Why We Should Study The History Oe Western Civilization-Free PDF

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MODERN AGE SPRING 2014, out universal civilization shaped chiefly been thought to be divine ot the appointed. by the West Most people around the world spokesmen for divinity religious and politi. who know of them want to benefit ftom cal institutions and beliefs have been thor. the achievements of Western science and oughly intettwined in a mutually suppottive. technology Increasingly they also want unified structure government has not been. to patticipate in its political freedom The subject to secular reasoned analysis it has. evidence suggests moteovet that a society tested on religious authority ttadition and. cannot achieve the full benefits of Westetn power the concept of individual fteedom. science and technology without a commit has had no importance. ment to reason and objectivity as essential,to knowledge and to the political fteedom. that sustains it and helps it move forward,The primacy of reason and the putsuit of. T he fitst and sharpest break with this,common human expetience came in. ancient Greece The Gteek city states were, objectivity thetefore both chatacteristic of tepublics Diffetences in wealth among their.
the Western experience seem to be essential citizens wete relatively small There were no. for the achievement of the desired goals any kings with the wealth to hire metcenary sol. where in the wotld diers so the citizens did their own fighting. The civilization of the West howevet was As independent defendets of the common. not the tesult of some inevitable process safety and interest they demanded a tole in. through which other cultures will automati the most important political decisions in. cally pass It emerged ftom a unique history in this way fot the fitst time political life came. which chance and accident often played a vital to be shated by a relatively latge portion of. patt The institutions and ideas therefore the people and participation in political life. that provide for freedom and improvement was highly valued. in the matetial conditions of life can not take Such states needed no buteauctacy fot. toot and floutish without an undetstanding thete were no vast toyal ot state holdings. of how they came about and what challenges that needed management and not much. they have had to sutmount Non Westetn economic surplus to support a bureaucratic. people who wish to shate in the things that class Thete was no sepatate caste of priests. chatactetize modernity will need to study the and little concern with life after death In. ideas and history of Western civilization to this varied dynamic secular and tematk. achieve what they want and Westetnets who ably ftee context thete arose for the fitst time. wish to ptesetve them must do the same a speculative natutal philosophy based on. The many civilizations adopted by the obsetvation and reason the toot of modern. human race have shared basic chatactet natutal science and of philosophy free to. istics Most have tended towatd cultutal investigate or ignore divinity. unifotmity and stability teason though What most sets the Greeks apart is their. employed for all sorts of practical and intel view of the world Where other peoples have. lectual purposes in some of these cultures seen sameness and continuity the Gteeks. lacked independence ftom teligion and and the heits of theit way of thinking have. the high status to challenge the most basic tended to notice disjunctions and to make. teceived ideas the standard form of govern distinctions The Gteek way of looking at. ment has been monarchy outside the West things requires a change from the use of faith. republics have been unknown rulers have poetty and intuition to a teliance on reason. WHY WE SHOUED STUDY THE HISTORY OE WESTERN CIVILIZATION. It permits a continuing rational inquiry into is most dangerous when it is armed and. the nature of reality unlike mystical insights man armed by nature with good sense. scientific theories cannot be arrived at by and virtue may use them for entirely. meditation alone but require accurate obser opposite ends Therefore when he is. vations of the world and reasoning of a kind without virtue man is the most unscru. that other human beings can criticize ana pulous and savage of the animals. lyze modify and correct That was the begin, ning of the liberation and enthronement of The justice needed to control this dark. reason to whose searching examination the side of human nature can be found only in. Greeks thereafter exposed everything they a well ordered society of free people who. perceived natural human and divine govern themselves. From the time they formed their republics,until they were conquered by alien empires. the Greeks also rejected monarchy of any,kind They thought that a human being. T he second great strand in the history of,the West is the Judeo Christian tradi. tion Christianity s main roots were in Juda, functioning in his full capacity must live as ism a religion that worshiped a single all.
