February 8th, 2011

Teaching history: let’s hear it for Western Civ

The UK’s David Cameron has followed in Angela Merkel’s footstops and condemned the policy of multiculturalism which has led to the failure of many immigrants in Britain to adopt the culture and values of their new homeland. His words were clear and concise—and, of course, controversial among many Islamic groups and the left.

Cameron said:

A passively tolerant society says to its citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone. It stands neutral between different values.

A genuinely liberal country does much more. It believes in certain values and actively promotes them.

This glaringly obvious truth hardly bears mentioning, but our Western societies have become so timid about their own heritage and strengths, and the philosophical foundations on which they rest, that even such simple truths have become occasion for heated debate and even outrage.

The entire episode got me to thinking about an educational transition that was occurring around the time I went to college. Until then, it long had been standard to require a college course in what was then called “Western Civ.” But beginning in the 60s and 70s there was a fairly successful movement to make that curriculum elective.

I went to a supposedly excellent college. There I not only managed to successfully avoid taking a Western Civ course, but there were no required history courses whatsoever. This made me happy, because at the time I was under the impression that I hated the study of history.

Fortunately, I had been educated in the New York City school system at a time when the history foundation there was quite stringent. The following courses were required in order to receive an academic diploma: one semester each of Civics and Economics, and a year each of American History and World History (the latter included a fair amount of ancient history as well). So by the time I got to college, the gaps in my education were not too glaring.

I love history now; can’t get enough of it. But it’s no puzzle to me as to why I hated it back then, and why I cheered when I discovered I wouldn’t ever have to enroll in the dread Western Civ. Almost all the courses I had taken in high school had involved dry facts disconnected by any overarching vision of history or any context in which I could figure out how most of it mattered to me any more.

I don’t think that correcting this omission would have been an insurmountable difficulty for the school system. After all, history is rife with such connections, and patterns of great significance; I see them all the time now. But for some reason (and I don’t think it was PC thought, which hadn’t taken hold much back then, especially among my teachers most of whom were quite old) that was not done in my school, or at least very rarely done. Perhaps it was considered too difficult. Perhaps the NY schools were so focused on cramming all the information into us that they thought we would need to do well in the Regents exams that the broad picture went by the wayside.

Whatever the reason, it was a monumental failing, and not just because it failed to interest me in the study of history. My guess is that it failed the majority of my fellow students as well.

And the problem has only gotten worse over time. Now those omissions have all too often been replaced by a certain political agenda, which is to downplay the achievements of Western Civ and emphasize the multicultural oneness of humankind, with special emphasis on the third world.

I’m all for studying other cultures, but not to the neglect of our own. And I’m all for respecting others, but not when we fail to respect ourselves, and to be justly proud of the gifts Western Civilization (let’s use its full name) has given the world.

115 Responses to “Teaching history: let’s hear it for Western Civ”

  1. expat Says:

    I’ve always enjoyed history and find it disgusting that it is so neglected today. I had a history teacher in college who built her English history class around reading biographies, which is partly how I still like to learn. City Journal has an article up now on James Madison that is excellent. I even like books like Pillars of the Earth because the give insight into the life of the little man. It changed the way I now view gargoyles.

    This link covers an innovative attempt of the Poles to make sure that the young are aware of the realities of daily life under communism.


  2. Baklava Says:

    Recently I took a stand in my own family.

    We watched a George Lopez comedy skit and George wasn’t the typical funny with racial humor like Chris Rock.

    George (this is post Gabrielle Giffords now) singled out Kay Bailey Hutchinson riling up 14,000 members of his audience because she was one of 31 Republicans who voted a certain way. That’s not half bad – people single out Congresspeople all the time. The way he did it wasn’t so good – but I gave him a pass.

    Then – George proceeded to make a threat to America and Americans. He didn’t put any qualifiers to good people like myself. He didn’t say to me that he knows there are plenty of Americans who have compassion for everybody.

    He simply said (and I’m paraphrasing), “In 5 years when we are the majority, we will treat you with the same respect that you treated us”.

    So – one could say he wasn’t threatening – because he used the word respect.

    But he used it as a threat and in the negative.

    So… Moving forward… I won

    In our household (I’m with a hispanic woman) we do not have George Lopez on.

    I simply said, “I will not be threatened at home. I am a good man. If either George Lopez has to leave the room or I have to leave the room – I choose George Lopez. I will not be threatened”.

    At first, she wasn’t happy with that.

    But I kept the stand – we didn’t talk for 4 days.

    She stated my position was extreme.

    I said no – I’m not the one with the position where I’m threatening anybody. George did.

    I said, “I will not be threatened at home”.

    In the end. We will all need to take a stand.

    1) Obey the rule of law
    2) Do not threaten others
    3) Understand we are interested in National Security, fairness, justice, rule of law and an economic system of capitalism and free markets.

  3. Baklava Says:


    I have a question for you.

    In a nation where we ALLOW more legal immigrants than all other countries combined – why can’t you understand that we do not need to allow illegal immigration as well.


    There are costs.

    It’s a simple disagreement.

    You singling people out and categorizing and threatening is the problem.

    Sandra Bullock gave you something that you could be thankful for.

    However – you are angry. You are filled with hate.

    It would be wiser to be thankful. There is nothing you could say to a person like me now.

  4. Occam's Beard Says:

    And I’m all for respecting others

    … in proportion to the respect they earn.

  5. Sergey Says:

    Studing history is both disgusting and fascinating. Enormity of human evil it reveals, but also amazing examples of personal valor and heroism. My formal education in this matter was awful, it was all Marxist dogma and nothing else. But there is also literature, great literature, and it depicts strange, very different epochs and countries. (Chronicles of Shakspere, novels of Dumas, and lots of historical novels in Russian literature.) This encourages to read more about these peoples and events, and avid reader becomes accustomed to study history more and more. The only quality education is the self-education, all voluntary. Some of the most erudite people I met do not have formal university diploma – just huge libraries of books they read.

  6. kolnai Says:

    Baklava –

    I’m on board with the No George Lopez thing, but first of all because, frankly, he’s an unfunny, mean-spirited liberal hack who toes the party line on everything. It’s predictable, and it’s boring. But second of all, you are very right to note that there is a really nasty, racist edge to his mean-spiritedness that has felt outright aggressive to me on occasion. It sort of hovers in the atmosphere of his show.

    Whenever I see him I really, really miss Mencia, who was often seriously politically incorrect – and loves this country deeply. He went after everyone, and did it with great and good humor.

    It’s 2011, and Lopez STILL makes Bush jokes on a regular basis. And his Palin jokes are insanely vicious.

    Good on ya for taking a stand.

  7. roc scssrs Says:

    Cicero said: “Not to have knowledge of what happened before you were born is to be condemned to live forever as a child.” A perfectly accurate description of childhood, and a state that very many people seem perfectly satisfied with.

    I must stick up for teaching a lot of facts in history classes, though. I’ve always felt that with the facts you can judge the validity of competing versions of history; without the facts you have no way to judge someone’s grand theories.

  8. Sergey Says:

    Some sanity returns to Western Europe after all this experience with mass immigration from backward, benighted societies. First Merkel, now Cameron. Both gave sober, devastating evaluation of failure of multicultural experiment. When USA would become cognizant of dire consequences of this failure?

  9. neo-neocon Says:

    roz scssrs: of course the facts must be taught as well. They are the basis. But not just the facts, which in my case mostly was the names and dates.

  10. Occam's Beard Says:

    When USA would become cognizant of dire consequences of this failure?

    We can only hope it’s before pigs are requesting landing permission at O’Hare.

    The problem is that the left has taken up the cudgels of multiculturalism as a way of undermining our culture, and with it, our economic system.

  11. Tesh Says:

    Re: teaching of history…

    I loathed history until my senior year of high school. I did well, but it was just memorizing names and places, dates and data. There was no context, no overarching understanding of why those things were even remotely relevant. Just garbage in, garbage out for the test.

