If the errors committed in the building of the edifice of Western civilization are compared with Plato’s ideal Republic and the perfect State, protected by intelligent but disinterested Guardians and ruled by equally disinterested and totally just Philosopher-kings, then Western civilization loses hands down.(1) But as Aristotle pointed out in his Nicomachean Ethics and Politics, man is subject to errors and thus such ideal utopias created by real men are unworkable and nonexistent.(2) Despite over two millennia of history, no such state has ever been created. The half-baked facsimiles thereof, created by men of means and good intentions, have been only castles in the air, fleeting experiments and utter failures because the well intentioned dreamers did not take man’s individual needs and aspirations — i.e., human nature — into account. Those experiments that lasted, such as the workers’ paradises of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, not to mention Red China under Mao and Cambodia under Pol Pot, were not utopias but exsanguinations, brutalities, veritable hells on earth.
Recently I had a conversation with two friends — let’s call them José and Rolando. They were dispirited by the troubled times in which we live, the economic dislocation, economic inequalities, Islamic extremism and wars, and the overall cultural disequilibrium affecting Western society. One of them, José, had been on a tour of Europe and what he found in his peregrinations upset him: the excesses of Islamic culture were undermining European society and, disturbingly, anti-Semitism was not only raising its head again, but becoming more virulent. Europeans were beginning to cave in and that understandably troubled him. Then the conversation took a different and unexpected course. Another friend, Rolando, agreed with the turn in direction, and the following dialogue ensued:
José: “When we took a brief tour of the city [Prague], it was filled with castles to the point of being sickening. I thought about all those rulers who made the people sacrifice to build these huge buildings and gave nothing to the poor. I see that all over Europe. The Catholic Church can only display 20% of the art it has been given. Why not give it to the churches or sell it so that the poor can benefit from education? People are proud of these monuments. To me, it is revolting. Beautiful, yes, a tribute to the creativity of humankind, yes, but what does it symbolize? Oppression. That message is lost.”
Rolando: “As for the castles and other monuments, it was certainly true of the monarchs who spent most of the nation’s wealth on monuments to themselves and surrounded themselves with castles and mansions and it is certainly true of the Catholics who even outdid the monarchs in some respects — in fact, they imitated the monarchs and still do. The Soviets did likewise — all buildings were enormous as a testament of the grandeur of the Soviet communist system. This is the essence of collectivism both in government and in religion.”
For some time I have felt that Western civilization was under siege by friend and foe alike, and that to survive it needed a concerted defense. Before I began my unexpected apologia of Western culture and civilization, I felt I needed not only to explain myself to my friends but also specifically rebut those assertions. Although there was a bit of truth to their assertions, there was also another side to the story that was no longer taught in our unidirectional public school system distorting history. Today both the educational system and the popular culture engender and propagandize multiculturalism and emphasize the alleged evils of Western culture, and at its center, the much-maligned Catholic Church. And so this apologia unfolded. Unless otherwise stated I was the “champion” of the conservative cause to some and the “apologist” to others, depending on the reader’s political perspective. I hope to re-educate those who have at least kept an open mind, despite the barrage of cultural indoctrination denigrating our Western legacy that we have been subjected to over the last several decades.
First, let me state my friends, José and Rolando, that given my parent’s early enthusiasm for idealistic reform via revolution and to go against the grain of the establishment, my immediate family and I were Presbyterians. My sister and I went to a Presbyterian school in Cuba. Then, of course, after the Revolution, we went to communist schools until we left Cuba.(3) We were not Catholic, never attended mass, or even witnessed any Catholic rites. Nevertheless, over my lifetime study of history, theology, politics, philosophy, etc., I have strongly come to the conclusion Western civilization and its institutions, including the Catholic Church, are worthy and need defending from the present cultural assault launched by academia, the press, and the popular culture. The fact is when the good and the bad are weighed in the historic scale of justice, Western civilization comes out on top, and has been a boon for humanity and a miracle for the course of freedom. Yet it has been systematically maligned for decades. Only its errors are pointed out so that guilt, not well-deserved pride, has been the result. Those who disagree with this assessment should pick up and read the books and material children use in our public schools for their instruction; and no one can argue the overt anti-religion bias (particularly anti-Christianity) in academe and in higher education.(4,5)
As to the popular culture, the anti-religion bias, particular anti-Catholic propaganda, is exhaustive. Ask yourself, when was the last time you saw a Protestant minister, or (even more rare) a Catholic priest depicted as doing a good deed or even being a good Christian?
