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Western Civilization 101

Western Civilization 101

Notwithstanding the fears of Samuel Huntington and the more overtly violent demonstrations of self-described Western chauvinists such as the Proud Boys, the term “Western Civilization” is of only relatively recent creation. Advanced following the First World War, the concept, along with other inventions such as “Great Books” series, was designed to uphold the merit of a project that had just culminated in an unprecedented industrial bloodbath. That the idea was promulgated merely decades before an even larger industrial bloodbath suggests that its promoters ought to have taken a humbler approach in their attempt to salvage, in fact construct, Western European history. After all, insofar as it even constitutes a coherent and quantifiable entity, Western Civilization advanced not because of any intrinsic superiority but because of fortuitous geographic circumstances and no small portion of simple freak luck.

It has been noted that if an informed observer had been standing atop the world in 1500 CE and was asked to predict which power – among Western Europe, the Ottoman Empire, China, Japan, India, or Russia — would become dominant over the following centuries, it would have been unlikely that he or she would have chosen what had until recently been the Western European backwater. It would have been far more sensible to instead opt for, say, Ming China or the Ottoman Empire, which was in possession of Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Greece, and Hungary and continually menaced, and periodically invaded, lands further west.

Yet, as we know, Western Europe did become dominant over the next four centuries — though not necessarily evenly or without setbacks; the so-called Sick Man of Europe defeated Britain in battle as late as 1916. Nevertheless, by WWI, Europe directly or indirectly controlled a full eighty percent of the world’s landmass, an unprecedented degree of global domination. So how do we explain this extraordinary growth?

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