Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Carolingian Renaissance

The slow-motion collapse of the Roman Empire over several decades in Britain and Gaul threatened to leave chaos in its wake. Roman rule had both its advantages and disadvantages, but it had at least provided stability and enough social structure to allow education to grow.

When the Roman ceased providing some measure of government in Gaul, it became clear that the Gauls could not generate social institutions strong enough to allow for robust cultural production. By the time the Roman Empire fell in 476 A.D., a new social structure emerged under the Merovingian king Childeric, who had been on the throne already since 457 A.D.

The Merovingians, a Frankish dynasty, moved into Gaul after the Roman collapse left a power vacuum in the region. The Franks eventually minted the realm’s own coins, codified the legal system, and freed the area from the last remaining practices of human sacrifice by introducing the ideas of Jesus.

The Carolingian dynasty, which took over the Frankish kingdom in the 700s A.D., built upon and continued the Merovingian cultural achievements. Increasing literacy was a priority for the Carolingian monarchs, who were, like the Merovingians, Franks.

With literacy came philosophical thought and an exploration of the Greco-Roman classical heritage. Monks and the earliest scholastic philosophers assembled large libraries. Historian Thomas Woods writes:

The result of this encouragement of education and the arts is known as the Carolingian Renaissance, which extended from the reign of Charlemagne through that of his son, Louis the Pious (r. 814-840). Perhaps the central intellectual figure of the Carolingian Renaissance was Alcuin, an Anglo-Saxon who had been educated at York by a pupil of the Venerable Bede, the great saint and ecclesiastical historian who was one of the great intellects of his day. Alcuin was the headmaster of the cathedral school at York and a deacon who would later serve as the abbot of the monastery of Saint Martin’s at Tours. He was tapped by Charlemagne himself in 781 when the two met during Alcuin’s brief trip to Italy. In addition to his knowledge of a variety of subjects, Alcuin also excelled as a teacher of Latin, having absorbed the successful techniques of his Irish and Anglo-Saxon predecessors. Teaching the Germanic people grammatically correct Latin - a difficult skill to acquire during the unsettled sixth and the seventh centuries - was an essential element of the Carolingian Renaissance. Knowledge of Latin made possible both the study of the Latin Church fathers and the classical world of ancient Rome. In fact, the oldest surviving copies of most ancient Roman literature date back to the ninth century, when the Carolingian scholars rescued them from oblivion. “People don’t always realize,” writes Kenneth Clark, “that only three or four antique manuscripts of the Latin authors are still in existence: our whole knowledge of ancient literature is due to the collecting and copying that began under Charlemagne, and almost any classical text that survived until the eighth century has survived until today.”

In the past, historians had not realized the full impact of the Carolingian Renaissance, and had assumed that people in the early Middle Ages were unaware of most Greco-Roman literature. Discoveries have shown, however, that the ability to read both Greek and Latin was not rare during the Carolingian era.

The monastery at Corvey is one example: this shining example of Carolingian architecture contains a wall mural, painted in the 800s A.D., which depicts a scene from Homer’s plots. This proves that not only were Greek works known at that point in time, but additionally that they were widely known. To paint an image like this inside a church was to give it maximum publicity.

Another example is the career of the scholastic philosopher Johannes Scotus Eriugena, who was born sometime after the year 800 and died sometime before the year 900. He was invited into Frankish kingdom, in part because of his excellent knowledge of the Greek language and of the classical Greek texts. He was part of a larger effort by the Franks to spread the study of Greek grammar and literature throughout central Europe.

In sum, the Franks under the Merovingians began to fuel an energizing of culture. Under the Carolingians, this impetus led to a full-blown explosion, not only of Greek and Latin culture and text, but also the foundational steps leading to modern mathematics, chemistry, and physics.

To be sure, the real birth of mathematics, chemistry, and physics - in the modern sense of these terms - would not take place until the High Middle Ages, sometime after the year 900 A.D.

The emergence of, e.g., the University of Bologna - the world’s first true university - around the year 1088 A.D., was based upon the intellectual groundwork laid earlier in the medieval era during the Carolingian Renaissance.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Tiberius: Underappreciated?

Octavian-Augustus transformed Rome from a republic into an empire. Tiberius, twenty-one years younger than Octavian, took the throne and the title of ‘Caesar’ when Octavian died in 14 A.D.

Tiberius did not inherit the emperorship in any normal sense of the word. He had been adopted by Octavian for the purpose ensuring succession; Tiberius was also Octavian’s stepson by means of Octavian’s marriage to Livia, the mother of Tiberius. Finally, Tiberius was also Octavian’s son-in-law via the marriage of Octavian’s daughter, Julia, to Tiberius.

Despite the tangled web of familial relationships, interactions between Octavian and Tiberius were primarily based on power politics.

Tiberius had a family tree that was arguably more impressive than Octavian’s. Shrewdly, Octavian saw an opportunity to use Tiberius as an ally rather than a competitor, and Tiberius could sway some of the more established patrician families toward Octavian. Yet, when it came to deciding who would inherit the emperorship, Tiberius was not Octavian’s first choice - and not even his second or third choice.

For his part, Tiberius had no strong desire to be emperor. He took the job because he more-or-less had to.

In addition to a solid genealogy, Tiberius was a competent manager, and had a deep sense of, and respect for, the political values of the old Roman Republic. Even while working for the man who had ended that republic, Tiberius sought somehow to sustain its better virtues in the imperial system.

Two historians, Ralph V.D. Magoffin and Frederic Duncalf, relate the already-significant roles played by Tiberius prior to his assuming imperials duties in the wake of Octavian’s death:

Although Augustus did not have a son, he had adopted his stepson, Tiberius, who belonged to an old Roman family. As Tiberius already held the tribunician and proconsular powers, and was in command of the armies, the Senate accepted him, because it could not very well do anything else. Tiberius, in fact, was the most competent man in the empire, and for nearly ten years had been doing most of the governing for Augustus.

Although a skillful manager with a solid sense of respectable republican virtues, Tiberius was not automatically well-liked. He was possibly more appreciated in the provinces than in the capital city:

However, Tiberius, although much liked in the provinces, was not popular in Rome. He was cold and reserved, although he sometimes spoke his mind bluntly. He had become soured by family sorrows, and by what he thought were slights from Augustus. As a result he became very unpopular. When he decided that he had found in a certain Sejanus a loyal and competent substitute, he went to live on the island of Capri in a beautiful villa which overlooked the Bay of Naples. After he had killed Sejanus, who had plotted against him, and had punished with great severity all whom he suspected of being in the conspiracy, the Romans hated him more than ever. On the contrary, the people in the provinces blessed him because he saw to it that they were all well governed and that the Pax Romana was maintained. Nevertheless, he died, an embittered old man, in 37 A.D.

Tiberius faced a problem which Octavian overcame by sheer force of will, and which all of the emperors after Tiberius would encounter in some form. The position of emperor was, on Rome’s own terms, unconstitutional.

