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Western Civilization Is White Civilization

A straight-forward explanation from one of the best polemical writers in the English-speaking world.

January 21, 2019

Liberals and conservatives get it wrong.

Last week, the sky fell on Congressman Steve King because of an entirely phony accusation of “white supremacy.” Black Republican Senator Tim Scott was among those who attacked the congressman for daring to say, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization—how did that language become offensive?” (Congressman King says the transcribed sentence should have read: “White Nationalist, White Supremacist,—Western Civilization, how did THAT language become offensive?”) Senator Scott has a history of attacking his own party on racial matters, and this newest betrayal wasn’t surprising. His column in The Washington Post claimed the GOP’s tolerance of men like Congressman King justify charges of racism against Republicans. However, Senator Scott did admit that not everything Congressman King said was bad. “I will admit I am unsure who is offended by the term ‘Western Civilization’ on its own,” he wrote.

Four days after The Washington Post published Senator Scott’s piece, it published another column on Steve King entitled: “Steve King says he was just defending ‘Western Civilization.’ That’s racist too.”

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In this piece, academics David Perry and Matthew Gabriele take apart the concept of “the West” and suggest it was created to “[explain] why white men ought to rule the world.” “Western Civilization, then, became the story of an unbroken genealogy that stretched from Greece to Rome to the Germanic tribes to the Renaissance to the contemporary, white world,” they write.

Instead, Dr. Perry and Dr. Gabriele argue that there is no real “West,” only “many different Wests.” “[T]he real story embedded in the history of Western Civilization,” they claim, “is a tale of permeability, of movement and change.” They even go on to claim that Congressman King is akin to “Anders Breivik, Jeremey Christian and other neo-Vikings, and the racists who marched in Charlottesville” who “deploy this nostalgia for a mythical ‘West’” to “dominate the future.” “King’s defense of ‘Western Civilization,’” they write, simply does “that work more politely.”

Their proposed solution is education: “Teaching the real story of the West—one that’s multiethnic, encompasses all genders, and takes account of both its horrors and its triumphs—will ensure that the Kings of the future will no longer be able to fall back on semantics to ensure their bigotry.” In other words, Western Civilization is now code for white supremacy.

The multi-racial ancient philosophers. From a painting made during the multi-cultural Italian renaissance.

Some of Congressman King’s conservative critics, notably Ben Shapiro, mocked the idea that “Western Civilization” itself is racist.

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Yet this isn’t a new trend. The term “Western Civilization” increasingly appears in scare quotes in mainstream media. There is also an effort by academics, especially non-whites, to label “Western Civilization” an offensive term.

  • “I’d point out that ‘Western civilization’ is truly a nineteenth century invention that’s been used both as a bludgeon for non-white peoples and a smug justification for continued dominance.” — T.J. Tallie, a black former professor at Washington & Lee, as quoted inForbes.
  • There is no such thing as western civilization” — an article from black professor Kwame Anthony Appiah.
  • “If we accept the notion of ‘Western Civilization’ with a straight face, we must acknowledge that this puts us, not necessarily on the same footing as white nationalists claiming Greco-Roman antiquity as their past, but certainly on the same spectrum.” — Arum Park, an Asian professor of Classics, as quoted at classicalstudies.org.

Many Classics scholars are keen to refashion the concept of “the West.” Part of this is due to self-interest. Classics was until recently the archetypal discipline for studying “dead white men.” It arguably suffered by being cut off from the favorable media attention and large financial benefits that accrue to departments more dedicated to diversity and multiculturalism.

Yet there is something deeper happening. The claim that the concept of “Western Civilization” enables “white supremacy” is a rhetorical con game that leads to white dispossession. Many academics believe the concept of “Western Civilization,” with its origins in the classical world, supports white identity politics. Therefore, this concept must be abolished. Some also see the flyering campaigns of Identity Evropa, which uses classical imagery, as threatening. “[T]he symbolism of antiquity is Fascist Aesthetics 101, as any student of modern art will know,” said Ben Davis at ArtNet, citing Hitler and Mussolini’s love of classical art. Sarah Bond, another Classics scholar dedicated to making the field “diverse,” complained in 2018 about the “virulent racism built into the foundation of the Classics field” and about the “lily white antiquity that persists in the public imagination.” She specifically cited Tenney Frank’s “disturbing”1916 article on “Race Mixture in the Roman Empire.”

Frank’s argument is not only untrue, it is dangerous. It provides further ammunition for white supremacists today, including groups like Identity Europa, who use classical statuary as a symbol of white male superiority. It also continues to buttress the false construction of Western civilization as white by politicians like Steve King.

Sarah Bond recently claimed at a gathering of Classics scholars that Western Civilization is just a “construct.” One Mary Frances Williams responded that Western Civilization should be defended, and reportedly said that one professor in the room was an affirmative-action recipient. The result was a firestorm of racism accusations and more demands for self-criticism.

