Which Western Civilization?

Anxious Bench | 1/18/2019 | Staff
monna (Posted by) Level 3
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The world of Classics is currently facing intense debates over race and racism, and the recent meeting of the Society for Classical Studies included a panel that apparently degenerated into ugly name-calling. Rather than addressing the many issues at stake there, I will focus on one, namely the whole question of “Western Civilization.” Briefly, conservatives in these debates are anxious to defend Classics as representing core values in the defense of Western Civilization, while critics see that whole concept as socially constructed. I do not for a second challenge the cultural importance of teaching and learning Classics, but I do agree with that “social construction” idea.

In these recent debates, the Western Civilization rhetoric suggests that “the West” holds distinctive values that are variously drawn from Classical culture – Roman and Greek – which combined with Christianity (or Judeo-Christian foundations) to produce what became the prosperous and hegemonic civilization of “the West.” While not ignoring the achievements of other cultures, such as China, the suggestion is that this Classical-Christian synthesis is what made the West. Depending on who is writing, that argument can be extended to such concepts as individualism; human rights; democracy and representative government; humanistic values in the visual arts; and/or Western predominance in science, technology and industry. Where this all gets very perilous indeed is when advocates mix up these claims to “Western” superiority with boasts about whiteness and the white world.

Package - Directions - Idea - And/or - Reformation

I would criticize that package from several directions. I have already elsewhere challenged the idea that Christian and/or Reformation values were essential to Western scientific innovation and economic growth. I placed much more emphasis on medieval values and developments in some countries, especially in the British Isles, and its Common Law tradition. In fact, Common Law was much more likely to lay a foundation for scientific and...
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