Western Culture refers to the culture that has developed in the Western world. This culture is arguably the dominant cultural form in the modern world; it can also be said that elements of this culture have come to play a more influential role on more diverse cultures world-wide than any other culture has done. It is, however, an ill-defined and disputed term. There is a tradtional foundation of Western culture. It existed until the French revolution that brought in other currents or unleashed new ideas. The French revolution is the boundary point between the two basic definitions of Western culture.
For many centuries it was an essentially European culture, but it has now grown beyond the boundaries of Europe.
The Foundational Triad
Traditional Western Culture's foundation is based on the triad of the ancient Greece, Rome and Christianity. It is known by the phrases "Greco-Roman culture", "Judeo-Christian culture", "Judeo-Hellenic-Christian culture". All of these influences are deeply patriarchal and masculine. Western culture is also marked by self-government; first in Sparta, Athens and then Rome.
It is marked by the appearance of schools in educating youth.
Ancient Greek culture and ancient Roman culture is collectively labelled classical culture. The creative output, especially books, of this time period, known as classical antiquity, is called the classics.
First. The basis and foundation of Western Culture is the culture of ancient Greece. They were very different from what came before and what existed around them, although they were in contact with other cultures and were influenced by them. The ancient Greeks were marked by their masculinity, their art, their reasoning and their self-government. It begins with Homer who set the ideas of The Good and the Beautiful. Socrates caps this with the idea of truth. Truth is what every man should strive for and achieve; to live and die for the Truth. This formed the basis of the classical triad of Truth, Beauty and Goodness. The Greek concept of Paideia became the basis and foundation of Western Culture. Furthermore, Western culture has been influenced by two general strains within Hellenic culture, the Ionian which is exemplified by Athens and their democracy and the Dorian which is represented by Sparta and their mixed government. (see classic definition of republic)
Socrates through Plato influenced much of Christian theological thought and formed much of medieval philosophy. His concept of the soul and the importance of cultivating it, is central to understanding Western culture.
Isocrates wrote of his culture that:
“And so far has our city distanced the rest of mankind in thought and in speech that her pupils have become the teachers of the rest of the world; and she has brought it about that the name “Hellenes” suggests no longer a race but an intelligence, and that the title of “Hellenes” is applied rather to those who share our culture than to those who share our common blood.” (1)
Later, the Latin poet Horace would remark that:
“Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit et artes intulit agresiti Latio.”
"Greece, when captured, captured her savage conqueror and brought the arts into rustic Latium." (2)
The Greeks are marked by an inquisitive nature. They were interested in everything and the why's and how's of reality. They were also "lovers". They described many things as philo-this and philo-that (from the Greek language`Greek word philein = "to love"). They were lovers of beauty, lovers of wisdom, lovers of knowledge, and lovers of accuracy. They were passionate about the things that were beautiful and good.
Pythagoras coined the term Philosophy. His interests included mathematics, music and the study of proportion. Herodotus is named the "Father of History". History in the Greek language means investigations. He wrote the first Western history; it was about the Persian war. Hippocrates is known as the "Father of Medicine". He wrote an oath, known as the Hippocratic Oath, which lays out the ethics for physicians. This oath is still in use today. He was the first to do a treatise on human anatomy and bodily ailments. Anaxagoras proposes the "nous", one mind that is the arche of reality. This is the beginning of Natural Theology. It also inaugurates monotheism among the socratic line of philosophers; Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Socrates is the founder of Western philosophy. He marks the demarcation line where philosophy is split from religion. Jacques Maritain calls him the Founder of Western Culture. Aristotle, the great organizer and philosopher, gave us most of the academic categories of Western education. He created biology outright and formed the core study on Politics and every other field of study. Copernicus and Newton launched their great discoveries from their reading of Aristotle.
They invented tragedy, the basis of modern plays, skits, and movies. Comedy made its appearance with Aristophanes.
The Greeks bequeathed to Western Culture a love of beauty. Their art and architecture especially the Parthenon moved many to imitation and inspiration.
Second. The second formulative influence of Western Culture was the Romans. Romans are marked by their practicality. Roman law, Roman Architecture, and the Roman Army, play significantly in Western culture. The most characteristic aspect of the Roman genuius is the rule of law. All western law proceeds from Roman law. Blackstone’s Law Dictionary, which had wide influence, encapsulated many principles of Roman law.
Vitruvius wrote a treatise of ten books on classical architectural theory and practice called On Architecture. The treatise had some influence during the Middle ages and had greater impact on the art and style of Renaissance Europe.
Cicero had a major influence, not only in his country, but throughout medieval times and even affected the Framers of the U. S. Constitution. Cicero had much to do in forming of Romanitas. The emperor Augustus called him "a great scholar and a great patriot. Cicero had great influence upon early Church Fathers and St. Augustine pointed to Cicero as the one "who inspired his own passion for philosophy". "He was the medium for the propagation of those ideas which informed law and institutions of the empire." (3) He was a firm believer in private property, the essence of Western Culture, and its protection by government.
