What Does Western Civilization Mean?

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Vikram Bath

Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1.

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90 Responses

  1. Avatar Pinky says:

    I like this definition of Western civilization: to have had your passport stamped in Athens, Jerusalem, and Rome, but not in Mecca.Report

    • Avatar Alex Knapp in reply to Pinky says:

      That makes no sense. Islam is an essential part of “Western Civilization” – having basically created modern science and preserving and expanding upon Greek Philosophy in the early Middle Ages.Good lord, just look at MATH.Report

      • Avatar George Turner in reply to Alex Knapp says:

        Islam rejected Western civilization, even if some ideas refined by Muslims (and later rejected by them) got taken up by it. There were some very innovative thinkers in early Islam, such as ibn Kuldun or al-Khwarizmi, who invented al-jabr. But many of the thinkers in Islam’s golden age were not the product of Islamic culture, they were part of cultures recently conquered by Islam and were taking pre-existing ideas (Persian, etc) and spreading them via the newly imposed common language, or were reacting to ideas that spread because of newly imposed common language.

        When Islam conquered the heart of classical Western civilization (Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, the Eastern Roman Empire), it gained a huge influx of ideas that were not inherently Muslim. But being Islam, it preserved those ideas as examples of the state of knowledge prior to the revelation of the Koran, but rejected the truth of those ideas as being either contrary to the Koran, in which case they were false, or confirming the truth of the Koran, in which case they were redundant.

        .Report

        • Avatar gregiank in reply to George Turner says:

          Why yes there were separate and different cultures that shared a common religion. That might be a really good insight to keep in mind. Nevertheless science advanced and was preserved when the cultures of …umm..other parts of the world didn’t have use for it. That seems to be something we should celebrate.Report

        • Avatar Lyle in reply to George Turner says:

          More clearly Islam rejected enlightenment and later western civilization. I have read comments that Islamic worship resembles the worship of the eastern church in the 7th century. So a large part of the issue is western civilization at what time, pre or post the 18th century for example?Report

        • It’s amazing how many experts on Islam there are in these parts.Report

          • Avatar George Turner in reply to Mike Schilling says:

            Indeed. That’s because during the Gulf War and after 9/11, all the liberals said we should try to understand Muslims. So conservatives read racks of books about Muslims, Islam, Islamic history, Islamic theology, Islamic philosophy, etc. We read pretty much anything Muslims would print. I used to be an avid daily reader of Saudi and Iraqi newspapers.

            Know your enemy, and all that. So that done, we have a lot of Westerners who know a whole lot about Islam. Heck, my daily chat buddy was an airborne Arab linguist who was often deployed to the Gulf and Med. He is still pretty fluent in what he calls Sandmonkeynese.Report

            • Avatar greginak in reply to George Turner says:

              You really proved a point there G. Just not the one you think did.Report

            • Avatar Pinky in reply to George Turner says:

              This. I’m tired of people who claim to understand Islam who ignore both Muslim history and what Muslim culture is saying today. People who assume that all religions say the same thing because that’s what someone told them Joseph Campbell said.Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to Pinky says:

                That’s fine and good but lots of people claim to know talk about Muslim history and such have a very jaundiced view. It would be easy, and wrong, to simplify all of Muslim history and culture into Evilllllll or Good narratives. Heck that would be as silly as thinking all Muslim culture is the same across ethnic cultures.

                And taking ethnic slur boy George as a representative of one side of how to think about Muslims is telling.Report

          • It’s amazing how many experts on Islam there are in these parts.

            I agree. I also find that the political leanings of the so-called “experts” change as the topic changes.Report

      • Avatar Swami in reply to Alex Knapp says:

        Strongly agree with George on this one.

        Here is a fascinating article on the history of so-called Islamic “science”.

        http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/why-the-arabic-world-turned-away-from-scienceReport

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

      I guess posting “Western Civilization is that thing that committed suicide” in simplified Chinese was my reach exceeding my grasp.Report

      • Avatar Marchmaine in reply to Jaybird says:

        Meh, I might be interested in a discussion about this, but not under the rubric of “Steve Smith said a thing.”Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Marchmaine says:

          Well, I’ll just quote Slate Star Codex and leave it there.