    …until my senior year. The teacher there demanded we understand the connections between these disparate bits and bobs of data, and had us write essays to demonstrate our understanding of why history was important. To be fair, it was an AP U.S. History class (which I took because I wanted college credit and the standard classes were excruciating), so we were held to a higher standard.

    I learned more in that class than in 11 years of other history classes. I don’t remember any of the memorized lists to this day, but I remember parts of that class, *because suddenly, history mattered*. It was far more interesting and memorable that way, and I love history today, purely on the change I found in that class.

  12. SteveH Says:

    Let’s face it, not many take an interest in history until they’re mature. Yea i did all the dates and enough to get by and say i did it. But I was probably 25 or so before it was possible for me to even see it as something interesting to learn about.

  13. james Says:

    Around the sixties there was a revolt against the “great person of history” style of teaching which was fair enough, but they went overboard the other way. By taking the ” story ” out of history they reduced it to dry facts and theory that few young people would be interested in. Hook them with a little of the soap opera side of history and dates and theory comes fairly easy.

  14. Good Ole Charlie Says:

    Even though a scientist of sorts, I must confess to loving history (it helps I married a double major wife: English Lit and English History).
    I do have one advantage, though: I find it easy to memorize numbers and things. I may not be able to connect, although I’ve improved over the years.
    What amuses me now is the reactions of my students to my memory of:
    FDR’s death – Hiroshima A-Bomb – JFK’s Assassination – Korean War.
    And yes, there is definitely a place for memorization in any subject: in History, it’s the basic fact set you build on.
    I forget what 19th century German philosopher defined History as “What truly happened – and why”.
    Truth first, then commentary.

  15. Mr. Frank Says:

    Fifty years ago it was common for colleges to require a year of Western Civilization and a year of U.S. history. That was a natural sequence which established the U.S. as part of the western experience. It was also common to require a year of British Literature. That made our British heritage clear.

    Now, if any history and literature is required, it is World History and World Literature. That is from the I’d like to buy the world a Coke approach to education.

  16. Occam's Beard Says:

    Even though a scientist of sorts, I must confess to loving history

    Charlie, same here! I’ve loved history since junior high. (And so does my wife and our older son, who therefore gets it genetically (to the extent it is heritable) from both sides).

    Now if I could only figure out how to make a living from it…

  17. Baklava Says:

    Off topic (climate):


  18. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Pym Fortuyn got blasted as a fascist and then murdered for saying such things.

  19. InTheory Says:

    What lessons do you think our kids would learn from being taught Western Civ that they aren’t learning in school now?

  20. rickl Says:

    I don’t remember thinking much about history in high school, but I took an Introduction to American History course at a local community college. The first lecture told about the various pressures in 15th century Europe that led explorers to set out in search of new trade routes to the Indies. It was absolutely electrifying, and I was hooked. Nowadays I rarely read fiction, and most of the books I buy have something to do with history, whether it’s about the early years of the Space Age, the Battle of the Marne, or the 1912 World Series. (All are subjects of books I’ve bought recently.)

  21. chuck Says:

    Christopher Hitchens wrote an essay on teaching history. back in 1998.

  22. Parker Says:

    There is a great disconnect in the West over multi-culturalism. Many liberals see multi-culturalism as an end all and be all. Simultaneously, they seem to loath Western Civilization and apologize ceaselessly about all the perceived evils committed by the West. Yet, it is Western Civilization the protects their ability to loath Western Civilization.

    I’m glad that Cameron and Merkel are speaking up. I wish our leaders would do the same.

  23. Occam's Beard Says:

    What lessons do you think our kids would learn from being taught Western Civ that they aren’t learning in school now?

    Can’t think of anything, what with all cultures being equally valid and all.

  24. Mel Williams Says:

    I agree with Steve H, that history for most of us requires a certain amount of life experience before it starts being interesting. At 17, there was just no way for me to connect any dots, and even if I had a teacher who taught that way, I doubt it would have sunk very deep.

  25. rickl Says:

    I was going to say this was off-topic, but actually it is Western Civilization at its finest:

    The Free Frontier

  26. LAG Says:

    I love history. I studied history. I spent a career helping make history. Now I’m a practicing historian. But I’m also as honest as I can afford to be, and I have to tell you (after years of study, study of historiography, etc) that there’s no such thing as history in any concrete, final sense.

    What people love about history is the narrative. And that’s the problem. There’s no objective history that, derived from facts, can be proven. I wish it were otherwise, but it isn’t. If it were possible to ‘prove’ history, then we would have a settled national narrative. In reality we are constantly beguiled by new storytellers that are definitely not the same as the old storytellers.

    I, too, prefer the old narrative with which I was raised. I would like to lock it in place for the same reason I will never be able to stand a remake of Casablanca. But a new generation doesn’t know Bogie and Ilsa–if you don’t believe me, try googling it. You’ll be corrected by the all-seeing search engineers who think you mean ‘Bogie and Isla’.

    If you pay attention you will note that Obama’s greatest skill (okay, supposed skill) is storytelling, and all his time is spent on a new narrative. If we conservatives want to recapture the flag, we need to get a new bard out there and stand behind him or her.


  27. Promethea Says:

    LAG . . .

    Terrific post. I agree with all of it. Furthermore, it’s important for everyone to remember that current news is not history. It takes time for the actual story to emerge. Obama’s storytelling will not stand the test of time.

    I always thought that FDR was a demigod until I came to understand that crazy spending and Keynesian economics just doesn’t cut it. The history I learned treated the New Deal as something terrific. Now the current crop of historians can reevaluate its effects on our nation.

  28. Promethea Says:

    There’s no way that high schools can squeeze much about non-Western cultures into world history classes. If they try, it’s just “pretend” history not the real stuff.

    Anyone who has ever tried to learn much about Chinese, Japanese, or Indian history knows what I mean. The history of these countries just doesn’t fit into the Western mental timeline.

    And Muslim history as now taught is just a fantasy of political correctness.

  29. Tom Says:

    “There’s no objective history that, derived from facts, can be proven. I wish it were otherwise, but it isn’t. If it were possible to ‘prove’ history, then we would have a settled national narrative.”

    I ask LAG to expand on his remark, as a self-admitted historian, history-maker (?) and historiographer. I find it somewhat inflammatory. I think many of us are beyond “being beguiled” by “new storytellers.”

    Some of us humans are clearly more able to connect the dots than others. The dots are the facts, I submit, and those to whom facts are drudgery, without an overarching narrative being provided for their ease, will of course tend to flounder about a bit from time to time.

    Today, of course, the dots tend to be ignored altogether, even hidden.

    So, LAG, if you please….

  30. InTheory Says:

    Can’t think of anything, what with all cultures being equally valid and all.

    That’s an interesting theory, but I was asking what lessons the people who want to reboot Western Civ classes think our kids would learn from it.

  31. Curtis Says:

    “There’s no objective history that, derived from facts, can be proven.”

    What kind of dumb ass statement is that? Are you trying to say “Objective history can’t be proven from facts?”

    You state you are a practicing historian!

    You’re definitely not practicing good grammar or logical propositions so if I were you, I’d polish up on basic skills of thinking and writing.

    I think there is something profound you are trying to say but you haven’t communicated it yet.

  32. Parker Says:


    When it comes to learning about Western Civilization I think our kids should learn about ancient Greece & the Roman Empire, the fall of Rome, the rise of Islam and its assault upon the West, the dark age, the important co-mingling influence Judaism and Christianity had in shepherding/igniting the age of enlightenment, and the age of exploration. Additionally, lets include subjects such as the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the Spanish Inquisition, the French Revolution, Martin Luther, colonialism, the American revolution, the struggle over slavery, the near annihilation of aboriginal Americans, both world wars, and just about everything… all the glorious things and all the ugly things. There is a lot to learn and the learning has to start in the 3rd or 4th grade and continue until our children are old men and women. 😉

    In the final analysis the lesson (the tale of morality) comes when we, in all honestly and without bias, compare the history of the West with the history of China, Japan, the Arab world, etc.

