How Western Civilization Triumphed Over Every Civilization

Teaching Aristotle or Plato is often hard if not downright difficult, especially when you try to cover the “epoch” between his time and ours.  I mean something very specific.

What underwrites Western Civilization is a Judeo-Christian ethic.  Prior to this reality, a reality known as the un-repeatability of time and the human person; theologically named the indissolubility of human personhood, all previous civilizations were based on mythical concepts of justice.  Only with the arrival of Christian ethics, a sacramental reality known as realism philosophically discovered by Christian Church Fathers around the year 450 A.D., I’m specifically referring to St. Basil and his brilliant confreres, did Western Christendom began its ascent out from paganism.  These realities were not known or experienced by ancient people.  Hence the difficulty of teaching ancient thought.

These Catholic, theological, philosophical realities are the foundation that drove the Reformation, the Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution etc. . . They can be transferred to other cultures, but I’m not so sure other Civilizations can supplant these ideas.  Islamic Civilization comes to mind.  It’s just too early to tell yet.

How exactly did the West triumph over every other civilization?  A brief answer will suffice, but the contours of this answer are unsettling for any form of unhistorical thinking, be it western idealism or eastern despotism. Let me briefly explain.

The triumph of the West is encapsulated in the primacy given to hierarchy of custom, especially when considering the impact of the Christian ethic mentioned above.  The rule of law and equality before the law are Judeo-Christian norms. Specifically I am referring to a distinct cultural trait:  the primacy of the rule of law as customary norm was historically tied to securing the rights of several property.  This right was not the product of the wisdom of philosophers.

In other words, the ascendancy of Western Civilization did not have its origin in having smart people make the rules.

Throughout his time in Paris, the Grand Ayatollah Khomeni read Plato.  This is where he began forming juridical rules from which to centralize all authority in a totalitarian manner.  Although this despotic rule was very similar to every other form of Fascism, the theological fabric only draped a political idiom.

The West ascended because of the primacy of custom in the making of rules.  This is distinctly different from how eastern thinking begins from unhistorical premises, whether it be Germanic, Slavic idealism or Buddhism.

The primacy of Western Civilization is discovered in the distinct fondness for custom over social authority.

This is what was meant by both Solon and Pericles heralding that Athenians would be the teachers of Hellas. By supplanting the superiority of specialization and gaining traction on the most difficult political, spiritual realities of the ancient world, great Athenians would emulate how the human person is distinct from the rest of the created order.

A reality not discovered by reason, even enlightened reason.

About William Holland

Systematic Theologian/International Relations
This entry was posted in Antiquity, Arab Spring, Arnold Toynbee, Conservatism, Ethics, Identity Development, International Relations and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to How Western Civilization Triumphed Over Every Civilization

  1. ELIZABETH says:


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