Yet, while the brilliant popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, may have made good cases in support of the doctrine of Papal Infallibility, the present popularity-seeking Pope Francis I, is a good example that the doctrine not always stands. Yes, we must admit the Catholic Church has committed errors in the past. And yet on the balance sheet of actions, the Catholic Church has done much more good than evil. Those “monuments,” those Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages (such as Notre Dame in Paris) and the Renaissance (such as St. Peters in Rome), those marvels of Western civilization are true monuments and symbols of the Western intellectual tradition. The way they came about is not the way we have been led to believe. Gothic cathedrals were built by professional guilds, the first such specialized trade guilds in the Western world. No slaves or serfs worked in building those cathedrals. Laborers were well paid and if hurt on the job, were taken care of by the guilds, e.g., carpentry, masonry, etc., they belonged to. Guilds even arranged for the funerals of their members and families.
The guilds worked with the churchmen. There was no better employer of skilled workers, artisans, glass cutters, carpenters, brick layers, bakers, not to mention artists, sculptors, even musicians, in the Middle Ages than the Catholic Church. The architects are mostly anonymous on purpose, as not to offend God with their pride. We only know a little bit about a few of them for that reason.
Michelangelo helped with St. Peters in Rome and the successive builders of Notre Dame de Paris, i.e., Abbot Suger to Maurice de Sully, have left us exemplary chronicles detailing the building of this marvel of “a Bible in Stone.”(6) The beautiful stained glass windows were used to instruct the illiterate faithful on the mystery and miracle stories and parables of the New Testament, as well as stories such as Noah and the flood, Moses and the Ten Commandments, and the prophets from the Old Testament. The gargoyles were sentinels to guard off evil, etc. Yes, the people are proud of these monuments and rightly so! They provided solace during worship and rare magnificence and comfort in their trying existence. The Saint days were Catholic feast days, days of rest and good meals to the faithful in otherwise days of sweat, toil, sickness and death. I know you both know all of this, but it is good recalling history for a better appraisal of what really happened as opposed to what is being decreed by the anti-West, anti-clerical, multiculturalist intelligentsia today.
I know how the Jews over the centuries were persecuted, robbed, and used as scapegoats. That was wrong, a horrible blemish on the Catholic and sometimes Protestant churches. But institutions created by man are fallible, subject to learning, reform — or rejection, if societal evolution and improvement over time are not possible. The institutions that survive do so because in the balance of human experience they are found to be beneficial to the cause of humanity. That is the heart and beauty of conservatism that liberals cannot understand. And that is why they want to destroy cherished traditional institutions of Western civilization (without ever rebuilding the utopia of their dreams). Mao is a good example. He wanted to destroy all Chinese traditional institutions, end Confucianism, Buddhism, etc. and nearly succeeded, exterminating 40 to 60 million Chinese people and bringing untold misery for over half a century!(7)
And returning to those castles and manorial monuments… they were built by feudal levy, maybe unjustly, maybe not, depending on circumstances and point of view (of the peasants who built them). Life in the Middle Ages was cheap, brutal and short. Kings and knights errant required hospitality; armed bandits terrorized the population. Ruffians and cutthroats abounded. Wars were commonplace. Captured peasants and villagers in the countryside were robbed of their crops, wares and livelihood; sometimes killed; their wives, sons, daughters taken; and arguably those who were captured alive were more fortunately turned into slaves, later serfs.
Slavery was commonplace in ancient times. The Catholic Church, incidentally ended slavery of Christian and Jews in most of Europe during these centuries and built the first colleges and universities, as well as alm houses and later hospitals in the Medieval period (latter part of the Middle Ages). The legacy of learning and the classics of ancient Greece and Rome as well as the rudiments of the medical and surgical professions were preserved in parchments and in actual service in the convents and monasteries of Europe in the Dark Ages until rediscovered in the late Medieval period and the Renaissance. Muslims could be and were made slaves because they enslaved Christians, infidels captured at sea, in land raids, or in wars — wars of Islamic conquests centuries before (and later during) the Crusades.
Rolando: “As for the Crusades, it is true that the Western world was in grave danger from Islam and the Crusades did save much of the West from this destruction, but it was also the origin of the Knights Templar, who were disciples of Satan, not God.”
The Knight Templar Order was renowned for its wealth and one of the two most sanguinary monarchs in West European history, the envious Philip IV of France (1268-1314), called Philip the Fair, coveted their riches. Most of their purported confessions, Rolando, were calumnies obtained by the cruelest torture, which ended only with being burnt at the stake. The pro-French Pope, Clement V, of the Babylonian Captivity Schism, knew all this and went along because of cowardice and the proverbial political expediency, just as with Benedict XIV and the Jesuits.
Coveting the wealth of others (i.e., the Catholic Church; as well as obtaining the benefit of not one but several divorces) was also the royal reward of Henry VIII and his split and seizure of the goods of the Catholic Church in England during the Reformation.(8) If regicide was ever warranted and justified, it was so with Philip the Fair and Henry VIII, but not with Louis XVI or Tsar Nicholas II! It seems at certain times in history, evil triumphs over the virtues of goodness, justice, and truth, which both Plato and Aristotle thought were so essential.
