Wednesday, August 18, 2021

What Constitutes the Western Civilization?

The European nations did not identify as Western Civilization when they were waxing, between the fifteenth and the nineteenth centuries. In the twentieth century, when they started waning, they formed an association called Western Civilization. Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West (Volume 1 and 2), published in 1918 and 1922, has played a major role in propagating the ideal of Western Civilization, but his white and Christian supremacist conception of the West would not be acceptable to the Europeans and North Americans of the post-1950 period, when the term “Western Civilization” became popular.

What is the criteria for being part of Western Civilization? Is race the criteria? Is it religion—most Europeans and North Americans in the twenty-first century are atheist? Is it language—Europe is a Tower of Babel? Is it ideology—the Europeans are divided between the right and the left? Is it geography? Is Russia a part of Western Civilization? What about the people of European origin who have settled in non-European countries—are they included? What about Turkey, which exists on the land that was originally Anatolia, the epicenter of Ancient Greek, Ionian, and the Byzantine cultures? By using various criteria, different maps of what might be Western Civilization can be created.

The true believers in Western Civilization cannot define it. They cannot even define what they mean by Western culture: is it religious or atheistic? Is it Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox? Are non-Christian religions included? Is it woke and liberal or traditionalist and conservative? Is it nihilistic or puritan? Are Nazism, Fascism, and Communism part of Western culture? Whenever the true believers try to define Western Civilization, they decimate it—because they get mired in historical, linguistic, religious, and racial controversies. The true believers treat Western Civilization as a nebulous ideal which is real and unreal at the same time.

The term “Western Civilization'' was first proposed by the French philosophers in the Age of Enlightenment. These French philosophers were atheists—they didn’t want to say that theirs was a “Christian Civilization,” and so they used the secular word “Western.” They theorized that human progress must have a single civilization as its goal—to this civilization they gave the name Western Civilization. Western Civilization that they envisioned consisted of countries in Western Europe and North America. Rest of the world, they posited, was populated with barbarians who had to be subdued and forced to accept Western culture.

In the 20th century,  the Europeans fought two great wars—the First and the Second World Wars—in which they slaughtered millions of their own people and reduced large parts of Europe to rubble. It is wrong to see these two wars as world wars—these were first and foremost European wars. These wars were the climax of the political and cultural disputes that had been raging in Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire. In the bloodbath of these two wars, it was impossible for the European nations to conceive of themselves as a part of Western civilization.

1 comment:

William Dais said...

Interesting premise...that all innovation stems from war preparations. Seems extremely simplistic on the surface. Probably some truth to it, though. Innovation occurs wherever people are free to not only question dogma and orthodoxy in all areas, but to exploit new ideas for financial gain. So innovation is downstream from politics, which in turn is downstream from culture.