Author Topic: Define "Western Civilization"  (Read 20275 times)

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Offline Phidippides

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Define "Western Civilization"
« on: May 21, 2008, 01:13:25 AM »
How would you define "Western Civilization"?

Now, with whatever answer you give, does it preclude certain groups/peoples from the definition who are in the geography of what is considered to be the West?  Or does it include people outside the West?
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Offline scout1067

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Re: Define "Western Civilization"
« Reply #1 on: May 21, 2008, 11:03:55 AM »
I will start by delineating what I consider the geographic limits of the West.  I consider this area to include Europe and North America, and including the descendants of European settlers in other parts of the world.  The west is more a cast of mind than a geographical area.  The West is defined more by its attitudes than location.  North America is included because of the strong European influences on its present society, but historically the west is centered in Europe.

These attitudes are characterized by an openness to rational scientific inquiry, the acceptance of certain universal rights, and a tolerance for dissenting views.  It is also characterized by the relatively highly developed material position of westerners.  The West enjoys and expects a certain standard of living.

Western Civilization as it exists today is the culmination of thousands of years of societal development with its roots going back to the ancient Greeks.  Greece is what I consider to be the cradle of Western Civilization and not Mesopotamia.  The traditions of the West flow directly from Greece to Rome, to the Catholic Church, to the secular states of Europe to today.  Western Civilization is by no means monolithic or static, it continually changes to meet new circumstances, and there is continuity with the past and an appreciation of where it came from.  I hope and pray that Western Civilization is not losing its vitality and I think it is not, instead I believe it is in the midst of a search for change such as happened during the Enlightenment and Renaissance.

That is my definition of Western Civilization.
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Offline Phidippides

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Re: Define "Western Civilization"
« Reply #2 on: May 21, 2008, 12:17:18 PM »
These attitudes are characterized by an openness to rational scientific inquiry, the acceptance of certain universal rights, and a tolerance for dissenting views.  It is also characterized by the relatively highly developed material position of westerners.  The West enjoys and expects a certain standard of living.

Would you include modern-day Japan as part of the "West"?
"Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses" ~Juvenal

Offline Beaumaris

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Re: Define "Western Civilization"
« Reply #3 on: May 21, 2008, 12:20:53 PM »
I wouldn't.  That should always be considered Far East.
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Offline scout1067

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Re: Define "Western Civilization"
« Reply #4 on: May 21, 2008, 01:22:12 PM »
Would you include modern-day Japan as part of the "West"?

Yes, the Japanese share many of the liberal attitudes that distinguishes western civilization.  they would and do stand shoulder to shoulder with traditional westerners in the face of attacks against those same liberal attitudes.  They also share the western views on freedom and inalienable rights.
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Offline Phidippides

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Re: Define "Western Civilization"
« Reply #5 on: May 21, 2008, 04:16:53 PM »
I wouldn't.  That should always be considered Far East.
Would you include modern-day Japan as part of the "West"?

Yes, the Japanese share many of the liberal attitudes that distinguishes western civilization.  they would and do stand shoulder to shoulder with traditional westerners in the face of attacks against those same liberal attitudes.  They also share the western views on freedom and inalienable rights.

And yet, disagreement here....  While it is true that Japan shares many to the same attitudes as the west, surely there are fundamental cultural differences that make it seem quite different from the cultures of Europe or America. 
"Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses" ~Juvenal

Offline scout1067

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Re: Define "Western Civilization"
« Reply #6 on: May 21, 2008, 04:51:28 PM »
Ah but which outweighs the other?  Our differences or our commonality of outlook.  I would argue that what are considered traditional western attitudes and modern Japanese attitudes towards such things as individual rights and the role of the state vs religion have many commonalities.  These outweigh the differences in the wider scheme of things, I think.  It is easy to focus on differences because commonalities are not so easy to highlight.  This is a by-product of the diversity is great crowd.  They focus on diversity to exclusion of shared values and viewpoints.  I prefer to focus on what brings people together rather than what tears them apart.
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Offline skiguy

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Re: Define "Western Civilization"
« Reply #7 on: May 21, 2008, 05:32:38 PM »
Christianity, capitalism, individual rights, Euro-centric, greatly influenced by the academic standards set forth by Greco-Roman culture, philosophers, and scholars.
The Indian caste system rules them out as being Western.  Communism also rules out neing Western.  Islamic law, unless liberal, rules them out as well..can the liberalism of the UAE and Turkey be considered Western?  Geography doesn't really matter so much nowadays...egs. Australia.
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Offline Phidippides

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Re: Define "Western Civilization"
« Reply #8 on: May 21, 2008, 07:33:49 PM »
Communism also rules out neing Western.

