Civilization draws its roots primarily from the Western Roman Empire,
and in truth, that is what causes our particular civilization to be
known as the "Western" one. It is good to note in passing that there is
no singular "Eastern" civilization. If you wish to find one as a
successor to the Eastern Roman Empire, you must look to that which was
formed by the Arab peoples, which peoples eventually conquered the
capital of the old Eastern Roman Empire, Constantinople.
But the old Western Roman Empire was itself only a half remnant of the Classical civilization of the twinned cultures of Greece and Rome. When the founders of Western Civilization had pacified their environment to a sufficient degree to be able to afford more advanced scholarship, the jumping off point was the cultural heritage left over after the fall of Rome. That heritage included all of the ideas from the greatest minds of classical Greece, and it is for this reason that scholars of the West still worship the writings of Aristotle, who died more than a thousand years before we adopted him whole into our own culture.
While other civilizations have contributed to our overall intellectual knowledge, the writings of Aristotle and the other great Greek philosophers have contributed to the soul of Western Civilization. It is primarily for this reason that if you merely say the words "ancient history" here in our own time, the mental image which is invoked is that of Greece in the fifth century, b. c. This should never be interpreted by people of other cultures as disrespectful of their philosophies. This is a natural acknowledgment of our own parentage; and many cultures contain the concept of ancestor worship.38 Thus, in our own affinity for Classical culture, in preference to other ancient cultures, we are merely expressing our own preference for our parents, for Western Civilization began by inheriting most of the Classical Civilization, virtually intact.
French have always seemed to see themselves as being at the center of
Western Civilization, and at least at its beginning, they are
absolutely correct. Spengler asserts that the political birth of a
culture occurs at the point in time when men begin to view their form
of government as a "State" and to experience "Politics" in the sense
meant by Aristotle. It happened first in France, with the conquests of
Before Charlemagne, the inhabitants of Europe were mere "primitive
folk, tribes and their chiefs," no matter what they might have believed
among themselves. Charlemagne gave them the idea that a "State" could
be formed, and he drew together an army and pulled together a large
number of agrarian city-states into "Greater France." After his death,
his three sons divided the empire somewhat equally among themselves,
and this pattern went on for awhile, until one of the successors pulled
things together again into what we now think of as France.
Western Civilization came to England with the Norman invasion of 1066. Do not forget: the Normans were from Normandy, and Normandy is an area of Northern France. Again, before the Norman invasion, England was ruled by a large number of kings with fairly local dominions. After the Norman invasion, London became the center of a great empire; and London remained at the center even during those periods when Scotland, Wales, and/or Ireland were independent of London. And even in those periods of independence, each was (and is) a nation which is a product of Western Civilization.
When the French founders of Western Civilization took their cultural inheritance from Rome, they took with it the Roman Catholic Church, which is one of the branches of Christianity. In the process, both were affected by this affiliation. Among other results was the fact that the Roman Catholics grew so far away from the Eastern Orthodox Christians that eventually, in about 1054 a. d., there was a schism, and Rome went with Western Civilization while the Eastern Orthodox church maintained its alliance with the Arabian Civilization.
The schism is more important than you might imagine, because it is both a cause and a symptom of the feelings and thoughts which define Western Civilization. Even in modern times, and from the viewpoint of the United States, we still tend to feel more of an affinity for those nations who allied themselves with the Roman Catholic Church, while we still feel uneasy with, and much less identified with, those nations which chose not to follow Rome after the schism. This is all part of what makes us "Western."
most civilizations, Western Civilization expanded its frontiers by
force of arms, engaging in military conquests of other areas for at
least long enough to install the Roman Catholic Church, or after the
Reformation, whichever Christian church happened to be the favorite of
the ruling class of the conquering nation. This created a tremendous
need for clergy and merchants, both of whom required extensive
quantities of schooling in order to perform their appointed tasks. As
wealth became more abundant, the gift of schooling became increasingly
available to persons of more modest means without the necessity of
becoming a priest or minister.
While Spengler was easily able to fit Western Civilization into the "pattern" which he discerned as being common to all civilizations,40 his pattern does not account for many necessary effects of the Industrial Revolution.41 In order to "feed" the factories with the laborers necessary to produce industrial goods, those laborers must be educated far more than was the pattern in the past. Since industry had no particular desire to pay for this level of education itself, it fostered the creation of a system whereby the population at large is taxed for the creation of "public education." The goal of "public education" is to produce individuals with a level of literacy which is useful to industry. As the levels of technology which must be employed by the work force grow, so too must the levels of education which our system of "public education" produces.
Nearly universal education of the masses is unique to Western Civilization. Pick any other civilization that you wish to pick, and formal (whether classroom style or privately tutored) education in that civilization was only given to the privileged few in the earlier days of the civilization, and down to the middle classes (for government workers) in later years. Farm workers were expected to be ignorant near-savages, who would learn from their parents by working with their parents from the earliest age possible.
The earliest reference I could find to "public education" was the fact that the City of Boston advertised for a schoolmaster in 1635. However, European rulers would not support educating the lower classes, out of fear of educating them to revolt against their rulers, until forced into it by the Industrial Revolution.
How many more great thinkers might mankind have had if only we had made use of the brain power of the peasant class? Well, one indication of that would be the rapid pace of "progress" since the industrial revolution began in roughly 1750. We are now in the third stage of the Industrial Revolution, or as some would have it, a Third Industrial Revolution. It is far beyond the scope of this work to discuss the Industrial Revolution in detail, but the essence of each stage, or each revolution, was to focus people's efforts more on intellectual tasks, while allowing machinery of various kinds to perform rote, repetitive, and mechanical tasks. If the work force needs to be focused more on those intellectual tasks, then the work force needs more basic education in order to be able to wield its intellect.
So, while Western Civilization has continued down the road predicted by Spengler over a half century ago, the wide availability of nearly universal public education gives the citizenry of Western Civilization an "out" from the doomed fate he sketched. For the first time in human history, a civilization has the opportunity to choose not to die, but to reinvent itself instead. As the present inheritors of Western Civilization, we can either allow its disintegration to continue, or we can grab our children and educate them in a new value system, for the good of all humanity. It is our choice which of these patterns of development we choose to follow.
38 Ancestor worship, per se, is most identified with Oriental cultures. But even in Christianity, one of God's ten commandments is "Honor your father and your mother, . . . ." (Exodus 20:12.)
39 The name itself, Charlemagne, is an Anglicization of French for Charles the Great.
40 Most historians have a great deal of difficulty in maintaining the proper degree of perspective and disinterestedness when dealing with relatively recent events in their own cultures. Spengler is no exception to this. His predictions of future trends are still valid, in general terms, but even though he assigned very few dates to those prediction, those dates he did assign are dramatically wrong. Of course, this only becomes obvious when we regain our perspective by allowing time to pass.
41 My guess as to the reason for this is that the Industrial Revolution was still too close to his own time, and it was easier in his day to still force it into the pattern he was attempting to weave.
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