The illegitimacy of the emperorship can be seen already in the verbal contortions performed to describe the job: princeps and imperator and caesar and pater patriae and pontifex maximus were all heaped onto Octavian in an effort avoid words which would be abhorrent to Roman Republican sensibilities: rex or romulus - the latter of which Octavian had briefly adopted but then quickly dropped because of royalist overtones which it had.

Thus Tiberius inherited an unwieldy task: the art of being a king while claiming not to be one; the skill of destroying republican processes while claiming to honor them. Historian Jim Bishop writes:

The reign of Tiberius was, according to law, a constitutional one. Under analysis it wasn’t, and yet, in the early part of his reign, he was overly deferential to the Senate and referred even the smallest matters of state to this august body. He made of point of sitting in the Senate and speaking as a member, often in the minority. Decrees were passed against his wishes and Tiberius had no comment. Some of the wits ridiculed him and his family, and when Caesar was asked about it, he said that the Empire should enjoy free speech and thought.

Tiberius seemed, or sought, to exemplify the stern yet moderate ideals of the old Roman Republic. Although it may have cost him some popularity, this tactic seems to have served him well. His reign was, by most metrics, successful and long - 22 years.

Solidly reliable and competent, Tiberius put the Roman economy on perhaps its best fiscal footing ever. He regularized the tax system and accumulated massive surpluses in the treasury.

The balance on hand in the Roman treasury went from 100 million sesterces to 2.7 billion sesterces on his watch: skillful management.

Yet he remained unpopular with both the Senate and the masses.

There is something of a paradox about Tiberius: he was competent but disliked. Why did the Roman public not embrace him? Perhaps because it was early in the empire, and the citizens had yet to see what a truly bad emperor looked like. Perhaps because he worked to promulgate virtues instead of laws, thereby making the populace uncomfortable by displaying high moral standards. Perhaps because there was little dramatic, heroic, or dashing about him. Perhaps because Octavian was a tough act to follow: who could possibly seem impressive after Augustus? Perhaps because Tiberius lacked an exciting or charismatic personality, a type of personality which Octavian either had or at least managed to project.

His wiser opponents conceded that he was competent, but this begrudging admission did not translate into affection.

Tacitus opposed him, but admitted that the nominations for office sent to the Senate by the Emperor were “made with judgment.” What Tiberius wanted was a Rome of the old days, a Rome in which consuls and procurators and other magistrates enjoyed the full prerogatives of their rank; he wanted peace along the frontiers and no new taxes and no suppression of subject peoples; he admonished anyone who disagreed with him to take matters to the proper court.

What Tiberius wanted, he got only in part. Internally, the empire did attain an organized and stable functioning. Externally, the Pax Romana did not live up to its name: there were nearly constant border skirmishes, either with the Scots, with the Germanic tribes, or with other groups.

While the proverb that “history is written by the winners” contains some merit, it is also true that in many cases, those who are discontent are more motivated to write than those who are content. Maybe there were large segments of Roman society which were content with Tiberius as emperor. Maybe criticisms of Tiberius are overrepresented and amplified, if his opponents were his chief biographers.

Perhaps ultimately a tragic figure, Tiberius was capable and, in a pagan sense, virtuous. Finally, he was disappointed, despite his notable accomplishments. Jim Bishop offers us a description of Tiberius near the end of his life:

Tiberius was the Emperor. He was seventy; a lean, acidulous man who suffered from acne. His greatest happiness came from study. His deepest unhappiness had come from his mother, Livia. She nagged him all the way up the political ladder and, when he finally stepped on the top rung, he never looked at Livia again.

A man who did not desire the emperorship but had it thrust upon him; a man who did not lead by charismatic personality but whose quiet competence and financial steadiness stabilized the empire: Tiberius was perhaps underappreciated in his own time.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Adam Ferguson and the Inexorable Flow of History

Adam Ferguson lived in Scotland from 1723 to 1816, but he was concerned with those principles which affected all nations at all times. Although he was in some ways opposed to the American Revolution of 1776, his observations of social behavior were influential among the Founding Fathers inasmuch as he formulated the principles of a republic with freely-elected representatives.

Ferguson noted that social patterns arise organically, over long periods of time, and are not readily changed by those who would artificially redesign society. People in general are not inclined to accept social patterns imposed, suddenly, by those who have calculated them for whichever purpose.

Knowingly or not, Ferguson may have isolated one of the variables which attempts to explain the mystery of why the American Revolution succeeded and the French Revolution failed. The American Revolution was an attempt to change government, not society; the French Revolution attempted to change society, and to change it at a deep and fundamental level. He wrote:

Men, in general, are sufficiently disposed to occupy themselves in forming projects and schemes: But he who would scheme and project for others, will find an opponent in every person who is disposed to scheme for himself. Like the winds that come we know not whence, and blow whithersoever they list, the forms of society are derived from an obscure and distant origin; they arise, long before the date of philosophy, from the instincts, not from the speculations of men. The crowd of mankind, are directed in their establishments and measures, by the circumstances in which they are placed; and seldom are turned from their way, to follow the plan of any single projector.

The great social edifices which sustain civilizations and constitute some of humanity’s greatest achievements arise, not by means of calculation and design, but rather through organic growth, through trial-and-error, and through humanity’s blindness and history’s foresight.

When Ferguson notes that societies allow great revolutions without intending change, it may be that he is alluding to events like the end of the Roman Republic and the end of the Weimar Republic.

In the former case, Augustus-Octavian destroyed the republican political structure with the claim of reestablishing the traditional Roman social values; in the latter case, Hitler’s National Socialists ravaged the governmental structure while claiming to preserve or reinstate an ancient nationalistic ethnic heritage.

Every step and every movement of the multitude, even in what are termed enlightened ages, are made with equal blindness to the future; and nations stumble upon establishments, which are indeed the result of human action, but not the execution of any human design. If Cromwell said, That a man never mounts higher, than when he knows not whither he is going; it may with more reason be affirmed of communities, that they admit of the greatest revolutions where no change is intended, and that the most refined politicians do not always know whither they are leading the state by their projects.

Great turning-points in history have often been made unwittingly. Leaders who’ve made decisions are often unable to see the effects of those decisions. “The law of unintended consequences” has become a standard refrain in the canon of common wisdom. Leo Tolstoy famously wrote that:

A king is history’s slave. History, that is, the unconscious, general, hive life of mankind, uses every moment of the life of kings as a tool for its own purposes.

The Weimar Republic enacted a “hate speech” law against anti-Semitic utterances; little did the leaders of the Weimar Republic, from 1920 to 1933, foresee that Hitler’s National Socialists would use the precedent established by those laws - that the government can define and regulate speech - to begin its foul plan to eventually murder millions of Jews.

Woodrow Wilson, whose career from 1902 to 1921 was defined by his thorough racism, would be surprised to learn that the principles of his “progressivism” would be used a century later to not only give “equal opportunities” and a “fair chance” to African-Americans, but even in some circumstances to favor them over other races.

