Glenaeon Rudolf Steiner School

Western Civilization Made Us…and so did a few other civilizations as well

Western Civilization has been in the news lately, sparking a lively debate about our heritage and what made us. You may be interested to know that as a Rudolf Steiner school, our Main Lesson curriculum through the latter Class Teacher period is in fact the story of Western Civilization, plus a few others as well that went before. So for us this debate is not about right or left political inclinations, but rather about understanding the human story and letting the facts of history speak for themselves.

Democracy, human rights, and the rule of law all first made their appearance in Europe, or more broadly the West. They are now the world-wide standard against which all countries are measured. These “western” developments had their origins in even earlier civilizations, and for the full story to be told, these earlier epochs also deserve mention.

The “tree” of European languages has its root in one original language, that of Sanskrit, the language of ancient India. Here we start the journey of civilizations in ancient India, followed by Persia (the fertile crescent), and Egypt: each one founded on a way of life that embodied a particular view of the world and universe, and each one a step forward in terms of human consciousness. This is a journey that winds through many civilizations and eventually culminates in the revolutions that shaped the modern world and gave us democracy and human rights.

The phenomena of history shows us a clear and consistent thread after Egypt leading from the ancient Greeks, to the Romans, then a pause as the baton passes to the Arabs via Alexander the Great’s expeditions. The baton returns in the European Middle Ages after the Crusades bring the Greek learning, often in Arabic, to Europe where in the French and English monastries and early universities, the learning flourishes. Then follows the European Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and that series of revolutions that transformed Europe and created new nations such as Australia.

As Australians we can celebrate the heritage that gave us a vibrant democracy and human rights. Our story has its dark and oppressive colonial moments, but institutions of the European Enlightenment such as the law, provided an ethical framework to judge the wrongful acts of individuals.

For example, the Myall Creek massacre of 1838 was an appalling act of murder of innocent aboriginal people. But the seven white men who perpetrated the barbaric act were brought to justice and hung for their crimes. The rule of law recognised the crime against humanity and acted to set it right. This rule of law had evolved over hundreds of years, and today we enjoy the fruits of that evolution.

A complete education such as Glenaeon offers helps students understand this evolution, not just for the sake of knowing how our democracy came to be, but more importantly, so they can be genuine global citizens committed to preserve these rights into the future.

Who we are is the product of many civilizations, and we stand on the shoulders of all who have gone before. The anthropologist Ralph Linton wrote a satiric piece in the 1930’s reminding us that who we are is based on many cultures and civilizations. His 100% American essay could be retitled as 100% Australian and is a useful reminder of how many civilizations work together to create our contemporary way of life.

One Hundred Percent American

By Ralph Linton

Our solid American citizen awakens in a bed built on a pattern which originated in the Near East but which was modified in Northern Europe before it was transmitted to America. He throws back covers made from cotton, domesticated in India, or linen, domesticated in the Near East, or wool from sheep, also domesticated in the Near East.

He slips into his moccasins, invented by the Indians of the Eastern woodlands, and goes to the bathroom, whose fixtures are a mixture of European and American inventions, both of recent date. He takes off his pajamas, a garment invented in India, and washes with soap invented by the ancient Gauls. He then shaves, a masochistic rite which seems to have been derived from either Sumer or ancient Egypt.

Returning to the bedroom, he removes his clothes from a chair of southern European type and proceeds to dress. He puts on garments whose form originally derived from the skin clothing of the nomads of the Asiatic steppes, puts on shoes made from skins tanned by a process invented in ancient Egypt and cut to a pattern derived from the classical civilizations of the Mediterranean, and ties around his neck a strip of bright-colored cloth which is a vestigial survival of the shoulder shawls worn by the seventeenth century Croatians.

Before going out for breakfast he glances through the window, made of glass invented in Egypt, and if it is raining puts on overshoes made of rubber discovered by the Central American Indians and takes an umbrella, invented in southeastern Asia. Upon his head he puts a hat made of felt, a material invented in the Asiatic steppes.

On his way to breakfast he stops to buy a paper, paying for it with coins, an ancient Lydian invention. At the restaurant a whole new series of borrowed elements confronts him. His plate is made of a form of pottery invented in China. His knife is of steel, an alloy first made in southern India, his fork a medieval Italian invention, and his spoon a derivative of a Roman original. He begins with an orange, from the eastern Mediterranean, a canteloupe from Persia, or perhaps a piece of African watermelon. With this he has coffee, an Abyssinian plant, with cream and sugar. Both the domestication of cows and the idea of milking them originated in the Near East, while sugar was first made in India.

After his fruit and first coffee he goes on to waffles, cakes made by a Scandinavian technique from wheat domesticated in Asia Minor. Over these he pours maple syrup, invented by the Indians of Eastern woodlands. As a side dish he may have the egg of a species of bird domesticated in Indo-China, or thin strips of the flesh of an animal domesticated in Eastern Asia which have been salted and smoked by a process developed in Northern Europe.

When our friend has finished eating, he settles back to smoke, an American Indian habit, consuming a plant domesticated in Brazil in either a pipe, derived from the Indians of Virginia, or a cigarette, derived from Mexico. If he is hardy enough he may even attempt a cigar, transmitted to us from the Antilles by way of Spain.

While smoking he reads the news of the day, imprinted in characters invented by the Semites upon a material invented in China by a process invented in Germany. As he absorbs the account of foreign troubles he will, if he is a good conservative citizen, thank a Hebrew deity in a Indo-European language that he is 100 percent (a mathematical concept invented by the ancient Romans) American!
(America named after Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian geographer).

Ralph Linton
From The Study of Man, by Ralph Linton (New York: D. Appleton-Century Co., 1936), pp.326-327.