I may go to Mexico ( I have tried many times lately) and want to do all I can to get to 52 notes by the time I reach June 15. So I thought a quick and easy subject that I could knock out in a few days would be Western Civilization. So in this note I will cover what 10,000 or so scholars have been writing about for the last 2000 odd years or so. Hopefully when you have finished reading it you will really know a lot.
I suppose that prior to really discussing Western Civilization one ought to define the terms “Western” and “Civilization”. That is certainly how Socrates would have gone about it and he is certainly one of the major fountains of whatever Western Civilization turns out to be. However, there is no group of people here to stand in for the young Athenian aristocrats I would speak with if I were him. Socrates is a major literary figure but was not a writer. His talent was for leading discussions. From his example of course we get the term Socratic method. The Socratic method whether written of in upper or lower case letters is still the principal technique in American law schools. I of course attended one such twice.
I have a fondness for Western Civilization. It strikes me as a thing worth learning about and keeping in perspective as one of the biggest and best things humans have done. However, it also strikes me as a flawed thing with many acts of wrongdoing which can be laid at its door. I also think that more than any other people the Chinese have reason to be a little paranoid as to why we have developed such an obsession with the study of Western Civilization under just that exact title. This note will not only deal with Western Civilization.
I think that all of human greatness is a subject and a reality far broader than Western Civilization. In fact I find that Humanity is far more rich and complex a topic than Civilization itself. Civilization is a mode of being which is not an unmitigated good in fact. Civilization is many things but it is always a gamble there is a great deal of gambling in the structure of a real and honest civilization.Civilization causes us to all give up many things we want and could want more. Civilization causes us to feel a need for and consume things we might not otherwise consume. These dissatisfactions are very costly and there must be off-setting good results to justify them. Many patterns of life are determined by the civilization itself or its large corporate and collective organs. A vital and basically good civilization has an element of institutional preservationism, an element of planning some structured sharing. Civilizations without those things soon cease to deserve the designation. These are elements combined with a structure of optimism and gambling that is essential to the civilized stance and point of view.
Those civilizations which do not have an element of gambling in their structure have much greater evil making things go and are in fact not really civilizations they are to real civilizations what the creature described by modern writers following Stoker’s fictional vampire Dracula is to an average human. They keep up the appearances of life but without many of its most vital processes. Dracula is all about death and in the sun he is ashes but he claims to be immortal and does go in a sort of life for a very long time.
Unless a society is renewed continuously and in a way which is authentic then there is no way it can remain a real civilization indefinitely. I am fully certain that many civilizations are almost entirely dead before the force which actually destroys them appears on site.I have had a feeling much of my life that the civilization into which I was born had huge problems in its inner resources and workings. I have often felt that my life was really a profound hell in many ways. I still often feel that way.
I have written a lot about Jesus in these notes. I have also dealt a great deal with other forms and leaders who were Jews, as he was. Jews have played a large role in Western civilization however (though oddly Jew has come to mean someone who does not follow Jesus and is sure about it ) Jesus is their greatest flowering out into the world and is one of the very tiny number of people born before 1500 who truly envisaged his legacy as bringing something to all peoples and cultures of which he knew or did not know during his lifetime. He was an outgrowth of Jewishness and its highest expression in that regard. We may turn to this subject again in this note. But to sum up the Jewish thing is too much about just Jews on the one hand and about all humans on the other hand to be the direct foundation and centerpiece of Western Civilization. If one wants to make a silly and ethnocentric error which is the least incorrect then this would be it,”Western Civilization is spelled “>-G-R-E-E-K”. If one wants to speak of Eastern civilization one should know lots about Japan, India and the Eastern part of Arab tradition. But if one wants to make the ethnocentric silly error which is least incorrect then it would be, “Eastern Civilization is spelled -C-H-I-N-A”. Greece and China aren’t even close to the whole story but nonetheless one could never exhaust either of their contributions to Western and Eastern Civilization respectively. They are of course very different countries.
I am proud to say that I speak truly deplorably horrid Greek and surpass it with almost superhuman butchering and botching of Mandarin Chinese. I think when one speaks these languages as badly as I do there is a sort of automatic respect which is born within one. I do not write at length in either of these languages. I do write badly at length in quite a few languages. However not in ‘Ellada or Putong Hua.