          I am pretty sure there was, at one point, such a thing as western civilization. I think it involved things like dancing around maypoles and copying Latin manuscripts. At some point Thor might have been involved. That civilization is dead. It summoned an alien entity from beyond the void which devoured its summoner and is proceeding to eat the rest of the world.

          Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

            I suppose I can’t leave it there. It strikes me as doing something monumentally unsustainable that will lead to relative unfitness that will result in its being overtaken and eventual obvious obsolescence and abandonment.

            But maybe that’s what it looked like when the spark of the Greeks went through Rome, Britain, North America, etc. This is just the next stage of evolution.Report

          • Avatar Marchmaine in reply to Jaybird says:

            Well, now, that there’s a decent demarcation for a discussion.

            It summoned an alien entity from beyond the void which devoured its summoner and is proceeding to eat the rest of the world.

            Even so, I’m still not interested in talking about Steve King.Report

          • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Jaybird says:

            Yes, exactly. That article.

            Guys, we’re not in Western Civilization. We’re in the civilization has has devoured Western civilization. Call it the Enlightenment civilization, or the science civilization, or the live-and-let-live civilization.

            We just didn’t notice because we were first and it happened comparatively slowly for us.

            Western Civilization was that whole Medieval thing. And before that, Rome, and Greece, etc.

            Western Civilization had serfs, and slaves, and feudalism. It had divine right, and royalty with power, and the church entangled in people’s business.

            And then the enlightenment infected everything.

            The US barely got founded by Western Civilization. It was sorta on the cusp of the old and the new, during the transition.

            And then Western Civilization invented industrialization, and, as the article said, ended up getting devoured by a demon that walks around wearing its skin.

            If you really squint your eyes, the Civil War was probably a war between Western Civilization in the Confederacy, and this ‘Enlightenment culture’ in the Union. That is a really simplistic view, but not entirely wrong: Farms operated by people with no rights controlled by a few rich and powerful people is perhaps the most ‘Western Civilization-ish’, aka, Medieval, thing I’ve ever heard.

            Most people basically recognize this, but mistakenly think of what is around now as Western Culture, that a culture had a war with itself. But I don’t think that’s right.

            Of course, there are a Western aspects still left. (Hell, we still have things left over from Greece.)

            But people in other cultures are not becoming ‘Westernized’. The best example of this is probably Japan, which everyone thinks is Westernized, but it turns out they just just overlaid the universal culture on top of their existing one, just like the US did.

            We can tell because the stuff that truly is still ‘Western’, the last vestigial parts, didn’t get adopted at all by the Japanese. They didn’t become, for example, culturally (But often non-practicing.) Christians. (In fact, that isn’t even consistent across places that generally are considered Western.)

            They didn’t get our hang-ups about sex, which also is again something that different ‘Western’ countries have entirely different systems about. (They instead got other, entirely different hang-ups about sex.)

            In fact, while there are vestigial parts of Western culture in America, and probably the same in other countries that used to be part of Western culture, I’m not sure any of us have the same remaining parts, if that makes sense.Report

            • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to DavidTC says:

              That’s an interesting idea, and I think there’s some truth to it, but given that the Enlightenment is a thing that happened in Western Europe and spread from there, it’s not really wrong to describe Enlightenment culture as Western culture. It would be one thing if the Enlightenment had happened first in Western Europe, and then happened again independently in North America, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Chile, Eastern Europe, etc., but that’s not what happened. Every single country that has adopted Enlightenment culture did so via direct or indirect contact with Western Europeans.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                Brandon,
                I don’t think you’re right about this. I think that Enlightenment culture has been derived in multiple places and times, and that in Western Europe is the only place it stuck.

                Spain, it blew away like sand. Persia, the great Islamic Empires, even China, to some extent.

                Trade is true culture’s lifeblood — where you have it, you have people who are ingenious.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                That’s an interesting idea, and I think there’s some truth to it, but given that the Enlightenment is a thing that happened in Western Europe and spread from there, it’s not really wrong to describe Enlightenment culture as Western culture.

