Last year, I took Western Civilization I through my school and posted this book review on that textbook. This year, I had to take the logical next class, Western Civilization II. I think I appreciated this volume much more because my interest in this time period is high. But further, I think there is something about our culture that denigrates Western Civilization. I’ve been following a trend in our culture where the universities that are a product of Western Civilization are now going away from teaching it. There’s actually a huge push against the good things that Western Civilization has done to a more inclusive model. And while I don’t doubt that the Chinese (which has been a particular fascination of my own) and the great Islamic Empires gave much to Western Civilization, there is something that we’ve inherited that is particularly of use today: namely, the Judeo-Christian worldview that made much of our progress possible.
I was listening to Dr. Al Mohler’s podcast earlier this year where he spoke about this epidemic. To quote the article he cited, named “How a Generation Lost Its Common Culture“, one professor said this: “[My students] are the culmination of western civilization, a civilization that has forgotten nearly everything about itself, and as a result, has achieved near-perfect indifference to its own culture.” I think there is a lot to be said in that statement.
Regardless, I value the ideals Western Civilization has given us and I thought this was a very insightful book. This would be a very long post if I went through everything, so here are some highlights of what I thought was most interesting:
What is different about this book than other history textbooks I’ve read is that it does not just give a history of events, but also of ideas. I thought some of the most interesting sections spoke on how philosophy has changed and matured throughout the ages. And more specifically, how it’s influenced people to do certain things. For example, the nationalism that became so viral at the end of the 19th century exploded in the 20th both in World War I and World War II.
What I thought was particularly interesting was the many chapters on the French. The French Revolution took a whole chapter to flesh out and I think it’s one of the most interesting phenomenons in all of Western Civilization (that’s my own opinion at least). Clearly the French were due for a revolt it just was a matter of time.
Speaking of which, I love the period of time between the 18th and 19th centuries where countries and it some ways, humanity, were still trying to figure themselves out. Just coming to modernity as full fledged nation states, there is this awkward bumping around as if they were a toddler trying to figure out how to stand and walk. Those growing pains produced much misery but also some incredible benefits which we are still seeing today. An example would be our own nation’s independence. France went through the French Revolution, which seems to be the only one people talk about; but another revolution occurred in 1848. In fact, that nation is on their 5th Republic. That’s right; there has been so much unrest in that nation that they’ve had to re-start 5 times.
There’s a nasty video (warning: language) called “the Most Honest 3 Minutes in Television History” going around that is really full of lies. The play politicians are asked why America is so great. The two insiders give shameless plugs to American Democracy like “freedom” and “diversity”. But the last guy goes off and after a diatribe saying that America imports more than they export and other mindless statistics (most of which are false, by the way), says he doesn’t know what she’s talking about saying America is the greatest country on earth. Well, after studying Western Civilization, this is what makes America great: we have a constitution that has never been upended, that has never been replaced; we’ve never gone through a coup or an insurrection (minus the Civil War which someone is bound to point out; problem is while it did fracture the country, the country stayed together); we are an economic powerhouse that the world has never seen before and allows a free market; we are more rich than most of the world and we can say that unapologetically. This is all more than most nations can say and it comes from our heritage based in Western Civilization. We like to call ourselves “diverse” and “open minded” but the truth is, none of that could be possible without a basis in the Judeo-Christian idea of the imago dei – we are made in the image of God. Videos like this make me mad not because they are made, but because people actually believe in this stuff. I’m not trying to say America is so great, I’m just saying the claims in this video are ridiculous and that the reasons we are a great nation have a lot to do with our founding and constitution and influences from Christian men, to the chagrin (I’m sure) of those who would push against that idea.
In conclusion, I think we can learn a lot about ourselves from studying the Western tradition and I’m saddened that it’s gotten such a bad reputation. That’s not to say that those who helped form our current civilization were without fault; quite the contrary. However, as I’ve often said, history can tell us a lot about who we are and that’s what I think this is important.