I think that reading Homer, Plato and Aristotle are essential to being well educated in the lore of Western Civilization I certainly openly advocate such readings. I have occasion to teach a few young boys whatever I wished for a few months full-time on several different occasions and I have always set up a schedule of a number of subjects rotating through each week. typically there have been five or so of these subjects but usually on has been the Bible and another has been what I call the Classics which always starts with Homer, Plato and Aristotle and not necessarily in chronological order.
Much like the Bible, Greek thought has been co-opted and sometimes hi-jacked by a variety of people with agendas which were intensely important to them and which were formed largely by reactions to the points of view held and expressed by other people trying to control the discussion of these same writers and ideas. However, the Greek world is truly very vast and very diverse.The Greece of Lycos the Wolf-man king of Arcadia and of Alexander the great are very clearly connected but are vastly different from one another. The Greek civilization of Septuagint and the Ptolemy dynasty are profoundly different again.
I could read and teach only Greek ideas and culture all my life and only that and scarcely make a good start. However, Homer, Plato and Aristotle are the things I have repeatedly chosen to teach when offered choices. They bring a person into the experience of the great Greek phenomenon of experience.
The New Testament is also written in Greek of course. it is drawn from sources written in Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic but all of those ancient books are lost and the texts closest to the best of them are the Gospels in Koine Greek. Christianity is certainly vital to the history of Western Civilization. But Christianity has universal obligations. A good Pope must be especially loyal to the city of Rome and also have a love for Jerusalem. However, a good Pope must also have some real space in his heart for the good of Beijing, Delhi and Lesotho not only the people who live there but even the pre-Christian cultures that flourished there. To be Vicar of Christ and not a great scandal is to be the vicar of the one who sent the Good News to the ends of the Earth.
The pre- latin people and other Italians, the Celts, The non Hellenic Egyptians, The Ethiopians, the Germans and the Norse each have a substantial history with Greater Greece that predates their own written history outside of Greek history. All of these groups who made a substantial contribution to Western Civilization from the inside were at least a bit Hellenized before they emerged as there own sort of thing. On could describe modern Western Civilization as that cultural system which emerged from:
1.The Hellenization of Ancient Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.
2.The Romanization of the Hellenic World.
3.The Christianization of the Roman Empire.
4. The Barbarization of the Christian Roman Empire.
5. The Fashioning of Christendom from the Teuton lands and the crumbling Empire’s pieces.
6.The survival and change of Christendom under the assault of Islam and the Norse raids and settlements.
7. The Renaissance process of remaking Christendom mostly with ancient Hellenic ideas.
The many important things that have happened in Western Civilization since about 1600 AD depend on all of these foundational transformations are react intensely to them. These 4000 years from 2400 BC to 1600 made Western Civilization a definite and real thing which still remains identifiable. Things have gotten better and worse since 1600 in all kinds of ways but much has stayed the same. I do think however that we are in a place where we could lose all that is left of this civilization.
I think that Western Civilization is in serious trouble. Things have gotten bad in ways sufficiently broad and mysterious to be difficult to detect, analyze or appreciate. However, our civilization will have to play some very fine poker or lose it all in my view. I am doing what I am currently able to get done to address that crisis but it certainly is not nearly enough. I know that for me society has always been flunking some test of what would be “good enough”. I see this tiny planet in a vast abundance of worlds and cannot help but believe we are very far short of making the grade. But in this pessimistic worldview and yet I see the trend as downward towards worse and worse performance on the scales I am using to measure with in these matters.
One quality of Western Civilization is what some friends of mine and I used to call “the unbearable whiteness of being” that was a pun because of a movie called The Unbearable Lightness of Being. White Racism, White Supremacy, White Identity Preference and Snow on All Mountains are actually all distinct politico-social views of whiteness in the history of Western Civilization. There at least two and a half people left alive who can rationally discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each position and the differences each has with each other position. I personally believe that thought will probably disappear completely as what I could identify as thought within 5000 years if humanity lasts that long. I also think we are already missing huge areas where thought once operated in our species. Whiteness and race is one of the areas where thought has almost entirely disappeared. I find being ruled by a race into total imbecility distressing but have already acknowledged that my life has not been a happy one. I can pretty much guarantee you that whether or not the people you may think tower over me intellectually do tower over me intellectually or not — I am not nearly as impressed with their thought as I have been told I should be. However, I am impressed with thought and am not anti-intellectual.