                But that’s confusing, because what we, as Americans, think of as ‘Western Culture’ is not what is spreading. Only a specific part of it is spreading.

                Sometimes it’s even overpowering parts of other cultures when it didn’t do that in America. For example, as I mentioned, the Japanese, people who have been entirely Enlightenmented, but not really ‘Westernized’. Considering their ‘capsule’ hotels, where you can rent, basically, a bunk bed with a door.

                Those…are not from America, or any ‘Western’ place.

                But they are not from Japan, either. They aren’t some weird aspect of Japanese culture that just showed up. They are what happens when Enlightenment culture doesn’t face some sort of native-cultural resistance to being crammed together, like we have in America. It says ‘Hey, you know, we build really really efficient hotel rooms if they were just beds, and charge really low prices for them.’

                Americans resist that part of Enlightenment culture due to remnants of Western Culture. Places that still have some part of western culture wants their own bathroom and a place to easily change clothes in private, at minimum.

                And trying to call what we have now as ‘Western culture’ also ignores the fact that, to at least some extent, ‘Western Culture’ vs. ‘Enlightenment Culture’ is the basis for the culture war in America.

                Oh, both of them have added signifiers and all sorts of things to that, but, at the end, when people talk about ‘traditional values’, what they really mean are pre-enlightenment or at least pre-industry western ones. (And have failed to notice what they are harkening back to was just a facade on an already infected culture, and they’re not even remembering the facade correctly.)

                And it’s complicated by the fact that neither side purely wants one or the other, and, being ‘cultures’, they are somewhat vague around the edges anyway, plus they’ve been cohabiting America from the start so are rather overlaid.Report

  2. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    For me, Western Civilization means the ideas that trace their way back to the Greek philosophers during the Athenian Golden Age.

    from here, we see the development of different and competing ideas about the definition of moral goodness, the understanding of man’s relationship to the universe, and the best way for humans living together to govern themselves. There is an enduring tension between the notion that elites with access to the best education know best, and the notion that there is wisdom and legitimacy to be had in accepting common, popular ideas. In both cases, it is humans who come up with the definition of the good, and humans who decide how they govern themselves.

    The gods are relegated to the background, or openly questioned with vague Notions of monotheism bubbling about even in the writings of Plato and Aristotle, or even more shockingly for the late Bronze Age, their existence questioned outright and openly. the formal charge against Socrates, after all, was atheism.

    Democracy is one of many competing models of government in western civilization. Inherent in the notion of Western Civilization is a struggle to decide when to use democracy and when to use other ways of creating rules. The presence of a dominant religion appears to be a constant thread, whether that be the worship of the old gods or the worship of the Christian God. However, it is also a constant element in western civilization that the dominant religion is subject to question and dissent. As the shift from paganism to Christianity demonstrates, Christianity is not inherently the dominant religion of Western Civilization, but there does appear to be a need for one religion to be dominant.

    individual actors are celebrated. These may be clerics, politicians, Warriors, scientists, or poets. Western Civilization is very much about the achievements of individual people. Therefore, of necessity, individuals must to a large extent be free to behave as they see fit, and in some instances they may disobey the prevailing cultural, political, or religious regimes. And just as there are individual Heroes, there are also individual villains. In order to Rally westerners against something, it appears to be necessary to personify the enemy and distill the traits to be condemned into a single person. The Greeks did this with Xerxes, the Romans did this with Cleopatra, and the tradition continues into the 21st century as we villainize, say, Kim Jong Un or Whatshisname al-Baghdadi.

    So I see Western civilization as one in which a dominant regime seeks voluntary acceptance from meaningfully free individuals within its power, and tolerates a meaningful degree of dissent from within that corpus of free individuals as a necessary price to achieve that buy in. Its form of government is never wholly democratic nor ever wholly autocratic, nor is there often universal agreement on much of anything. From within its internal conflicts and competitions come its greatest achievements. Big point is, it’s all about the individual within society. Not what the individual contributea to it.Report

    • Avatar Swami in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Seems kind of like you are equating western civilization with “liberalism”.

