Classics, Classics Series, Education, recent, Top Stories

Is Western Civilization Uniquely Bad?

This is part three of a four-part series on the Classics. 

Even if the concept of Western civilization isn’t inherently incoherent, some would argue that we should still be extremely cautious of it, or maybe even avoid it altogether, because of the way Western nations have engaged in various sorts of racism, war-mongering, and imperialistic exploitation. On this view, the legacy of the West is irredeemably tainted, and we should either steer clear of it altogether, or, if we have to teach it, we should teach it in an openly and self-consciously critical way.

Now, it’s impossible to deny that Western nations have done some terrible things. From the Spanish looting of the Inca Empire, to the British massacre of Indian civilians at Amritsar, the list of Western depredations is long. Violence within the West, and among Western nations, has been just as horrific, from the eight million or so deaths caused by the Thirty Years’ War to the 60 or 70 million fatalities of World War II.

The problem is, though, that if we are looking for a civilization that never engaged in mass violence or destruction, we’re unlikely to find one. The Warring States period in China was one of the bloodiest in history. The rapid spread of Islam in the seventh and eighth centuries wasn’t any more peaceful than the Christian crusades. Scrupulously pacifist cultures are hard to find, for an obvious reason—in a violent world, those who refused to fight back were liable to be eliminated, as the peace-loving Moriori of the Chatham islands nearly were in the 1830s.

At this point, it might be argued that only in the West was the cultural tradition intimately bound up with violence in a way that supported imperialistic ventures. Some of the West’s most foundational texts are relentlessly violent, like the Iliad, or openly imperialistic, like the Aeneid. And the influence of such works wasn’t confined to literature: the Spanish conquistadores found a ready justification of their treatment of native peoples in Aristotle’s doctrine of natural slavery, and British imperialists were still quoting endorsements of empire from Vergil in the 19th century. Should we really be having students read these same texts in the modern day?

The problem is that if we answer ‘no’ to this question, it quickly becomes apparent that there is virtually no civilization whose texts we can read. Other cultures, reared in worlds that were no less violent than the West, also produced texts that are full of violence, like the Bhagavad Gita, or that were guides to military conquest, like The Art of War. The Koran is no less violent than the Old Testament; and the New Testament is a reminder that texts that are part of the Western tradition can contain strongly pacifistic ideas, just as non-Western texts can. If the crusaders or the armies of the Thirty Years’ War found support for their violence in Christianity, Zen Buddhism provided just as much support to the equally violent imperialists of 20th century Japan.

Considering how difficult it is to find civilizations that completely rejected violence and imperialism either in their actions or in their cultural productions, it might occur to us that the West’s tendencies in this direction are not unique. What the historical record suggests, in fact, is that pretty much all cultures that we know of have been trying to beat other people up and take their stuff for the whole of human history. The fact that Western nations have, for the past two or three hundred years, done the lion’s share of these two activities probably isn’t then simply a result of Westerners being uniquely evil, or having a particularly nefarious cultural tradition. It’s more likely a result of the fact that, for a brief period of history which is now ending, Western nations were markedly better than their rivals at violence and conquest.

Why this came to be the case is one of the great historical questions, and, unsurprisingly, a number of explanation have been put forward. Maybe Western dominance has always been inevitable because the ancient Near East had more crops that were easy to domesticate than other parts of the world, meaning that agriculture and everything that flowed from it (dense populations, complex states, and so on) came to the Western part of Eurasia earlier than it did to the Eastern part. Maybe it was the fact that Europe was so much closer to the New World than China was, which allowed Europeans to reap the windfall of American gold and silver before the Chinese did. Maybe institutions that gradually limited the power of monarchs and increased stability and credit-worthiness played a role, as did the emerging scientific culture of the Enlightenment, and the technological advances it brought with it. Or maybe the dominance of the West was really only put beyond doubt after the Industrial Revolution, which led to an unprecedented and sustained explosion in economic growth. (And why the Industrial Revolution happened in England and not anywhere else first is a great historical question in itself.)

Whichever of the explanations, or whatever combination of them, best explains what’s become known as “the Great Divergence” between West and East through the 18th and 19th centuries, one thing is clear: One of the old answers, the one that seemed obvious to many Western imperialists, is almost certainly wrong. Westerners didn’t take over the globe because their racial makeup made them inherently superior; as subsequent history has shown, non-Westerners are just as capable of sustaining wealthy, complex societies, or of making use of advanced technology, as Westerners.

But there’s another argument that’s also almost certainly wrong that, far from being left behind, has become almost hegemonic of late. This argument is the reverse of the one we’ve just considered: It holds that, rather than being uniquely virtuous, the West took over because Westerners were uniquely violent and rapacious. As we’ve seen, even a cursory perusal of the historical record reveals this not to be the case. Virtually all of the civilizations we know of have had a tendency to want to dominate and exploit their neighbors. And, in virtually all of them, cultural productions have tended to old the mirror up to the world they were formed in, so that violent and chauvinistic texts can be found pretty much everywhere too.

If we reject the study of Western civilization because of the violence that has often been part of it, we might be forced to reject the study of all other civilizations too. If the suggestion is simply to teach Western civilization in a self-consciously critical and cautionary way, consistency would seem to demand that we also teach Chinese and Islamic civilization with similar disclaimers. The solution would seem obvious: to teach all of these different traditions and histories in a neutral and objective way, and, when praise or censure seem appropriate, to mete it out equally to Western and non-Western cultures as necessary.

But there’s one further point that we can now make about Western civilization and the crimes of the West. Look back at the list of factors that have been put forward for the astounding military and economic superiority that the West achieved in the modern period. How many of them have to do with the distinctive character of Western literature and philosophy? Not many. And that shouldn’t be surprising, because if it really was (say) the transformation of the Western European economy that really enabled the West to take over, it’s hard to see what room is left for the role of books. In any case, as we’ve already seen, lots of cultures had violent books; only the West was able to play out the despicable ideas contained within them on a global stage.

Of course, violence wasn’t the only thing that the Westerners’ books contained; some of them also contained philosophies that stressed empiricism, not to mention scientific discoveries that were the fruit of empirical methodologies. How much of a role they played in the West getting ahead is up for debate (after all, there were a lot of books in Chinese and Arabic that had some things to say about science too, and China and the Islamic world were nevertheless left behind.) But it’s certainly possible to tell a story about how the particular set of scientific ideas found in Western culture, especially during the Enlightenment, paved the way for the Industrial Revolution as well as the West’s successful exploration (not to mention conquest) of distant lands. (Indeed, that’s a story that’s been told more than a few times.)

But if this is a story about scientific and technical achievement, it’s not clear what part the canon of largely literary works that tend to be taught as “Western Civ” have in it. It’s easy to see what role the works of Adam Smith or even Newton or Hume might have played in industrialization; Plutarch and Dante, not so much. The economic historian Joel Mokyr has even suggested that it was precisely the relatively weak position that the classics held in Western countries that helped them achieve greater economic progress than China, where an elite class of scholar-bureaucrats held sway until the beginning of the 20th century.

That’s not to say that the Western classics had an entirely conservative role. Of course, they often were a break on progress, and progress often took the form of breaking with them. Descartes and Galileo made major advances in our understanding of the world by rejecting Aristotle; Darwin did by implicitly rejecting the teachings of the Bible (or, at least, a literal interpretation of them). But the classics could be progressive too: the example that springs into my mind is the role that Athenian democracy played as a positive model for the liberal “Philosophical Radicals” of 19th century England.