  33. Parker Says:

    BTW, to all history buffs I would like to recommend you read Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century; The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Sherer; and The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon.

  34. PM Cameron Defends Teaching Western Values | The American Pundit Says:

    […] something that must be applauded due to its rarity. Still, good on Prime Minister David Cameron for daring to say that, yes, certain values are better for humanity than others. A passively tolerant society says to […]

  35. neo-neocon Says:


    Take a look for yourself.

    By being exposed to that curriculum, the student can get an idea of what is unique and valuable about Western civilization and what the West has contributed to the world, especially the world of ideas.

  36. Simon Says:

    Your post put in mind of an article I recently read by Simon Schama, a wonderful writer and historian. I like his idea that a proper grounding in British history will make all kids, whatever their heritage, feel part of British society:

    “Tell a classroom of 12-year-olds the story of the British (for they took place across our nations) civil wars of the 17th century and all those matters will catch fire in their minds. Explain how it came to be that in the 18th century Britain, a newly but bloodily united kingdom, came somehow to lose most of America but acquire an Indian empire, to engross a fortune on the backs of slaves but then lead the world in the abolition of the trade in humans; explain all that, and a classroom of pupils whose grandparents may have been born in Mumbai or Kingston will grasp what it means to be British today, just as easily as a girl whose grandparents hail from Exeter or Aberdeen.”

    Link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/nov/09/future-history-schools

    If you have never seen one of his documentaries, I highly recommend them (excluding a couple of recent ones about America). If my history teacher brought the past to life like Simon Schama can, then I am sure I would have learned a lot more as well. He talks a lot about teaching history in this article.

  37. LAG Says:

    Briefly, my point is this:

    In writing history, with good reasons,

    1) Some historians make choices. Other historians may make other choices. (Which data, what order, etc.)

    Using sound practices, and with good reason,

    2) Following selection and analysis, some historians arrive at a particular interpretation of the data. Other historians may arrive at other interpretations.

    Who is correct? That is, who is recreating the actual, objective chronology of events with absolute (!) accuracy? Or, who is at least mostly correct?

    The only way to answer these questions with a high degree of personal self-satisfaction is to do the research, analysis and interpretation yourself.

    Even so, you will assuredly not recreate an absolutely accurate account. If you require proof that this is the case, then try the following experiment.

    Record every single aspect of your day. Have you now written a history of your day? Not yet. (And not just because a diary is not a history.)

    To write your history, you must collect the records of every person with whom you interact during the day. And for complete understanding of their behavior, you also require the records of every single person with whom they interact. And so on, ad infinitum–you must follow the turtles all the way down to produce perfect history.

    This is the problem–a final history must, like Pierre Laplace’s mechanistic view of the universe, employ “An intellect which at any given moment [knows] all of the forces that animate nature and the mutual positions of the beings that compose it….”

    For “such an intellect nothing could be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes.” But, as we learned over a hundred years ago that this Newtonian view of the universe was flawed.

    I’m sorry if I insulted your narrative. This is what mine tells me.

  38. InTheory Says:

    By being exposed to that curriculum, the student can get an idea of what is unique and valuable about Western civilization and what the West has contributed to the world, especially the world of ideas.


    I was asking for a brief bullet point list of “what is unique and valuable about Western civilization.”

    Especially now that America has to borrow money from the Chinese to keep afloat.

  39. Promethea Says:

    InTheory . . .

    Your question is good and thoughtful, but you ruined your reputation by ending your comment with snark.

    You obviously despise Western civilization, and to prove it to yourself you cite the fact that America has to borrow money from the Chinese.

    So, if America didn’t have to borrow from the Chinese, it would be superior? I don’t think so. Go back to your troll cave.

  40. Promethea Says:

    I always enjoy a discussion about “what is history,” “what is truth in history,” etc. I spent a lot of time in seminars discussing various interpretations of various events and periods in history.

    Snark doesn’t add to the conversation.

  41. InTheory Says:

    Your question is good and thoughtful, but you ruined your reputation by ending your comment with snark.

    It’s not snark, prom, it’s a fact.

    “The West” now depends on China for economic survival.

    Is that the kind of lesson we want to be teaching our kids?

    Might be doing them a favor.

  42. Parker Says:


    You are a very smart person. I mean that sincerely. However, IMO you are expecting perfection where perfection is impossible. History is not science. It is not falsifiable. It is, at its best, an honest and unbiased interpretation/translation of all available information. Of course much information was never recorded or if recorded lost; but that does not nor should not keep us from learning the lessons of the past if we are skeptical and demanding of what is presented as the “historical record’.

    I’m an agnostic, but here is one of the wisest historical commentaries I know of: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.”

  43. Parker Says:


    IMO the West must crash in order to arise from the ashes. We have lost our way. We have to suffer the consequences of our actions over the last 60 years (almost my entire lifetime) and start to rebuild our way of life based upon liberty, individual responsibility, hard work, frugality, and decentralization.

    That said, I have to go to bed and get up tomorrow morning and spend 6.5 hours shepherding an autistic 11 year old boy through the nuances of 5th grade reality. Goodnight all Neo-Neocons. Thank you for stimulating my cerebral cortex.

  44. InTheory Says:

    “IMO the West must crash in order to arise from the ashes. We have lost our way.”


    I don’t think things are that gloomy. America may have to step down from the “”World’s Only Superpower” perch, but so what?

    Life is pretty good in the former superpowers of England, Spain, Italy, Japan, etc. and a lot less stressful. The historical equivalent to moving to Florida to retire.

  45. Sergey Says:

    But there always was some superpower to establish international order: Rome, Persia, Spain, Britain, etc. This place is never vacant, except when it is, and in such case we have Dark Ages. It will feel like the only sheriff in the town get retired and moved to Florida, without appointing his successor. Only crimanals will be happy with that.

  46. Sergey Says:

    The best book on history I read is
    “Vom Ursprung und Ziel der Geschichte” by Karl Jaspers. Here the whole historical time is reviewed, from “pre-history” to the time of writing (after WWII), and all historically important civilizations are considered. I read it in Russian translation, of course, but give here original German title since I do not know how it reads in English. (Something like “The Meaning and the Goal of History”.)

  47. IgotBupkis Says:

    > We can only hope it’s before pigs are requesting landing permission at O’Hare.

    Let’s hope it’s before our Islamic masters WON’T allow that…

    For those of you interested in history, I can offer a possible source of interesting information in “two” forms — First off is “alternate history” — that is a branch of SF which is based in “what if?” This is not so much a direct tutorial of history itself, but it can make you interested in people and events and “how it’s changed” in the alternate version. Three authors who do very well with this are S.M. Stirling, John Barnes, and Harry Turtledove.

    Harry Turtledove, in particular, is one who is of primary interest, in that he has a PhD in Byzantine History — he has a particular interest and knowledge of it that he has used, in addition to its use as a basis for alternate histories, to write a number of pieces of historical fiction.

    Over the Wine Dark Sea
    The Gryphon’s Skull
    The Sacred Lands
    Owls To Athens

    and, with Judith Tarr
    Household Gods

    In addition, Turtledove has written some “fantasy” novels, in a setting called “Videssos”, which is essentially Byzantium (flip the map left for right and consider the Mediterranean). These novels comprise three series, his first one, which is more an examination of the inner workings of the Byzantine Empire (“The Videssos Cycle”), consisting of four books:
    The Misplaced Legion
    Swords of the Legion
    Legion of Videssos
    An Emperor for the Legion

    In addition, he’s written another series “The Tale of Krispos”, which is essentially a re-telling of the rise to power ca. 850AD of the Byzantine Emperor Basil I. This one is available as a single collection, The Tale of Krispos, or as a trilogy.