When discussing whiteness there is something that needs ot be said. I don’t think a driveling snot nosed idiot of any color has the right after his own odor wakes him up to define whiteness. When I was in China I saw huge numbers of faces beneath the wintry skies who bright red blood flushed cheeks showed the cold as the epicanthic folds around their eyes shielded them from the dust particles on the huge winds across that vast plain. These dark-haired non Caucasians were white people though they did not refer to themselves that way. The three people I have had the most emotional affection for in recent years are named two nieces and a nephew Alyse, Anika and Soren with a German last name and two of them are about as Norse-Teutonic in color as one can get. All my nephews and nieces at this time have last names that sound German to me though one brother in law says his name is a Dutch one and not Deutsche one. However, I do not believe in a German master race and don’t plan on forgiving the German peoples living in Europe for the Holocaust at any time while I am alive. Nor do I forgive the US for not exacting more revenge.I do not advocate dictatorship but if I had been the US dictator I would have enslaved lower ranking Nazis and shipped them to fields in America with promise of serfdom for kids and freedom for grandkids. I would given half of the land holdings & fortunes of Germany to Germans from the colonies who left the country generations before it became a murderous insane asylum and I would have sold the other half to buy Sinai from Egypt and develope it as a second Jewish state in federation with Israel. If I had done that I would have thought I behaved too mercifully but would have applauded my forgiving Christian upbringing.
Maybe I would have had a couple different Teutonic type concubines and if any of the good looking German slaves had made passes at my wife I would have my free Creole overseer and a black African-American serf beat some sense into them. That sounds horrible I know. What it really is rather is Greek chauvinism. In fact it is Greek chauvinism already tempered by both Christianity and a sense of respect for Europe which no ancient Greek ever had. There is no path to my real goodwill available from here. I know many Germans and they may be fine people as is our Pope but they are all socio-moral bankrupts in my view. All who use the heritage and the nationality of Germany and Austria are morally broke. For many it is not their fault in the sense of sin. It is not all my fault that I do not have 5 billion dollars but I cannot require you to give it to me. To treat these people as my moral equals would be obscene. But Western Civilization was mostly dead by the time theat World War II came.
Having said this do I think the Hapsburg’s empire for so long was one of humanity’s great achievements?
YES, I do.
Do I think Charlemagne was deserving to be called at least a Father of Europe?
Yes, I do.
Do I think that Goethe, Saint Boniface, Meister Eckhart, Bach, Mozart and Beethoven made stellar contributions to Western Civilization?
Yes, I do.
Do I think the Germanic English despite murderous scandals, silliness and stealing credit from other Celtic Brits or socio-morally solvent?
Yes, not rich but solvent.
Do I think that the right wing Teuton chauvinistic Austrian Patriot Prince Metternich was a colossus in modern times and a fine Christian?
Yes I do.
So how can I justify my point view? Well, if for ten generations one has mixed feeling about hardworking neighbors of moderate talent who have gotten rich partly through hard-work and thrift then one says they are rich. But if one sees two generations sell all the furniture for drugs, burn down the house, beat and chain their daughters as naked prostitutes and paper the town in hot checks then one is entitled to give them a distinct credit rating than before. Money in this metaphor stands for morality. The neighbors stand for Germany and Austria. I refuse, knowing I offend some fine Germans on this list of friends to say I regard those countries as legitimate or their people as having face in Western civilization. They are the very, very poor relations of the family for at least as long as I am likely to live. The whites of the South are known for prejudice and holding a dim view of their neighbors both justly and unjustly. I know there are music groups and artists and others who call themselves ” niggers” without offense and I think policing language is doable but very tricky work. But I assure you that on occasion I have all the contempt any white southerner ever put in any word into my greetings of Germans and Austrians. How they can show their faces in the world and do nothing to deserve it as a country makes me sick. These countries are not alone among the guilty but they disgust me. I believe we live in an insane and evil world and perhaps they will be able to take legal action against me for saying things that hurt their feelings. I want my feelings to be understood abroad about these black sheep and the world has given much attention to the capacity of white Southerners for prejudice and contempt.