There’s a larger point, though, and that’s one that might seem somewhat deflating to teachers of classics or of Western Civ. It may be that the impact of the Western canon on how world history has played out over the last few centuries has been enormously exaggerated. Despite what’s sometimes implied, it’s unlikely that there’s any kind of causal relationship between Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the development of the spinning jenny, or between Juan de la Cruz and the gatling gun.

That doesn’t mean that Western literature isn’t worth reading, or teaching (or that it doesn’t make sense to teach it as part of a single tradition). It’s worth reading for all the reasons that humans have read literature since time immemorial: Because it’s often entertaining, instructive, and sometimes even meaningful. If Western literature probably didn’t power the Western takeover of huge swaths of the globe, that may not be such a bad thing. It may even allow us to read Western literature once again as it was for the most part intended to be read—as literature.

 

James Kierstead is Senior Lecturer in Classics at Victoria University of Wellington and the current co-ordinator of Heterodox Classics, endorsed by Heterodox Academy. Follow him on Twitter @Kleisthenes2.

92 Comments

  1. Emmanuel says

    I know of only one truly pacifist and peaceful culture, the Moriori of the Chatham islands. Things did not end well for them when their neighbours, the more agressive Maori people, discovered their existence.

    • Yes – and they probably didn’t even need an enemy that was particularly aggressive by world historical standards to get squashed, the way they were going about things. People who read Jared Diamond’s ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’ will remember a good narrative of this episode in that.

  2. Joseph Lieberman says

    My wife’s boyfriend Chad said not get jealous of him and to give peace a chance and reject Western Civilization. After all sharing is caring.
    Chad mentioned that Western Civilization was uniquely bad. He said it was created by problematic White Supremacist patriarchies infused with toxically masculine attitudes that resulted in the oppression of woman and POC.
    I agreed and proceeded to shave Chad’s pubic area with my favorite Gillette razor before he plowed my wife.
    I of course waited in the other room patiently listening to my wife panting.
    When the deed was done I came in to do the usual and clean them both up and scrub them down with my Gillette Body Wash. It’s the current year after all.

    #TimesUp #MeToo #FutureIsFemale

    #BeTheBestManCanBe

    #GilletteTheBestaManCanGet

    • V 2.0 says

      This made me laugh so hard I nearly spit out my soup and fell out of my chair. Thanks for making a dreary Tuesday much better 🙂

      • Joseph Lieberman says

        Oh, you are too kind
        Don’t thank me

        Thank Gillette 🙂

        • Brian says

          Wonder if Gillette marketing team is having second thoughts? Or dusting off their resumes?

    • D.B. Cooper says

      Strong work, Lieberman

      If there’s one thing I appreciate about this comment, it’s the comfort of knowing that if you can ruminate on your time abroad in Cuck-i-stan with the suspicious indifference towards that only the teachings of experience reward; then I am almost guaranteed an unqualified impunity, regardless of what I say, because within the pantheon of certainties, one half tick below death and taxes you will find the certainty that no matter what I say, no matter what depredations I may transgress, you can be damn certain that they will fall well short of “I… proceeded to shave Chad’s pubic area with my favorite Gillette razor…” In this light, even the semantic intuitions of explicitly homophobic comments seem innocuous by comparison. See what I mean?

      But that reminds me… are there any unenlightened souls who have the good fortune not to have had the pleasure – and clearly, Lieberman our resident fluffer in training Has. Had. The. Pleasure. – of witnessing Gillette’s new found wokeness? If so, it’s hard to see how your life is not materially better than it otherwise would be.

      While good sense would dictate that the machinations of being woke – much like having a summer home in Cuck-i-stan or a communicable disease – has nothing to recommend it; I nevertheless, feel obliged to point out the unsettling fact that it must have taken an inestimable level of cognitive dissonance for the decision makers of a publicly traded company to decide that it would commission a nationally televised ad that doubles as a polemic against masculinity, when the company’s tagline is ‘The Best A Man Can Get’ and has been since 1989. Yeah, I had to Wikipedia the year.

      Now I don’t work in a marketing department/division or at an advertising firm, but I do have an MBA, and to the extent that I can, I want to let you in on a little inside baseball. Nowhere within the halls of academia – and I say this realizing how fraught such a statement is likely to be – will you find a graduate level marketing course (and I’ve taken a few), where the professor or the text advances, or even intimates, the notion that among the various marketing strategies on offer (e.g. Porter, Ansoff), one conceptual model – colloquially known as ‘Misfeasance: How to Lose Market Share’ – involves derision and invective postures towards the target market through the promulgation of rote stereotypes, absurdly offensive provocations, and not so thinly veiled accusations.

      It’s hard to know what, precisely, Gillette was thinking; although it’s not clear that they were in any meaningful sense. Since, the possibility that a company would purposefully insult the general character of its target market in a national TV ad seemed so preposterous that corporate negligence doesn’t quite explain it. I think corporate jihad is the more accurate descriptor here. At least that was the one of the feelings I came away with after seeing the ad. The other was the deep conviction that I would just as soon mow my entire lawn with a Lady Bic single blade as I would let another Gillette razor touch this baby face. In other words, Gillette is dead to me now.

  3. Indeed there is violence everywhere, from the Aztec looting of all of their neighbours to the Indian massacre of Indian civilians at Amritsar.

    The west tends to be demonised partly because, for about 250 years, it was better at everything, including violence, than everywhere else.

    However it was also better at self-criticism, leading to western violence being foregrounded and non-western violence being glossed over.

      • Yeah, I know the Aztecs did their fair share of dominating, as did the Inca (that tends to be how you acquire and empire, after all), but of course I needed two instances of Western colonialism for that sentence on ‘the list of Western depredations.’

        I think it might be demonized partly because it was able to do more bad things than anyone else for the last 250 years, and did a lot. In some sense I think that’s understandable, but I also think it’s worth considering whether any other culture would have done any different. And it’s also worth bearing in mind all the positive effects the West’s economic explosion had.

  4. Kierstead strikes me as being an awful twit but, on the the point of teaching about any civilization, Cromwell’s instruction to his portrait painter seems apt:

    “I desire you would use all your skill to paint my picture truly like me, and not flatter me at all; but remark all these roughnesses, pimples, warts and everything as you see me, otherwise I will never pay a farthing for it.”

    • Yeah, I sometimes get that impression too. But, of course, it’s his arguments here that really matter, not who he is, as you seem to realize.

      The quotation from Cromwell is indeed apposite, and not just for painters, but for anyone who wants to look at history honestly. We have to look at both sides of the picture, always.

  5. Dan Love says

    The whole topic tickles me. Asking “Is Western Civilization Uniquely Bad?” Is like asking “Was Ghandi really worse than Stalin?”.

    The only way someone could even entertain the notion is if he was entirely ignorant to what the rest of the world was like, which is ironically common among those who taut diversity.

    • Alex Russell says

      Was your comment satire? I can’t quite tell in the current milieu.

      Comparing Ghandi to Stalin is not a fair analogy as there are no large civilizations that didn’t get ‘large’ without violence. You’d almost think the essay hadn’t been read.

      • Dan Love says

        @Alex

        Not sarcasm, especially when Stalin railed repeatedly against the West. No one thinks the Soviet Union was Western, except those who think white = West – people who have an unfortunate emotional investment in an ideology to keep them from being informed.

