Defending Western Civ.

AuthorCarden, Art

The Lost History of Western Civilization is a new contribution to the large and venerable body of literature fighting an academic culture war over "Western civilization." It offers a powerful refutation of the claim that the idea that there is such thing as a Western civilization was invented by powerful people for nefarious ends, and it is also a useful answer to the charge that studying the history of ideas and poring over texts written by people long dead is a waste of time.

We are amid a cultural moment in which a lot of influential people seem to want to jettison the ideas of the Enlightenment because, they say, those ideas have an unsavory provenance. Kurtz "debunks the debunkers" who claim to have shown that the notion of Western civilization was invented in the service of World War I propaganda efforts. The book caught my attention because of the apparent nihilism and arbitrariness of the "anti-civ" intellectual moment, in which a lot of prominent members of the educated clerisy seem to be offering little more than an exhortation to "burn it all down." Apparently, we don't all agree as much as I thought we did on the virtues of the Enlightenment.

An imperialist conspiracy? / Kurtz criticizes a fundamentally incoherent position: "The upshot appears to be that the West is evil; and besides, it doesn't exist." He points to three events that gave rise to the anti-civ movement. The first is the historian Gilbert Allardyce's provocative argument that, in Kurtz's words, "the very idea of Western civilization is a modern invention devised during World War I as a way of hoodwinking young American soldiers into fighting and dying in the trenches of Europe." The second is the supposed debunking of Allan Bloom's 1987 book The Closing of the American Mind. The third is the 1989 controversy over Stanford University's "Western Civ" class requirement, which was axed in the wake of student protests featuring the infamous, "Hey-hey, ho-ho, Western Civ has got to go!"

Bloom, it turns out, has not been refuted. The Lost History of Western Civilization underscores the importance of Western civilization and restores it to its rightful place in the history of the American--and more broadly, Western--experiment in liberty and individual dignity.

Kurtz divides his analysis into an introduction and three parts, titled "Failed Disbelief," "How the West Was Lost," and "Accusation and Its Discontents." A lot of the book is an exercise in "debunking the...

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