Why does history show again and again people making conscious references to the ancient Greeks and Romans? I tried tapping that in my end of the year lecture at Chesterton Academy. There are many reasons, and in five years my opinion may change, but right now I think the driving force is that Greece and Rome are synonymous with "civilization" (however uncivilized civilization can be).
It's a good theory. But civilization has been around long before Greece and Rome - Babylon, Persia, the Golden Horde, Aztecia & Cahokia - to name a few. Also civilization has existed simultaneous yet isolated from Greece and Rome: the Han, the Chin, the Chou, the Shogunate, the Ethiopians, the Incas. These all can be considered "civilizations" if the word is taken to mean buildings, government, art and roads and all that. If that is civilization then the Persians greatly surpassed the Greeks and the Golden Horde overwhelmed both Western Rome and Byzantium. I think that Kenneth Clarke had it right that Civilization is more than that.
We have a current posh to think that civilizations are merely whatever "our people" developed; so we prefer Western Civilization b/c... well, we're Westerners. If we were Easterners we'd prefer the great elegance and inventions and governmental certainty of the powerful dynasties in the Orient. Moreover, our preference for Western Civilization, it is said, causes us myopia and prejudice for which we must make constant expiation; apologizing for our white male guilt and innate imperialism.
I think that's all rot.
What makes the preference for Western Civilization is not just that we are Westerners (why, after all, would Easterners prefer WC, after all) but b/c there is something inherently superior proposed by WC that doesn't exist in any other culture.
I would suggest that it is twofold:
1. a vision that law descends not from man but from an unchanging order of the universe (Logos) established by A God and comprehensible to the rational intellect.
2. a supreme emphasis on the importance and rights of the individual person, manifested in an unshakable sense of freedom instead of conformity.
a. corollary that women are considered not chattel but equals or superiors to men & that sexuality, or the control/focus thereof through chivalric courtesy is crucial to our vision of this culture.
This manifesto seems to have come from Jewish/Greek/Roman sources - and has been perpetuated primarily through the Christian Church. It is for this reason that I greatly lament the decline of the Church into the small, petty, feel good ridiculousness it seems to exhibit now and simultaneously lament the decline and continued flogging of Western Culture and values in so many of our institutions. Not b/c of prudery - but b/c humans cannot live without culture. "If God did not exist man would have to invent him" says Nietzsche. W/o the institutions of greatness in Western Culture, values, government & law, and the Church we don't just live care free lives of honesty, we actually tend to descend into something much worse, darker, sadder, and more slavish; the tribalism of the neolithic age, the slavery of the satrapies and Persian tyrants, the abysmal internecine warfare and universal conformity of Eastern civilization, the caste system of India.
IF the grand story of Christian salvation, with its complex balance of triumph and humility, divine fatherhood and human brotherhood, is declared dead, it is at once succeeded by less ambiguous, more ruthless andmore easily abused narratives of glorious human progress, social "Darwinism," self-fulfillment, existentialist whim, socialist utopia or nationalist personality cult.
Books to read on this subject:
English Speaking Justice by George Grant
Why the West Has Won by Victor Hanson
The Western Way of War by Victor Hanson
What is the West? by Philippe Nemo
Europe and the Faith by Hilaire Belloc
Religion and the Rise of Western Culture by Christopher Dawson
What's So Great About Christianity by Dinesh D'Souza
Our Culture, What's Left of It by Theodore Dalrymple