In recent years the notion of ‘Eurocentrism’ has become a major theme of modern scholarship, especially in the study of the historical development of the modern world. More and more scholars seem to be coming to the viewpoint that modern historical scholarship has been crippled by the bias of a Eurocentric perspective. Europeans have overstressed their own importance, it is claimed, and have failed to notice that the contributions of non-Europeans to the development of the modern world have been just as great as those of the Europeans. The charge being made really consists of two parts. First, it is claimed that much of the non-European world, Asia in particular, was, economically speaking, at least on a par with Europe in the centuries before AD 1500, and in some ways even more advanced. This claim is then coupled with the assertion that there was nothing especially distinctive about Europe, no particular qualities that set it apart from the rest of the world, nothing that gave it some sort of special dynamic. In this article I wish to argue that these claims are overstated. The first claim has some truth to it, but in and of itself it is highly misleading. In some ways the non-European world was as advanced as Europe in die year 1500, but by that time Europe had become economically different from the rest of the world in a way that would prove decisive for the historical development of die next five centuries. The second claim I believe is manifestly false. Europe indeed had distinctive qualities that set it apart and that gave it a dynamism that was lacking elsewhere. Elsewhere, that is, except for one other part of die world, namely Japan. Japan was surprisingly like Europe in several important ways and it is no accident that Japan is today the most economically and industrially advanced society in die non-western world. One of the most important things I want to do in this paper is to show what features Europe and Japan shared that eventually allowed them to leave the rest of the world behind.