        You’d almost think my point was intentionally missed…

      • Dan Love says

        @Alex

        Also, don’t commit fallacy of the converse. Even if getting large entails violence, violence doesn’t entail getting large. Huge amounts of violence occurred in many places that never became large.

    • D.B. Cooper says

      @Dan Love

      While I agree, @Alex did run afoul of an ‘illicit conversion’ (Hint: Venn Diagrams are terribly useful) your principled stance against the illicit shifting of subject and predicate terms – though the prohibition of faulty reasoning is impressive in its own right – isn’t what caught my eye. Not at the outset, anyways.

      What initially caught my attention – subsequent to your obvious penchant for Socratic irony – and what, ultimately, persuaded me to respond to your comment was what I thought might be – arguably, or course – of greater import (than the conversion fallacy as measured by frequency of use) as it pertains to your apparent struggle for the preservation of good sense.

      What I’m referring to, specifically, is the repeated use of overly-general concepts (e.g. fair analogy, no large civilizations, get large, violence) to draw conclusions that are unwarranted by the evidence, or simply not proven due to the vagueness the concepts, or even still in some cases the concepts may be sufficiently vague as to permit multiple interpretations of the original assertion.

      What the hell does it even mean for a civ to ‘get large’ in the absence of a logical comparator, which I would think is a necessary condition for determining what ‘large’ means in this (or any) particular concept. It seems to me, the only thing left to do is for Alex to jump-the-shark and ratchet the already ambiguous assertions by some magnitude not yet appreciated, by way of, deliberately defining the vague concepts (mentioned above) with equally obscure equivocations, such as defining the quantity of violence that accompanies ‘large’ civs as ‘huge amounts’. In any case, the unqualified nature of ambiguities would seem to allow for a huge amount of options.

      • Sorry, Dan, I also didn’t quite get what you meant when you brought in the Gandhi-Stalin comparison. For what it’s worth, I do think almost all societies which have ‘got large’ (by which he presumably means large compared with the average historical polity) have done so by violence. At least until very recent times (the EU might be a counter-example).

  6. Barney Doran says

    You can’t beat empires for diversification and inclusion.

    • D.B. Cooper says

      @Barney

      I’m sorry, I’m not tracking you. Are you saying that empires, necessarily, have more/greater diversification and inclusion than groups or states that aren’t ruled under a single despot ruler? Also, exactly what type of diversification and inclusion are we talking about here? Surely, the more creative among us can think of 100s, possibly even 1000s, of various (distinctly different) metrics by which diversification could be measured on. Obviously, the presence (or absence) of inclusivity within a given society will necessarily be dependent on the manner in which diversification is defined by that society.

      • Well, modern countries like the US, Canada, and NZ are pretty diverse, and have become so largely through immigration rather than conquest, so you obviously can become diverse and inclusive without being an empire. That said, I think it’s true that historically many of the most ethnically diverse states were empires (the Austro-Hunagarian one springs to mind). I’m not sure what we should conclude from that, but it strikes me as true.

  7. Ibod Catooga says

    Once UPon a time there was a flippity Negaro who could not stant up to SCRUTINEES. And he went to HardVard and gots a digree in Negraonomics. Ant he was really born in Kenyas! It was so scurrey.

    And somehow this Musalim interlopper became presnidents! Can you believe dat mah homey?

  8. V 2.0 says

    The only unique thing about Western civilization is that, unlike others, we have learned to feel bad about all the not-niceness. This is a good thing unless taken too far as it seems to have been.

      • Well, I do think the West was able to do more harm in the modern period (because it had more power) and did a lot of harm alongside much good. So in some ways in makes sense to feel bad about all the not-niceness (although to what extent people who are around nowadays had anything to do with it is another question we might ask). But, then, to be consistent, it should also be possible to feel good about the positive things that were accomplished.
        R Henry, I have gotten the impression that the idea of self-awareness is present in some strands of Hindu and Buddhist thought, for example.

  9. Western Civilization is uniquely bad, in that it culturally appropriated the slave trade from the Muslims, it culturally appropriated genocide from the Turks, and it culturally appropriated gun powder from the Chinese. Show me another culture with as much negative cultural appropriation.

    In addition, the industrial revolution and revolutions in medicine have resulted in increases in carbon emissions and rising global population putting strain on the environment. Show me another culture that has directly and indirectly destroyed the environment on anything like the scale of the West.

    Last, representative democracy and human rights–who wants that stuff? People in most of the world have been content to throw homosexuals off buildings to their deaths for centuries, why would they want to change? And what is wrong with hereditary despots?

    • When you really think about it, the slave trade would still be carrying on internationally if it weren’t for those meddling British. What a horrid interference with the world’s oldest business by the stale pale people. At least if ISIS wins, they promise to bring it back.

      • Steve says

        “When you really think about it, the slave trade would still be carrying on internationally if it weren’t for those meddling British.”

        There are more slaves alive today than at any time in history.

        • Dan Love says

          @Steve

          There are also far more people alive today than ever before. The reliable measure is not the total number of slaves today, but the proportion of slaves (number of slaves per capita).

          I would be overwhelmingly surprised if it were not the case the proportion of slaves globally is smaller today than at almost any other point in history.

          • I think a lot of these issues you’ve raised show the double-sidedness of the vast power Westerners had in the modern period. On the one hand, the industrial revolution led to an explosion in wealth and living standards. On the other, it seems to have led to various serious environmental problems. And, as you say, the British Parliament abolished slavery, although Westerners had of course been heavily involved in slavery, which had been a key part of their economic systems (e.g. cotton production). But it seems very unlikely that the downsides were caused by a unique nefariousness on the part of Westerners. Since the gains made by the industrial revolution had so much to do with unlocking the energy in fossil fuels (boosting energy usage beyond what can be achieved through animal muscle power), it’s hard to imagine how industrialization would have looked any different had the Chinese (say) gotten there first. Actually, we can see that third world countries are producing just as much pollution (more or less) as they industrialize as Britain did back in the day. As for slavery, it’s very common throughout human history. Would other cultures have abolished it? It’s hard to say, though, if the argument that it was eventually abolished for reasons of economic efficiency is right, then it would stand to reason that other cultures would also have abolished as their economies developed. Of course, Christianity also played a role in its abolition, but it’s possible various the merciful side of other cultures’ traditions might have come to the fore as economics prompted it to.

  10. codadmin says

    People who spew up arguments that Western Civilisation is uniquely bad are racists.

    They are almost excusively not white. And the white ones still see themselves as part of an out group.

    The rabid, irrational hatred of Western Civilisation is rooted in a hatred of white people collectively.

    • jimhaz says

      It is jealousy, envy, greed and standard herd behavior, not so much hatred of whites, although such hatred can develop from these emotions and their resulting negative actions. The hatred some felt for blacks during the slavery and apartheid times was driven by the same set of emotions – now it is directed towards the abusive wealthy, as it should be (lets face it most are legalised crims as shown by tax havens), but generalised to “western civilisation”, which it should not be.

      • codadmin says

        If the West is to win this war, then it’s vital Westerners pick up the linguistic weapons the leftists have invented.

        They use linguistic machine guns, and we throw sticks….mostly at ourselves.

        But, we could also use the linguistic machine guns. Nothing is stopping us.

        • Dan Love says

          @codadmin

          The left has always been better at language manipulation. The strategic strength in the right is grounded clarity and simplicity.

