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Why “Western Civilization” isn’t enough

In time, the belief that nothing–not even man himself–is real outside the mind came to dominate western culture. No longer grounded in an understanding of man as a being of inherent worth, higher education ceased to be about the pursuit of wisdom and became merely a means to man’s comfortable self-preservation.”

Marion Montgomery: The Truth of Things

For this reason, classical education does not “privilege” western civilization as an abstract idea. Classical education sees a dialectic occurring within western society. It recognizes that the high points and the best ideas come from the Christian classical tradition, but it also recognizes that there have always been antagonists to the tradition within western society. From Protagoras and Gorgias to Nietzsche and Dewey western thought has always engaged those who believe that truth cannot be known, that all we have is perspectives, that our task is to construct reality, and that wisdom is nothing but the ability to adapt to circumstances. There is no reason China can’t become far more classical than Europe and America are today. If they do, they will be better for it. What would it take? Four commitments that the west has lost:

  1. Logocentrism (the belief that the cosmos makes sense and that everything within it can too when we identify and harmonize things with the unifying principle of the Logos and the logoi).
  2. A high view of man (the belief that mankind is not an accident but an Image of the Infinite)
  3. The classical tradition (attending to knowable truth, refining the students’ abilities to perceive and communicate it, and learning how these commitments have been sustained over the millenia).
  4. A sound pedagogy (the seven liberal arts properly understood, a right ordering of the sciences -natural, humane, and philosophical, and mimetic and Socratic instruction)

Maybe we can recover them too. It doesn’t matter who does; just so somebody does. And whoever does, wins.

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