Kings, prime ministers, presidents, premiers, and even dictators often feel their hands forced by circumstances in some decisions. In other decisions they may feel free to decide, but in some cases that feeling might a be a delusion, and they are still being swept along in the current of history, as much as their subjects.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Humanities and Liberal Arts

At high schools, colleges, and universities, one hears the phrases “liberal arts” and “humanities.” These terms are, however, poorly understood, ambiguous, and subject to misunderstandings.

The label ‘liberal arts’ emerged during the Middle Ages, when the world’s first universities were being organized - the University of Bologna was started some time prior to 1088 A.D.

“Liberal” in ‘liberal arts’ is related to the notion of freedom, and arose even earlier, during Roman times, because free men, as opposed to slaves, studied academic subjects. Of course, generalizations like that are susceptible to exceptions: Epictetus was a slave and yet authored philosophical essays.

In those medieval universities, the curriculum was structured around seven subjects: the lower level was the ‘trivium’ and consisted of grammar, logic, and rhetoric; the upper level was the ‘quadrivium’ and included arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy.

From this original structure of the liberal arts we can already see the errors in the way some people currently use the term ‘liberal arts.’ From the beginning, ‘liberal arts’ included both mathematics and the observational or natural sciences.

Note also the medieval understanding of music: it is grouped among the mathematical disciplines. Some music historians use the word ‘objective’ to describe the music of the Middle Ages, indicating the way in which medieval composers, performers and listeners perceived the music: the intervals between notes, and the timing of the notes, was calculated according to principles of composition.

At the present time, the phrase ‘liberal arts’ has been expanded beyond its original meaning to include not only the observational and empirical sciences - chemistry, physics, biology, geology, etc. - as well as the ‘social sciences’ or ‘soft sciences’ like history, psychology, linguistics, literature, etc.

The contemporary understanding of ‘liberal arts’ does not include strictly professional programs like engineering, law, medicine, or business, as they are currently offered at American colleges and universities.

The ‘humanities’ are a subset of the liberal arts. They include history and literature - and the sub-disciplines of art history and music history. One dictionary defines ‘humanities’ as

learning or literature concerned with human culture, esp. literature, history, art, music, and philosophy.

The defining characteristic of the liberal arts is that they are not applied or practical. Biology is one of the liberal arts, while medicine is not. Physics is part of the liberal arts, while engineering is not. The dictionary defines ‘liberal arts’ as

academic subjects such as literature, philosophy, mathematics, and social and physical sciences as distinct from professional and technical subjects.

While debates will continue to rage about the proper role of the liberal arts in college curricula, and about the value of the humanities in professional preparation, such debates will be meaningful only when the terms are properly understood.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Politicized Romanticism

During and after whichever era one might mark out as the Romanticist Era, Romanticism not only left its fingerprints on that marked style of poetry, painting, and music which bear its name, but it also influenced the way in which history is written and interpreted.

While students have long been taught the identifying markers of Romanticist poetry, Romanticist painting, and Romanticist music, the hallmarks of Romanticist History are less well known.

One of the markers of Romanticist history is ‘hero worship,’ a phrase whose origins are unclear. The Oxford English Dictionary records its first use in the sense of a noun as occurring in 1713, and in the sense of a verb as occurring in 1857. The Merriam Webster dictionary, however, lists the first noun usage as 1774, and the first verb usage as 1884.

In any case, the dates for the appearance of the phrase ‘hero worship’ neatly fit into most of the common timelines given for Romanticism.

Whatever “hero worship” may be, it is a failure to think critically - the habit of lavishing uncritical praise on a historical figure, and the willingness to shape narratives around the axiom that some such individual must have been virtuous or noble or good. Napoleon is one example of someone who received such treatment by those historians who wished to treat him as a heroic figure.

What “hero worship” did to the individual, Romantic nationalism did for entire ethnic groups. Historians wrote global histories from the perspective of one nation, and in the process, beginning with the earliest documented traces of that nation, overemphasized and exaggerated the nation’s continuity with those most ancient known sources. For many European nation-states, this took the form of early medieval sources.

Paradoxically, Romanticist history can err by either being too general or by being too specific. In the former case, for the sake of forming a grand narrative, some historians use very little actual evidence - the names, dates, and places which are the data points of history. In the latter case, some historians used quite specific and concrete data, but, e.g., limited it to data about one individual (in the case of hero worship), about one nation (in the case of nationalism), or about one event (if that event were chosen as pivotal in some narrative).

Romanticist historians, while valuing narrative, tend to value a specific narrative - the story of one individual or of one nation - while avoiding a broader or global narrative. Because Romanticism is subjectivism, it is not inclined to look at world history in such a way as to sift through it to find those recurring patterns which give a clue as to what human nature - the universal human constant - is.

Although the Romanticist writing, or rewriting, of history made its noisy appearance in the late 1700s and early 1800s, its impact on historiography is still with us. Allen Guelzo notes that what was perceived as the end of the Romanticist era may have only been its sublimation, but not its death:

The Routledge Encyclopedia of the Romantic Era takes 1850 as a cutoff date for the Romantic revolution, and there was at that time no shortage of voices that wept for Romanticism’s demise at the hands of the triumphant bourgeoisie.

Indeed, many observers of postmodern culture see the lasting legacy of Romanticism in it. The many ways in which late twentieth and early twenty-first century narrative rejects rationality are the afterglow of the original Romanticism. Consider the imperative given in the Star Wars movies: “Feel, don’t think.” Postmodern sentiments like “follow your heart” and “follow your bliss” are so numerous that scholars have difficulty in discovering who wrote them first. Allen Guelzo continues:

Rousseau’s curdled contempt for reason may have lost its initial momentum a century after his epiphany on the road to Vincennes, but not its enduring attraction.

The Romanticist triumph of emotion over reason, of passion over logic, manifests itself in the preference of hero-narrative or nation-narrative over a global grand narrative. Avoiding the grand narrative allows the Romanticist to avoid a sense of teleology - a sense that history has not only causes in the past which push it forward, but also a target in the future which pulls it forward. Given that there will be some final state of things in this world, it is reasonable to ask whether, if we were to know what that state will be, we might not be able to calculate how the present state of affairs is slowly unfolding toward that future state. Historian Tim Blanning writes:

There has also been a corresponding reaction to the culture of reason at a more intellectual level in the shape of strands known collectively as “postmodernism.” Thankfully, there is no space to investigate this richly various – and contradictory – phenomenon. It must suffice to assert that all postmodernists have in common a rejection of grand narrative, teleology, and rationalism. They squarely belong with the culture of feeling, in a line that stretches back to fin de si├Ęcle and romanticism (and indeed to the baroque). But, as before, this is not just another spin of the cycle’s wheel, but a dialectical progression. Where it will take us next is anyone’s guess. That the central axiom of romanticism – “absolute inwardness” – will have a role to play is certain. The romantic revolution is not over yet.

To be sure, not all of Romanticism’s impacts were harmful. It created a burst of intellectual energy around the scientific study of historical linguistics and philology. Beethoven’s music and Caspar David Friedrich’s paintings mark objective points in art history, whether or not one subjectively considers them to be good or bad. Lord Byron died in an effort preserve Greek freedom in the face of Islamic tyranny.