          The folly of the left is convolution. The folly of the right is oversimplification.

          I am awestruck at the sheer effectiveness of leftist language manipulation. However, I think the two approaches are inherently incompatible. The more people on the right engage in language manipulation, the less grounded and more convoluted they will become. Nonetheless, there are surface changes that should be made.

          For example, I very much stress non-leftists stop using the word “progressive” to describe their opposition. “Progressive” has inherent, universal positive connotations that make non-leftists look backward and stupid. Leftists are not “progressive” by any means of the term. Building up a centralized ideological authority to engage in ideologically biased social engineering to restrict constitutional freedoms and favor subgroups at the expense of everyone else is heinously regressive, not progressive.

          • codadmin says

            Exactly. Calling them regressive is a lot better. But calling them fascist would be better still.

            I disagree the Left convolute more than than right. The left reduces complex things to a series of two syllable words. The right never stops talking, in fact it’s all they do. No teeth. That has to change.

  11. northernobserver says

    The more you look into the question the more troubling the answers are for our current year elites and their policies. For pure negativity and violence no one beats the Mongols who practiced genocide as a form of vendetta and rape as a leisure activity. But for malevolence plus impact nothing in world history compares to the Arabian Empire and the campaigns of the early Caliphs. As you read the literature and absorb the sordid details you come to appreciate why the utter destructiveness of the Arab Empire has been obscured and denied for hundreds of years; it embarrasses too many and overturns too many sacred cows. This was the thing that Edward Said cleverly inverted and projected onto the West.

    • Alex Choy says

      Zen Buddhism had nothing to do with Japanese imperialism. State Shintoism was closely connected with justifying Japan’s colonial project.

      • northernobserver says

        Point well taken. Was it the Shinto or Zen that drove the Japanese the kill without qualms or their 19th century socio political and cultural practices of which Shinto and Zen were only a part.
        I am happy to substitute “Islam” with 7th century Arab socio political and cultural practice in my argument. But in many ways the point still stands in that many schools of “the true faith” idolize their imagined past and actively strive to bring the 7th century into the 21st. Hence the odd retrogressive arabizing elements we see spreading in the world today – the burka, the kemeez, FGM, the belief in Jins, the prohibition on out marriage and apostasy, the legally codified misogyny, the soft stance on rape, the unequal legal treatment of strangers vs believers, the blasphemy laws, I would say etc… but no need, this is more than enough to create massive problems for believers and non believers alike.
        The quality of humanity’s future rests on how this heritage is transformed into something better. Maybe Gillette (Procter and Gamble) can make them an advertisement…

  12. defmn says

    ///Or maybe the dominance of the West was really only put beyond doubt after the Industrial Revolution, which led to an unprecedented and sustained explosion in economic growth. (And why the Industrial Revolution happened in England and not anywhere else first is a great historical question in itself.)///

    Not really a question at all. Francis Bacon and his Great Instauration & New Organon is why the Industrial Revolution happened in England.

  13. R Henry says

    This piece fails to define “Western Civilization.” I have heard some look as far back as ancient Greece, and the Roman Empire. Indeed, the philosophies developed by those people and in those places form a foundation for modern thought, but they alone are not modern.

    I believe modern “Western Civilization” is best viewed as the culture that formed during, and as a result of, the Protestant Reformation, which was initiated by Martin Luther in 1517 in Wittenberg, Saxony, Germany. The geographical region includes Western Europe, not including Russia, and the regions of the world where colonialism successfully planted Western European cultures, such as USA and Canada.

    So, if we are talking about Western Culture, we should be thinking in terms of the last 500 years in terms of time, and of Western Europe and North American in terms of place and peoples.

    Any debate about this? If we don’t know the who, what, where, and when of the culture in question, we aren’t can’t engage in meaningful debate. I think Voltaire might have mentioned this….

    • Sure, Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky and Solzhenitsyn have nothing to do with Western literary and musical culture just as all the czars and general secretaries of Russia since 1812 have nothing to do with Western history.

      • Where does the West end? According to the French, at the Rhine; according the Germans, at the Oder; according to the Poles, at the Vistula; and according the Russians, at the Urals.

    • E. Olson says

      Good comment – there is no reason to go all the way back to ancient Greece or Rome to define Western Civilization or trace all more recent developments back to ancient times.

  14. Denis Leonard says

    This series on the ills of the West is so lame and laughable. Like most things from the “everything that’s good must suck” school of no more laughing no more fun, it’s almost not worth the trouble to state the obvious. Except for the fact that this kind twisted thinking is so pernicious…

  15. “…which allowed Europeans to reap the windfall of American gold and silver before the Chinese did”

    This argument would seem to be economically naive. Gold and Silver have very little utility, and they make individuals wealthy only because they are scarce and arbitrarily chosen as a medium of exchange. Possessing large stocks of gold and silver should not enable a whole society (a closed economy) to produce more…it can only produce that of which it’s workforce is capable. If that closed economy has more gold and silver, all that should happen is that the prices of goods and services should simply be correspondingly higher in units of gold or silver.

    • John Davis says

      Possessing large stocks of gold and silver permits a society to purchase from other societies. A ruler made suddenly wealthy can spend his new gold on ships, weapons, soldiers and fund an expansionist policy. Or just to purchase crops and livestock, freeing his workers for other tasks.

      • @John Davis

        What you say is true. It permitted, for example, the Roman Empire to trade with societies around the Indian Ocean for spices, and other luxury goods. My argument applies only to a (sufficiently) closed economy.

        So a more careful analysis would ask whether “The West” had material trade with societies outside “The West” in which they exchanged American-derived Gold and Silver for other goods and services from those non-Western societies, and, in particular, whether that trade permitted “The West” to acquire the capability to conquer other societies. My sense would be not. First, my sense is that Western military and seafaring dominance (the two critical prerequisites for Imperialism) was established a little before material trade outside the West…in other words dominance first became apparent during a time when “The West” constituted an essentially closed economy. Perhaps trade with the Islamic world (an offshoot of the crusades) predated Western dominance…perhaps, but, while I would be surprised if that were true, I’m getting beyond what I know, as is probably apparent.

        After the Crusades, early trade outside “The West” was probably focused on trade conducted by East India companies, largely focused on acquiring luxury items such as spices and fabrics that “The West” was not capable of producing for itself. Either that, or trade in furs with Native Americans. None of this trade would seem to be to acquire either military or seafaring capability, even if it was a stimulus to “The West” to develop its indigenous capabilities in these matters.

      • Michel Saint-Laurent says

        Today’s gold is oil. Look at Saudi Arabia, the country all others bow down to.

    • Then everyone who lived before 1694, when the Bank of England began issuing circulating bank notes, and until roughly 1932 was economically naïve.

      Through 1914, gold and silver were the international medium of economic exchange. England survived the Napoleonic Wars on the strength of its “Golden Cavalry” (gold sovereigns used to prop-up anyone who would oppose the First French Empire) and Spanish gold and silver was the fuel of the Thirty Years War. The American Revolution was, in part, cause by Great Britain’s policy of starving its colonies of gold and silver specie.

      It’s troubling that the historical horizon of so many these days is less than 100 years.

      • If everyone who lived before 1694 or 1932 believed that the amount of gold or silver that a closed economy owned was itself a source of wealth rather than an arbitrarily chosen medium of exchange, then, yes, they were economically naive. Digging up more gold and silver in a closed economy that uses gold and silver as the medium of exchange is exactly like a closed economy with a fiat currency printing more money.