I do think Germans had some grievances and there are real problems they needed to address and some of them involved a great people dispossessed of their homeland long ago and not by Germans. However, the behavior of the Third Reich is the essence of obscenity The stench of it still clogs up the breathing passages of the world. I can’t take seriously our international system founded on so little punishment of such great offenses. Jews, Poles, Russians and intellectuals have rivers of blood calling for vengeance. We are not a church and I don’t much want to hear about of absurd platitudes. The erasure of sane temporal politics from Christendom is only one of the aspects of the nightmare world in which I live. The world we live in today is a suicidal waste pit of evil and despair run through with lines of delusion and insanity to relieve the monotony.Having said that I would have enslaved Germans after World War two does not mean that I would not recognize the distinction between races in my do-whatever-the-hell I want social order. White slaves with white children by free masters would be in a somewhat different position than black slaves behaving in the same way. That was how Greece built the Western world 4000 years ago and I do not think that the way we behave today is better, I really do not. I think there have been better times in between but they are not these times which are better.
So we can tell from a document discussing the fact that Socrates was indeed a white man what race meant in ancient Greece. It continues to men about the same thing to me now. Christianity tempers my views perhaps. The issue of Greece brings us to the Nordic peoples. Western Civilization has two very distinct historic poles. The diffusion throughout the world has been important but now we are living in what is ultimately a world civilization. When for millenia Western Civilization really was autonomous it had a North Pole which was Scandinavia and a South Pole which was Ethiopia — culturally speaking. Stockholm is founded on a set of rhythms and patterns that really do not flow from Greece. Ethiopia is also. However, whether they know it or not both have long been inextricably in the orbit of the Hellenic and post-Hellenic world. This is the very real orbit and rim of culture that delineated the edges of Western Civilization when Eastern Civilization and this civilization had not really merged to create a world civilization.
I would like to spend more time writing about Ethiopia than I am going to spend. I would like to explore African, Arab and Greek confluence. I would like to talk of ancient mixed race peoples and of the Shebaitic House of Solomon’s role in Judaism and Christianity. However, I will not get to that in any detail in this note. A great deal has been thought and written about how black these people were or were not. But I will turn instead to some of the whitest people anywhere. I will instead speak of the Norse.
Hitler divided the Germanic people into Alpine, Nordic, Jewish-influenced and miscellaneous racial types. The ideal he was trying to move towards was the Nordic type. No group takes its hereditary appearance as seriously as the Norse and I have no doubt some of the really evil minds that will never appear in history’s account but which shaped the Third Reich were Norsemen. I truly do believe that they are the most genetically distinct people in the world all in all. In many ways they resemble the true Mongols of the East but they are also very different. The Scandinavian countries are Norway, Iceland, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Scotland for people and groups who call it Sutherland. The Scandinavians have almost always been a great race and occasionally a mighty civilization. They have seldom been a good people all in al and never been a great civilization.
Scandinavians have visited every part of the world and burnt the records of their travels they reshaped the culture of Ireland, Sicily and Russia. There has never been a historic China or Japan that did not have Scandinavian pirates somewhere in the background. Scandinavians traded in maps and technology in very significant ways and helped many people break out of technological impasses with the help of technology taken from neighbors. The ninth and tenth centuries AD are known as the eras of their journeys. However I am aware of another tradition. Outside of history and archaeology there are tales with the ring of truth of widespread war between Acadians that went on for almost a thousand years. In Acadian lore Scandinavians come from a people in Westernmost China who were isolated and very advanced who traveled for completely unimaginable reasons to rejoin their ancient and primitive related tribes who were almost a forgotten myth and lived in the frozen North. In the travel they passed through ancient Arcadia as slaves, refugees, pirates, princes and wizards for a few generations. It was this reunion which really marks the start of Scandinavian culture. I do not think that Scandinavians share any belief in this tale but it is what I believe.
