Enduring Western Civilization: The Construction of the Concept of Western Civilization and Its "Others"

Enduring Western Civilization: The Construction of the Concept of Western Civilization and Its "Others"

Enduring Western Civilization: The Construction of the Concept of Western Civilization and Its "Others"

Enduring Western Civilization: The Construction of the Concept of Western Civilization and Its "Others"

Synopsis

Essays examining the origins of the concepts of Western Civilization and the myths that surround it.

Excerpt

Scarcely a day goes by without our reading or hearing of "our inherited cultural tradition," the "typical values of western civilization," "the idea of European coherence" --or, more simply, "our western traditon," "our western values," "our western culture." No set of ideas has become more commonplace, none been more assiduously drummed into our ears. . . . It is noteworthy that [the unity of "western European culture"] has emerged as a dogmatic assertion precisely at the moment when . . . the interpretation of history upon which it is based has been shattered by historical criticism and discarded by historical scholarship; and it is perhaps still more noteworthy that the weakening and undermining by professional historians, of the historical premises underlying this theory has failed to detract from its effectiveness as a political dogma. (Barraclough, 1955: 31-32)

We are thus before a moral and political dilemma of no mean proportions when we talk about the relevance of the concept of civilization to our current problems in the late twentieth century. It will not do to try to hide the dilemma by abandoning the concept and avoiding the difficult analysis. Rather, let us embrace it as the central issue of our time. (Wallerstein, 1991a: 224)

What do we mean by "Western Civilization"? Today, this question is more important than ever, considering the prominent role that in recent times the notion of Western Civilization has played in academic and political debates. Throughout the 1980s, "Western Civilization" was at the center of the controversies that accompanied the demand for multicultural education and pedagogical reform in American colleges (Partisan Review, 1991; Pratt, 1992). More recently, in the broader political arena, we have witnessed the revival of ideologies that portray world politics as dominated by a "clash of civilizations," as in the scenario proposed by Samuel Huntington in a number of widely publicized articles (Huntington, 1993a, 1993b; Melloan, 1993). There is also a widespread perception that "Western Civilization" is undergoing a historic crisis, and indeed all the trendiest philosophical school--postmodernism . . .

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