In considering how the culture of Western Europe, so backward at the terminus of Late Antiquity relative to China, India, the Middle East and even the Americas — unlikely as it would have appeared to contemporaries — came to dominate the world with its arms and ideas we must consider not geography, shared as it always was with Asia, and not genetics, shared also with Asia, but rather the development path that Europe undertook in the intervening centuries.
Unique among contemporary civilizations, Europe remained politically divided — with the exception of the short interlude that was the reign of Charlemagne — and under only sporadic ideological control by the Church, contested as it so often was by its princes. Europe, due to perhaps its single item of geographic good fortune, was also spared the terrible unity that was the period of the Mongol domination. Instead, it is Europe’s feature of unbridled competition — among states, among elites, among the thinkers — that seems to be its most notable distinctive feature. Consequently then, the Church’s relative inability of the Church to prevent schisms and suppress heresies — as compared to corresponding Islam’s success and to the success of the Chinese Confucian power structure to prevail even upon emperors with few notable exceptions — that permitted the new thinking, new discoveries, and rise of new classes that transformed Europe and then the world. Neither the rise of the commercial classes nor the Industrial Revolution could have been possible if the homogeneity of the old order could have been maintained intact. While, by contrast, it is certain that both China and Islam led the early development of science and technology, in the case of China in particular it is telling that the bulk of such development occurred during periods of disunity and strife rather than more peaceful central hegemony.
We can generalize, perhaps, that in stable, hegemonic societies the competition is more among individuals and small groupings for ascension within the established hierarchy, while in competitive, diverse environments the competition is among elites of wider groupings, whose rise is predicated on the rise of the groupings themselves. This same dynamic may even be extended to the decline and fall of earlier civilizations such as the Western Roman, the Egyptian, the succession of the Indian states who, accustomed as they were to internal stability through cohesion, were unprepared to adapt sufficiently to confront newly emerging external threats. Perhaps even the fall of the Soviet Union could be traced to the same dynamic. Perhaps even the very rise of world-historic, transcendent civilizations can be explained by group-conflict competition. The conditions for their formation existed early in every region where they arose.
It is the inability of sub-Saharan Africa to develop transcendent civilizations that is harder to explain without resorting to environmental factors. Perhaps it simply is the agricultural infertility of large sections of the continent that simply prevented sufficient contact among tribes to create the necessary competitive environment. A less charitable — and politically correct — explanation could be that sub Saharan Africa’s population is comprised of the descendants of the people’s who did not leave and so lack the genetic traits necessary to pioneer; even if no substantive evidence exists to prove such an assertion.