      Just an observation.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Swami says:

        Well, I like liberalism too. And there’s some humanism mixed in there too.

        I’m not suggesting the notion of inhe rent natural rights, though. Nor the concept of “consent of the governed,” Although “buy in” may seem a bit like that.”Buy in” might also be, “I don’t like him but he is the king.”

        Nor do I suggest that western civilization is necessarily secular. Medieval Europe was certaonly not so — but theological differences persisted from before Constantine to well after the Thirty Years’ War. (There was no secular side to the Thirty Years War, though partisans frequently if incorrectly accused one another of atheism).

        But I do think the spirit of individuality is distinctly western. The cultural emphasis on what an individual might do rather than on what one’s caste obligates one to contribute is a big reason liberalism grew with such fecundity in the west.Report

  3. Regarding the clip, I would have to go back and watch it again to be sure, and I certainly don’t want to do that, but it seemed like he started with talking about “civilization” and then the discussion quickly moved to “Western civilization.”

    As for defining what it is, as a matter of pure taxonomy I generally go with Arnold Toynbee. Simplifying things a big, Western civilization is the culture of Western Christianity, i.e. Rome and the churches that split from Rome. This isn’t a religious distinction. Whether or not one professes Christianity today is largely irrelevant. It is a cultural distinction. Continuing on with Toynbee, Eastern Christianity is a distinct culture, closely related to Western culture. Both are the direct descendants of the Classical Greco-Roman civilization.

    Once we hit the Renaissance things start getting muddled. There had always been interaction between civilizations where they met, but with advances in nautical technology people could really mix it up. The result is you get people like, say, Frederick Douglass. It would be just plain silly to not count him as a member of Western civilization. Yes, there are other elements, but that is true of Western civilization generally. Once the muddling began, influences went both ways.

    Steve King’s implied exclusion of Hispanics from Western civilization is mere bigotry.Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

      Hispanics aren’t part of Western Civilization or by now one of them would have won an Oscar for a leading role. Only one, Edward James Olmos, has even been nominated.

      #OscarsSoNonHispanicReport

    • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

      I agee with Richard. I would add a piece of evidence though:

      Inglehart–Welzel Cultural Map

      Western countries tend to be in the upper right quadrille where individualist values are highest.Report

      • Avatar Pinky in reply to PD Shaw says:

        I’ve seen that map before, and I’m just not sure what the continuum of survival versus self expression gets you. Without buying too much into Maslow, is anyone that surprised that Moldova puts a lot of importance on having enough potatoes so that you don’t die?

        There’s clearly something worth noting about outliers like Taiwan, though.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Pinky says:

          Pinky,
          It gets you small breeding populations that self-select for… well, I think you can figure it out.Report

        • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Pinky says:

          One thing that stands out is that Russia and China map pretty close to each other without having much in common culturally. I assume they share a heightened degree of survival response due to exposure to the same violence emanating from the Asian steppes.

          Also interesting that Greece maps within Catholic Europe and not Orthodox Europe. That could mean Greece should be considered part of the West under the theory that Rome transmitted Greek culture. Or it could mean that the rest of Orthodox Europe fell under Russian domination, from which it might eventually distance itself.Report

          • Avatar Pinky in reply to PD Shaw says:

            You’re over-thinking this, I suspect. If this were a map of the 1300’s, I’d wonder why Russia was more like China than it was like Greece. Given their post-WWII histories, the map makes perfect sense as-is.Report

            • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Pinky says:

              Probably am. I mainly linked to the map to support the notion that the lines Richard is drawing don’t appear to be mere abstractions, but attribute to countries/regions having different values.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

      So Spinoza isn’t part of Western Civ?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        If you start doing Spinozish things, will you be accused of cultural appropriation?

        If not, then Spinoza is part of Western Civ.Report

      • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I think he covered Spinoza in the Frederick Douglass discussion. If Spinoza lived in North Africa,would he have been Spinoza?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to PD Shaw says:

          If Spinoza lived in North Africa,would he have been Spinoza?