        Of course, Napoleonic Britain, to take one of your examples, was not a closed economy. The wealth of Britain that enabled it to win those Napoleonic wars was a consequence of its productivity, not its ownership of more gold mines than anyone else.

    • Stephanie says

      @Mark, another problem with that sentence is the implication that it would have been harder for the Chinese to get to North America than the Europeans, but I don’t think that is the case. Although the Pacific is larger than the Atlantic, Asia and North America are almost entirely connected by land and shallow sea. The Chinese should have been able to hug the coast and arrive via Russia and Alaska, whereas the Europeans had no such passage way and were forced to develop ocean-worthy ships and precise navigational technology. Indeed, some artefacts may suggest the Chinese did make it to the Americas before the Europeans.Why then did they not colonize it?

      • @Stephanie, Agreed…although “The West” might have also taken a somewhat more arduous “Northern Coastal Route”…Britain -> Iceland -> Greenland -> and South, presumably as the Vikings did. Perhaps it was that the critical seafaring developments were concentrated in the Iberian Peninsula that made this Northern route less appealing. That said, your point is another example of the larger puzzle of why China, which seems to have been so far ahead of “The West” after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, seemed to lose the capacity to innovate and was eventually overtaken technologically by “The West”.

  16. Farris says

    The author poses the question of why Western Civilization became dominant? The most obvious answer is Navies, most significantly the naval victory at Lepanto.

    • Spode says

      Navies for sure, which requires astronomy which requires mathematics. Why is the West so good at mathematics?

  17. “Is Western Civilization Uniquely Bad?”

    It is uniquely bad today, but historically it was not.

    There were over 500 Jihadist attacks compared to less than 20 Crusade attacks. And the Crusade attacks were defensive in nature. Watch the video of the dynamic battle map.

    Jihad vs Crusades – YouTube
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_To-cV94Bo

    The West is uniquely bad today because it has mostly dumped Christianity, although it lives on the fumes of Christianity, and it has taken up a new religion – the Church of Equality. Lurking behind the banner of equality lies communism. Communism is responsible for killing over 100 million people in the 20th century. The Church of Equality will likely be responsible for far more than 100 million deaths after the dust settles in the next 50 years but likely much sooner. The chief factor being the inability to recognize threats and respond appropriately.

    • codadmin says

      Also, the Crusades were reactions to the previous centuries of Islamic Jihad, which largely went unchallenged. The Crusades were attempts to take back conquered land.

      As for Communism ( or the fascist left ) , it’s a hostile virus, separate from the West. The ‘church of equality’ is one of the weapon they use against the West.

      Calling the the ‘fascist left’ Western, is like calling Islamic Jihad Western. Both are invading ideologies completely alien and hostile to the West.

  18. Shoshan says

    Good points, but I really wish writers would stop relying on the inaccurate cliche that the old testament is a violent text and the new testament a peaceful one.
    For example: old testament: “and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more”
    new testament: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

    Both of these texts and the koran, for the matter, have passages advocading peace and passages advocading violence. Characterizing them on a sliding scale of peaceful or violent is simplifying it to the level of s caricature.

    • Stephanie says

      @Shoshan, yes, and there seems to be a purposeful ignorance about the nature of the Old Testament. It is predominantly a history, with the moral and religious dictates evolving through time. Some people seem to expect it should be a woke 21st century fluff piece, instead of a product of its time, reflective of the brutish world that existed then, and the attempts to understand it and bend it towards a higher purpose. That makes Jesus pretty remarkable, though, because as far as I know his “not peace but the sword” comment is the most violent he gets (other than perhaps throwing out the moneylenders from the Temple).

      The Koran is very different: based on the recent military and sexual exploits of one man described as the last Prophet and the perfect man. Peaceful verses apply to Muslims, violent verses to non-Muslims.

      The false equivalency the author employs is exhaustingly common, and stems from a fear that stating the obvious about Islam will get you beheaded or mobbed by leftists.

      • D.B. Cooper says

        @Stephanie

        While I share much of your sentiments, almost without reservation, I would disagree with you on the matter of “Some people seem to expect it [Old Testament] should be a woke 21st century fluff piece…

        While I would hesitate to commit to any absolutist position, I have serious reservations with the idea that there’s any significant number of people who genuinely hold this expectations. In my experience – and, admittedly, this is anecdotal, so feel free to slap it back in my face – most people (i.e. overwhelming majority) who make such claims and/or expose such expectations (especially, when one’s frequency of criticism warrants the suspicion of pleasure, rather than concern)

        And to the extent that you find the nature of the OT interesting, you might find Dennis Prager’s defense of the OT (although it may have been just a defense of the adherence to the laws of the Torah’s mitzvot). While I’m not Jewish myself (although 23andMe tells me Ashkenazi Jews account for some non-majority, not insignificant portion of my ancestry; which I was totally unaware of). At any rate, I thought Prager had some interesting things to say on the topic.

    • Farris says

      “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

      Matthew 10:34-39 is a strange passage to cite as an example of violence. Jesus is forewarning that belief in Him will bring conflict not peace. That there will be those who oppose belief in him or demand love and loyalty above love and loyalty to him and that belief in him will sever families. It is not a call to arms.

  19. What an unjournalistic text. Could your authors please state what their intended story is before they need way too many letters to not describe it? Thx

  20. Daniel says

    Mr. Kierstead is to be commended. I liked how balanced and thorough this article was, given its limited scope as an article for a periodical. I don’t agree with all the points, but it’s good that they were included.

    A quick thought: two philosophical features that seem to be unique to Western civilization, that most likely stem from the Judeo-Christian root, are Imago Dei and guilt.
    1) Imago Dei, the idea that humans are made in the image of God, identifies every human as being incomparably valuable. Even the lowest, most unfortunate, broken person still has dignity and worth. Because it references a higher standard, it also implies that all humans are equal in this crucial respect. I’d be curious to hear of another definition that imparts quite as much worth and dignity. I know the ancient Greeks, referencing the myth that humans were made using some of the blood of Dionysius, said that Man had a “Dionysian spark.” Does anybody know of another definition of humanity that carries similar weight?

    2) Guilt as a concept has gotten a bad rap — probably because feeling it is no fun. But I’m defining guilt as the idea that if you do wrong, it is still wrong, even if nobody sees it or is even affected by it. This leads to a definition of integrity that requires inner change, rather than just improving one’s ability to put on a good show. This has implications for corruption and honesty at all levels, and affects all interactions. It also sets up an objective standard of behavior to which everyone is equally held accountable. Yes, there are powerful people who abuse their power to get away with stuff in the West, but we have an idiom to explain why that is wrong. That may not seem like much, but idioms inform law.

    • @Daniel
      Excellent points.As someone born into and steeped in Judeo/Christian sensibilities I can’t speak to other places in the world in regards to individual divinity and guilt trips, but it was certainly true in my part of the western world.

      I’m not so sure either survives in the trajectory we now see here in the west. To the hardcore left ‘The Church of Equality’ as some have called it, the end justifies the means. No guilt, except for white males and Christians. Everyone has an equal right to vigorous defense (of their continued existence) except white males and Christians.

      Often even sitting in the congregation of a modern protestant church these sentiments exist.

  21. There is a reason why the sort of cultural and racial self-flagellating that is so common today in the “West” does not fly at all in the east and the south of Europe.

