"I thought you knew enough Elvish at least to know dún-adan: Man of the West, Númenórean."

― Bilbo Baggins
"The West" is hardly a new term in need of explanation. It applies to that part of civilization -- or, if you like, to that civilization --- which is philosophically rooted both in Athens and Jerusalem. Contra the author, 'race' has nothing to do with it. Aristotle would have considered the Germans and the Jews as much barbarians as he did the Celts; nor did the Jews of Jesus' day see any 'racial' kinship with Greeks or any of the others. However, the author is correct to suggest that religious heritage is important to the West. Much of the West may now be post-Christian, and not Jewish either, but even that part of the West owes an unfathomable debt to Jerusalem. Excluding India from the West is not a sneer at Hindus, but a recognition that they are simply not indebted in the same way.

I cannot believe that this term, constantly in use throughout my lifetime, is in need of explanation to audiences today. I must regard the attempt to redefine the term as hostile to the truth, a truth known (and well known) to everyone who will now be involved in the debate over the proper domain of "the West." Much will be revealed by where one chooses to fall on the question of whether or not to redefine the term as a sort of racism or religious chauvinism.

One thing that Trump's team is certainly right about is that the West needs, and merits, a defense. I count myself among its defenders.


raven said...

" I count myself among its defenders."

Well spoken!

Anonymous said...

The fact that so many want to redefine "the West" seems a good indication it needs defending. As I think on this, it seems the forced redefinition is akin to displacement. While I haven't moved, what should be my home is something I no longer recognize. Why would my home be taken without a fight?

Stc Michael

Grim said...

Certainly your home is entitled to a fight in its defense. That would be true if there were nothing more to recommend it than that it was your home.

The West, though, is not just another home. It is not just our home, either, though it is also that.

The West is something special. It's entitled to a defense on its own merits.

Anonymous said...

Agreed, great things should be defended on their own merits and agree on the universality to an "our". I must admit to a problem however. I realize I don't have a verbalizable definition of the West. I have a gut check. I see Reagan and Thatcher, JFKs speech, some of the literature, a Christian culture, self reliance and John Wayne. That is a sloppy mess of imagery, but not a definition. It's enough that I recognize the recent pushes as alien and destructive, but what is it that is?

Anonymous said...

Belated signature!
Stc Michael

Anonymous said...

The West does not owe an unfathomable debt to Jerusalem.

Wrong wrong wrong.

We owe an unfathomable debt to God, not Jerusalem. Jerusalem owes and unfathomable debt to God as well.

It's our job not to confuse Jerusalem with God.

Give God his due.

- Mississippi

Grim said...

But of course you owe a debt to Jerusalem if you are a Catholic. There is a debt to God for creation, and another for the sacrifice on the Cross. But God chose Jerusalem to execute him, as it were. The practicalities of your salvation were worked out by their hands.

For that matter, God chose to direct your attention to the Jews and their written understanding of God's law. He might have been born a German, in which case you wouldn't even know the name "Jerusalem." The God who created everything could have expressed his lessons otherwise, but he chose this specifically. Jerusalem's centrality to our civilization is not an error, not if the faith is true.

Dad29 said...

Yup. There are some who flail against the term "Judaeo-Christian" as a definition of Western civilization--and they are the "alt-right"--who claim that the term was an invention of the (perfidious) Jews in the 1940's.

Well, the term itself may have been 'invented' in the 1940's, but the underlying reality of the continuity and congruity between the OT and NT remains a fact.

Anonymous said...

When I acted as TA for a Western Civ course, the text book held that Western Civilization rested on three foundations: Roman, Judeo-Christian (Jerusalem), and Germanic. The combination of the three, with different weights in different regions both geographic and cultural, created Western Civilization.

I can work with that. It doesn't exclude what we've borrowed, adapted, and carried off from other civilizations. But those are the defining three.


Grim said...

Oh, by the way, Stc Michael:

"...what is it that it is?"

The West is the descendant of Rome, just as the kingdom of Arnor and of Gondor were the remnants, and descendants, of Numenor. Even when Arnor was a lost kingdom, where only a few wandered who remembered who they were, it was that.

Tolkien uses the phrase "the West" too, and for the same reasons.

douglas said...

Little Red, I'd always thought of it as the development from Jewish law and the Greeks, through Rome to the present Western societies (Judeo-Christian if you like)- I'd never heard it as involving the Germanic world as 'foundational'. How does that fit in?

Eric Blair said...

The German fits in because it was the Germans that took over the what was the Western Roman Empire and ended up making Europe.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Grim. I think I'm tracking the discussion w/r to cultural marks we see (Christ, the church, democracy, republics, theology, philosophy, etc) and the locations you mentioned.

Stc Michael

douglas said...

Ah, ok, thanks Eric. I guess I wasn't thinking of that as 'foundational', as I thought of them more as the inheritors / transmitters of the Roman/Western tradition.