          Is Camus part of Western Culture?Report

          • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Jaybird says:

            If I say Camus was French, will you call that cultural appropriation? If not, Camus was French.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to PD Shaw says:

              He was definitely French. But if he did not live in North Africa, would he have been Camus?Report

              • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Jaybird says:

                No, I think he probably would have been Peter.

                The implied answer to the Spinoza in North Africa question is no, Spinoza writing on religion that gets him into some trouble in the Netherlands, gets him dead in an Islamic country. So, no Spinoza.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to PD Shaw says:

                But Islam is arguably part of Western Civilization, too (though, granted, opinions differ as to its relationship with the Enlighenment/Post-Enlightenment) and if Spinoza Spinozed in the Netherlands, that would *ALSO* be Western Civ.Report

              • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Jaybird says:

                I don’t think Islam is part of Western Civilization. If you look at the cultural map I linked to above, people living in Islamic countries answer the world value surveys in the opposite fashion to those in Northern and Western Europe. If there is such thing as a Western culture, Islamic culture is its antitheses.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to PD Shaw says:

                I see the argument for “Western Culture” meaning “Christendom” and “Post-Christendom” as well as fudging some definitions to get the Greek Fathers in there as well but, for a hundred years or so back in the dark ages, Islam was part of that.Report

              • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Jaybird says:

                The main problem with this is that Islam styles itself as a complete system of knowledge, the implications of which are softened by stories of the Prophet in which he explains why (and to what extent) it is permissible for the Faithful to apply foreign knowledge of medicine and military matters. This is the source of a rather large and detailed scholarship, which to cut to the chase would place Greek math as acceptable to borrow and Greek philosophy as not.

                This is rather contrary to Western views in which Christianity is not seen as a complete system, and the attempt to expand its reach was largely through the adoption of Greek and Roman thought.

                In any event, Islamic scholars of the last century or so spend way too much time comparing Islamic norms to Western norms to ignore the distinctions.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to PD Shaw says:

                This is rather contrary to Western views in which Christianity is not seen as a complete system

                So the Religious Right is not part of Western Civilization? Works for me.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to PD Shaw says:

                PD Shaw,
                No, Spain is the antithesis of Western Culture. Islamic culture is merely an offshoot of the same disease.Report

              • Avatar James K in reply to PD Shaw says:

                @pd-shaw

                Spinzoa’s writings would probably have gotten him dead anywhere but the Netherlands, so does it make sense to call him part of “Western” culture?Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to James K says:

                Spinoza’s writing would have definitely got him attacked in Berkeley or any USC or Ivy League campus, so does it make sense to call them a part of Western Culture?Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to PD Shaw says:

                Spinoza writing on religion that gets him into some trouble in the Netherlands, gets him dead in an Islamic country.

                I don’t think the Ottomans killed non-Muslims for their opinions on non-Islamic religions.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Spinoza’s opinions on substance/essence would have extended to Allah, though.Report

              • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                That poses a careful balancing act. He would have enjoyed the protections of dhimmi status, but that status would not have allowed him to publish thoughts on the nature of the divine to the Muslim Community. He could communicate privately within the Jewish community, but he would have been subject to their rules policing heresy. To the extent he would have enjoyed freedom to discuss religious matters, it was solely within the context of a collective right granted the Jewish community, and of course Spinoza from our world was expelled from the Jewish community.Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to PD Shaw says:

          Maimonides did, and he pretty much was.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

      Since this Toynbee, there is no place for the Jews in his cultural universe. We were an inconvenience to him.Report

  4. Avatar Aaron David says:

    To me, Western Civilization is the path to representative democracy, open inquiry and unlimited free speech. It is also the conflict of freedom of movement vs. freedom from trespass, including the never ending discussion of which of the two is right, at that moment. A willingness to see that other opinions are equally valid, for they are just opinions.Report

  5. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    Rather, reclaim the mantel of Western civilization from the racists. It has components that are worth defending. My family did not come here for the weather.

