Rebuilding Western Civilization: Beyond the Twenty-first Century Collapse Seymour Itzkoff Paideia Publishers, 2005
Seymour Itzkoff, professor emeritus of Smith College, is a remarkably erudite and prolific scholar who has immersed himself in the brief history of evolving Homo sapiens and the even more brief history of human civilization. He is deeply concerned by the evidence for a gloomy, and possibly very brief future for humanity. Certainly he sees civilization under threat.
What does Itzkoff understand by civilization? Many writers, he notes, have in recent years tended to equate all cultures and to treat all complex cultures as equally entitled to be regarded as "civilizations." But he does not share this view. In his own words, "a way of life that is ... suffused by religious superstition, ruled by clerical pretenders to the word of Deity, incompetent in the arts and sciences," is not a civilization. That seems a harsh judgment, and his statement is perhaps not perfectly valid, but there is sense in what he says. Early Christianity suffocated the inquiring and rational civilization of European antiquity, and was at least partially responsible for the so-called "dark ages" that held Europe in intellectual subjugation for centuries. It was not the Germanic tribes who destroyed the Roman empire that were responsible for the suppression of the ancient civilization of Greece and Rome. As Gibbon showed in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, it was a Middle Eastern revelation religion that suppressed all inquiry and sent "heretics" to the stake. Itzkoff himself does not appear to be thinking so much about this historic example of religious superstition as he is about presentday anti-scientific thinking. In particular he appears to have in mind fundamentalist Moslem thought, and fundamentalist Christian thought that seeks to restrict birth control in impoverished third world countries that suffer from an excessive explosion of population induced by Western medical improvements and Western food aid.
Itzkoff's dream of a benign, enlightened, global civilization, free from all religious and other prejudices, does not have to be accepted for the intelligent reader to give serious consideration to his warning that the future of mankind is seriously threatened by ignorance and outdated religious dictates. Itzkoff fears a reversal of all that mankind has achieved, and raises the specter of possible future human "devolution." Why do not current Western intellectuals see the threat that he sees? Probably, he suggests, because they are too fearful, and pin their hopes on the mirage of human equality, and on what he regards as a mistaken belief that all extant human populations have the same innate ability to accept and maintain an advanced and highly technical civilization.
Itzkoff's prime concern is with what he sees as a threatened decline in human intelligence, a quality he regards as essential to the creation and maintenance of civilization. Not only is high intelligence a requisite for science and technology, but also, he claims, for the visual arts and music. What is more, he says, "there is a harmonization in the intelligence that creates a free constitutional system of political life, and a people who can respond with an heroic and progressive work ethic, having imagination and educational openness to boot."
Itzkoff sees the Cro-Magnons as the first truly modern humans. As a part of the population that was directly ancestral to the modern peoples of both Western and Eastern Eurasia, their descendants spread to all parts of the Old World, hybridizing in many areas with indigenous populations of earlier Homo, to produce the varied range of peoples who today inhabit the world. …