, nations define themselves by culture and competitive advantage. Geography, history, ethnicity, and religion emerge as critical characteristics but not necessarily determinative ones. For example, nearby Toronto is clearly Canadian and Havana seems a world away, while Honolulu is as American as apple pie (and poi) and is the home of the US president. Modern European, Middle Eastern, Asian, and African history have produced dozens of new nations, some relatively fleeting and several seemingly on the brink of metamorphosis at any given moment. A consistent feature of stable nations has been an emotional cultural link between the people as well as some number of competitive advantages that allowed the country to sustain and protect itself from those forces or cultures that would seek to redefine or control the nation's borders or destiny.

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