Of course, this reminds us that the reason it's called Western Civilization is because of the Western Roman Empire. At least Mr. Beinart is correct in that it's not really a geographic descriptor, per se.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I would also add in the Germanic as foundational. Athens/Rome and Jerusalem spread in many directions, but only in the west did some lessons take. The subject should be handled at book length, but for openers I would include 1) the increased status of women. The OT commands set up higher status and the NT increases it, but only in The West does the thing actually happen. 2) Relatedly, much of Christian culture forbade cousin marriage, but it was largely ignored - except among the Germanic tribes, who had some similar tradition and rolled with it when Christianity arrived. 3) A tribal loyalty that was not entirely based on family - a warrior could choose to serve under whatever king he thought best. (As in Beowulf.) Rare elsewhere.

See also, Hajnal Line. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hajnal_line

Grim said...

The Germanic aspect makes a difference in expression, but it can't be a part of the definition of the West: otherwise, you'd have to exclude the Greeks and the Romans themselves.

I think of Jefferson's letter 'On a Pious Fraud.' The part of the West that has governments like ours is Germanic; we get a lot more out of the old English and Norse law codes than from the Bible. The other things you mention are important, too.

But they're differences within the West. America is Germanic as well, not in the ethnic sense but in the sense of heritage. But there are parts of the West that are not at all, even the original parts.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I think that's fair, but there has been some back-influence from the Germanic West to the original West - certainly in the last few centuries anyway. The American Experiment influenced England and the Continent. Before that, the North Sea countries back-influenced the Mediterranean by the 16th-17th C.

When did "the West" become conscious of itself as an entity, I wonder?

Grim said...

That's a good question. In a way, I'd say the answer was at least by the Crusades; people came from all over the West at the Pope's call, which was made at the request of the heads of Constantinople. They wouldn't have used the name "the West," but they had a sense of being a coherent civilization in spite of their differences -- and having some need for a common defense.

But in another way, the West as an entity has to be a product of the Cold War. As late as WWII, parts of the West were fighting for mastery, and willing to make common cause with outsiders -- the Ottoman Empire in WWI, the Turks in WWII, the Soviets, the Japanese -- to try to conquer. So I'd say our current conception was forged in the long struggle with Communism.

Eric Blair said...

Gonna sound like a broken record, but it's really the outcome of WW1 and WW2 where the US (and other Anglophone bits) got dragged into the 2nd 30 years war--and that ended up being the struggle between democracies and tyrannies.

Before that, you see "Americanism" as a theme in the US in the arts and in letters as distinct from Europe and rightly so, even if there were things to be learned from Europe, but that all goes away after the intervention in WW1 and WW2, when the US principally had to finance the peace(s) and then maintain it, because obviously the Europeans couldn't be trusted to keep the peace anymore.

But, that struggle basically broke Western civilization, and we are living in the aftermath.

jaed said...

I'd say the answer was at least by the Crusades

I'm not so sure about that. Is the Eastern church part of "the West"? I don't really regard Russia as part of the West (although influenced by it), and that is largely because it's Russian Orthodox, and the "style" of Orthodoxy does not feel Western to me.

The Crusades originated as a call for defense of the co-religionists of the West, but maybe not as a call for the defense of Western civiilization.

douglas said...

I'd say the Eastern Church is an entity in between cultures. It's of but not fully in Western Culture.

Grim said...

I'm not so sure about that. Is the Eastern church part of "the West"? I don't really regard Russia as part of the West (although influenced by it), and that is largely because it's Russian Orthodox, and the "style" of Orthodoxy does not feel Western to me.

There's a huge difference in 'feel' -- that's why St. Vladimir (or Vladimir the Great, if you don't regard him as a saint) is supposed to have chosen the Greek Orthodox church as the model for Russia. He found the German Catholic monks entirely lacking in joy, but his reports from the Hagia Sophia was that it was all about light and beauty.

All the same, I regard them as having been a part of this civilization at that time. In 2014, in Jerusalem, I saw an Armenian Mass and also, separately, a Latin Mass conducted by Franciscans. In terms of feel, yes, totally different. But compared to the Jewish and Islamic rituals also ongoing in that city, they were clearly doing very similar things. And both jointly operate at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, even now.

Ymar Sakar said...

There was an old trick by Albert Pike, who wanted to create a Novus ordo seclorum by creating 3 world wars.

They got 2 of them done at least.

Ymar Sakar said...

One of the Crusading armies sacked Constantinople. That was a good idea if one wanted to defend the West and the Faith.

An interesting story I heard about the last siege of Constantinople, concerned how the West sent women crusaders, but not any material aid that the Emperor thought was useful.

Given that a single woman, Jean De Arc, lifted the Siege of Orleans that her military superiors and seniors had failed to, was perhaps not on their mind yet. The West betrayed itself and now it is collapsing based upon the systematic exploitation of previous treasuries. Which soon will become empty.

If Constantinople had decided to reform itself, it might have lasted awhile yet.

Ymar Sakar said...

West and East has been a concept since the Ancient Hebrews and the Tower of Babel. West of the Hebrew Jerusalem line, the language reads left to right. East of the Jerusalem line, languages read right to left.

Chinese and Japanese are also structurally more similar to Hebrew and hieroglyphics.

The shattering of the language at the Tower of Babel as a counter to humanity trying to kill Jehovah and take the Throne, also destroyed much of the ancient pre Divine FLood technologies that had been preserved on stone and metal tablets.