But historians influenced by Romanticism tended to produce narratives in which ambiguous individuals were recast as clear heroes or clear villains, and the power of the narrative was regarded as more important than its attention to actual data points of recorded events. These narratives were constructed with no regard for the broader global grand narrative, and with no consideration of a goal or teleology in the flow of history.

Romanticist history texts are often suspiciously devoid of specifics, or suspiciously loaded with specific evidence about a skewed sample - one heroic individual, or one cherish national ethnic group.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

When Did Romanticism Begin?

The perpetual disappointment of doing history by means of constructs is that, while they seem to offer neat answers to big questions, they dissolve under close scrutiny.

It’s nice to divide Greek history into archaic, classical, and hellenistic periods. But if you ask when, precisely, did the archaic age end and the golden classical age begin, you will not receive a satisfying answer.

Likewise, the exact date on which the Middle Ages gave way to the Renaissance will never be found, not because we can’t find it, but because it doesn’t exist.

You see, such constructs are convenient categorizations for History teachers and History students, but they don’t exist in reality. They are retrojections imposed on the set of data points which is the raw material of history.

In the same way, to ask about the starting point of Romanticism, that broad movement which included not only poetry, painting, and music, but which also influenced the science of linguistics, the teaching of history, and political revolutionary movements - to ask about the starting point of Romanticism attracts merely a long series of unsatisfying answers.

Isaiah Berlin and Kenneth Clark, two of Oxford University’s top scholars, wrestled with the question and never quite settled on an answer. Professor Allen Guelzo, of Gettysburg College, writes:

Picking a starting point for Romanticism has long been a favorite parlor game: For Berlin, it was Herder and Kant; for Clark, it was alternately the Lisbon earthquake, the nightmare in 1764 that set Horace Walpole to writing The Castle of Otranto, Burke’s Inquiry into the Origins of the Sublime (1757), and Piranesi’s Imaginary Prisons (1749).

Guelzo also relates the best guess of Cambridge’s Timothy Blanning on this question:

It was the day in July 1749 that the eye of Jean-Jacques Rousseau was caught by an advertisement for an essay contest on the question: “Has the progress of the sciences and arts done more to corrupt morals or improve them?” The promoters of the contest were confidently expecting variations on improve; it suddenly swam into Rousseau’s head that the real answer was corrupt, and from there flowed a lifelong declaration of war against reason, calculation, balance, law, and orderliness, which Rousseau believed had snatched away the “innocence” of humanity.

Of course, the question of itself is of very little importance. But it is an entry into the more significant question of what Romanticism is, and what its impact on the world has been. When Romanticism began isn’t that important; whether or not Rousseau is a paradigmatic figure in Romanticism is significant because it will point to the essence and to the effects of that movement.

If Rousseau is a central figure in Romanticism, and if Romanticism and Rousseau are the spiritual parents of the French Revolution, then Romanticism has much blood on its hands, as thousands of innocent civilians went to their deaths, first butchered in the “Great Fear” and then sent to the guillotine in the “Reign of Terror.” Guelzo writes:

Isaiah Berlin was deeply suspicious of fingering Rousseau as Romanticism’s progenitor, and Rousseau merits only one passing reference in Clark’s The Romantic Rebellion (1973).

Whenever Romanticism may have started, there is

a fairly extensive supporting cast for Romanticism’s debut, including Wordsworth (on the sublime), Hamann (on passion), Johann Heinrich Merck (on the deadness of reason), and Kant.

To which extent Rousseau was a founder of Romanticism, or whether he was an ancestor of it, or whether he was falling into line with an already-established movement: in any case, the notion that reason and orderliness were enemies of morality, the idea that balance and law and art destroy the innocence of the human race, - such notions are iconoclastic at least.

When people are free to buy and sell at the prices they voluntarily negotiate with others, economies generate continually increasing amounts of wealth. Yet Rousseau somehow saw the marketplace as the creator of need and want, and its oppression as the true liberation of mankind. Both counterintuitive and illogical, Rousseau’s ideas nonetheless held then, and hold now, fascination for many.

Rousseau represented a repudiation of everything the Enlightenment held at its core. Chief among those antagonisms was Rousseau’s (and Romanticism’s) hostility to both democracy and commerce. In a world of natural plenty, Rousseau believed commerce created artificial scarcity (Locke had believed the exact opposite — that this was a world of scarcity that commerce and property turned into a cornucopia). Those who led commercial lives did so under the most deadeningly and harshly rational rule of all, the bottom line, which reduced Nature to mere utility.

Famously, Rousseau felt that humans might not always know what’s best for them, and so his idealized state would be justified in violating the individual’s will - hardly a new idea. But what is new is that Rousseau claimed that in controlling the behavior of the individual, his envisioned state would be “forcing” people “to be free,” an Orwellian oxymoron.

Rousseau’s 1762 publication of The Social Contract revealed internal tensions, both inside Rousseau and inside Romanticism: he argued that traditional forms of the church and of Christianity were not helpful to people, and according to him oppressed people. Instead, he proposed a religion which he invented on his own, and promptly declared that anyone who failed to profess it should suffer the death penalty.

Whether Rousseau is an ancestor of, the founder of, or a follower of Romanticism remains an open question. In any case, he, and the paradoxes and contradictions inside his thought, cannot be ignored when studying Romanticism.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Freedom and Hayek

If a farmer owns some land, should he not have the right to decide whether he plants wheat or corn on it? If a butcher sells meat, should he not have the right to compete with other butchers by setting his prices as he sees fit?

In these material and mundane questions lies the core of the debate about freedom. Grand words about liberty are good and necessary, but history consists of concrete and specific actions.

Either one answers such questions in a manner which unambiguously affirms freedom, or one chooses to dismiss the very idea of freedom altogether. Do children have a lawful right to inherit the legal property of their parents?

To make a principled attack on the notion of rights, which is almost the same as attacking the notion of freedom, is indeed possible from certain moral and theological perspectives. But even from this perspective, which would deny that rights exist absolutely in the moral ontology of the universe, will allow that political rights, conceived as constructs, will be a necessary foundation to any political system which will correspond to our intuitive notion of justice.

Whether rights are understood as metaphysically real or as political constructs, the violation of, and disregard for, them is a defining feature of tyranny: from George III of England to Stalin, from Louis XIV to Mao, from Hitler to Pol Pot, from Robespierre to Castro.

Yet the bureaucrat’s incremental disassembly of rights is no less dangerous than the tyrant’s blatant breach of them. When Congress passes legislation micromanaging the farmer’s choice of which crops to grow, when the IRS confiscates property which the children of a deceased parent should inherit, or when both federal and state governments set not only maximum but also minimum prices for retail products, personal freedom is being dismembered.

