What Is “Western Culture”, Really?

A boy on the cusp of manhood sat on a broad seat of polished marble among soft pillows befit a prince, his eyes rapt on the bearded man standing before him, a teacher in his middle years, with strands of gray weaving their way into his dark hair and beard. The boy’s father, King Phillip II of Macedonia, had made great pains to seek this man out, paying a king’s fortune to acquire his services as a tutor.

As he regarded the face of the boy named Alexander, the teacher was relieved to see manifest curiosity and intelligence in the boy’s eyes, without sign of the dullness of the many “elite” simpletons he’d seen his own mentor engage. In this boy, he could see a hope of instilling the virtues of excellence (ἀρετή), philosophy, and raw knowledge that he’d dedicated much of his life to during his time in Athens.

A breeze passed through the apartment carrying with it the smell of the fields of the gentle rolling hills that surrounded the King’s capital, as the two studied one another. At last, Aristotle began, “If you are to learn what I will teach you, my young prince, the very first thing you must know is that the educated differ from the uneducated as much as the living from the dead…

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
– Aristotle

Several years ago, the TEA Party gained popular prominence as a response to the far left agenda that had become the de facto party line of the Democratic Party controlling Congress and White House. This was, after all, a time when the Democrats had Michael Moore, who claimed Castro’s Cuba had a better health care system than the United States, as a frequent guest to the White House and in Congress.

In the 2009 and 2010 lead up to and the aftermath of the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the TEA Party movement largely focused on principles and policy, often evoking the philosophies of the Founding Fathers in debates against ObamaCare. Opposition to Obama’s signature legislation rested upon defending the individual’s freedom of contract and against the burdensome tax that was core to ObamaCare’s carrot and stick formulation.

In the months and years of both political and judicial wrangling that followed the passage of ObamaCare, the rhetoric from the TEA Party became increasingly shrill, as those who made reasoned appeals to foundational principles were displaced by petty mongers of suspicion, rumor, and accusation. The TEA Party base became increasingly motivated by blind rage rather than by any recognizable guiding philosophy, and that, more than anything else, led to the political situation today.

The things that we love tell us what we are.
– Thomas Aquinas

There are far too many on the right that refer to an attack on “western culture“, an unconscionably vague term that encompasses everything from the teachings of Aristotle and Plato to the murderous regimes of Robespierre and Hitler. Western culture is as rife with examples of demonstrable evil as it is with transcendent good, but this fact escapes the angry rubes of the American right.

Despite all of the good it has produced, western culture is responsible for a great deal of indefensible evil and human suffering, and only the ignorant and the foolish would argue otherwise. It’s important, therefor, to either define precisely what we actually mean when we say “western culture” or, perhaps more desirable, use a different term altogether. Let’s begin, however, with what the philosophical right actually means when we say “western culture“.

We mean the highest ideals of the cultures and societies that have their philosophical and cultural roots in the highest virtues of the Greco-Roman and the Judaeo-Christian traditions, excluding the bastardizations and failings of individuals and cultures that abandoned these highest values. We recognize our liberal political virtues came from the same British clay that was cleansed of its tyrannical impulse by the blood of patriots in 1775-1783, only to need another blood bath in 1861-1865 to cleanse it of slavery.

Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves.
– Abraham Lincoln

The philosophical goal many mislabel as “western culture” is, at its most basic, the tireless pursuit of truth. It is the acknowledgement that there is, beneath the mean soil of humanity, a creature who, by nature of being a Creation of the Almighty, is entitled to unalienable natural rights. It is to relentlessly tear down barriers that separate individuals from their natural rights and to fight to expand access to these rights for every men and women to whom these rights belong.

Fortunately, there is a term that well encompasses the highest ideals of “western culture” that necessarily excludes the worst deviations of western society, and, when properly understood, is the bedrock virtue of American Conservatism. This term is “Liberalism“, and it is a fruit of unparalleled value among all those that have ever blossomed on the various branches of western culture.


Liberty is For The Win!

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