    There is a third series, “The Time of Troubles”, which is essentially the telling of events from the points of view of both the Byzantines and their chief enemies in 550-650AD, the Sassanian Persians. It is the story of the internal strife of both peoples surrounding the fall of Maurice, and the rise of Herakleios

    In a completely different era and style, there is also the “Master and Commander” series by Patrick O’Brian. It helps to have references when reading it, but it does provide a good view into the naval history of England and France at the beginning of the Napoleonic period.

  48. Sergey Says:

    There were reccurent periods of isolationism in US history, when illusion of international peace without USA involvment prevail. These always end with eruption of chaos: before Great war, and before WWII. Then awakening of fighting spirit follows, and status of superpower is not only restored, but greatly expanded. Now it looked as prologue to WWIII, before Pearl Harbor-like event.

  49. sergey Says:

    It seems to me that Jasper’s book is an exellent sillabus of the world history, quite suitable for a good high school. It is not a history textbook, of course, but it gives a “big picture”, a method and approach how to think about history.

  50. ThinkAsTheyDoOrElse Says:

    One omission from history education is eugenics. Most are unaware that this fad began in Britain and the US.

    I call it a fad because of the similarity to the Global Warming fad. Both involve schemes to improve civilization through the control of a magic bullet.

    Wiki currently states:

    “In the USA, eugenic supporters included Theodore Roosevelt,[84] the National Academy of Sciences,[85] and the National Research Council.[86] Research was funded by distinguished philanthropies and carried out at prestigious universities.[87] It was taught in college and high school classrooms”

    A look at G K Chesterton’s book Eugenics and Other Evils gives a good feel for the topic you can’t get from a Wiki article. It can be downloaded free here:


    An interesting feature of his writing is the over the top style which foreshadows the horror to come.

    From page 7:

    “The shortest general definition of Eugenics on its practical side is that it does, in a more or less degree, propose to control some families at least as if they were families of pagan slaves.”

    Page 8:

    “Most Eugenists are Euphemists. I mean merely that short words startle them, while long words soothe them. And they are utterly incapable of translating the one into the other, however obviously they mean the same thing. Say to them “The persuasive and even coercive powers of the citizen should enable him to make sure that the burden of longevity in the previous generation does not become disproportionate and intolerable, especially to the females”; say this to them and they will sway slightly to and fro like babies sent to sleep in cradles. Say to them “Murder your mother,” and they sit up quite suddenly. ”

    “Say to them “It is not improbable that a period may arrive when the narrow if once
    useful distinction between the anthropoid homo and the other animals, which has been modified on so many moral points, may be modified also even in regard to the important question of the extension of human diet”; say this to them, and beauty born of murmuring sound will pass into their face. But say to them, in a simple, manly, hearty way “Let’s eat a man!” and their surprise is quite surprising. Yet the sentences say just the same thing. Now, if anyone thinks these two instances extravagant, I will refer to two actual cases from the Eugenic discussions.”

  51. Mrs Whatsit Says:

    I went to high school in New York State around the same time that Neo did and had the same experience: history, as shown to me in school, appeared to be a series of dry, meaningless, disconnected names and dates that, as far as I could tell at 14 or 15, I had to memorize but had no need to understand.

    Meanwhile, outside of class, I was devouring historical fiction; in high school, I remember in particular “The King Must Die” by Mary Renault; “Exodus,” by Leon Uris; “The Grapes of Wrath,” and some of the Michener books, as well as non-fiction that made history real, like “Hiroshima” or “The Diary of Anne Frank.” These were the books that began to explain what history actually was, how people lived, what they were thinking, what drove them to do the things they did. Back then I wondered why on earth my history teachers didn’t use books like these to teach. (I suppose it was because we had to pass the Regents exams.)

    I’m not sure what I think about LAG’s comment that history is only story and has no truth. I see the truth in it (irony! irony!), but that way lies disastrous loss of faith in our ability to understand anything. So, no. Here’s my rejoinder: story is how human beings FIND truth. Even though we can only know the world through perception and interpretation, the world is still a real place made of truths, and we are capable of grasping them. LAG seems to be insisting on a sweeping, God-like omniscient view of history as the only way to know objective truth, but I don’t think that’s right. Plenty of objective truth can be found in individual perspectives on historical events — consider how much pungent, undeniable truth about history and humanity is packed into Anne Frank’s account of her short sojourn in that little room under the eaves.

  52. Mrs Whatsit Says:

    InTheory, I think you might need to brush up on your history a little bit — or perhaps you are a troll. Life may have been good for a while in former superpowers like England or Italy, but it won’t be much longer: those places are rapidly falling apart at the seams between their overburdened entitlement-based economies and their loss of cultural confidence in themselves. (Japan, too, though for somewhat different reasons.) And, of course, the primary reason they’ve been able to bask for a while in the illusion of a comfy retirement is that we were there to protect them and spend our dollars on their defense. Who’ll do that for us if we are dumb enough to climb into fraying hammocks like theirs?

  53. Oblio Says:

    Western Civ doesn’t need to be more valuable than any other civ in order to be absolutely valuable, and we should expect that many of its heirs will value it above all others. They have a right to do so, and to protect, preserve, and promote it. One of the aims of Multiculturalism has been to separate these heirs from their inheritance. The decline of the study of Western Civ is the natural result of allowing Multiculturalists and Marxists to dominate the Academy.

    Cultural imperialism is and always has been the way of the world. You are either playing offense, playing defense, or forfeiting.

  54. Sgt. Mom Says:

    I had the same experience as Mrs. Whatsit – in being fairly bored and unchallenged in formal history classes, but being eaten up by an interest in historical fiction, and reading hf and straight history voraciously on my own. That what made it cohere for me – not anything particularly in class.
    As a sidelight – now I write HF myself, and research tirelessly, because I am aware that I am teaching history to readers, although in a very local and regional way.

  55. LAG Says:

    Parker, I think you misunderstand. First, I never mentioned my expectations. I simply argue that history is a subjective endeavor where data is so overwhelming that no account is ever final.

    Having said that, I agree with you that it is not a falsifiable science. That, I humbly submit, was exactly my point. The past depends on human interaction to make it speak.

    But then you contradict yourself in two ways, first by quoting a source whose ultimate authority you reject. And second by appealing to a determinism that was a the heart of the mechanistic universe you agreed to reject. (What has been is what will be…. Ecclesiastes 1:9)

    Mrs Whatsit, I couldn’t agree more, except that I insist on nothing. I describe (see remarks to Parker above). But if we’re right in saying that “story is how human beings FIND truth” then it becomes incredibly important to recognize the fact and to begin to take control of the narrative.

    The Leftists, like the Communists and Fascists and similar before them, understand controlling the story. We need to fight them for it by speaking up.

  56. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Looks to me as if InTheory is waiting for somebody to say something good about the West, after which will come, “what about the lynchings/Wounded Knee…et al?”
    Seen it done before.
    Life is good in the ex great powers, except for when it isn’t. They may, with the examples of Greece, Ireland, etc. before them, avoid the worst cases.
    But their serenity, such as it is, is paid for by our world’s superpower status. If we step down, they have a problem, as do we, for different reasons.
    You can retire to Florida to take it easy, but that only works as long as there is money elsewhere in the nation to take there. Otherwise, you have blighted orange groves and mosquitos. Period. Metaphor alert.

  57. Mr. Frank Says:

    It’s a rather simplistic observation, but every time something gets put into the school curriculum, something gets pushed out. Some text books I’ve seen give more coverage to the Mai Lai massacre than to the Bataan death march. To make room for equal time for blacks, native Americans, and women, lots of heavy hitters have been dropped. See if you can find Nathan Hale.

    Art, music, physical education are disappearing. Western Civ is politically incorrect.