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Donna Zukerburg, sister of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg, wrote the book Not All White Men: Classics and Misogyny in the Digital Age specifically to deny the “Red Pill community” the use of the classics. “[A]lthough whiteness is not a meaningful concept to apply to antiquity,” she wrote, “that conceptual lacuna has not stopped the Alt-Right from using ancient Greece and Rome to fabricate a cohesive transhistorical ‘white’ identity and a continuity of ‘European’ or ‘Western’ civilization for themselves.” In a favorable interview with Time, she complained the term “Western Civilization” itself was a dog whistle if used by the “Red Pill community.” “I think that Greece and Rome, for them, are really the origin of Western Civilization,” she said. “It becomes a coded phrase when they don’t want to talk about white identity [or] white history, because that brings with it all kinds of baggage.”

While progressives argue that there is no Western Civilization, so-called conservatives say there is such a thing as Western Civilization, but it has only a tenuous connection to whites.

Much of the conservative movement’s argument against Steve King was that “the West” did not belong to whites—the same thing Congressman King was saying, once his “offensive” quotes are understood. Nor was this the first time such arguments were raised in conservative publications.

There’s No Such Thing As White Cultural Heritage. The West’s Legacy Is Open To All,” claims a 2017 article by Nathanael Blake in the “conservative” website The Federalist. “There is no unified ‘white’ culture or heritage except for that of Western civilization, which is not defined by race and which always reaches beyond race,” writes Mr. Blake. He calls dissidents who think otherwise “losers and trolls.” He argues that the “unifying heritage of Europe is religious and philosophical” and much of the West’s greatness “comes from a willingness to look beyond itself, to be open, rather than closed.” In other words, Western Culture is an abstraction, and is “great” because it belongs to everyone.

Similarly, Christian Alejandro Gonzalez recently attacked the “White Male Theory of History” (what he calls WMTH) supposedly promoted by both Left and Right. “[T] he right-wing WMTH posits the following: White men historically have been a boon to the advancement of the human species,” he writes, “and they should be recognized for having done as much.” Of course, they are wrong because “white men” is “an identity category” that is a “recent concoction.” (How quickly the far-left abolition of whites has penetrated National Review!)

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He continues:

For instance, when Congressman Steve King, Stefan Molyneux, and Faith Goldy hide their white-nationalist prejudices by rattling on about the importance of ‘defending Western values,’ they ignore that much of what makes the West great is precisely its efforts, however imperfect, to abandon tribal bigotry and extend legal rights and protections to people who are not white — an achievement that the Steve Kings of the world rarely trumpet, and that if anything probably oppose. The irony of racists’ and sexists’ championing a culture that has sought to emancipate minorities and women is, of course, lost on such people.

Mr. Gonzalez perhaps deliberately refuses to acknowledge that Congressman King was making this very point. Leaving that aside, this passage writes whites out of their own history, suggesting that “Western values” are about doing things for non-whites. The purpose of Western Civilization is presumably to extend “legal rights and protections” to non-whites and “emancipate minorities and women,” from, of course, white males. Thus, “Western Civilization” becomes not a culture created by a certain people or race but a historical movement ending in self-annihilation. For good measure, Mr. Gonzalez puts “the white race” in quotes, thus negating whites’ racial identity.

It’s not surprising that “Western Civilization” is offensive to those who are offended by “white identity.” Defining Western Civilization into nonexistence or defining it in universal terms amount to the same thing. It robs whites of their past, a prelude to robbing them of their future. The classical world shows whites they have a real, positive identity deeply grounded in history. Whites aren’t just a newly invented “social construct.”

Apollo, statue, bronze, Temple of Apollo, Pompeii. The temple is located to the West of the Forum and was built in the 2nd century BC. (Credit Image: © Manuel Cohen/Aurimages via ZUMA Press)

For that reason, if whiteness is to be destroyed, leftists must abolish the idea that whites are the heirs of the classical world. Similarly, just as conservatives won’t admit the link between whites and American identity or whites and American conservatism, so they defend Western Civilization only in terms of its openness to non-whites. Of course, just as America would not exist in any meaningful sense without whites, Western Civilization would not exist without whites.

Western Civilization is white civilization. No one can credibly claim to “defend Western Civilization” without defending the people that created it. “To read about your own culture is a revolutionary act,” said Jonathan Bowden in one of his speeches. In today’s world, there is no greater act of rebellion—for whites—than to defend their own identity. To be a white person is to be heir of a tradition and culture that stretches from the Greco-Roman and Germanic civilizations of the past into the limitless horizons of a potentially glorious future. Yet that future will be ours only if we have the moral courage to defend our right to exist. That battle starts by claiming ownership of our own history.

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