    I loved this.Report

  6. Avatar gregiank says:

    The term Western Civilization is mostly a Rorschach test for what the individual feels is important. There are to many things that could be thought of as part of WC that are also contradicted by plenty of very western people. Individualism is often cited as part of WC, and something i’m fond of, but lots of WC loving types have pushed back against it. I’d love to say the Steve King racists are WC but they have been part of it forever and are some of it’s loudest proponents. It’s not like they are new.

    If WC is anything maybe it’s just that it can be whatever you want it to be. That is very modern American for sure. We can define it for ourselves, be the American or Western that we wish taking what we want from our various heritages. Of course that enrages the Steve King types who want to tell us exactly what we should think our civilization is. And those types have always been part of WC.

    I don’t’ know whether its part of a couple thousand year old civilizational history, but one the aspects of the America that i love is that people of all types can come here to make their own life as they see fit. We aren’t defined by a particular ethnicity but by living here and trying to make a good life for ourselves.Report

    • Avatar Doctor Jay in reply to gregiank says:

      I think “Western Civilization” is a Rorshach test, as you say. And I think we need to not let racists be the ones to define it, just as Vikram advocates.Report

  7. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    I find this issue perplexing.

    Like you and others here, I love many aspects of Western Civilization. Western civilization is the broad thing to me and I don’t see how it doesn’t start with the Sumerians on the Tigris and the Euphrates. But it includes everything from Ancient Greece and Rome to the Renaissance to Modernism to Jazz to Rock n’ROll and the Blues, the Beats, etc. I see it as anything that originated in the West. It is a geographic determination for me. So A David Henry Hwang play about the Asian-American experience is Western Civilization.

    Yet too many on the right-wing use it to mean White Christianity (and often enough Protestant White Christianity with some acknowledgment of the Classics) and too many on the left are willing to go along with it because they want to denounce Imperialism, Colonialism, etc. These are good things to denounce but I am against the kind of knee-jerk thing that rejects what your opponents claim just so.Report

  8. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Western civilization is whatever comes from the Jewish-Greco-Roman cultural base.Report

  9. Avatar Zac Black says:

    I think the clearest distillation I’ve ever seen of what I think “Western” civilization is comes from Scott Alexander:

    I am pretty sure there was, at one point, such a thing as western civilization. I think it involved things like dancing around maypoles and copying Latin manuscripts. At some point Thor might have been involved. That civilization is dead. It summoned an alien entity from beyond the void which devoured its summoner and is proceeding to eat the rest of the world.

    An analogy: naturopaths like to use the term “western medicine” to refer to the evidence-based medicine of drugs and surgeries you would get at your local hospital. They contrast this with traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine, which it has somewhat replaced, apparently a symptom of the “westernization” of Chinese and Indian societies.

    But “western medicine” is just medicine that works. It happens to be western because the West had a technological head start, and so discovered most of the medicine that works first. But there’s nothing culturally western about it; there’s nothing Christian or Greco-Roman about using penicillin to deal with a bacterial infection. Indeed, “western medicine” replaced the traditional medicine of Europe – Hippocrates’ four humors – before it started threatening the traditional medicines of China or India. So-called “western medicine” is an inhuman perfect construct from beyond the void, summoned by Westerners, which ate traditional Western medicine first and is now proceeding to eat the rest of the world.

    “Western culture” is no more related to the geographical west than western medicine. People who complain about western culture taking over their country always manage to bring up Coca-Cola. But in what sense is Coca-Cola culturally western? It’s an Ethiopian bean mixed with a Colombian leaf mixed with carbonated water and lots and lots of sugar. An American was the first person to discover that this combination tasted really good – our technological/economic head start ensured that. But in a world where America never existed, eventually some Japanese or Arabian chemist would have found that sugar-filled fizzy drinks were really tasty. It was a discovery waiting to be plucked out of the void, like penicillin. America summoned it but did not create it. If western medicine is just medicine that works, soda pop is just refreshment that works.