Phrases like the “public interest” or the “common good” are routinely produced as justifications for infringement on the individual’s rights. It is true that many, if not all, common versions of the social contract call for either voluntary restraint regarding, or legislated limitations on, personal freedoms. It is also true that there is a natural, and evil, tendency inherent in government to expand its control over the individual beyond that which the logic of the social contract views as necessary.

It is ever inclination of government to govern more, and therefore too much. It is for this reason that the tale of Cincinnatus is not only heroic, but also almost miraculous.

Those who, by means of regulation and taxation, reduce freedom and gradually take away an individual’s rights, often do so while claiming to respect personal rights: these limitations are sadly necessary, they assert, sometimes even necessary to preserve those rights not violated by regulation. Sometimes this is done with noble intentions, sometimes with a cynical intent to grab power. Whether mouthed sincerely or insincerely, a stated belief in rights by those who violate rights has within itself, at the very least, a certain tension, if not an outright contradiction.

More coherent are those who simply deny the notion of personal rights. They argue that “rights” are fictions, and have no place in social or political calculations. Economist Friedrich Hayek writes:

In this respect much more consistency is shown by the more numerous reformers who, ever since the beginning of the socialist movement, have attacked the "metaphysical" idea of individual rights and insisted that in a rationally ordered world there will be no individual rights but only individual duties. This, indeed, has become the much more common attitude of our so-called progressives, and few things are more certain to expose one to the reproach of being a reactionary than if one protests against a measure on the grounds that it is a violation of the rights of the individual. Even a liberal paper like the Economist was a few years ago holding up to us the example of the French, of all people, who had learnt the lesson “that democratic government no less than dictatorship must always [sic] have plenary powers in posse, without sacrificing their democratic and representative character. There is no restrictive penumbra of individual rights that can never be touched by government in administrative matters whatever the circumstances. There is no limit to the power of ruling which can and should be taken by a government freely chosen by the people and can be fully and openly criticised by an opposition.

Note that Hayek describes the newspaper in question as “liberal” - reminding the reader of the long and trouble history of that word, morphing from the “classical liberals” like John Locke to the contemporary “liberals” who favor the statist program of taxation, regulation, and redistribution.

The newspaper’s use of the adverb “always” is troubling not only to Hayek. The passage in question is the newspaper’s argument for government power, which is necessarily opposed to individual liberty. The newspaper asserts that individual rights can be violated by the government at will, and there should be “no limit” to the government’s power.

Whether wittingly or not, whether sincere or cynical, the Economist has made an argument for totalitarianism. It is quite possible that the argument is both sincere and unwitting, because well-intentioned thinkers might envision a good-natured government which uses its powers only when absolutely necessary, uses them fairly and impartially, uses them in a way which respects individual freedom, and after using them, lays them down again. But those hoping for another Cincinnatus will be disappointed. It is not impossible that a Cincinnatus might appear and serve so nobly, but one cannot rely on that appearance, and certainly cannot cause it to happen.

One special case which presents the opportunity, or the temptation, for a government to make a swift attack on personal rights is the case of war. In wartime, the citizens of a nation are likely to offer less resistance to the violation of their rights, if this violation is presented as necessary to the war effort. Historians will recall Woodrow Wilson’s egregious infringement upon the First Amendment during WWI. It was clear that his restrictions on the freedom of speech were not, in many cases, in the service of the war effort, although they were presented to the public as such.

In addition to wars, governments can use any real or perceived danger as an excuse to breach rights. Floods, electrical power outages, shortages of vital consumer goods, and other special circumstances can be exploited by the government, as it tells the citizens that it must intervene to stabilize or somehow make a situation safe. To this pattern belongs the series, presented in rapid succession, of concerns about global warming, climatic instability, climate change, and climate disruption; these terms are designed to produce fear, and the fear is produced in order to persuade citizens to submit to governmental directives.

The government’s claim in this case is not entirely false. It is true that, on rare occasions, governmental intervention can produce a modest increase in safety or stability. Yet we must question the unspoken assumption that this increase is worth the cost.

Socialists governments, or other governments, can indeed increase security at the cost of personal freedom. The amount or degree of such increase is usually quite small in comparison to the amount or degree of liberty lost. A question of values arises: is the significant loss of freedom worth the modest increase in security? Slogans like “live free or die” answer that question.

Interventions labeled “necessary” during wartime will usually remain in effect during the subsequent peace. Again, men like Cincinnatus are more rare than many suppose. Hayek writes:

This may be inevitable in wartime when, of course, even free and open criticism is necessarily restricted. But the "always" in the statement quoted does not suggest that the Economist regards it as a regrettable wartime necessity. Yet as a permanent institution this view is certainly incompatible with the preservation of the Rule of Law, and it leads straight to the totalitarian state. It is, however, the view which all those who want the government to direct economic life must hold.

The best limitations on personal freedom are those imposed on an individual by himself. Maximizing political freedom does not imply maximizing moral freedom; on the contrary, moral self-restraint is necessary for political liberty. The failure of many modern, and postmodern, societies in Western Civilization is the failure that resulted from seeking political freedom without a corresponding ethical structure to guide the individual.

Freedom, in sum, is the ultimate political goal, but should never be the ultimate personal goal. In the context of a political structure, the individual’s freedom must be sought above all else. In the context of private life, self-discipline must be sought. We seek, struggle for, and fight for our freedom from the government; but once obtained, we voluntarily surrender that freedom, not to the government, but to ethical self-restraint. We struggle to gain rights, only in order to give them away.

Consider the example of “freedom of speech.” This freedom must be obtained and jealously guarded. But he who has freedom of speech is morally, not legally, obliged to refrain some some types of speech. Ethical self-restraint will prevent him from using speech to harm his neighbor.

One must not be naive to the point of assuming that this ethical self-restraint will be perfect. There will be transgressions. But that is no reason for abandoning the program of freedom. There is no perfect or perfectible society. An interventionist government will also have transgressions, and more egregious ones. We may only choose the lesser evil.

Monday, April 14, 2014

What Does It Take To Be Free?

The proverb "freedom isn't free" has probably been uttered many times - so that, like the boy who cried "wolf!" too often, it isn't heard as an opportunity to reflect on a deeper truth. Usually, the saying is taken in the context of necessary military readiness. But there are other dimensions. Freedom's price, beyond having the will to defend it, includes the will to take risks, and the will to self-discipline.

Being free necessarily entails risk. History places various societies, and the individuals within them, on a continuum between security and liberty. Those who opt for much liberty pay the price of reduced security; those who want more security will pay for it by giving up some of their freedom. Security here can be understood in terms of economics or in terms of a predictable social structure. Freedom here includes economic freedom, as well as the freedoms of speech, press, religion, and political discourse.

Freedom also demands a price in terms of self-discipline: if free men fail to behave themselves properly, a certain level of ensuing chaos will cause society at large to demand authorities to enforce some type of order, even if those authorities limit liberty in the process.

Famously, freedom requires defense. A free society will be such only as long as it is willing and able to defend itself. This does not necessarily mean war; deterrence suffices, and offers the added bonus of less bloodshed. If a free society fails to project an image of strength, if it fails to project the image that it is willing to defend both itself and its liberty, then it will, of necessity, eventually be attacked.

