Since I’m going to be talking about The West a lot on this blog. I suppose I’d better stop and define what I mean when I’m doing so.
So what is western civilization? And when did it begin? And why was The West unique?
Western civilization developed in western and central Europe during the Middle Ages and was recognizable as a civilization as early as 900 AD. This civilization then prospered and eventually broke through the Malthusian trap and experienced long term per capita economic growth for the first time in human history; The European Miracle.
So what created The West? How do we define it? This is where things get interesting. The facts of the origin of The West are well understood and not in dispute. What is in dispute and open for discussion is the interpretation of those facts and the relative importance of each of those influences.
The West was created by the convergence of three cultural and historical phenomenons which not only act as foundation stones but also as social forces keeping each other in check. In a great paradox these three forces are in superficial opposition to each other but in combination support the weight of western civilization.
The Three Pillars of The West
1:) The Greek and Roman Legacy
2:) Christianity; Specifically the Medieval Catholic Church
3:) The Customs of the Germanic Barbarians
Note that you are under no obligation to like any of these three things but an educated man of The West should have a at least a basic understanding of each. Even men who openly despise two of the three pillars can still be useful defenders of The West if they believe strongly enough in their pillar of choice.
Let’s examine each in turn.
The Greek and Roman Legacy
The great advantage that The West had as it rose as a civilization was the ability to go through the history and writings of a previous great civilization.
Some people try very hard to draw a direct line from Ancient Greece to the modern West. I really don’t think you can do that and instead believe that it’s best to consider The West as a new civilization formed by the barbarians that conquered Rome and who then used Rome’s legacy as a blueprint for bringing themselves out of the Dark Ages.
It’s hard to overstate just how much of a benefit having access to Roman historians and the Classical Greek writers was to the West. The main result was to provide a deep and widely understood intellectual tradition that was not directly tied to the Church or the State or to any one nation within the greater sphere of western civilization.
I’ve been rather anti-Roman in the past and I personally remain convinced that the Roman Empire did just as much to set back human process as anything they did to advance it. However the Romans left excellent records and we can learn a great deal from them. Improving my understanding of the Classical Era is definitely a weakness I need to shore up in my self-education.
Christianity and the Catholic Church
If the growth of The West and The European Miracle began in the Middle Ages then something in the Middle Ages must have caused that. So what about western Europe was unique enough to merit attention? The existence of the Catholic Church; a powerful international church that had it’s own interests which were often contrary to the interests of the secular rulers. This state of affairs acted as a check and balance against tyrannical rulers.
During the rise of Europe there was actual separation and Church and State as in that the two were not one in the same. This was in direct contrast to virtually every other human civilization and even the Late Roman Empire, where the Emperors themselves were gods.
The monasteries also preserved a lot of the old knowledge and writing of the Classical world and would later found the first universities.
I’m not going to go too deep into Christian theology here because mostly I don’t have to. Aspects of the Christian faith are found through Western society, cultures and thought. Why even modern secular atheism is nothing but Christianity heresy if you stop to think about it.
I do find it somewhat interesting that a small but noticeable number of Alt-Right men have converted to Catholicism. Food for thought if nothing else.
The Customs of the Germanic Barbarians
The third pillar of The West and the one that is most difficult to precisely draw a picture of are the customs of the Germanic Tribes; who had very different customs than the conquered and subjugated peoples of the former Roman Empire. Sadly these tribes did not always leave good records (they were barbarians) and trying to study them is often an exercise in frustration.
Still tribes such a the Franks, the Lombards and the Saxons gave their traditions and national character to the emerging Europe and their names to geographic regions. Subtly some of these ridiculous customs linger even until today.
The right to bare arms for example comes from the barbarian custom that owning arms was the sign of a freeman and that at a tribal meeting the men of the tribe would signal their agreement with the chieftain or speaker by clashing their arms together. This became a settled right among the Anglo-Saxon people.
Were they Pagans? Vicious blood thirsty Heathens. Of course! At least at the start of Europe’s formation. The process of creating The West involved slowly converting those tribes into the Christian faith and into the growing civilization spreading across the continent.