Without discussing the Celts of Vercingetorix’s brave fall, the letter to the Galatians, Brian Boru’s victory over Scandinavian kings and the beauty of their art how can one discuss this civilization. Ancient Greece was largely defined by trade with Celts and war with Persia. However neither St. Columba nor the Irish Republican army will make it into this note. The Celts were a high and splendid Barbarism which Rome broke because unlike the Greeks they made provinces in preference to colonies. Greeks learned to make provinces when Alexander conquered the Persian Empire. But they never really loved to do this. Colonies, polises and kingdoms stirred the Greek soul. Only in the Eastern Roman Empire did Greeks learn to love the system of Empires and provinces. So the Greeks warred with Celts but they always lived together and enriched each other. The Greek’s resented and opposed Roman influence but could adjust to it more easily than the Celts. That is why one thinks of Ireland and Wales when one says Celts although the culture extended from the British Isles to Turkey.
I have not discussed the United States, France, the United Kingdom or Spain as countries. I think that all of these countries have a great deal that can be seen as their contribution to Western Civilization. However, it troubles me how little many well educated people in great countries like Japan, China, Iran and Ghana understand about the formation of culture in these countries and others. I have mentioned in a recent Facebook Note about having Mel Gibson do a film on the Life of the Christ. I admire Mr. Gibson very much for his feel for Western Civilization. It is not that I trust him personally. I would never be sure he and I were pushing in the same direction if he made a movie from my notes about the life of Christ. But his polemic and corrosive film if he made one would probably satisfy me more than the efforts of many people who think that they share the values and views I might declare. He may or may not agree with anything I care about all though he claims to I think. However, he sees and can show how people and peoples are made and is not willing to just make things so cheap and easy that they are ridiculous to all.
Jesus Christ belongs to the Jews especially and to all humans and these are the big realities and to all Christians as a faith and that is the biggest reality. But Jesus is also the magic that makes Western Civilization. One who really understands Western Civilization can readily see huge amounts of data about the health and progress of our civilization from our civilization’s view of Christ. It is a test on which I do not think we have ever gotten an A+. It is somehow outside and beyond questions of religion and spirituality our destiny to be so judged. Jesus more than almost anyone who ever lived saw his own legacy in terms of periods. The Period of the Bridegroom from his Nativity to the Last Supper, the Hour of Darkness which is the period of Mr. Gibson’s first film, the Period of the Church and then the Eschaton or Fulfillment. From pagan kings on the borders of Constantine’s Rome or Armenians who declared the first Christian state many people in the West have struggled for a long time to understand how Jesus and the Pagan Hellenic political science or Teuton Kultur go together or in Saint Augustine’s terms how the City of God goes with the City of Man. Jesus himself left us vast wisdom and quite a bit of room to maneuver but it has always been the battleground of many determined and very different people. This has made a difficult task nearly impossible.
If Greece is ultimately our culture and Jesus is ultimately our conscience then what is missing. Neither Jesus nor Greece gave us a capital. Rome is the Capital of Western Civilization. That is actually Rome’s greatest achievement in my view. It is not insignificant. In Rome our center hold in some way none of us really understand but for reasons that fill libraries as well. Only in the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven in Beijing China have I found anything which approaches the feel of Rome. They are very different. Rome is more our cultural capital even now when we are hardly existing as a unity than Beijing is China’s cultural capital.
I know that most people on my Facebook list have roots in Western Civilization. However, I have noticed that everyone seems to have settled for a version of our history I do not recognize. Most of all though I am writing a bit to provoke thought and reading in those people who are not from this background. There was a time when Western and Eastern civilization were really separate and while linked by the Silk Road, the lives of many individual people and many other ties they were nonetheless really able to be seen almost as two worlds on the same planet. I think there will be elements of that reality forever or as close to forever as we get. But it will not likely ever really be that way again and it should not be. In addition there are many cultures not really tied so closely to the distant roots in China or Greece and I think knowing something about the way our civilization was formed is vital for them as well.