But Marxism was very "European" in origins, as is Russia....so wouldn't Communism actually be "Western"? 

Actually, the discussion here touches on some important themes and illustrates a point made by a lecturer whose video I was watching last night.  The concept of "Western Civilization" is somewhat difficult to pinpoint, and as the professor said it began in Iraq even though Iraq isn't really considered part of the West.  I'm not so sure that I have an answer or even if there is a nice, clean definition for Western Civ, even though we might be able to describe certain features of Western Civilization, as we've been doing here.
"Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses" ~Juvenal

Offline skiguy

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Re: Define "Western Civilization"
« Reply #9 on: May 21, 2008, 07:36:09 PM »
Communism also rules out neing Western.

But Marxism was very "European" in origins, as is Russia....so wouldn't Communism actually be "Western"? 


I can't remember his name, although I should, but didn't a Russian leader desire to spread Europeanism in Russia?  That was before Communism though.

And couldn't one argue that the ideologies of Marxism, Communism, etc. are ANTI-Western?
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Offline Phidippides

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Re: Define "Western Civilization"
« Reply #10 on: May 21, 2008, 07:52:24 PM »
Peter the Great?  He certainly brought the kind of majesty and grandeur that we see in Paris to Russia.

One could argue that Marxism is anti-western, but that would presume that to be western is to be capitalistic.  I think that nowadays much of the West adheres to capitalism but I don't think this was the case for much of the history of Europe. 

So to say that capitalism is Western would be like saying that freedom from slavery is "Western"; while it's true today in the West, it wasn't always that way.
"Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses" ~Juvenal

Offline scout1067

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Re: Define "Western Civilization"
« Reply #11 on: May 22, 2008, 09:41:51 AM »
 
Peter the Great?  He certainly brought the kind of majesty and grandeur that we see in Paris to Russia.

One could argue that Marxism is anti-western, but that would presume that to be western is to be capitalistic.  I think that nowadays much of the West adheres to capitalism but I don't think this was the case for much of the history of Europe. 

So to say that capitalism is Western would be like saying that freedom from slavery is "Western"; while it's true today in the West, it wasn't always that way.

One of the hallmarks of Western Civilisation is its dynamism. So yes, I think we can say that capitalism and freedom are Western attributes.  Many other cultures in the world are static, Islam and the Caste System are good examples.  They are what in the west we would call reactionary systems in that they oppose change on principle because they regard most change as inherently bad.
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Offline Phidippides

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Re: Define "Western Civilization"
« Reply #12 on: May 22, 2008, 09:56:44 AM »
There is a book by Thomas Friedman (yes, that Thomas Friedman of the NYT) called The Lexus and the Olive Tree which discusses two general mindsets or ways of life in the world.  One (the "Lexus") is more capitalistic and global in nature which finds open markets, technology, etc. good whereas the second (the "Olive Tree") sees those things as means by which their traditional ways of living are undermined.  This kind of echoes what you are saying about dynamism vs. opposition to change.  It is a problem that is very real and it does kind of follow the divide between Western nations or Western values and those with non-Western ideals.
"Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses" ~Juvenal

Offline scout1067

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Re: Define "Western Civilization"
« Reply #13 on: May 22, 2008, 10:12:51 AM »
I read Friedman's book last year.  I thought he made some excellent and very valid points.  Especially concerning the nature of the clash of cultures occurring in the world today.
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Offline Beaumaris

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Re: Define "Western Civilization"
« Reply #14 on: May 22, 2008, 12:07:36 PM »
So does "Western Civilization" mean culturally or geographically?  I think initially it was culturally but now as we have become global, it is more geographic.
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