Third. The third formulative influence is Christianity. Jesus Christ had the profoundest effect on Western Culture. His preaching of the Golden Rule, of salvation, redemption and immortality not only affected the lives of people but their art, literature, philosophy, and architecture. With the preaching of Christianity came the idea of Judiasm concept of monotheism. The Bible became a central piece of Western literature affecting all fields within Western culture; law, philosophy, education, and politics. With this, the Hebrew Scriptures, the Torah, the psalms and prophets, coupled with the New Testament taught the people wisdom, maxims and precepts. Old Western morality is basically derived from the teachings of the Ten commandments and the Old Testament.
With Christianity came a movement called monasticism. Monasticism carried Christianity and science to all the countries of Europe and preserved Latin and Christian texts. They chanted the Psalms throughout Europe. Their Gregorian chant was heard by many of the peasants working in the fields. Western culture is unthinkable without the contribution of millions of monks who cleared land and made it arable, preserved the classics and spent countless hours copying manuscripts, civilizing and Christianizing huge swaths of peoples, and preserved Roman law and classical culture.
In order to educate its clergy, the Roman Catholic Church started many seminaries throughout Europe. These in turn grew into today's universities and colleges.
St. Augustine is premier, along with Plato, in forming the Christian mindset of Latin Christianity. He formed Western thought and Latin Christianity.
The practice of mathematics was greatly improved upon when Leonardo of Pisa introduced the Arabic or decimal system into Christian Europe with his book, Liber Abaci. Before, western mathematics was based on the clumsy Roman numeral system of letters such as "XCVII". His magnum opus was a standard work for two hundred years.
With the splitting of the Roman Empire into two halves, the Latin Christian church officially using Latin as the Liturgical language since the 5th century, the attack of barbarian hordes, the growth of banditry, Greek influence and works died out in Western Culture and a connection to the Eastern half of the Roman world was broken.
But because of Islamic influence in Moor Spain and the first crusade which sacked Constantinople, the Greek Paideia was re-introduced into the Latin West and the Renaissance was born. Aristotle was re-introduced into Western Culture which caused a profound effect in Catholic philosophy and with the re-introduction of Greek literature a re-flowering of Greek culture began at Florence and Venice.
With the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the flood of Greek influence increased greatly. It is significant that many of the Protestant reformers where Greek Scholars. The rebirth of Hellenism in the Western World is one of the causes of French Revolution.
The Renaissance produced the Enlightenment.
The French Revolution and the rise of Socialism
(This section is to mark the beginning of the deconstructionism of traditional Western Culture and its supplantion with Socialist culture ie. modernism, avantgarde, Utilitarianism, Feminism, materialism, sexual freedom, nihilism etc.)
- The French Revolution— civil rights, equality before the law, procedural justice, democracy as the ideal form of society
- The Industrial Revolution— mass availability of consumer goods, wage-based relationships between employers and workers, technological change as a social institution, materialism
- The 1960s— Sexual revolution, proliferation of material popular culture
- Post-industrialization— Growth of service economy, computer and digital media, AIDS, globalization
Spread of Western culture
After roughly the year 500, Western culture spread outwards in various stages from its Mediterranean hearthlands, on a broad semicircular front from the Atlantic in the west to the Ural Mountains in the east. Reaching these limits by the year 1400, Western or European influence was then carried widely abroad to the Western Hemisphere, Africa, Asia and Oceania by European traders and colonists.
All non-Western indigenous societies which encountered Western culture underwent massive and fundamental changes as a consequence. Europe's germanic, Celtic and Slavic nations were incorporated into the cultural system by education, persuasion and force, abandoning many of their traditional faiths and ethics to become manistays of it during the Middle Ages. (Within Europe, only a handful of peoples in the Arctic regions reamined generally unconverted to Western culture prior to the 16th century).
Outside Europe, Western culture made it strongest inroads in North America, where native folkways dissolved under the unrelenting pressure of successive waves of land-hungry European settlers, who brought their faith and laws with them and established them decisively across the entire continent by the late 19th century. In Central America and South America, similar neo-European societies prevailed. By contrast to North America, however, large, well-organized native societies had existed in these regions; many of these natives continued to pursue traditional ways of life, in some cases with only a gloss of European religion and culture.
- "Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho! Western Civ has got to go! The chant of Stanford University students c. l990's demonstrating against the canon of classic texts required in the basic humanities course because it was dominated by "dead white males" and was "Eurocentric".
- (1) Panegyricus, Isocrates, The Loeb Classical Edition, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. sec 50; pg 149.
- (2) Epistles, Horace, II.2, 156-157
- (3) Christianity and Classical Culture, pg 39.
- Christianity and Classical Culture, A Study of Thought and Action from Augustus to Augustine, Charles Norris Cochrane, Oxford University Press, NY, 1980.
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