So here’s were I explain what I mean when I’m talking about Western Civilization. I’m not talking about based on airy abstractions like “democracy” and “human rights”. I’m talking about something that, like all civilizations, was formed, matured and aged organically. Culture isn’t confined inside the pages of a book; it exists by being lived. More importantly, while Enlightenment liberalism is a product of the West, it is not the West. Western Civilization predates liberalism, and liberalism is not an essential feature of Western Civilization.
First off, Western Civilization did not begin with ancient Greece. The Greeks were an interesting and remarkable culture; they were not our forerunners. The fundamental ideas of Classical Civilization differed on a number of points from those of the West, the most significant being the lack of influence from Christianity, Western Civilization’s religious foundation. Greece made significant contributions to Western culture to be sure, insofar as they were preserved and handed down through Rome. The components of the synthesis from which the West was made were the Roman Empire, Christianity and the customs of the Germanic tribes of Europe. The process of synthesis began with Lydia, the first European convert to Christianity (Acts 16:14-15) and it is after her that I name this website. The basic stages of its development were marked out by Spengler in Decline of the West.
It was at what is usually called the High Middle Ages that we see a distinct civilization form. The First Crusade was its appearance on the world stage. This was Western Civilization’s “spring” or what could also be called its “childhood”. It was during this period that its distinct features – political, social, economic, philosophical and artistic – were formed. Its later developments were built on these foundations. The new civilization went by the name of Christendom.
The Early Modern Period was the West’s youth, or “summer”. It is in this period that the Western world was at the peak of its cultural generativity. At this point Europe has clearly progressed beyond the Arabs and the Chinese, and trade has opened up with much of the world. Most of that which was great in the West had its origins in this period. In art, with the Renaissance. In religion, the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation. Finally, with what is most celebrated, often idolized today, the Scientific Revolution.
The “middle age”, or “autumn” of the West coincides with the Enlightenment and the Romantic reaction against it. It is characterized by rise of the bourgeoisie to replace the landed nobility as the ruling class, politically exemplified by the French Revolution. Economically, it is manifest in the Industrial Revolution and the rise of the capitalist system. Cultural generativity continues, but not an the rate of the previous stage. Culture begins to solidify into civilization. Technological advances accelerate but advances in the realm of ideas slow. Europe and America ultimately hold sway over most of the world, with the British Empire playing the lead role.
Western Civilization’s “winter”, or what is could be called its “old age” began in the twentieth century as the previous world was blown apart by the guns of August 1914. Technology has certainly advanced, but that’s about all that can be said of this period. The bourgeoisie is supplanted by technocracy under a new managerial class. Its rule is characterized by a remarkable appetite for power, which imposes itself increasingly into the everyday lives of even its common subjects, for in the age of mass politics, the personal is political. Cultural life becomes increasingly sterile as it is packaged for the masses, by the mass media. Public discourse is reduced more and more to clichés and sound bites. The United States presides over the West during these twilight years.
My timeline differs from Spengler’s on a few points of detail regarding when the stages began and end, but he was absolutely correct regarding what path we have taken and where we are going.