    The northwest portions of the continent were never conquered (since people can actually remember, that is, if you go back to prehistoric times, there was major population turnover) by anyone other than people from the same general area.

    Then they went on to conquer the rest of the world.

    In contrast, the Russians remember very well the Mongol invasions, people in Balkans were under Ottoman rule (where they were legally second class citizens on religious grounds), the Arab conquests are not completely forgotten either, the white slave trade (which also affected primarily people in the south and east of Europe) has not disappeared completely from memory either.

    There are no good guys in history, it’s all about survival and outcompeting your rivals (as it is in nature in general). Grown ups understand that.

  22. Pierre Pendre says

    Would Western civ be under the same attack if the West wasn’t so heavily populated by immigrants eager to supplant our culture with theirs in order to assert their own power? Being post-Christian Christians helps to supercharge our feelings of guilt or rather our liberals’ feelings of guilt which they transmit eagerly to half-educated adolescents in the guise of a university education.

    Neither the Chinese nor the Arabs appear to feel very guilty about their past sins, perhaps because, not having open societies, they don’t live alongside large numbers of immigrants anxious to make them question their consciences or doubt the validity of their cultures. Is there a white and gender studies department at Kampala university? I doubt whether the Chinese film industry is riddled with guilt about the lack of black actors or pay disparity between male and female stars.

    Terrible things were done by the West in its imperial heyday and terrible things are still being done now that that heyday is over, but not by Westerners. We Westerners tend not to complain about them because to do so would be rude at the expense of the Other who is sacred according to Western culture.

    We attack Western civ because it’s ours and because we live in it and because our supposed victims, who have benefited from it enormously, demand that we do so – so we do. Western culture is a broad church which being curious and outward looking embraces all the cultures that preceded it because it is interested in them. It’s because of Western civ and its scholarship that we know so much about our predecessor civs to which we owe a debt that we acknowledge.

    By and large, we should be very glad we have it and so should its critics.

  23. D.B. Cooper says

    Even if the concept of Western civilization isn’t inherently incoherent, some would argue that we should still be extremely cautious of it, or maybe even avoid it altogether, because of the way Western nations have engaged in various sorts of racism, war-mongering, and imperialistic exploitation. On this view, the legacy of the West is irredeemably tainted…

    The short answer to Kierstead’s waxing and waning seems rather obvious, or at least it does to me; granting I haven’t made some fundamental error during the reasoning process. In any event, I see no reason to worry; since, if my reasoning is faulty, there is little doubt this pedantic commentariat trafficking this page will be more than happy to disabuse me of my ignorance.

    But as I was saying, I’m not sure the primary question(s) at hand are the quagmire of evasion Kierstead believes them to be. I realize Kierstead aptly knocks these questions down as one should, who has full control over a more-than-able mind and body – or at his least upper extremities for typing. My argument is not particularly concerned with Kierstead’s conclusions, insomuch as it is with the terms from which he advanced them. Which is to say, from ‘their’ terms. Who are these people? I have no idea, they disinclined to defined themselves properly. Maybe they’re taking the piss, I cannot say. What I do know, however, or what I’m assuming for the purposes of advancing this post, is that this amorphous group is the exact same as the argumentative ‘some’ from Kierstead’s opening line where he states, “some would argue.”

    Who these people really are – let’s call them Nancy and Alexandria (NA) for ease of reference – are of less import than the obvious fact that NA are obviously skilled in the art of persuasion and/or negotiating techniques. Why? Consider that the Kierstead’s entire argument took place within NA’s frame, i.e., on NA’s terms.

    My problem with this is that, just to take one example, it’s not at all obvious why Kierstead (or anyone else) would accept/concede, “the legacy of the West is irredeemably tainted,” on the basis of the criteria given, or any criteria for that matter? Are these objective measures, and if so, why are they, and according to who(m)? When did racism, war-mongering, and imperialistic exploitation become the gold-standard in mediating units that mitigates/qualifies a civs inclusion/exclusion into the irredeemably tainted club? Furthermore, the three criteria – as stated – are possibly as ill-defined/dubious as the people Kierstead claimed “would argue.” I understand that to disagree with these premises – even in the absence of well-defined terms and/or in spite of contravening evidence – one can and usually is labeled a white supremacist. Fortunately, sticks-n-stones being what they are, I think these questions are too important not to ask.

    Continually, other pertinent questions (for interested parties) might be:

    Is this the old fashion type racism where everyone can qualify, or are we talking about Strunk and White’s revised edition – Ebonics: The Elements of Style, where you can’t just be prejudice, you also got to come with some power?

    Oxford dictionary defines ‘Warmongering’ as the “encouragement or advocacy of aggression towards other countries or groups.” Are you a warmongerer if you respond (with aggression) to some earlier provocation? What if you initiate the aggression as deterrent to future actions towards regional allies? This warmongering business isn’t clear to me in the least.

    What if a Westerner is simply spreading the ‘Good Word’ to savages while in the commission of his duties to prosecute God’s work with the high character in which he was entrusted to perform? That seems reasonable, no? I can imagine a scenario where one might confuse a saintly Westerner spreading the ‘Good Word’ to all the Godless savages of the World as being involved in some sort of imperialistic exploitation. Nothing could be further from the truth. Pat Robertson say so numerous times, and when was the last time he told a lie? Probably never.

    I can imagine one response might be that Kierstead was simply steel-manning the opposing argument (charity of interpretation) and that NA was a necessary foil to complete this objective. I think, that’s a fair argument; although it doesn’t really get to the problem I’m speaking of, but rather, it side-steps it. Let us assume that Kierstead has generally conceded to the imperative’s racism, warmongering, and imperialism as the most appropriate qualifying metrics to assess a civilization’s moral character. By these standards, the West has been weighed and found wanting. Western civ is what NA thought it was: a 2,500-year perpetual reincarnation of Donald Trump as an absolute monarch of Western civ, writ large.

    So, even if one were to grant this characterization of Western civ – the absence of Twitter, notwithstanding – where does it say that value can only be obtained from the study of ‘morally upright’ civs? Think of how absurd that proposition is? To put it bluntly, simply because one studies a particular civ (civ X) which ostensibly lacks the moral fiber/righteousness that another civ Y may have, it does not follow from this that one would necessarily not gain an equal or greater educational/intellectual value from his study of civ X as he would have from civ Y. I repeat, that does not follow. In fact, almost nothing (of consequence) follows, as it pertains to the intellectual domain, from the arbitrary assessment of a civs cumulative moral standing. To believe otherwise would likely run head-long into Hume’s Is/Ought distinction. Thoughts?

    • X. Citoyen says

      Now we’re getting to the guts of it, the framing problem, which is the evidentiary asymmetry between the accusation and the reply to it. Accusing the West of high crimes is as easy as accusing your neighbour of such things: Make the bold claim, cite a few decontextualized historical incidents, and the ignorant audience will do the rest. Responding to the charge, however, demands an enormous amount of knowledge and careful argument because, at bottom, the respondent is in the same position as the accused neighbour trying to prove his innocence—he has to prove a negative. Naturally, this is why the burden of proof in trials rests on the prosecution (one of the West’s many great achievements, incidentally).