a free man in an autonomous polis ruled by powerful deity who is sharply separated from. laws that were the product of the political human beings makes great moral demands. community and not of an arbitrary fiat from upon them and judges them all even kings. some man or god These are ideas about law and emperors Christianity began as a per. and justice that have not flourished outside secuted religion that captured the Roman. the Western tradition Empire only after centuries of hostility and. The Greeks however combined a unique it never entirely lost its original character as. sense of mankind s high place in the natural an insurgent movement independent of the. order and the possibilities it provided with state and hostile to it making claims that. a painful understanding of its limitations challenged the secular authority. This is the tragic vision of the human con The union of a universalist religion with a. dition that characterized classical Greek monarch such as the Roman emperor who. civilization To cope with it they urged ruled a vast empire could nevertheless have. human beings to restrain their overarch put an end to any prospect of freedom as. ing ambitions Inscribed at Apollo s temple in other civilizations but Christianity s. at Delphi were the slogans Know thyself inheritance of the rational disputatious. and Nothing in excess meaning know Greek philosophy led to powerfully divisive. your own limitations as a fallible mortal and quarrels about the nature of god and other. exercise moderation Beyond these exhorta theological questions in the tradition of. tions they relied on a good political regime Greek philosophical debate. to enable human beings to fulfill the capaci The barbarians destruction of the west. ties that were part of their nature to train ern empire also destroyed the power of the. them in virtue and restrain them from vice emperors and their efforts to impose religious. Aristotle made the point neatly and political conformity under imperial con. trol Here we arrive at a second sharp break, As man is the best of the animals when with the general experience of mankind. perfected so he is the worst when sepa The west of the Germanic tribes that had. rated from law and justice For injustice toppled the Roman Empire was weak and. MODERNAGE SPRING 2014, divided The barriers to unity presented by honor as though the maker and molder. European geography and limited technology of thyself thou mayest fashion thyself in. made it hard for a would be conqueror to whatever shape thou shalt prefer O. create a vast empire eliminating competitors supreme generosity of God the Father O. and imposing his will over vast areas These highest and most felicity of man To him. conditions permitted the development of it is granted to have whatever he chooses. institutions and habits needed for freedom to be whatever he wills. even as they also made Europe vulnerable to, conquest and extinction This is a remarkable leap beyond the. Tlie Christian church might have stepped humanism of the Greeks something new in. into the breach and imposed obedience and the world Man is not merely the measure. uniformity but the church never gained of all things as the sophist Protagoras had. enough power to control the state Strong boldly asserted he is more than mortal. enough to interfere with the ambitions of unlimited by nature entirely free to shape. emperors and kings it never could impose himself and to acquire whatever he wants. its own domination Nobody sought or Observe also that it is not his reason that. planned for freedom but in the spaces left will determine human actions but his will. by the endless conflicts among secular rulers alone free of the moderating control of. and between them and the church there was reason Another Florentine Machiavelli. room for freedom to grow moved further in the same direction For. Into some of that space towns and cities him Fortune is a woman and it is neces. reappeared and with them new supports for sary to hold her down and beat her and fight. freedom Taking advantage of the rivalries with her Prince chapter 25 a notion the. mentioned above they obtained charters Greeks would have regarded as dangerously. from the local powers establishing their right arrogant and certain to produce disaster. to conduct their own affairs and to govern Francis Bacon influenced by Machiavelli. themselves In Italy some of these cities were urged human beings to employ their reason. able to gain control of the surrounding coun to force nature to give up its secrets to mas. try and to become city states resembling ter nature in order to improve man s material. those of ancient Greece Their autonomy was well being He assumed that such a course. assisted by the continuing struggle between would lead to progress and the general. popes and emperors improvement of the human condition Such. In these states the modern world began to thinking lay at the heart of the scientific. take form Although the people were Chris revolution and remains the faith on which. tian their life and outlook became increas modern science and technology rest. ingly secular Here and in other cities north of Hobbes and Locke applied a similar nov. the Alps arose a worldview that celebrated the elty and modernity to the sphere of politics. greatness and dignity of mankind Its vision basing their understanding on the common. is revealed with flamboyant confidence by passions of man for a comfortable self preser. Pico della Mir ndola God told man that vation and discovering natural rights that. belong to man either as part of nature or as, We have made thee neither of heaven nor the gift of a benevolent and reasonable god. of earth neither mortal nor immortal Man was seen as a solitary creature not inher. so that with freedom of choice and with ently a part of society and his basic rights. WHY WE SHOULD STUDY THE HISTORY OE WESTERN GIVILIZATION. were seen to be absolute for nothing must between rich and poor for threatening the. interfere with the right of each individual to very existence of humanity either by pro. defend his life liberty and property ducing weapons of total destruction or by. Freedom was threatened in early modern destroying the environment. times by the emergence of monarchies that At the same time the foundations of free. might have been able to crush it but the dom have also come into question Jefferson. cause of individual freedom was enhanced and his colleagues could confidently proclaim. by the Protestant Reformation another their political rights as self evident and the. upheaval within Christianity arising from gift of a Creator By now however the. its focus on individual salvation its inheri power of religion has faded and for many the. tance of a tradition of penetrating reason basis for a modern political and moral order. applied even to matters of faith and to the has been demolished Nietzsche announced. continuing struggle between church and the death of God and Dostoyevsky s Grand. state The English Revolution came about Inquisitor asserted that when God is dead all. in large part because of Charles I s attempt things are permitted Nihilism rejects any. to impose an alien religious conformity as objective basis for society and its morality. well as tighter political control on his king the very concept of objectivity even the pos. dom In England the tradition of freedom sibility of communication itself and a vulgar. and government bound by law was strong form of nihilism has a remarkable influ. enough to produce effective resistance ence in our educational system today from. From the ensuing rebellion came limited elementary school through our universities. constitutional representative government The consequences of the victory of such. and ultimately democracy The example ideas would be enormous If both religion. and the ideas it produced encouraged and and reason are removed all that remains is. informed the French and American revolu will and power where the only law is that of. tions and the entire modern constitutional tooth and claw There is no protection for the. tradition freedom of weaker individuals or those who. question the authority of the most powerful,T hese ideas and institutions are the basis.
for modern liberal thinking about,politics the individual and society just as. There is no basis for individual rights or for,a critique of existing ideas and institutions. THE HISTORY OE WESTERN CIVILIZATION Donald Kagan Over the years I have gotten into trouble more than a few times for things I have written or said in public but I suppose the chief cause of my notoriety is a speech I gave to the freshmen of Yale College sug gesting that they would be wise to make the study of Western civilization the center of their pursuit of a liberal education In that

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