The Celts (who weren’t really Germanic) converted very quickly to Catholicism since the new faith almost perfectly fit their cultural needs. Other tribes and barbarians however needed a great deal of persuading; usually of the sharp pointy metal variety before entering into the communion of Rome. Charlemagne was an especially good persuader, in that regard.
What about the Norse? Where do they fit in? Well the Norse were just another set of Germanic tribes, among the last to convert to Christianity. They simply put up one hell of a fight before they did so. We also have better accounts of the Norse customs and beliefs because they were among the last of the Pagans and therefore there was a more developed Europe to chronicle their deeds, or rather their misdeeds. The Viking Age ended once the overwhelm majority of Scandinavians considered themselves Christians but it did make for a couple of exciting centuries.
Besides the Norse are just fun to study since they were an uncompromisingly masculine culture.
(Come to think of it, so were the Romans at the height of their power.)
Quick reaction to that Reason article and Vox’s Day’s response.
I was about halfway done writing this article (yes I’m a very slow writer) when I run across a Reason.com article on how Donald Trump is against western civilization and also Vox Day’s rather scalding response. Since I’m writing this article from a right-libertarian point of view, I suppose throwing in my two cents on this is a worthwhile endeavour.
Reason Article on how Trump is against Western Civilization by Robby Soave
Vox Day’s Response:
Classical Liberalism is an end result of western civilization not a root cause of it.
As Vox points out there is a matter of centuries between the establishment of western civilization and the rise of Classical Liberalism. I count six or seven centuries between the founding of The West and the first serious writings in the Classical Liberal school of thought. Now I’m a huge fan of Libertarian thinking but I consider liberty to be a universal human value so the questions remains. Why Europe? Why only Europe? Again it was the conditions in western and central Europe that allowed commerce and liberty to flourish.
Western Civilization has at least a 1100 year history; if you only take into account the last two of three centuries (like Mr Soave is) you’re missing out on an enormous part of that history and legacy.
The importance of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment gets vastly overblown by people like Mr. Soave who cannot grasp that the Middle Ages were not the Dark Ages and therefore find themselves having to completely disregard all human history before Adam Smith.
Besides any fan of science fiction author David Weber knows that the industrial revolution actually began in the Middle Ages using waterwheels.
-The West was fully formed by about 900-950 AD.
-The European Miracle of long term economic growth begins in the Late Middle Ages. Roughly 1300 AD (Long before the timeline suggested by Mr. Soave.)
-The Renaissance was not that interesting (unless you like paintings.)
-Continued economic growth over the centuries lead to the formation of a tax paying middle class.
-That middle class began to demand their political rights.
-Therefore the Enlightenment and rise of Classical Liberalism was a direct result of the Middle Ages.
Horse first, then cart.
Thoughts on Trump
I am not a cheerful supporter of Donald Trump. However the night is dark, the hour is late and it is important to consider all options.
War is the health of the State. Therefore the primary concern of the libertarian activist is to avoid, prevent, or deescalate violent conflict. Intentionally losing a conflict however is not a requirement of Classical Liberal thought. Donald Trump’s ‘isolationist’ policies buys America time to recover from the disasters of the War on Terrorism and gets The West a reprieve, a chance to rediscover itself and push back the cultural Marxist hordes.
There is no true antiwar candidate in the current US presidential race but Donald Trump is the ‘less war” candidate. He is the least likely candidate to get America into another series of wars of choice or push Russia and China into a permanent anti-American Alliance. That ALONE should get him the libertarian vote!
If Walter “Freaking” Block is willing to support Donald Trump then I’m a little confused as to how anyone at Reason could oppose Trump on purely libertarian grounds.
History and The Struggle for Liberty: Part One
This is part one of a ten part audio lecture by historian Ralph Raico (From 2004.) This lecture series appears to be where I got many of the concepts that form the core of this article. While the enjoyment of the whole series may be subject to taste I highly recommend part one.
Update: In reaction to the Apr 6th Robby Soave article I would definitely recommend the listening to at least first two parts of this lecture series if you can find or make time do so.