These three prices which one pays for liberty are expressed in a very different way by French scholar Jacques Ellul. He bundles these three costs together under the rubric of reason:

If the individual rejects every external restraint imposed by society, then he must be capable of restraining himself; in other words, he must possess tools that will enable him to make "good use" of his freedom or will prevent freedom from degenerating into the inconsistent behavior of the savage. Reason makes it possible for the individual to master impulse, to choose the ways in which he will exercise his freedom, to calculate the chances for success and the manner in which a particular action will impinge upon the group, to understand human relations, and to communicate. Communication is the highest expression of freedom, but it has little meaning unless there is a content which, in the last analysis, is supplied by reason.

Reason requires citizens to act with at least a modicum of altruism; reason requires that they act with self-restraint; reason requires that take some risks; reasons requires that they be prepared to defend their freedom. One peculiar feature of humanity - a feature which distinguishes humans from beasts and which demonstrates their rationality - is the ability to say 'no' to one's self: the ability to identify a drive, an impulse, or a desire, and deny it.

Reason is thus a structure deliberately built to balance the possibilities inherent in the freedom that has been won. Reason does not represent a "trick" but is really the result of an effort to find something that is neither an external constraint nor interiorized social imperatives and that will allow a man to be free and yet at the same time choose a behavior and express opinions which are communicable and can be recognized as acceptable and shared by the other members of the tribe. Here precisely we have the magnificent discovery made by the West: that the individual's whole life can be, and even is, the subtle, infinitely delicate interplay of reason and freedom.

This understanding of reason and freedom leads to the maxim, issued two thousand years ago, that one should examine one's self: introspection and reflection in the form of a rational self-critique. One should conduct a moral inventory of one's self: this imperative is a foundation of Western Civilization, or of European culture, or however else one might choose to label it. Ellul continues:

This interplay achieved its highest form in both the Renaissance and classical literature since the Enlightenment. No other culture made this discovery. We of the West have the most rounded and self-conscious type of man. For, the development of reason necessarily implied reason's critique of its own being and action as well as a critique of both liberty and reason, through a return of reason upon itself and a continuous reflection which gave rise to new possibilities for the use of freedom as controlled by new developments of reason.

On both an individual and a corporate level, the habit of morally evaluating one's self is necessary to maintain freedom. This self-evaluation takes many forms and spreads into many areas of life. It is no coincidence that Immanuel Kant's great book is titled The Critique of Pure Reason.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Give Civilization a Chance!

Among the various trends found in academia is worldview, held by enough scholars to be influential, that Western Civilization is overvalued and overemphasized, and the students would be best served by deemphasizing the West. In concrete terms, this manifests itself in demands that English departments at universities stop offering courses in Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Dickens; that art departments stop teaching Lucas Cranach and Albrecht Dürer; that music departments stop teaching Mozart and Bach.

Given that this trend is found almost exclusively in universities in Europe and North America, this worldview amounts to a form of collective self-hatred. Generalizing, this view claims that West's effect on the world is primarily oppressive, and the best we can do is to minimize the West to allow the rest of the world its freedom. It is taken as axiomatic by these scholars that anything which is not the product of Western Civilization is a priori superior to anything which is produced by Western Civilization.

To notion that the writings of John Locke and Edmund Burke should be ignored, to the notion that the ideas of Kant and Leibniz do not merit attention, to the notion that George Washington and Samuel Adams unleashed oppression instead of liberty - to these notions, French scholar Jacques Ellul responds:

Enough of that sort of thing! I wish only to remind the reader that the West has given the world a certain number of values, movements, and orientations that no one else has provided. No one else has done quite what the West has done. I wish also to remind the reader that the whole world is living, and living almost exclusively, by these values, ideas, and stimuli. There is nothing original about the "new" thing that is coming into existence in China or Latin America or Africa: it is all the fruit and direct consequence of what the West has given the world.

All civilizations - both Western and Eastern - make contributions which merit study. It is, however, duplicitous to use the word 'multicultural' as it is used in many schools and colleges. Those who most loudly proclaim their affection for things "multicultural" have in fact no interest in any culture: while despising and ignoring the West, they in fact have no desire for serious study of other cultures. This is demonstrated by their willingness to lump together under the heading "non-Western" all the civilizations for which they allegedly hold such great affection.

It is, in fact, among the champions of Western Civilization that one finds those most willing to study and appreciate other civilizations. It was in the German universities of the nineteenth century that the most energetic and numerous investigations were made into topics such as Sanskrit philology and Tibetan literature. In American universities of the twentieth century, study of the Ethiopian language Ge'ez declined precisely in proportion to the rise of this so-called multiculturalism.

The value of other civilizations is not lessened in saying that the West has formulated a worldview which other civilizations now use both to shape their own self-concepts and to criticize the West. Ellul continues:

In the fifties it was fashionable to say that "the third world is now entering upon the stage of history." The point was not, of course, to deny that Africa or Japan had a history. What the cliche was saying, and rightly saying, was that these peoples were now participating in the creative freedom of history and the dialectic of the historical process. Another way of putting it is that the West had now set the whole world in motion. It had released a tidal wave that would perhaps eventually drown it. There had been great changes in the past and vast migrations of peoples; there had been planless quests for power and the building of gigantic empires that collapsed overnight. The West represented something entirely new because it set the world in movement in every area and at every level; it represented, that is, a coherent approach to reality. Everything — ideas, armies, the state, philosophy, rational methods, and social organization — conspired in the global change the West had initiated.

In East Asia, encounters with the West have been the turning points in the development of those civilizations. China and Japan will never again return to a mindset in which no alternative to imperial rule is even conceivable.

It is not for me to judge whether all this was a good thing or bad. I simply observe that the entire initiative came from the West, that everything began there. I simply observe that the peoples of the world had abided in relative ignorance and a hieratic repose until the encounter with the West set them on their journey.

Prior to encounters with the West, not only the rulers, but also the Chinese and Japanese societies themselves viewed the common population as an undifferentiated mass. Thousands and millions of peasants were conceptualized as identical and interchangeable, not only for all practical purposes, but also philosophically as well. The peculiarly Western idea of the individual changed the working dynamics of these societies. Before the encounters with the West, narratives, both factual and fictional, were content to speak of "a peasant" with no further descriptor; the West will replace this generic character with the concrete and unique individual.

Please, then, don't deafen us with talk about the greatness of Chinese or Japanese civilization. These civilizations existed indeed, but in a larval or embryonic state; they were approximations, essays. They always related to only one sector of the human or social totality and tended to be static and immobile. Because the West was motivated by the ideal of freedom and had discovered the individual, it alone launched society in its entirety on its present course.

We can honestly give the West its due credit for its peculiar discoveries and values - the dignity of the individual, the quest for liberty, the equal value of each human life - without disparaging other civilizations. We can freely acknowledge Confucius as a rival of, and in some cases the superior of, Aristotle. Not only was he temporally prior to Aristotle; he made some of the same analyses about the fundamental relationships out of which larger and more complex societies are constructed, and in some cases, he made them more accurately.

