The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

April 23, 2019

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Western Civilization, Our Tradition

A Short Course in Western Civilization

Lesson 1: What is the West?

  1. Robert Royal, “Who Put the West in Western Civilization?”
    1. Are there ideas or concepts that are common to the West continuously from ancient Greece to the present day?
    2. What does it mean to be “a blessing to the human race”? Was or is the West a blessing to humankind?
  2. Michael W. Tkacz, “The Multicultural West: Ethnicity and the Intellectual Foundations of Western Civilization”
    1. What are the similarities and differences between Tkacz’s portrayal of the West and Royal’s?
    2. Why does Tkacz include medieval Islam in the Western tradition? Do you think this inclusion is appropriate?

Summary question: Do Royal and Tkacz agree on what characterizes the West? Is this Western character static or dynamic, and how or why?

Lesson 2: Athens and Jerusalem

  1. Tertullian, The Prescription against Heretics, VI-VIII
    1. What is the scope of Tertullian’s rejection of Athens? Does the rejection of Athens mean a loss of philosophy and science?
    2. What is the view of human reasoning about the divine in this selection, esp. chapter VI? Could this reasoning know anything about the divine? Is reason at all valuable in discussing ultimate things?
  2. Jeffrey Hart, “What is the ‘West’?”
    1. In what does Hart’s reconciliation of Athens and Jerusalem consist? Is it a sensible argument? Why or why not?
    2. How are Hart’s and Tertullian’s respective depictions of Paul in the Areopagus (Acts 17) similar and different?

Summary question: Compare the Jerusalem of Tertullian and the Jerusalem of Hart. What role does Jesus have in each of them? What part do Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle have in relation to the Jesus of each author?

Lesson 3: Is modernity the West’s child?

  1. Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, “The Western Dilemma: Calvin or Rousseau?”
    1. What is the “Rouseauian spirit,” and how does Kuehnelt-Leddihn see it manifested in America? Is it a spirit characteristic of America?
    2. Is America in Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s sense still more “medieval” than is Western Europe today? Does American religion match up with any of the medieval strands of religion mentioned in the article?
  2. Thomas Molnar, “The Essence of Modernity”
    1. Are modernity’s problems uniquely modern? That is, do these problems have precursors? What is peculiarly modern about modernity?
    2. Is a non-mechanistic (in Molnar’s sense) physical science possible?

Summary question: What accounts of man and his nature do we find advanced or—at least—described by Kuehnelt-Leddihn and Molnar? Are any of these accounts peculiar to modernity, and if so, why?

Lesson 4: Religion in the modern West

  1. Russell Kirk, “Civilization without Religion?”
    1. If culture comes form cultus, from what cultus (take this term in a broad sense) does modern American culture arise?
    2. Around what would Kirk’s “remnant” form itself?
  2. Remi Brague, “Are Non-Theocratic Regimes Possible?”
    1. Discuss the differences between Western conscience and Islamic law. Is the difference between Brague’s “laocracy” and his “ummacracy” meaningful, and if so, why?
    2. Can a regime that separates conscience from divinity respect human rights?

Summary question: Is religion needful to the West; why or why not? Is Christianity, specifically, essential to the West? What are the implications?

Lesson 5: The West and Islam

  1. Jude Dougherty, “Indestructible Islam”
    1. How have Muslim-Christian interaction, exchange, and conflict historically taken place? Has this history been determined by each group’s theology?
    2. Is the chief difference between Christianity and Islam their treatment of women?
  2. Roger Scruton, “The Political Problem of Islam”
    1. Is there a difference between law originating in “divine command,” as per Scruton’s Islam, and a Western conception of natural law, whether Thomas’ or Hobbes’? Why or why not?
    2. For a Muslim thinker not using Ibn Khaldun’s admittedly novel separation between a divine political order and a secular political order, is shari’a a “confiscation of the political”?

Summary question: Is the existence of Islam in a Western constitutional republic fundamentally incompatible with modern liberal democracy?

Lesson 6: The philosophy of Western history

  1. Glenn N. Schram, “Western Civilization in the Light of the Philosophy of History”
    1. Should we speak of civilizations as possessing souls or undergoing life-cycles? Why or why not?
    2. Are there political ideologies or ideas in currency in the contemporary West that are not Gnostic?
  2. R.F. Baum, “Notes on Progress and Historical Recurrence”
    1. Are philosophical naturalism and the idea of progress necessarily linked?
    2. Are Christianity and philosophical progressivism diametrically opposed? If so, what is Christianity’s proper “philosophy of history”?

Summary question: Is a true philosophy of history possible?

Lesson 7: Is the West dead or alive?

  1. Jose Ortega y Gasset, “The Past and Future of Western Thought”
    1. Is faith in democracy or progress the same as “belief in the Virgin of Lourdes”? How is a “vision of human life as historicity” similar to or different from traditional “mere Christianity”?
    2. Did the French Revolution produce a genuine peripateia in the West?
  2. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “A World Split Apart”
    1. In the thirty years since this address, do Solzhenitsyn’s claims still ring true?
    2. What is a prosperous nation supposed to do about its prosperity? Will prosperity inevitably produce the weak-willed people Solzhenitsyn believes live in the modern West?

Summary question: What ails the modern West? Is it the same thing that ailed it when Ortega wrote? When Solzhenitsyn wrote?

Ten Essential Resources on Western Civilization
(in recommended order of reading):

  1. Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West
  2. Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History
  3. Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History
  4. Eric Voegelin, The New Science of Politics
  5. Christopher Dawson, The Making of Europe
  6. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Warning to the West
  7. David Gress, From Plato to NATO: The Idea of the West and Its Opponents
  8. Remi Brague, Eccentric Culture: A Theory of Western Civilization
  9. Samuel Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations?”
  10. Philip Longman, The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity and What to Do about It

Five essential ISI lectures on Western civilization

  1. Peter Kreeft, “On the Shoulders of Giants: Learning from the Great Minds of the Past”
  2. Michael Platt, “The Young, the Good, and the West”
  3. Alan C. Kors, “Did Western Civilization Survive the Twentieth Century?”
  4. Robert Royal, “The Importance of Religion to the Development of the West”
  5. Bernard Lewis, “Islam and the West”

Browse more books related to Western civilization here.

View or listen to more lectures related to Western civilization here.

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