The dismantling of Western civilization ran from the middle of the Enlightenment to about 1967. Since then, it has been aggressively uprooted and burnt. (See FMP #90 and here for details.) Western civilization still continues in the hearts and minds of many Westerners, and some local institutions retain their souls, but the central institutions are lost. The large and centralized entities of the modern West oppose Western civilization.
That said and accepted, the darkness emanating from American and European power centers has made one thing very clear: They are NOT Western civilization. They are, in fact, wildly separated from it. And that, in its way, is a blessing: It allows us to clarify what Western civilization really was.
And what is was, was a beautiful thing. And to establish this point, please remember that Christian Europe inherited some 20 million slaves from Rome, and by about 900 AD slavery had been eradicated from the continent. (See FMP #70 for details.) Never before, in all of human history, had slavery been eradicated on that scale.
Western civilization has been a massive blessing to the world. The centralized powers making it clear that they have no part in it has made it easier for us to see.
What Western Civilization Was
I’m going to borrow from Production Versus Plunder to begin describing the rich inheritance the institutions have stolen from us:
Western Civilization… might be summed-up in the belief that “Truth unfolds through time in a communal process.” – Carroll Quigley, The Evolution of Civilizations
This quote expresses a great core of Western civilization, if not the core. There are many facets to the formula: Truth is revealed by a communal (cooperative) process. And while this statement may be new to most of us, its effects are not. Everyone in the West faces them every day; so much so that we never really consider them.
When we use phrases like “We know that…” or “we have no information on…” as we so often do, we are presuming that truth is built, that all of us may contribute to this building of knowledge, and that we will certainly have more in the future than we have now.
This makes Western civilization optimistic, but there is more than just that; it also makes authoritarian rule incompatible with our beliefs. If the final truth is yet to be revealed, who can say that he or she has full knowledge and should be given full powers? It also makes the West open to new ideas from any source.
Closely related to this ideal is the assumption that we are a community of interests. We don’t all have the same dreams and desires; we don’t all have to fit into the same mold. Even so, we all may contribute to the accumulation of truth, and so long as we do not intrude upon others, we feel we should be free to pursue our narrow personal interests. This builds civilization on a decentralized model, which is exceptionally resilient and open to improvement.
On top of that, Western civilization was built on Judeo-Christian principles. The one that slew slavery was the belief that all men were brothers; or as we tend to describe the concept these days, “the dignity of man.” Some of the others, borrowed from Discourses On Judaism, Jesus And Christianity, were these:
- We carry free will.
- We are able to improve.
- Power and rulership are antithetic to the creator and antithetic to human progress.
- Justice stands above the ruler.
- Our relationship with the creator is fundamentally personal. (Not collective.)
- The creator… the ultimate… is qualitatively good.
- We are obliged to our offspring, not them to us.
- An expectation of production rather than plunder.
- Geography has no bearing on our relationship with ultimates, truth or justice.
- Humanity is in a long-term, familial relationship with the creator.
- Co-dominance. (The absence of dominance in interpersonal relationships; we can both be strong and friendly at the same time.)
- Love for the other.
Those are the kinds of assumptions that build a humane and productive society. As a result, what Western civilization focused on was the production of good men and women.
Please understand that every invention, every scrap of utility and progress, found its beginnings in some man or woman functioning well and creating a new and better way of doing things. How important is it, then, to produce better humans?
And so, this is a moment for us to reach back and wrap our hands around our great and largely forgotten civilization.
It’s time for us to repair it, polish it, and put it back into use.