When we consider the ubiquitous praise for Gandhi, it must be remembered that he began his career as a supporter of the caste system in India, and resented the British for not maintaining the strict separation of the castes. Studying in England from 1888 to 1891, Gandhi was not comfortable in British society and did not particularly enjoy it, but he was excited by the ideas of John Locke and Edmund Burke, by the Magna Carta, and by the English Bill of Rights of 1689. It was in England that Gandhi was introduced, not only to the study of the New Testament, but to the study of the Hindu Bhagavadgita. It was among the English that Gandhi developed a taste for Hinduism.

In South Africa, Gandhi made his mark as a civil rights leader by applying those British icons to the concrete situations in which he found himself. Gandhi became Gandhi by working out the implications of John Locke and Edmund Burke and the Magna Carta. Ellul writes:

Again, don't misunderstand me. I am not saying that European science was superior to Chinese science, nor European armies to Japanese armies; I am not saying that the Christian religion was superior to Buddhism or Confucianism; I am not saying that the French or English political system was superior to that of the Han dynasty. I am saying only that the West discovered what no one else had discovered; freedom and the individual, and that this discovery later set everything else in motion. Even the most solidly established religions could not help changing under the influence. We must remember that the Hinduism which drew such an enthusiastic response from English spinsters in 1930 and is today inspiring the young with revolutionary fervor, represents a modernization of the Hindu tradition through contact with the West. What an incredible experience the world has undergone due to the West!

Although the West has maintained itself as a leader in economics, in the natural sciences, and in technology, these are mere byproducts to those core values which make the West uniquely what it is. To codify freedom or liberty as a value is a specifically Western habit. In ancient Mesopotamia, generations of peasants were born, worked, and died without leaving a trace. In the early Middle Ages, in Europe, the practice began of recording names and dates, births and baptisms, weddings and funerals. Each individual was given the dignity of having a name recorded in the community's books. This is the distinctively Western practice of respecting the individual, or, as Ellul phrases it,

It was not economic power or sudden technological advances that made the West what it is. These played a role, no doubt, but a negligible one in comparison with the great change the discovery of freedom and the individual — that represents the goal and desire implicit in the history of all civilizations. That is why, in speaking of the West, I unhesitatingly single out freedom from the whole range of values. After all, we find justice, equality, and peace everywhere. Every civilization that has attained a certain level has claimed to be a civilization of justice or peace. But which of them has ever spoken of the individual? Which of them has been reflectively conscious of freedom as a value?

In a complex and schizophrenic dialectic, the West's products are working against each other: for, at the same time, it was both advancing the ideas of liberty and individualism, and yet occasionally engaging in the very opposites: enslavement and mass socialization. The civilization which taught the rest of the world to seek and value freedom was caught violating that freedom; the civilization that taught about the dignity of the individual was treating individuals as interchangeable machine parts. The West's own words have come back to haunt the West. Only a critique formulated by the West's own values could be so devastating to the West.

The decisive role of the West's discovery of freedom and the individual is beyond question, but the discovery has brought with it two tragic consequences. First, the very works of the West now pass judgment on it. For, having proclaimed freedom and the individual, the West played false in dealing with other peoples. It subjected, conquered, and exploited them, even while it went on talking about freedom. It made the other peoples conscious of their enslavement by intensifying that enslavement and calling it freedom. It destroyed the social structures of tribes and clans, turned men into isolated atoms, and shaped them into a worldwide proletariat, and all the time kept on talking of the great dignity of the individual: his autonomy, his power to decide for himself, his capacity for choice, his complex and many-sided reality.

In refining such a critique of the West, the rest of the world is becoming ever more like the West. The day may yet come when the East is more Western than the West.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Direction in which History Flows

As generation after generation of students move through the familiar Western Civilization curriculum, they encounter both the micro and the macro: both the details of individual persons and events, but also the broad sweep of history over millennia. The specific data about the people and places fuels the big picture, while the big picture gives a context and a direction - a teleology - to those concrete individuals.

Although many in contemporary academia now dismiss Western Civilization, or even condemn it, a larger historical understanding informs an appreciation of the West. That which we call Western Civilization is the emergence and clarification in history of two concepts: liberty and the individual. Scholar Jacques Ellul writes:

Here is where the contribution of the West comes in. As I have indicated, in this slow, subconscious, spontaneous historical process no one has ever set the goal in advance, no one has said what he was seeking, or even expressed what he was about. But it was precisely the meaning of the whole process that the West discovered (not through sociological research, but in the form of a proclamation); the West gave expression to what man — every man — was seeking. The West turned the whole human project into a conscious, deliberate business. It set the goal and called it freedom, or, at a later date, individual freedom. It gave direction to all the forces that were working in obscure ways, and brought to light the value that gave history its meaning. Thereby, man became man.

The West made explicit freedom as a goal and as a value. The Hebrew mega-text provides us not only with the Exodus from slavery in Egypt, but another from captivity in Babylon. Throughout the Pentateuch, Moses chips away at the institution of slavery - ascribing rights to slaves, and finally limiting a person's time as a slave to a finite number of years. Slavery is being diminished, liberty expanded, and the process set into motion will inevitably yield the abolition of slavery.

To understand the westernness of this step, consider how odd it would have seemed to a Babylonian or an Egyptian to say that a slave had any form of "rights" - yet Moses does precisely this, and in so doing, delivers a blow which places a fatal crack into the foundation of slavery.

The West attempted to apply in a conscious, methodical way the implications of freedom. The Jews were the first to make freedom the key to history and to the whole created order. From the very beginning their God was the God who liberates; his great deeds flowed from a will to give freedom to his people and thereby to all mankind. This God himself, moreover, was understood to be sovereignly free (freedom here was often confused with arbitrariness or with omnipotence). This was something radically new, a discovery with explosive possibilities. The God who was utterly free had nothing in common with the gods of eastern and western religions; he was different precisely because of his autonomy.

Independence is one aspect of individualism and freedom; the Greeks understood this, and their failure to unite the cities of Greece into a nation-state or empire was actually their victory in the name of independence. Although certainly imperfectly conducted - Greek government in Athens during the sixth, fifth, and fourth centuries B.C. was nothing like modern Western republics with their freely elected representatives and universal suffrage - the Greeks nonetheless articulated a new concept of citizenship in which the citizen was more than the property of the monarch. Even if the Greeks limited citizenship to small segment of the city's residents, they still structured the cooperation of the citizens in such a way as to ensure the city's sovereignty over itself, and the citizen's sovereignty over himself.

It is in this understanding that the steps taken by Cleisthenes, Solon, and Draco emerge not as random bits of progress, but as the systematic unfolding of a larger concept - the direction history took. Even Pericles with his insincere propaganda, and Thucydides who sees realistically through Athenian hypocrisy, existed, and could have existed only, in this larger cultural current.

