There be dragons!

Monday, June 1, 2009

About civilization

Captain Awesome wrote this comment on a blog:

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).

Respondeo:

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.
- Frederick Turner, "Epic Arts" in the winter addition 2009 of American Arts Quarterly

1 comment:

  1. "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."

    Excellent point. I suppose I should've been more specific with my terminology. It's a shame. I hear far too many people disavow this basis for civilization on the grounds that no Western civilization has ever fully lived up to it. I can't imagine a greater folly than to give up on an ideal just because human beings, the flawed, fallen creatures that we are, never live up to them. I stray from the narrow path on a regular basis, but I always come back to it!

    So, we have a mass of pseudo-intellectuals who claim morality is a human construct, have often contradicting views on freedom, men who don't give women the proper respect (their balls fell off or something), and women who don't expect men to be any better (have some standards!).
    At least, that's what I find in a lot of my peers (in varying degrees). It's a shame; they all seem so lost. They, like Grendel (from John Gardner's book), have spoken with the dragon, and have succumbed to nihilism as a result. Granted, they don't go about ripping the heads of of the Danes, but they do have a rather dismal view of the world.
    I'll probably have more on this later, but my battery is about to croak!

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