      Ignoring the provocation is not an option for those of us who feel an obligation to respond, so how do we neutralize or at least minimize the framing problem? One way to address specific charges is high-quality mass production. Our beloved ga gamba is a ready example of a master of this strategy. He has (I suspect) meticulously amassed, not FAQs, but what I’ll call RTCBS (responses to common bullshit) that he can draw on ad infinitum with minimal effort. Whack-a-mole becomes doable when you’re The Flash. The high-quality part is important, though. Talking points are written for the choir; you need facts and sources.

      A second strategy is to attack the framing. The weaker form of this is reframing. Ben Shapiro is so disliked by progressives (I believe) because of his skill in reframing. A good example is his response to “systematic racism.” Shapiro responds by asking for specific laws, policies, and people because no one can see or fight against some amorphous force. This brings me around to B.D. Cooper’s remark, an example of the stronger version, which attacks the framing directly.

      We need more or this and more talk about the practical side of countering activist propaganda because the institutional and social mechanisms used to exist to mitigate this problem in public discourse. But the increase in unscrupulous and illiterate activists in media and the universities has more or less killed off these safeguards. One might add the flattening effect of the internet, but, like all flattenings, both sides have access, so I see it as a neutral force, at least when it comes to the asymmetry of the framing problem.

      • We should ask this question of all those people who wonder if Western Civilization is uniquely bad: Do they beat their wives often?

        • Dan Love says

          @D.B. Cooper, @X. Citoyen, @CA

          Great responses.

          Damn you CA. I was going to mention exactly that. The way this paper is framed is similar to the classic “When did you stop beating your wife?”.

          As I mentioned in my earlier comment, the whole premise is strange. Even saying “Is western civilization uniquely bad? No, it isn’t” is like going up to Bob at work and saying “Hey Bob! By the way, I did not rape my son last night.”

          The defensiveness indicating a feeling of guilt is not out of place though. Remember, the author is in the classics, in academia. It’s likely the most ideologically moderate person he’s ever met (through no fault of his own) believes white men are terrible.

          • Dan Love et al

            The whole premise is indeed strange, if not comical.

            A human civilization is a natural phenomenon not unlike a pod of dophins, a swarm of bees or a vast metereological event. At what point do we lose our need to to make moral judgements on natural phenomenon, especially backward in time? Was Homo erectus a uniquely bad human? How about those Ardipithicus ramidus kadabba? I hear they were a bunch of uninclusive bigots . . .

            It’s understandable, in fact necessary, that we live by some kinds of value judgements in order to survive at all. But it seems to me that a major reason to study history and other civilizations is to gain an appreciation of, not only the spectacular variety of human thinking, but of the limited nature of all human thinking. Life is a spectacle and a tragic spectacle at that as we humans repeatedly fail to recognize . . . It’s always, this time we know better . . .

            Perhaps it’s true that our human capacity for abstract thought is what seperates us from other creatures. But it seems equally true that our capacity for abstract thought is what deludes us into thinking that we are seperate from other creatures.

            So, to put things into a greater historical and ecological context, we might ask: What kind of human animals, living in what kind of environment, worry about how uniquely bad they are?
            .

      • beyondyesandno says

        @X. Citoyen, bravo – best comment of the lot.

  24. Violence is human, not western civ, which is about democracy (rule by the common man over kings or other birth-right or wealth-right leaders), science/evidence (over intuition and faith), liberty over control, equal protection over special laws. That it hasn’t reached it’s ideals is no reason to run away from the path it has put us on. There is no more free, more rich, longer living and more educated time than that created by western civ…

    • If that is what you think then Western Civ. began on October 28, 1647 and was started by radical republican calvinist Englishmen who soon fomented a military coup against Parliament and the Crown. I bet you can’t name even one of them.

  25. Num num says

    A point worth raising is the US left today is among the most warmongering, imperialistic and xenophobic political collectives in US history. ‘Hillary Clinton’ and ‘Russia’ should be sufficient search terms for anyone who choked on that.

    Just the idea of a non-hostile relation with Russia has the mainstream left crying “treason.” They believe at once that global warming is a horrendous crisis facing humanity AND we should work tirelessly to increase the odds of nuclear Armageddon. Historic levels of insanity!

    The anti-war left is increasingly marginalized on the left as warmongering neo-liberals take the helm of the leftwing ship. And those neolibs are all in with identity politics too, creating a disturbing Frankensteinian blend of far-right and far-left positions.

  26. Robert Franklin says

    Every human society has made war, usually for the purpose of taking the resources or resource-producing territory of another society. Native American groups did so virtually non-stop. The anthropology of hunter-gatherer societies reveals the same. And of course many social mammals are up to the same, er, monkey business. Chimp groups make war on other chimp groups, male lions die defending territory. The anti-West nutcases simply don’t know basic facts.

  27. Jeff York says

    Western Civilization is uniquely good. ~90% of the modern world and its marvels are due to Western Civilization. Western Civilization has done more to promote freedom, liberty, human/civil rights and otherwise advance the human race than all other cultures/civilizations combined.

    Thank you, China, for paper, pasta, porcelain, tea, silk, the magnetic compass, some ingenious hydraulic tools and no doubt other things–(should we be thankful for gunpowder?)–but your golden age ended about 500 years ago. You are the present-day champions of intellectual property theft but I won’t hold my breath waiting for you to find a cure for cancer or invent cold-fusion. If you beat us to Mars you should be humble about it because Isaac Newton, Robert Goddard and a thousand other westerners did the heavy-lifting for you. (Yes, I know, China invented the first rockets).

    Human nature is that we obsess over a perceived slight or injustice while taking for granted all the good things an individual or a society is doing for us. It’s analogous to the obnoxious, petulant adolescent who chaffs at the restrictions their parents place on them, mostly for their own safety and wellbeing, while taking for granted the food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, entertainment, “trips to Disney World, ” etc.

  28. “Zen Buddhism provided just as much support to the equally violent imperialists of 20th century Japan.”

    While true, one has to wonder just how much easier it was to use biblical justifications for violence than it was to find them in the tenants of Buddhism.

  29. Charlie says

    No; it produces less mass slaughter than others.
    I would suggest part of the problem is that far too many people have an inadequate knowledge of history. Consequently, when anti western argument is made it is not rebutted.
    1. Genghis Khan killed about 40 million.
    2. Timur the lame killed 17 million.
    3. The Wall of China resulted in the death of about 8 million workmen.
    4. When the Spanish arrived in Mexico the Aztecs were sacrificing 80,000 people per year by cutting out the hearts of the victims while alive. Human sacrifice had been part of Meso American culture for centuries. It was the tribes who were sacrificed who supported the Spanish.
    5. K S Lal the Indian historian said the Muslim invasion between 1000 and 1500 AD killed 88 million Indians.
    6. The Arabs continued the slave trade until the late 1960s.
    7. The Soviets killed about 66 million between 1918 to 1956.
    8. The Chinese communist have killed about 70 million.

    No Western Christian country has taken part in mass human sacrifice or the slaughter of Genghis Khan, Timur the Lame or communists or Nazis .

    J Kierstead is not quoting how the Greeks considered themselves different to Asiatics, especially during Persian wars.

    Competition was the spark which animated Greeks, between cities, athletes , in debating, in everything and the importance of individual effort. There was the respect for Spartan living conditions and contempt for Asiatic luxury. There was curiosity

    The Needham question has not been answered- Why did India and China stop developing and become overtaken by The West?

    In about 1609, the newly developed telescope was sent to the Turks, Moghuls and Chinese who did little with it yet in The West by 1666, Newton using the work of Galileo, Copernicus and developed the laws of gravity, motion and light.

