Jeff Neal for C.U.R.E. - Certain Unalienable Rights Endowment

It’s Memorial Day – What are your children reading? Do they recognize “civilization”?

In Opinion on May 28, 2012 at 6:41 pm

The last few paragraphs of Niall Ferguson’s Civilization: The West and the Rest read as follows.

At its core, a civilization is the texts that are taught in its schools, learned by its students and recollected in times of tribulation. The civilization of China was once built on the teachings of Confucius. The civilization of Islam – of the cult of submission – is still built on the Koran. But what are the foundational texts of Western civilization, that can bolster our belief in the almost boundless power of the free individual human being? And how good are we at teaching them, given our educational theorists’ aversion to formal knowledge and rote-learning? Maybe the real threat is posed not by the rise of China, Islam or CO2 emissions, but by our own loss of faith in the civilization we inherited from our ancestors (emphasis mine).

Our civilization is more than just (as P. G. Wodehouse joked) the opposite of amateur theatricals. Churchill captured a crucial point when he defined the ‘central principle of [Western] Civilization’ as ‘the subordination of the ruling class to the settled customs of the people and to their will as expressed in the Constitution’:  Churchill asked:

“Why should not nations link themselves together in a larger system and establish a rule of law for the benefit of all?  That surely is the supreme hope by which we should be inspired . . . But it is vain to imagine that the mere . . . declaration of right principles . . . will be of any value unless they are supported by those qualities of civic virtue and manly courage – aye, and by those instruments and agencies of force and science which in the last resort must be the defence of right and reason. Civilization will not last, freedom will not survive, peace will not be kept, unless a very large majority of mankind unite together to defend them and show themselves possessed of a constabulary power before which barbaric and atavistic forces will stand in awe.

In 1938 those barbaric and atavistic forces were abroad, above all in Germany. Yet, as we have seen, they were as much products of Western civilization as the values of freedom and lawful government that Churchill held dear. Today, as then, the biggest threat to Western civilization is posed not by other civilizations, but by our own pusillanimity – and by the historical ignorance that feeds it.

How many 18-year olds do you know who can come close to defining the term “rule of law.”  How many of your friends have read and thought about what the Constitution says and means?  How many of us know more than “Four score and seven years ago” of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address?

How many of us know the name of the company Mitt Romney used to run and his estimated net worth?  How many of us know Barack Obama’s 2008  campaign slogan and the name of the minister of his church?

What is our civilization giving to our youth? Dancing with the Stars and Harry Potter.

What are your children reading today?  What knowledge of western civilization will they possess because YOU taught it to them; what are they learning in school?  Will they be able to defend Western Civilization to the awe of today’s “barbaric and atavistic forces?”

More importantly, will they be able to tell the difference?  Is there any difference between today’s American Civilization and barbarism?


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