  58. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Mr. Frank.
    Just for one example, when talking about slavery, the fact is that it was common in the world from the late Neolithic until, what time is it, very recently when it exists but is less common.
    Nevertheless, the assertion is that the US slavery was worse than everywhere else. US must be exceptionally and uniquely evil.
    But, as I learned studying SubSaharan Africa way back, the Arabs took three to five times as many blacks out of Africa going east as went west. Where in the ME or the littoral of the Indian Ocean is anything resembling Haiti, Jamaica, or Alabama?
    Something happened. But it would be culturally insensitive to ask what.
    Single example among many.

  59. waltj Says:

    Enough with the “dark ages” nonsense already! Sure, after AD 476 that there wasn’t a Roman emperor in the West (i.e., Rome), but the one in Constantinople was doing just fine, and would in fact hang in there until 1453, preserving much of Western civilization in the process. The Byzantines extended their influence far to the west of the territory that they actually ruled, and, along with the Roman church, with which they often quarreled, helped keep things moving until the Carolingian dynasty (Charles Martel, Pepin, and Charlemagne) came along. Of course, the road was bumpier than it would have been had there been an emperor in the West to look after things, but scholarship since the 1930s has shown that the trappings of civilization–culture, government, agriculture, industry–were attenuated, but did not disappear after AD 476.

  60. Tom Says:

    LAG @12:36 am seems paralyzed by all the dots that require connection in order to generate what he avers will unavoidably be an incomplete and biased history, even in the best-intended hands. He seems unable to distinguish trivial dots from major ones.

    I suggest LAG look at the star-filled sky on a very clear night. See all the dots? Find a constellation; find the North Star in the obvious constellation that leaps out at you, surrounded by innumerable dots. That constellation is history, in my dot metaphor. People have done that for eons. It doesn’t change at the whim of the viewer, aka Historian.

  61. Sergey Says:

    I find this demonization of eugenics a stupid, knee-jerk reaction. It was (and is) a valid science field, and, sooner or later, we will need to reconsider it and develop sound and ethically acceptable eugenical measures. Actually, eugenics originated in Russia, and famous Russian biologist Nikolai Koltzoff was founder and the first chairman of Russian Eugenical Society since 1921. At the same time, his friend Richard Goldschmidt, the director of Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Biology, prepared a comrehensive program of measures for Ministry of Health of Weimar Republic. This programm was hijacked by Nazi and replaced by another, odious and scientifically absurd. Goldschmidt, a Jew, had to flee to USA and became Professor of genetics in Columbia University, and in Russia all genetical studies was banned by Lysenko. This was the end of scientific eugenics, and everything after was advanced by sharlatans

  62. Sergey Says:

    charlatans and demagogues. In Soviet Union eugenics was resurrected under name of medical genetics, mostly by school of Professor Efroimson. The whole network of medico-genetical consultations was created, and they do very important work in detection of genetical diseases, their classification, mapping their geographical and ethnic statistics and giving recomendations to married pairs with known history of genetic diseases in family.

  63. Bob from Virginia Says:

    Once upon a time Sir Walter Raleigh was languishing in one of Elizabeth’s prisons and being a gentlemen with lots of free time decided to write a history of the world. Then one day there was an altercation between two workmen on a scaffold outside his window in which one killed the other. Try as he could Raleigh could not find out what the fight was about. He then realized if he could not find the cause of a fight outside his window what use was there trying to interpret the acts of nations over time.

    One thing I enjoy about about history is catching the popular lies, such Jefferson had an affair with Sally Hemmings (DNA DID NOT prove he did), Spinoza was excommunicated for philosophical reasons (it was a result of an out of control lawsuit), Richard III was one the greatest English Kings (he cared not a fig for England) and so forth.

    Favorites I can recommend are: The Great Mortality, Empires of the Sea, Engage the Enemy More Closely, The World and William Walker. Blood and Thunder, The Greco-Persian Wars, The Siege: The Saga of Israel and Zionism, Xenophon’s Anabasis, and No True Glory: A Frontline Account of the Battle for Fallujah.

  64. Casca Says:

    Before there was Western Civilization, there was Christendom. Now all “truth” is relative. What could possibly be wrong with a clitorectomy?

  65. InTheory Says:

    Before there was Western Civilization, there was Christendom. /i>

    Think you have that the wrong way round, Casca.

    Christianity was a late addition to Western Civilization. Jesus lived(if he lived at all) his whole life as a citizen of Rome.

  66. Sergey Says:

    As Cameron and Merkel clearly asserted, common law is not enough for society cohesion. There also should be shared values, norms and rules in thousand fields not covered by law. And the law itself can not survive in emptiness devoid ideals, norms and values. History lessons are important in promoting these ideals, norms and values, constituting unique national identity. The history of a nation expounded as a heroic narrative indispensable in this task.

  67. InTheory Says:


    It will feel like the only sheriff in the town get retired and moved to Florida, without appointing his successor. Only crimanals will be happy with that.


    Would the world be better off appointing a successor “Sheriff” to America now instead of pretend we can continue to do the job indefinitely?

  68. Casca Says:

    One of those literalists who must have everything explained eh?

    Western Civilization was the course, and it was the study primarily of Europe from the Greeks forward. Before it was “Western Civilization”, a 20th Century term, it was “Christendom”; i.e. the part of the world where the Christian faith had taken hold.

  69. InTheory Says:

    Ironic considering the Christian church for the most part fought teaching the masses anything useful and indeed fought learning itself, Casca.

  70. Occam's Beard Says:

    Troll alert.

  71. Gringo Says:

    Ironic considering the Christian church for the most part fought teaching the masses anything useful and indeed fought learning itself, Casca.

    Ironic comment considering that during the Middle Ages the Roman Catholic Church was practically the sole source of education and learning.

    As my ancestry has been Protestant for over 400 years, I have no bias towards the Roman Catholic Church. One must give the Roman Catholic Church its due. That being said, it was a good thing that one consequence of Martin Luther and the printing press was the diffusion of the Bible -and literacy- to the masses. Which one notes is an further extension of religion-induced literacy.

    Disclaimer: I have never been a church goer.

  72. Mrs Whatsit Says:

    Thought so.

  73. Artfldgr Says:

    i guess you stll havent read the secret HISTORY of our school system which i linked to.

    much of your musings are covered and unmused to facts rather than fill in the gap with a story when you dont know.

    its the same frustration when you hear someone praise sanger completely ignorant of her actual hsitory and past…

    you tell them to read about her, but they dont, and after they go back to the same love and musings.

    in your whole post there was no mention of how western civ and that was converted to SOCIAL studies, and how the curriculums basis was switched to a communist view of american history thanks to communist Zinn writing “a PEOPLES history’…

    to those of us with soviet experience either first hand or through family, we noticed what was going on. back home it was called communization… here it was called progressive education… (just as here its called disparate impact, and in germany it was just a way to make people angry at the jews for being cheats as we are all equal and if they have more they are cheats. sound familiar?)

    so history stops being history, but the study of social conflict as marx claimed.

    you were educated at the time it switched over, and yet you never noticed the switch from history to social conflict and dialectics.

    just as you didn’t notice the conversion from personnel, where people are individuals, to human resources, where people are a means of production, like a machine or a ton of iron.

    I will bet that you never bothered to look up the very special names of the people behind our education system or even wade through the WHOLE history, not just the selective one (like sanger was changed)

    you did not research the industrialists, who their children and new version of them are continuiong their game!!!

    Andrew Carnegie… what did he do to reform schools, and how did he shorten our attention spans by changing education into soundbites. it was his money that created the Carnegie foundation…

    ever look up the names that appear after things on pbs? ever read the policy papers and white papers behind experimenting on children?

    John D. Rockefeller was part of it as well
    (and note all of them also met to control press!)

    Henry Ford and J.P. Morgan

    ALL of them were trying to design a society in which the society would provide them cradle to grave workers…

    sound familiar?
    [edited for length by n-n]

  74. InTheory Says:


    I think this topic points out the difficulty of teaching Western Civilization to students these days: Who gets to define what Western Civilization is?