    EDIT: Dammit, I see Jaybird has already beaten me to this upthread. C’est la vie, I suppose.Report

  10. Western Civilization would be a good thing. I hope my children live to see it.Report

  11. One good thing about Steve King: When he means Christian, he comes out and says it. None of this saying “Judeo-Christian” when we both know perfectly well you mean “Christian” BS.Report

  12. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    They don’t literally mean that they don’t know what “western civilization” means. They just want everyone to know that they’re really good people.Report

  13. Avatar Grung_e_Gene says:

    The West means White EuropeanReport

  14. Avatar Kolohe says:

    I’m fine with calling for a defense of modernity and a defense of, for lack of a better term (natch), ‘neo-liberalism’* over a defense of ‘western civilization’ per se. I do want to include at the least Japan & ROK in whatever ‘good’ category we want to put countries in. (And there’s many more countries that are real close to good, just missing some elements of good governance and/or a little more time for economic development)

    The only thing I object to about this topic was a statement from people on twitter that hang out around here and whom I respect. That statement put Russia outside of Western Civilization. Which is simply wrong, not because they are ‘white’, but because Peter Catherine, Lenin, and Stalin took every contemporary trend of Western Civilization in their day and amped it up to eleven.

    *maybe ‘classical liberalism with modern characteristics’Report

  15. Avatar Silver Wolf says:

    When I talk about western civilization for comparative examples, I am referring to wealthy democracies. I cut it off at nations that have a purchasing power at parity (PPP) of $28,500 and a democracy index (DI) of 7.5. I find this eminently fair and great for measuring comparative success.

    Country PPP DI
    Australia $48,800 9.01
    Austria $47,900 8.41
    Belgium $44,900 7.77
    Canada $46,200 9.15
    Cyprus $34,400 7.65
    Czech Republic $33,200 7.82
    Denmark $46,600 9.2
    Estonia $29,500 7.85
    Finland $40,600 9.03
    France $42,400 7.92
    Germany $48,200 8.63
    Iceland $48,100 9.5
    Ireland $69,400 9.15
    Israel $34,800 7.85
    Italy $36,300 7.98
    Japan $38,900 7.99
    Luxembourg $102,000 8.81
    Malta $37,900 8.39
    Netherlands $50,800 8.8
    New Zealand $37,100 9.26
    Norway $69,300 9.93
    Portugal $28,500 7.86
    Slovenia $33,100 7.51
    South Korea $37,900 7.92
    Spain $36,500 8.3
    Sweden $49,700 9.39
    Switzerland $59,400 9.09
    Taiwan $49,500 7.79
    United Kingdom $42,500 8.36
    United States $57,300 7.98Report

    • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to Silver Wolf says:

      That’s all fine and good, but it has absolutely no metrics in the two freedoms problem, or access to preferences in individual means of production, or quantum of rent seeking going on in an economy.

      That said, feel free to ignore those things.Report

    • Avatar Swami in reply to Silver Wolf says:

      This seems to capture two of the three legs of liberal institutions — relatively open access government (aka democracy), and relatively open access markets (aka free markets). The third leg is of course science, but science is the easiest one to import and export (you can buy technology) without necessarily having the institutional structure or culture to support or create it.

      An interesting diversion on this topic is to look at the actual country of origin of the major technological, institutional and scientific advances which make up the Great Enrichment of the past two centuries. Encyclopedia Britannica and other online sources list out the major technological and institutional breakthroughs of all time along with their nation of origin and it is freakishly imbalanced. Just about every major invention for two hundred years has come out of a handful of nations in Western Europe and the US. Even more interesting is when you look at the output over quarter century intervals, with the U.K. And the US having outrageously disproportionate shares of world changing inventions during certain eras.Report

      • Avatar Silver Wolf in reply to Swami says:

        Thanks for that note Swami. I agree that what defines western civilization broadly, appears to be Freedom, Capitalism and Innovation. I’ll be hitting up that website.

        To Joe Sal; this is my back of the napkin method of comparing apples to apples, so it isn’t meant to be too complicated.Report

        • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to Silver Wolf says:

          Fair enough, I just wanted to point out the numbers could look good there, but if one stepped into the local condition, it could appear unsuccessful, and on the brink of unraveling state-wide.Report