    I would suggest, the West develops for the following reasons:-
    1. By developing perspective enabled a massive evolution in the mind which enables complex machines to be designed.
    2. Creates curiosity.
    3. The Protestant Revolution changes theology such that is becomes accepted that honest hard work will be rewarded in this life.
    4. Protestantism encourages literacy for men and women.
    5. Private property which cannot be taken by ruler on a whim.
    6. Protestant pastors have large numbers of children who reach adulthood which increases proportion of literate people as compared to Roman Catholic countries.
    7. Free will and the ability to act as an individual.
    8. The Chinese relied on experience to develop technology. The use of experimentation and recording as suggested by F Bacon speeds of learning. If it says takes one year to gain experience but one can undertake an experiment which takes a week, one is potentially speeding up the process 52 times.
    9. In Africa and Asia the young defer to the older and the ruled to the ruler, often though abasement or prostrating themselves.This mentality inhibits people from thinking and acting on their behalf, especially if it goes those who are older and/or are rulers. Leonides refused to bend his knee to Xerxes.
    10. Freedom to succeed or fail.

    Those westerners who criticise the West are largely left wing middle class graduates who are employed by the state in some way who had the freedom but have failed to achieve their expectations and in particular lack the physical courage and practical skills of the heroic. They feel inadequate and in order to reduce this feeling they desire to undermine those virtues which show them to be failures. How many left wing middle class intellectuals have the skills to overcome obstacles? Engineers solve problems; athletes push their bodies through the pain barrier and those who experience combat or work in logging, trawling, construction, mining and oil exploration risk death and injury. The reality is those who criticise western society lack the skills to create and maintain any society, let alone the West.

    • codadmin says

      Great comment….BUT, the main driver of Western civilisation and it’s unmatched innovation was and is open markets ( or capitalism ). It’s one thing to have genisuses like Bacon and Newton, but without open markets the collective intelligence can never be harnessed.

      • Charlie says

        Thank you. True and I mention that in item 5, private property which cannot be taken by rulers. A person is allowed to keep the fruit of their labours and exchange it with other people. If people do not have ownership, there is no market.

        From about 600BC overpopulation and cutting down of trees was were causing a shortage of fertile land for the Greeks. Corinth set up colonies, Sparta conquered her neighbours and reduced them to slaves and Athens moved into cash crops and commerce. Athens produced olive oil and wine which was exported via ships to the Mediterranean and became a Thalassocracy; a sea power like Phoenicia, Minoans and Britain.

        At first the Pilgrims in America pooled all their labour but within a year or so, some were living off the labours of others. In order to survive the leader changed the system so every family worked their own piece of land and lived off their labours, helping others when they could do so. Rapidly they were producing surplus food.

    • “No Western Christian country has taken part in mass human sacrifice or the slaughter of Genghis Khan, Timur the Lame or communists or Nazis .”

      This is incorrect though, what was done in the Americas surpasses all genocides in history in how thoroughly successful it was.

      This is also plain stupid:

      “7. The Soviets killed about 66 million between 1918 to 1956.”

      “The Soviets” were part of Western civilization — Marxism did not come from Russia — plus the number you list is just wrong. Even if you are including the 20-25 million Russians that died in WWII in the hands of the Germans, it would still be wrong.

      Also Stalin had better reasons to do what he did than any of the people on your list — had he not done it, there would not be Russia today but a collection of small weak states under the complete control of the West.

    • Hans van Niekerk says

      Thank you for this thoughtful comment !

      It is slightly incredible that no one has yet mentioned the superb historical work of RICARDO
      DUCHESNE, the Canadian historical sociologist with the book ‘THE UNIQUENESS OF
      WESTERN CIVILIZATION’ (Brill Academic Pub, 2011)

      That’s a challenging and obnoxious title for many contemporary western and non-western students !

  30. tim williams says

    It’s interesting in this context that Karl Marx defended Western Civilisation even in its most imperialistic form as in the British Empire in India. Writing in the 1850s Marx said this:

    ‘England, it is true, in causing a social revolution in Hindostan, was actuated only by the vilest interests, and was stupid in her manner of enforcing them. But that is not the question. The question is, can mankind fulfil its destiny without a fundamental revolution in the social state of Asia? If not, whatever may have been the crimes of England she was the unconscious tool of history in bringing about that revolution’.

    Whether or not this case can be evidenced, I doubt that leftist Social Justice Warriors are aware that this was the clearly stated position of one of their heroes.

  31. Fickle Pickle says

    One of the earliest attempts to describe what Western civilization is really all about was undertaken by Lewis Mumford especially in the two books Technics and Civilzation, and The Myth of the Machine The Pentagon of Power.
    In the books, especially The Pentagon of Power he describes the various historical changes in technology which strengthened the drive to total power and control over every one and every thing at the root of the entire Western enterprise.

    In his use of the word MYTH he was referring to and describing what he called the Invisible
    Megamachine or the all powerful psychic force field that now patterns and controls every minute fraction of the modern humanly created collective psychosis.

    Which nearly 50 years later has reached its almost terminal zenith.

    This truth-telling image is featured in The Pentagon of Power
    http://www.dartmouth.edu/~spanmod/mural/panel13.html

    As are the images 14, 17 and 21

  32. John Stevens says

    I used to come to Quillette for an alternative to the insanity of the Academy. But now (this article is typical) its just University-lite. Same old basic stuff watered down a bit. Alas poor Quillette, I knew him Horatio.

  33. Unnamed says

    Typo in the line “And, in virtually all of them, cultural productions have tended to old the mirror up to the world…”

    ‘old’ -> ‘hold’

  34. Pierre Jolibert says

    Sir,

    thank you for your work and the share of your views about such a wide topic.
    I read the three articles of your series I can find, but the few words I’d like to say here are almost linked with your second article : “Is western civilization a thing ?”, where comments are closed now.
    I found your comparison of civilizations with conversations very clever and useful.
    I imagine it could be enlarged as far as other characteristics of conversations are implied : conversations contain silences, misunderstandings and even lies or half-lies and false stories we usually tell to ourselves to keep calm and distracted.
    I didn’t read all the comments under the three articles, but a large part of them, and it’s amazing to see that nobody would perfectly agree with anybody else about a definition of western civilization. And people here and you with them mainly spoke of space limits. What if contradictors have spoken of borders in time ? Of the appearance of this word “west” in that sense ? Of the fittest names for what is not western ? etc.
    I agree with your reasoning about Mr Appiah or all those who deny the existence of the thing called “West” because of all this kind of uncertainties. I personaly believe in the existence of that kind of things in spite of the impossibility to have a clear view of what it consists in exactly or to see a number of people that would be large enough to really share a clear idea of what it is. But I believe in civilizations in so far as I don’t believe in continents (neither “Europe” nor any other so-called continents) or other ways of classifying mankind. Perhaps it’s because the notion of civilization is more comfortable. It doesn’t pretend to be built on natural and solid grounds. It admits its own frailty. It shows itself immediately as a mere subject for conversation and not for a straight scientifical enquiry.
    But I admit I was astonished to see how the variety of opinions on that subject because of one article was the same that that we could have in France, if people on the few web places I know there were used to observe their own definitions of western civilization in a distance that would make them express those definitions and not only apply them tacitly as if they were all universally approved, which used to be a typical French feature on many other matches.

Comments are closed.