  75. Sergey Says:

    There is no heir apparent to USA. No other country can in forseable future run so many nuclear-powered air-carrier strike groups.

  76. Artfldgr Says:

    After 1900 the new mass schooling arenas slowly became impersonal places where children were viewed as HUMAN RESOURCES. Whenever you hear this term, you are certain to be in the presence of employees of the fourth purpose, however unwitting. Human resource children are to be molded and shaped for something called “The Workplace,” even though for most of American history American children were reared to expect to create their own workplaces.

    In the new workplace, most Americans were slated to work for large corporations or large government agencies, if they worked at all.

    which is why the industrialists latched on to use communism…

    because by doing this they crippled everyones capitalistic ability in favor of a job with acorporation.

    these small servants like me, ahve a hard to impossible time knowing how to leave their prisons and start their own businesses.

    we are constantly shutted in some way to have to get capital from them, or have to work within their structure, but the end is that all productino can be tapped, including womens production of the home moved to the state at the damage of the children.

    This revolution in the composition of the American dream produced some unpleasant byproducts. Since systematic forms of employment demand that employees specialize their efforts in one or another function of systematic production, then clear thinking warns us that incomplete people make the best corporate and government employees.

    Earlier Americans like Madison and Jefferson were well aware of this paradox, which our own time has forgotten. And if that is so, mutilation in the interests of later social efficiency has to be one of the biggest tasks assigned to forced schooling.

    What better way to habituate kids to abandoning trust in their peers (and themselves) than to create an atmosphere of constant low-level stress and danger, relief from which is only available by appeal to authority? And many times not even then!

    after all, they are inhibited from being violent and taking care of it themselves…. domesticated…

    Horace Mann had sold forced schooling to industrialists of the mid-nineteenth century as the best “police” to create moral children, but ironically, as it turned out in the twentieth century, big business and big government were best served by making schoolrooms antechambers to Hell.

    As the twentieth century progressed, and particularly after WWII, schools evolved into behavioral training centers, laboratories of experimentation in the interests of corporations and the government. The original model for this development had been Prussian Germany, but few remembered.

    School became jail-time to escape if you could, arenas of meaningless pressure as with the omnipresent “standardized” exams, which study after study concluded were measuring nothing real.

    they changed how they taught you history so that you would not study history

    only if you were curious would you go and learn you loved history and it was relevent.

    but if you did, you would read this history, and you would find out what they did, are doing, and so on!!!!!!!!

    so your paragaraphs are explaining what happens to a little person being subjected to these games.

    you see your school for the people after you changes
    and you notice that your schooling changed after older people

    you notice that you hate certain subjects, but those subjects are very key to being a free individual

    after all, dogs dont care where they come from
    only owners do!!!!!

    a slave in the south had no need to know where he came from… only individuals do..

    and so what you ahve is a society of non individuals as a slave caste. and the only real people are the progressives… and why palin is not a real woman.

    Take the case of Bill Bradley. . . and George W. Bush,

    two of the four finalists in the 2000 presidential race. Bradley had a horrifying 480 on the verbal part of his own SATs, yet graduated from Princeton, won a Rhodes Scholarship, and became a senator; Bush graduated from Yale, became governor of Texas, and president of the United States—with a mediocre 550.

    If you can become governor, senator, and president with mediocre SAT scores, what exactly do the tests measure?

    and we cant even see Obamas!!!

    Perhaps they sort out good scientists from bad? If so, how is it that both the scientists principally involved in the Human Genome Project have strange scholarly backgrounds to say the least!

    Francis S. Collins, the head of the public portion, was homeschooled, never followed any type of formal curriculum, and is a born-again Christian.

    Craig Venter was a very bad boy in high school, a surfing bum who nearly flunked out, and he didn’t go to college after graduation, but into the U.S. Army as an enlisted man before being shipped off to Vietnam!

    As you’ll learn when you read The Underground History of American Education the new purpose of schooling—to serve business and government—could only be achieved efficiently by isolating children from the real world, with adults who themselves were isolated from the real world, and everyone in the confinement isolated from one another.

    Only then could the necessary training in boredom and bewilderment begin. Such training is necessary to produce dependable consumers and dependent citizens who would always look for a teacher to tell them what to do in later life, even if that teacher was an ad man or television anchor.

    The rationale, history, and dynamics of Fourth Purpose school procedure are carefully examined in The Underground History of American Education.

    corporations and state colluding against the people is fascism, a form of compromise socialism

  77. Richard Aubrey Says:

    The world appoints a new sheriff? Like, say, with the input of the UN Human Rights organization, mostly staffed oppressive dictators?
    You can’t be dumb enough to believe that would be a good idea.

  78. InTheory Says:

    Like, say, with the input of the UN Human Rights organization, mostly staffed oppressive dictators?

    Who said anything about the U.N.?

    How about we divide up the world into jurisdictions?

    America can take North America…

  79. Occam's Beard Says:



    More thoughtful than most, but nonetheless…

  80. Sergey Says:

    For me, the best justification of studing history belongs to Richard Fernandez:
    “The primary function of the study of history is to foretell the future; and the kind of history we accept depends on the type of future we desire. Since the past itself is imperfectly grasped, we often stand on what we only imagine to reach what has not yet come to pass. The only consolation in this insane state of affairs is that this circular process sometimes works.”

  81. Richard Aubrey Says:

    I got a modest gradepoint pursuing a generic BA at Enormous State University,following which I was a grunt and now I peddle life insurance. If somebody as poorly-prepared as I can see through your schtick, how about the smart people, which is basically everybody else?
    You ever think of that?
    The idea that getting ideological enemies endlessly chasing moving goalposts and nitpicking changing definitions as a victory against them is an Alinsky tactic. Which, as I say, everybody knows.
    Who’s the “we” that divides up the world and who makes sure the divisions stay as originally devised? I am not requiring an answer, merely demonstrating the lameness of the point. You know it’s lame, I know it’s lame and I know you know it’s lame.
    Find, as I have said to others, some kind of group home where the inhabitants might buy this.

  82. Artfldgr Says:

    How about we divide up the world into jurisdictions?

    oh… you mean countries?

  83. InTheory Says:

    I can see through your schtick, how about the smart people, which is basically everybody else?


    I would suggest the “tactic” you describe is what led to the downfall of Western Civ classes in the first place.

    Imagine the audacity of African Americans, Native Americans, women, etc. questioning the history of the United States as it was once taught in our schools?

    Why not just sum up a few basic points you think kids should learn from a study of Western Civilization and teach those to our kids?

  84. Casca Says:

    Evidently he’s left his government job, no doubt in the executive branch, where he’s free to blog all day at taxpayer’s expense.

  85. Occam's Beard Says:

    Persistent bugger, too.

  86. LAG Says:

    Tom, you have my permission to read my other posts. I have no problem connecting dots, but the product that I end up with is simply mine. History in no respect resembles the coloring books I remember seeing as a child where the picture to be colored was formed by following the numbers. There aren’t any numbers.

    And I recommend you choose another metaphor than the night sky. First, your eyes only perceive about 3,000 stars even on the clearest night. Ancient man took that as the end of the story. Imagine his surprise when from the top of his ziggurat he discovered that some stars wandered on different paths. He had to rewrite his history.

    Galileo opened the next level in the can of worms when he turned his newly minted telescope on Jupiter. Remember, at that time according to the accepted account, everything revolved around the earth. But he saw with his own eyes evidence that this was not so. Hence another rewrite.

    Your constellations? Sorry they have no meaning–they are simple patterns that didn’t exist eons ago, and don’t exist now if you could see them from another star. I appreciate that looking into the sky and seeing light from ages past is looking into history, but the view changes every time mankind deploys a new instrument, collects new data, and is forced to reinterpret the world.

    People have done that for eons, too. And even there, it does change. Ask any astronomer. In the meantime, you give me your trivial dots, and I’ll show you how they might be turned major ones with another interpretation.

