I have said that Western civilization faces a crucial choice: elect Donald Trump and struggle a little longer for life, or elect Hillary Clinton and resign itself to suicide. But what is Western civilization? What does it matter if it lives or dies?
Western civilization is the civilization “west of Greece,” the civilization that emerged from the ashes of the Classical civilization of Greece and Rome. It might also be called “European civilization” (although I will not be calling it this, for reasons that will become clear). Beginning more than 1500 years ago, as the Roman variant of Classical civilization declined and fell, a number of elements mixed: the cultures of the invading groups (Goths, Visigoths, Vandals, Huns, etc.); the emerging religion of Christianity, which bore with it cultural elements from Judaism; and the remnants of Classical culture and civilization. Of crucial importance to our concerns here,Â the remnants of Classical civilization connected the emerging Western civilization with the culture of Homer, Euclid, and Aristotle. This connected Western civilization to a tradition of reason (especially Greek philosophy), which would develop in tandem with the Judaeo-Christian tradition of faith. Because both Christianity and Greek philosophy have shaped the history of Western civilization at every turn, and because these two cultural forces have had a complicated and contentious relationship, the history of Western civilization has sometimes been understood as the story of the conflict and cooperation between Athens (Greek philosophy) and Jerusalem (Christianity). In sum: Western civilization is the civilization that developed in Europe after the fall of the Roman empire, mixing Classical reason and Judaeo-Christian faith, and developing from these twin foundations.
(Western civilization has been uniquely successful, and is now the dominant civilization on the planet. The United States of America, it must be noted here, is an outpost and an outgrowth of this civilization. Among other things, this means that if Western civilization were to fall, it would entail the end of the United States, either through its dissolution as sovereign state, or by being absorbed into another civilization, or both.)
Having a definition of Western civilization does not yet tell us whether it should continue to exist, or why it matters. To do that, we must consider civilizations in general, and we must have some standard for evaluating them. How, in general, would someone determine whether any civilization deserves to exist?
A popular answer these days might be that all civilizations deserve to exist. If people believed this, generally, you would see organized attempts to preserve any civilizations that were in decline, much like environmentalists engage in activism to protect endangered species. And, in fact, we do see some evidence of this kind of civilization-preserving activity, although, partly because civilizations are very big, and (usually) take a long, long time to die out, what we mostly see is activism directed at preserving smaller cultural groups. We see activists and linguists trying to preserve dying languages, for example. We see activists and anthropologists trying to preserve indigenous ways of life as they come into contact with Western civilization. But, although there is certainly value and beauty and irreplaceable uniqueness among the people of every civilization that exists, or that has ever existed, the popular answer is wrong. Not every civilization deserves to exist. For example, Soviet civilization has died, and we should all be glad that it is dead, and hope that it stays that way.
If the popular answer, that all civilizations deserve to exist, is wrong, we are still left with our previous question: How, in general, would someone determine whether any particular civilization deserves to exist? First, one would need to determine what any given civilizationÂ is, i.e., what is essential toÂ that civilization or what isÂ distinctiveÂ about it. Second, one would need to determine what values that civilization would nurtureÂ and what values it would weed out. Third, finally, and most importantly, one would need to have some way of evaluating these values: would it be good or bad that a civilization advances its particular values and holds back or destroys other values?
In my view, if it were well understood among Americans what Western civilization actually is, Hillary Clinton would have no chance of being elected. Therefore, I will focus in the next installmentÂ on identifying the essence of Western civilization and on identifying the values which wouldÂ be preserved along with it; I will not attempt, at this time, to fully demonstrateÂ whyÂ these particular values are worth preserving and advancing.
So what is distinctive about Western civilization? What makes it different than all other civilizations? In brief preview, the values distinctive to Western civilization, are, in order of ascending importance: individual rights and reason. These are the values a second Clinton presidency will work to torture to death. In the next installment, I will begin to explain why these values should be recognized as distinctive to Western civilization.