Western Civilization?

Sunday, July 9, AD 2017

 

Cardinal:  But, may I suggest,
in the manner of the Greeks.
Michelangelo:  No, in my own manner!
Cardinal:  True, no modern artist can
hope to equal the Greeks!
Michelangelo:  Why not? Why shouldn’t we equal
them? Surpass them, if we can.
Cardinal:  Really, Master Buonarroti,
I had heard you lacked modesty…
but do you claim to be
greater then the Greeks?
Michelangelo:  – I claim to be different.
Cardinal:  – For the sake of difference?
Michelangelo:  Because I am different.
I’m a Florentine and a Christian…
painting in this century. They were
Greeks and pagans living in theirs.
Cardinal:  Pagans? Christians? An artist
should be above such distinction.
Michelangelo:  And a cardinal, especially one who
pretends to understand art…
should be above such foolishness.
I’ll tell you what stands
between us and the Greeks.
Two thousand years of human
suffering stands between us!
Christ on His Cross
stands between us.

Screenplay, The Agony and the Ecstasy

 

Since Trump’s speech defending Western Civilization in Poland there has been a fair amount of commentary on what Western Civilization is.  The Jews and the Greeks brought a constellation of ideas into being that were amplified by the Romans, producing unique cultures in Western Europe that gave birth to a civilization known as the West, a daring, ever questing civilization that is perpetually seeking to surpass itself, and which has proven simultaneously attractive and repellent to the other civilizations that inhabit the globe.  Compared to the West most other civilizations are static and seek only to replicate themselves across time and space.  The West is different, and everyone knows it, whether they love it or hate it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

21 Responses to Western Civilization?

  • Up until the First World War, every educated person shared a sort of road map of history – The fall of the Roman Empire in the West and the loss of ancient learning; the christening of the new nations in the Dark Ages; the recovery of Classical learning at the Renaissance and the Reformation of religion in the sixteenth century stood out as mile-stones. These were seen as unique and irreversible events that had produced Western Civilisation, a civilisation whose great empires, British, Dutch, French and Russian, ruled much of the world directly and dominated the rest.

    Now, those mile-stones seem to have lost much of their relevance.

  • “Now, those mile-stones seem to have lost much of their relevance.”

    Only to those who embrace the latest ephemeral fads among Western intellectuals, one of the least desirable aspects of Western civilization.

  • Victor Davis Hanson’s book “Who Killed Homer” has some excellent writing on this topic.

  • Yep, as does his Bonfire of the Humanities.

  • Yes we generally have lost a lot since early 20th century – more since mid century. But people around the world are still “voting with their feet” to come here, to America, the brilliant child of Western Civ… perhaps not knowing that it is God Who has made the difference. People think they can come here and live the benefits of this life while knocking out the underpinnings of same.

  • Donald R McClarey wrote,“Only to those who embrace the latest ephemeral fads among Western intellectuals…”

    The fact is that the Classical learning has, once again been lost; it survives only as the domain of a few specialists and is no longer part of our common inheritance. Take a trivial example: when in 1894, George Bernard Shaw wrote “Arms and the Man” he could count on every educated person recognising the quotation; today, hardly one in a hundred would do so. Or, when in 1956, Harold Nicholson wrote of Athens, “Yet still she shines for us, violet-crowned and unblemished, serene and formidable, across two thousand years of fog and strife,” he expected his readers to recognise the echo of Pindar’s lovely lines:

    “Ω ται λιπαραί και ιοστέφανοι και
    αοίδιμοι, Ελλάδος έρεισμα, κλειναί,
    Αθήναι, δαιμόνιον πτολίεθρον !”.

    O glistening and violet-crowned and famous in song
    Bulwark of Hellas, glorious Athens
    Fortunate city.

    Christianity, which once influenced the peoples of Europe as thoroughly as a common language, scarcely touches the lives of most people. Curiously, it is precisely amongst intellectuals that it is still taken seriously, as witness the “Catholic turn” in French philosophy and the way in which the most original and prominent thinkers of contemporary France seem to function within Catholic horizons: the philosophers René Girard, Pierre Manent, Jean-Luc Marion, Rémy Brague and Chantal Delsol, along with writers like Michel Tournier, Jean Raspail, Jean D’Ormesson, Max Gallo and Denis Tillinac.

  • The key to the permanency of Western Civilization been the Catholic Church. As so goes the Catholic Church, so does Western Civilization. Prognosis: Poor to terminal.

  • The West is different, and everyone knows it, whether they love it or hate it.

    Wouldn’t matter were it ‘different’ in this respect or not. It’s ours. Ultimately, I suspect if you carefully questioned the complainers, their real beef would turn out to be that Trump holds up our ancestors as people to appreciate and emulate, whereas for the contemporary left discussion of our ancestors is a point of departure for what is a justification of their self-appointed position of arbiters of value and allocators of recognition. Our intelligentsia and their hangers-on a a mess of self-aggrandizing con-men and self-aggrandizing fools. They resent it viscerally when someone utters words in which that understanding is latent.

  • I love this, but not sure if it is really “Catholic.” Our priest assures us that the Church is all about “community” and not “individuality.”
    .
    I confess to not listening to the hierarchy much.