  87. Richard Aubrey Says:

    In Theory.
    I did. Around the dinner table.
    And hauling out the sainted minorities…. Lame. Lame.

  88. InTheory Says:

    I did. Around the dinner table.

    Then perhaps you could do what no other proponent of teaching Western Civ to our kids in this thread has managed…please sum up what you think they’d learn in a few bullet points.


    Lesson 1: blah blah blah
    Lesson 2: blah blah blah

    I have a feeling the advocates of teaching Western Civ are too embarrassed to openly state what they think our kids would learn from it…

  89. Richard Aubrey Says:

    I have a feeling that you would , when I listed something positive, pounce with, “what about the,,,?”
    Since you’ve already hauled out the sainted minorities, I’d say I have about a 100% chance of being right about that. You think I want to waste my time trying to nail down an argument designed to be as amorphous as an overeasy egg nailed to the ceiling? Give it up. You’re busted.
    Why do you think I would think it’s your business what I teach my kids?

  90. Tom Says:

    LAG: I regret you miss the point of my metaphor entirely. My point is that certain dots connect into a history, a constellation, as it were. Those dots are not negated or supplemented by the findings of Galileo or radiotelescopes or the Hubbell.
    But thank you ever so much for your grant of permission.

  91. Parker Says:

    Okay, InTheory, I’ll jump in like a fool…. 🙂

    1.) WC gave birth to the concept of the dignity of the individual. This has been a gradual process that has lead to greater liberty for all of its citizens.

    2.) It is adaptable, reluctantly at times, and open to reformation.

    3.) As its ideal it believes in the rule of law, not the arbitrary rule of the few.

    4.) Its adherence to its values is imperfect.

    5.) Along the way WC has committed atrocities and taken many wrong turns.

    6.) So far, WC has managed to correct (imperfectly) its mistakes and excesses.

    7.) Its worth is best appreciated when compared to the cultural values of other civilizations.

  92. neo-neocon Says:


    Although I agree with those who judge you to be a troll, I have no problem answering your question, although I have no interest in jumping through the hoop of your demand that it be done by way of bullet points.

    The following is hardly an exhaustive list, but IMHO one of the most important contributions of Western civilization to the world are the ideas of the importance of individual liberty and equality of opportunity under the law, and the limitations on an authority’s right to take either away. Then of course there is the scientific method. I also believe that Western civilization’s contributions to the arts have been profound and uniquely wonderful.

    I am unapologetic about defending these things. Like anything, they have their downsides, but there is nothing on earth that does not.

    And by the way, if you look at the institution of slavery, you will find that it was previously a widespread practice on every continent of the globe that had existed for millennia. The Western world was certainly part of that for quite some time, although it did not invent it. But the abolitionist movement began in Western countries as a result of Western thought; that’s another large contribution.

  93. rickl Says:

    Tom Says:
    February 9th, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    My point is that certain dots connect into a history, a constellation, as it were.

    Pardon me for butting in here, but I think I see what LAG is driving at.

    Stars are real, physical objects (analogous to facts), but constellations are entirely human constructs. They are imaginary patterns concocted by human observers, and different observers will see different patterns if they haven’t been taught the “official” ones. Different cultures have different constellations, but the ones in the Western tradition have now become standardized, and astronomers all over the world use them as roadmaps.

    But the stars within a constellation have no physical relationship to each other (for the most part; there are exceptions).

  94. InTheory Says:

    Thanks, Parker and neo.

    It doesn’t seem like it would be that tough to integrate a “Lessons from Western Civilization” unit into existing Social Studies courses.

  95. neo-neocon Says:


    no, in theory it wouldn’t be tough at all.

    However, in practice, there would be these difficulties:

    It’s not just a short part of the course. Not just a couple of bullet points to memorize. To understand its significance and depth, it would require lots of reading, a sort of “great books” curriculum, to get the points across–the depth of the thinking, the way it developed, the different strains of thought.

    This used to be a full year course, or more. And it used to be required, not elective, for all college students, in most campuses across the US.

    In fact, Western Civ is still taught in most colleges. You can often find it on the list of courses, but it’s almost never required. What’s more, it’s not the same as it used to be, because another factor is the mindset of the professors and their attitude towards the course material. These days, Western Civ is often just a pretext to trash Western Civ and point out its defects, and to look at it from what’s known as a “world civilization” point of view that is often morally relativistic.

    Perhaps you know all that, and are just picking and poking and trolling. Or perhaps you don’t, and are not.

  96. rickl Says:

    Addendum to my previous comment:
    A notable exception is the Big Dipper. Most of the stars in that constellation (but not all) are thought to be members of a nearby small, loosely-bound star cluster.

    The interesting part is that the star Sirius (the brightest star in the sky) and our own Sun may also be members.

  97. LAG Says:

    rickl gets it.

  98. Parker Says:


    I agree that in many cases the teaching of WC today at the university level is used as another opportunity to trash the values of WC. I can only offer the opinion that the solution is to teach the rudiments in elementary and secondary schools so students have the ability to question the leftist bias they may encounter later in their educational careers.

    The school here in Iowa where I work has a wonderful teacher who instills an appreciation for this subject to 5-6 grade students she teaches. She does not shrink from pointing out the blemishes, nor does she shy away from pointing out the achievements. She is not alone, of that I am convinced.

    Its a slow process that begins at the local school. Damage control requires diligence and patience. We as individuals must do what we can at home with our children and grandchildren, and by putting pressure to bare on the local school(s).

  99. Tom Says:

    So it wasn’t a stupid metaphor after all?
    What bothers me is you guys insist on putting astronomy into it, when it has no metaphorical place AFAIC.

  100. Occam's Beard Says:

    Apparently Soros doesn’t pay overtime.

  101. InTheory Says:

    Apparently Soros doesn’t pay overtime.

    No, he doesn’t, but we get 15% off selected Che t-shirts.

    Not much more to say except the boilerplate values some people consider “Western” are actually quite universal.

    For example, Cyrus the Great, founder of the Achaemenid (Persian) Empire, first outlawed slavery.

    Remember, the guy who freed the Jews from bondage in Babylon and allowed them to return to the promised land?

  102. Sergey Says:

    So, let us define, at last, what exactly we call Western Civilization. It has 3 sources and 3 basic ingredients. These sources are ancient Greek civilization, Hebrew civilization and Roman civilization. From all these sources, Western Civilization took their uppermost achievements, namely rationalism, individualism and aestetics from Greece, the idea of public law from Rome and Judaic moral code from Hebrews. The synthesis of these ideas was performed by Christianity in Bysant circa 4 century. Since that time all these components were honed to perfectness during periods of creative development. Roman public law became English common law; art forms inspired by Greek art led to Italian painting and sculpture art; engineering genius of Romans led to cathedrals and other masterpieces of architecture; and rationalism led to creation of scientific method and industrialization. All these developments are unique and have no parallels in other cultures of comparable value.

  103. Oblio Says:

    Some students are still being educated well. From the University of Chicago Humanities Core, 2006-7:

    12300-12400-12500. Human Being and Citizen.

    Socrates asks, “Who is a knower of such excellence, of a human being and of a citizen?” We are all concerned to discover what it means to be an excellent human being and an excellent citizen, and to learn what a just community is. This course explores these and related matters, and helps us to examine critically our opinions about them. To this end, we read closely and discuss seminal works of the Western tradition, selected both because they illumine the central questions and because, read together, they form a compelling record of human inquiry. Insofar as they force us to consider different and competing ways of asking and answering questions about human and civic excellence, it is impossible for us to approach these great writings as detached or indifferent spectators. Instead, we come to realize our own indebtedness to these our predecessors and our obligation to continue their task of inquiry. In addition to providing a deeper appreciation of who we are as human beings and citizens, this course also aims to cultivate the liberating skills of careful reading, writing, speaking, and listening. The syllabus is revised slightly each spring for the next academic year. The reading list that follows was used in 2006–07. Autumn: Plato, Apology; Homer, Iliad; Genesis; Plato, Euthyphro. Winter: Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics; Augustine, Confessions; Dante, The Inferno. Spring: Selected lyric poems and/or American documents; Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida; Kant, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals; and Tolstoy, Hadji Murad.