The next step in the same movement saw the Greeks affirming both intellectual and political liberty. They consciously formulated the rules for a genuinely free kind of thinking, the conditions for human freedom, and the forms a free society could take. Other peoples were already living in cities, but none of them had fought so zealously for the freedom of the city in relation to other cities, and for the freedom of the citizen within the city.

Ellul goes on to make the claim that even the Roman wars of conquest were expressions of liberty. Although we are tempted to think that he must be mistaken, if we entertain his hypothesis, we note that Julius Caesar did begin the practice, followed later by some of the emperors, of granting full legal status to many in the newly-acquired provinces. True, this had, at least in part, a self-serving motive: they were less likely to rebel and more likely to cooperate, having been made complete Roman citizens. But it is also true that these new citizens were made heirs to the traditions of the Roman Republic, and the notions of senatorial representation and due process were thus spread into distant parts of the globe. As a result of Rome, people in remote places learned to demand fair treatment through the normal judicial system, especially as a citizen's entitlement.

The Romans took the third step by inventing civil and institutional liberty and making political freedom the key to their entire politics. Even the conquests of the Romans were truly an unhypocritical expression of their intention of freeing peoples who were subject to dictatorships and tyrannies the Romans judged degrading. It is in the light of that basic thrust that we must continue to read Roman history. Economic motives undoubtedly also played a role, but a secondary one; to make economic causes the sole norm for interpreting history is in the proper sense superficial and inadequate. You can not write history on the basis of your suspicions! If you do, you only project your own fantasies.

That these grand ideals were imperfectly implemented does not compromise their value, and does not eliminate the West's significance. Nobody will argue that Western Civilization is perfect. But against those who claim that it is worthless, who claim that it is a source only of oppression and violence, and who claim that it must not be taught but only despised in our schools and universities, we must argue that the West contributed its peculiar values to the world. The West has been guilty of slavery, as has the rest of the world; but only the West exercised a self-critique, condemned itself for such slavery, and sought to abolish slavery. Governments in the West have, at times, been guilty of torture, as have governments in the rest of the world; but only in the West did the idea occur that torture was wrong or immoral - and only in the West could that idea occur, because it was an extension of the idea of the individual. Torture is a violation of the individual - in other societies, the individual was regarded as merely an atom, like every other atom, in the structure of society; the individual was merely a segment in the undifferentiated mass of humanity. In those societies, it would not occur to anyone that torture was wrong, and in fact, such societies conducted their torture in public as an acknowledged part of their legal systems. Only in the West was torture forced into hiding. Only in the West is there massive public outrage when torture is discovered in its hiding places.

I am well aware, of course, that in each concrete case there was darkness as well as light, that liberty led to wars and conquests, that it rested on a base of slavery. I am not concerned here, however, with the excellence or defects of the concrete forms freedom took; I am simply trying to say (as others have before me) that at the beginning of western history we find the awareness, the explanation, the proclamation of freedom as the meaning and goal of history.

In the grand sweep of history, then, we can see in the narrative of Abraham and Isaac, in the narrative in which for the first time, an individual decides not to commit human sacrifice - we see in chrysalis form the notion that each human life has some dignity, dignity which demands respect. In the Mesopotamian societies of the Ancient Near East, human sacrifice was ubiquitous and unquestioned; as part of fertility religions, it was understood as being done for the common good. How odd, how antisocial, Abraham's rejection of human sacrifice must have seemed to his neighbors. But it is the font from which flow all our modern notions of human rights and the distinctively Western notion that each human life is valuable.

In this meta-historical narrative, almost Hegelian in scope, we see in Moses, in embryonic form, the struggle for freedom as slaves leave Egypt, and the effort to construct a just society as the laws given at Sinai hint at a society in which men and women are moving toward legal equality, hint at the final complete abolition of slavery, and do more than hint at the establishment of a legal due process. While Hammurabi legislated consequences for an unfaithful wife, Moses prohibited infidelity by either spouse equally. While Hammurabi saw a slave as the owner's property and gave the owner complete power over the slave, Moses prohibited the slaveowner from either beating or killing the slave - and Moses imposed a deadline by which slavery must end. While Hammurabi was content to issue a sentence based on nothing more than a bald accusation, Moses required two or more witnesses. While Hammurabi relied on trial by ordeal, Moses described the particulars of impartiality in judicial proceedings.

Between Moses and Abraham, then, a seed was planted in the soil of history. The germination and growth of that seed is the story of Western Civilization.

No one has ever set his sights as intensely on freedom as did the Jews and Greeks and Romans, the peoples who represented the entire West and furthered its progress. In so doing, they gave expression to what the whole of mankind was confusedly seeking. In the process we can see a progressive approach to the ever more concrete: from the Jews to the Greeks, and from the Greeks to the Romans there is no growth in consciousness, but there is the ongoing search for more concrete answers to the question of how freedom can be brought from the realm of ideas and incarnated in institutions, behavior, thinking, and so on.

The desire for liberty is to some extent innate in all people, but in the West, that desire became conscious, that desire became concrete, and that desire became precisely articulated. The desire to be recognized as an individual is to some extent inborn in all humans, but in the West, recognition of the individual became a stated goal, became a communal value, and became part of the cultural identity of the West. These are the peculiar characteristics of Western Civilization.

Today the whole world has become the heir of the West, and we Westerners now have a twofold heritage: we are heirs to the evil the West has done to the rest of the world, but at the same time we are heirs to our forefathers' consciousness of freedom and to the goals of freedom they set for themselves. Others peoples, too, are heirs to the evil that has been inflicted on them, but now they have also inherited the consciousness of and desire for freedom. Everything they do today and everything they seek is an expression of what the western world has taught them.

As the rest of the world accuses the West, it makes accusations which are based on ideas which came exclusively from the West. If the West is called to account for the brutality of Europe's eighteenth- and nineteenth-century colonization efforts, from whom did the plaintiffs learn that brutality is wrong? The West. If those colonization efforts are indicted as having violated the human rights or civil rights of the natives, from whom did learn about such rights? The West.

It is no random coincidence that Gandhi's education, the education which enabled him to lead a stellar anti-colonial movement, was an education centered on documents like the Magna Carta, and centered on texts like John Locke's.

Yet Western Civilization is dismissed, not only by the non-Western cultures from other parts of the world, but by many scholars who engage in a bizarre form of cultural self-hatred. Why the demand that students not learn about Shakespeare and Mozart, about Aquinas and Michelangelo? Why the demand that Western Civilization be presented as only oppressive and violent? Why the demand that, instead of learning about non-Western cultures, students are taught merely to praise them?

As to the motives of such academics and their anti-Western demands, we can only speculate. Perhaps some Oedipal complex writ large; perhaps out of ignorance.

Whatever the causes behind such antipathy to the West, reason finds arguments to justify such hatred of the West neither persuasive nor plausible. Reason finds the West, like the East, far from perfect. But reason also finds the West to be the sole source of concepts which have worked to pull humanity away from that which is degrading, and toward that which dignifies human life, that which honors human life, and that which respects human life.