  • “The fact is that the Classical learning has, once again been lost; it survives only as the domain of a few specialists and is no longer part of our common inheritance. ”

    MPS, Anthony Esolen, in Chapter 4 of his Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture, lists 17 U.S. colleges (nearly all Christian) that from his professional observations support a classical education, writes there are “many more” but adds “We need ten, twenty, thirty such schools for every one we have…” Perhaps the same is true in Europe? It would seem that a classical education is not dead despite it’s decline.

  • I’ve seen a datum to the effect that during the 3d republic, prior to the war (i.e. ca. 1895), about 2.5% of French youth completed a course of study at a lycee. In the United States, Harvard eliminated its Greek entrance examination in 1897 and its Latin examination in 1916. This was the most rarefied tertiary schooling available in a society in which tertiary schooling was very atypical. (By way of example, in 1928 about 6% of the relevant age cohorts were enrolled in post-secondary institutions). Classical learning was not a part of any common heritage. It was received by a thin sliver.

  • Up until the First World War, every educated person shared a sort of road map of history – The fall of the Roman Empire in the West and the loss of ancient learning; the christening of the new nations in the Dark Ages; the recovery of Classical learning at the Renaissance and the Reformation of religion in the sixteenth century stood out as mile-stones.
    –Michael Patterson-Seymour

    This is only an English Protestatant “road map of history”. In their zeal to blacken the Church, these English Protestants furthered the false tale of a Dark Age and omit from their “road map of history” the High Middle Ages, the time when the Church’s Schoolmen invented modern empirical science. Another error in this road map is the omission of the turn back to the long-discarded intellectual scandals of alchemy and astrology prompted by “the recovery of Classical learning at the Renaissance”. The Protestant Reformers were early opponents of reason, empirical science, and advocated subordination of the Church under the State. All these facts of historical importance are omitted or covered over in the self-serving histories taught by English Protestants.

  • This is only an English Protestatant “road map of history”. I

    Yeah, kind of funny how about 400-600 years disappears from that ‘mental map’

  • The Black Legend was conspicuously omitted by Mr. Paterson-Seymour, as was the Spanish Empire, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (far more significant than England in the year 1500) and the Habsburg Empire. As France and Spain assisted the US in its quest for independence from Great Britain, the Black Legend did, in a way, backfire on the British Crown.

  • Micha Elyi wrote, “…omit from their “road map of history” the High Middle Ages,..”

    With some reason. The art, architecture, literature, philosophy and law of Western Europe was a reconnection with its Classical past and very largely ignored or rejected everything between the Fall of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance.

    It was only with the Romantic Movement, beginning in the early 19th century, that an appreciation of the Middle Ages began. The movement that began with the recovery of the Prose Edda and the Icelandic sagas by Rasmus Raske, the collection of Kinder- und Hausmärchen by the Brothers Grimm (originally designed to illustrate the Oberdeutch dialects) and Herder’s promotion of Volkspoesie (folk poetry) as against Kunstpoesie (artistic poetry) and culminated in Wagner’s operas led to a revival of interest in and appreciation of Europe’s non-classical past.

    The Gothic Revival (with “Gothic” ceasing to be a term of derision) occurred around the same time.

    The vernacular poetry of Burns and the historical novels of Sir Walter Scott and James Hogg reflect the new sensibility.

  • With some reason. The art, architecture, literature, philosophy and law of Western Europe was a reconnection with its Classical past and very largely ignored or rejected everything between the Fall of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance.
    The incorporation of Aristotle into Christian philosophy occurred in the 12th and 13th century. I’m not sure what the point of your remark is, other than as a silly parry. That it was fashionable among a small patrician minority to do X is not a defense of X. It is an anthropological observation.

    You invest time into studying the classics, you have to remove time from the study of everything else. What and why?

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  • Art Deco wrote, “The incorporation of Aristotle into Christian philosophy occurred in the 12th and 13th century…”

    And Western philosophy, for good and ill, struck out on a new path with Bacon and Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Kant and their successors.

    It is simply one area (among a host of others) where Modernity represents a radical break with (and in no small measure a rejection of) the Mediaeval past. Another is the Analytical Geometry of Descartes, the first great Western advance in mathematics since antiquity (Algebra, as its name implies, was borrowed from the Arabs, with very little improvement until the Renaissance)

  • “the first great Western advance in mathematics since antiquity”

    John Napier disputes that statement and Nicole Oresme has simply fainted.

  • It is simply one area (among a host of others) where Modernity represents a radical break with (and in no small measure a rejection of) the Mediaeval past.

    If something is an incremental development, it is not a rejection or a ‘radical break’.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour wrote: “With some reason. The art, architecture, literature, philosophy and law of Western Europe was a reconnection with its Classical past and very largely ignored or rejected everything between the Fall of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance.” Or at least so they told themselves. This is classic example of trying to ignore your own roots. Most of Western Europe had never completely abandoned Roman Law. There were some areas where Medieval Architecture exceeded Roman (The Romans would not have known how to build a Gothic Cathedral), English and American legal tradition was born under the reign of Henry II. Yes, the art of the Italian Renaissance did represented some recovery of classical art and artistic sensibility, but it shares far more in common with the previous age than most in that period and since would like to believe.

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