Western Civilization


The Way the West Won
by James Kurth
The American Conservative, 2004-09-13

[From its introduction:]

Among scholarly interpreters of the West,
it has been widely understood that
Western civilization was formed from three distinct traditions:
  1. the classical culture of Greece and Rome;

  2. the Christian religion; and

  3. the Enlightenment of the modern era.
Many have seen Western civilization as a synthesis of all three traditions;
others have emphasized the conflicts among them,
the struggle between the Christian religion and the Enlightenment
being especially consequential.

The first of the Western traditions was classical culture.
In the realm of politics, for example,
Greece contributed the idea of a republic, while
Rome contributed that of an empire.
Greece contributed the idea of liberty and
Rome that of law.
Combined, these gave rise to the important concept of liberty under law
[cf. James 1:25].

Christian theology established the sanctity of the individual believer
and called for obedience to an authority (Christ)
higher than any secular ruler (Caesar),
ideas that further refined and supported the concept of liberty under law.
Christian institutions,
particularly the papacy of the Roman Catholic Church
and its ongoing struggle with the Holy Roman Emperor and local monarchs,
bequeathed to the West the idea of a separation of powers.

The modern Enlightenment provided the ideas of
liberal democracy,
the free market, and
the belief in reason and science as the means for making sense of the world.
More particularly,
the British Revolution of 1688 emphasized liberty and constitutionalism, while
the French Revolution of 1789 emphasized democracy and rationalism.
The differences between the Enlightenment in Britain and on the Continent
would give rise to important divisions within the West
during much of the 19th and 20th centuries.
This was the case with the Industrial Revolution
and the different responses to it;
both state guidance of the economy and Marxist ideology
played a much greater role on the Continent
than in Britain or the United States.

[Its section titles:]
  1. From Christendom to Western Civilization

  2. The American Redefinition of Western Civilization

  3. The Cold War Concept of Western Civilization

  4. The Death of the Classical Tradition

  5. The Ordeal of the Christian Tradition

  6. The Dominance of the Enlightenment Tradition

  7. From the Enlightenment Tradition to Post-Western Civilization

  8. Defenders of the Faith:
    The Role of Liberals, Conservatives, and Neo-Conservatives

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