    11500-11600-11700. Philosophical Perspectives on the Humanities.

    This sequence studies philosophy both as an ongoing series of arguments, mainly, but not exclusively, concerning ethics and knowledge, and as a discipline interacting with and responding to developments in the natural sciences, history, and literature. Papers are assigned throughout the course to help students develop their writing and reasoning skills. Readings may vary slightly from section to section, although the year is organized around several common themes.

    The Autumn Quarter focuses on Greek conceptions of ethics and epistemology, primarily through analysis of Platonic dialogues, but readings may also come from Aristotle and the Greek dramatists. The Winter Quarter focuses on questions and challenges raised by the intellectual revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with readings from Montaigne, Bacon, Descartes, Pascal, Galileo, and Shakespeare. The Spring Quarter focuses on modern moral philosophy, and on the relation of philosophy to literature, with readings from Hume and Kant, among others.

  104. waltj Says:

    Ok, so Cyrus the Great outlawed slavery. Good on him. An emphasis on Western Civilization does not necessarily exclude the contributions of other cultures. However, taken as a whole, the West has done more than all the others combined to improve the human condition. Perfectly? Of course not. No enterprise involving people will ever be flawless, no matter what the socialist utopians may try to sell you. But the West also has an unmatched capacity for introspection, to learn from its mistakes, adopt (and adapt) good ideas, wherever they originate, and create something better.

  105. Richard Aubrey Says:

    I got tired of InTheory’s schtick when self-appointed intellectuals in my HS junior class thought it made them look smart.
    College bull sessions usually ended when one of them started, unless somebody hadn’t already run into it and got hooked into the exercise. Then I spend various amounts of time with various lefties who thought…who knows what they thought.
    Been half a century since I got tired of it. Never changes.

  106. Brad Says:

    I’ve stayed off this thread, but I do feel it necessary to state that I do think Western Civ was a uniquely high point in human culture. It’s not that other cultures didn’t have anything to contribute, but as noted earlier in the thread the Enlightenment was the product of the high points of at least 3 other cultures.

    Focusing on the fact that it wasn’t perfectly followed in terms of things like slavery doesn’t really demolish the accomplishments or the worthiness of the ideals. More people were, for at least a temporary time, freed under “western civ” to be fully realized humans than under any other system that has ever existed and that should be recognized.

  107. njcommuter Says:

    I’m way late to this party, but I’ll add a quote. John Dickson Carr said To write good history is the noblest work of man. I though he was exaggerating when I first read it. I no longer think so, and I offer to you the introductory section of Bobbitt’s The Shield of Achilles as a defense of the statement, wherein Bobbitt presents the thesis of his massive book.

    Carr also wrote The Murder of Sir Edmund Godfrey, in which he presented a real unsolved murder from the reign of Charles II. But he presented it in the format of murder mystery, complete with solution, and I believe the solution strong enough that he could have gotten an indictment under American rules of evidence and procedure.

  108. abdul7591 Says:

    As a person of non-European ancestry myself, I find it both amusing and alarming to watch those of European descent feel compelled to trash their own heritage because of certain failings, while turning a complete blind eye to the monumental failings of non-Western societies. To focus almost exclusively, for example, on the role of European racism in the Transatlantic slave trade, while downplaying or erasing the complicity of black Africans themselves, and the huge role played by African tribalism in the perpetuation of that trade is to teach not history, but an indigestible mush of politically correct half-truths. An unflinching look at African complicity in the slave trade, and other African sins might go a long way toward mitigating that elephant in the living room most people are too embarrassed to talk about: Black racism, the belief that white people are inherently demonic creatures who inhabit a lower rung on the ladder of moral evolution than the “oppressed” and therefore “exalted” Black Man. So much of our public discourse on race tiptoes around this idiocy. Far too much public respect is accorded to individuals who seem to have nothing better to do with their time than reduce the entire human historical record to a children’s game of “Pin the Tail on the Honkie.” A stiff dose of real history might be just what is needed to knock some fools off the pedestals they have built for themselves.

    These days the absurdity underlying what passes for history is even more glaring when the subject turns to the Islamic world. Personally, I love Islamic art and architecture, but everytime the public is subjected to a lecture on “Western Imperialism” from an apologist for Islam, I feel as if I am listening to a manure-eater accusing somebody ELSE of bad breath. Islam is nothing if not imperialist and cruel in its treatment of “The Other.” The Islamic world has so many skeletons in its closet that Muslims could open up a natural history museum the size of Central Asia.

    Why is it not OK to learn about the nasty bits of non-Western history? If it is OK to insult the sensibilities of Europeans and European-Americans by distorting and vilifying their history and heritage, why should we care about non-Westerners who take offense when someone points out the simple truth about their respective pasts?

    I don’t think we should downplay the sins of the Western world, but it does seem to me that we could make the world a far more peaceful place if we spread the collective humility a little more evenly.

  109. neo-neocon Says:

    waltj: actually, Cyrus did not outlaw slavery. There’s a really interesting story of how that tale came to be told, and why. I’m planning to write a post soon about it.

  110. neo-neocon Says:

    abdul7591: you are quite right.

    Please see this.

  111. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Somebody made a cute metaphor.
    When we have a Disney-like exhibit of the various nations, we have:
    Cambodia…. Angkor Wat, neat folk dances and ethnic food–(certified safe).
    When we have Indonesia, we have shadow puppets, neat folk dances, and ethnic food (certified safe).
    When we have Japan, we have Mt. Fuji, geishas, neat folk dances and ethnic food (certified safe).
    When we have Mexico, we have Teotihuacan, the Pyramids, the real borders as if they’d won the Mexican War, Ballet Folklorico, and ethnic food (certified safe).
    If we have the US, we have Wounded Knee, slave auctions and lynchings, the atomic bomb on Japan, and a Big Mac held up as stupid and harmful and worthy of snark by all right-thinking people.
    Ditto various western/world civ classes.

  112. Occam's Beard Says:

    abdul7591, absolutely right.

    Hugh Thomas’s The Slave Trade makes this clear. The greatest resistance to Britain’s efforts to abolish the slave trade? Chieftains of African coastal tribes, one of whom (according to Thomas) was making #250,000 per annum in an era when the wealthiest English nobleman made #12,000 per annum from all of his estates.

    Thomas also makes clear that the slave trade was a win-win for such chieftains. They got rid of their criminals, troublemakers, ne’er-do-wells, and rivals in their own tribes, and their enemies in nearby tribes, all the while turning a pretty penny. It’d be like space aliens beaming down and offering us $1 million for each inmate of San Quentin and Guantanamo Bay.

  113. LAG Says:

    “It’d be like space aliens beaming down and offering us $1 million for each inmate of San Quentin and Guantanamo Bay.”

    I don’t know about Gitmo, but California could use the money. This probably would fit right in with Jerry Brown’s other solutions.

  114. Dave Says:

    Victor Davis Hanson wrote very eloquently about the unraveling of the classical university (what Alan Bloom called “The Closing of the American Mind”):


    This article alludes to what I believe is the base of the erosion of citizenship – the intentional destruction of inductive reasoning & replacing it with deductive dogma. This, to me, is the tragedy of modern liberalism – it begin with a standardized cannon of Leftist doctrine, and everything else observed in the world is explained in accordance with the immutable principles of the Left. No longer do Americans base their principles of the wisdom of the past and apply reason to induce the best way forward, but instead apply their energy to threaten anyone who questions the standardized liberal talking points. History, to the Left, is a game of semantics to be drowned in a sea of platitudes, rather than a case study to be examined and serve as a warning for potential future pitfalls.

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