The Problem of Celebrating Western Civilization

Matthew Allen ’21
Contributing Writer

There has been lots of hubbub about the Churchill Institute’s attempt to establish a club on campus. The club, which aims “to encourage, in every way possible, serious teaching, learning and scholarship about Western Civilization and to promote a vigorous discussion of its preservation and future trajectory,” has received backlash for what some call a problematic Eurocentric focus.

The mission of the Churchill Institute, not surprisingly, falls in line with the words of Donald Trump, who delivered a speech in late 2017 catered to the United States and Europe: “We must work together to confront forces, whether they come from inside or out, from the South or the East, that threaten over time to undermine these values and to erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are.” (Trump’s Warsaw speech, I may add, was crafted in part by Stephen Miller, a far-right political activist and one of the masterminds behind the travel ban).  Trump, like many Americans, once again preaches separation and selectivity.

I do agree that the U.S. and Europe have had undeniable historical success, but to restrict our teachings to Western Civilization is also to ignore the perspectives of the Congo, Cuba, Panama, Syria, Libya, Iran, Vietnam, and Iraq (among others), whose experiences of the West have been, to say the least, less than ideal. We are not at all at a point in our history where we should shrink further back into our holes of white privilege and dangerous closed mindedness. Now more than ever, we must open ourselves up to the experiences of the rest of the world.

I took a class last semester with Professor Sergio Pinto-Handler called “Global South.” If there is one thing that I took away from this course, it is that we, as human beings, are all connected in some way. In one class, we talked about an indigenous cacao bean farmer in Panama named Samuel who is exploited by the much larger Fair Trade framework, which is dominated primarily by the West.

For developing countries (and individuals) to be manipulated in this way is nothing new; we have seen it all the way back to the days of colonization. If the West is continued to be seen as superior, then these old colonial relationships are sure to persist. Promoting the teaching and preservation of Western Civilization while also bashing the modern liberal arts education means actively privileging one culture—old white guys from the “West”—and ignoring rich cultural diversity and experiences of people from the rest of the world, such as Samuel. The narrative of history should not be selective in whose tales it chooses to tell; rather, it should incorporate everyone and everything, all described in an interconnected way.

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  1. 1

    aterhune: Just because President Trump agrees with something doesn’t make it wrong. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

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