Rolando: “As for the conspiratorial Jesuits I would refer you to the book by Catholic priest Malichi Martin on the subject — as a Jesuit and major scholar of the Catholic church he knows better than any. A number of other books have been written on the Jesuit complicity.”
The Jesuits were not evil, Rolando, and particularly not so because wicked organizations later imitated their organizational principles. This is a non-sequitur. True, some of their organizational principles were imitated by malevolent groups, such as the Illuminati, but that was because they were efficient. In fact, these principles were also more widely imitated and duplicated by the best administrative and educational systems throughout the world!
Incidentally, the cruelty of the Spanish Inquisition was bad enough and consistent with other evils men have exacted upon one another in history, but the cruelty in the case of the Spanish (Catholic) Inquisition has been greatly misrepresented and magnified by Protestant (anti-Catholic and anti-Spanish) propagandists during the 16th and 17th centuries, as you know, in the intellectual fraud duly referred as the Black Legend by more objective scholars.(8) How many know the name of the Roman senator turned monk Cassiodorus, who did so much to preserve learning and the Graeco-Roman classics during the Dark Ages? And yet, who has not heard the name of the Inquisitor General, the Dominican monk Tomás de Torquemada? I have also written about the Muslim conquests of the 7th and 8th centuries, as well as the Crusades and the Reformation elsewhere.(8,9)(11)
In any event, once again, returning to the castles, they were built by feudal levy of peasants and vassals, who owed fealty to the lord of the castle (who himself was vassal to the king) for defense against Saracen or Viking raids or wars.(10) It afforded protection to all, whether lords, vassals, serfs, and all those same peasants or villagers, levied for several weeks out of the year in service to the feudal lord in exchange for protection. It was a system that served both lords and vassals well until national governments came into being, centuries after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire and the barbarism that followed.
José: “One problem is that intelligent people are too busy to learn outside their fields, and today most people do not read and go by what they hear from others or from the popular media. How are they to know the truth, not only in the free democracies but also in enslaved countries?”
Socialists and communists have spent a lot of time indoctrinating the youth about the “exploitation of man by man,” and attributing various sins to capitalism. The Church was accused of providing the soporific that sedated the masses and inured them to capitalist tyranny.(11) And yes, history is replete with examples of man doing terrible things to his fellowmen and there is still much of that. But dependence on the welfare state and socialism, in my opinion, are today a bigger threat to civilization. And yet, those who claim to be the defenders of the poor and the exploited, when they attain power — i.e., collectivists of all stripes, communists, as well as socialists and fascists — become the worst and most oppressive villains.
In the present day, José, we also need to stop romanticizing the poor and the downtrodden. Yes there are the unfortunate poor, people who have become impoverished by lack of opportunity (such as in India, Bangladesh, and Haiti) or who had been subjugated to poverty by their own socialist governments. But there are also many “poor” by choice and inclination, encouraged to remain in that state of dependency on government policy and politics. In this country of opportunity, most people who really want to succeed usually succeed with hard work and a little intellect. When incited by demagogues and the politics of envy, the poor can turn into an envious, riotous, robbing, even violent, murdering mob, as we have witnessed in our own time.(12)
And the mobs of history may have been worse. One only has to recount the pogroms against the Jews in Poland, Russia, and elsewhere; recollect the savagery of the French Revolution; the mobs assailing Catholics in not so Jolly Ol’ England; and let’s not forget the massacring of Irish Catholics under Oliver Cromwell, the burning at the stake of Swiss Catholics under John Calvin in Geneva, the exterminated Catholics under the Scottish Kirk; or the unruly mobs of Christians massacring other Christians of different denominations in the Byzantine Empire and elsewhere over the centuries.
Let’s take care of our neighbors and the truly needy with philanthropy for the one and charity for the other. Truly, man has been unjust to his fellow man, and mobs have been particularly savage. Organized mobs of recent history in such dictatorships as the National Socialists (Nazi storm troopers), Chinese communists (the Red Guards of the Cultural Revolution), and other evil governments (denouncing assemblies in the USSR, revolutionary mobs in Cuba carrying out repressive “Acts of Repudiation,” and their counterpart in Marxist Nicaragua in the 1980s, the turbas divina, “divine mobs”) have been the worst. Whether led by popular demagogues, tyrannies, or the passions of the moment; spontaneously enraged masses, or worse, manipulated mobs of the proletariat, can be brutal and bloodthirsty, and do not need to be glorified as in totalitarian propaganda, or unduly romanticized as in Western fairy tales.
As I wrote elsewhere, “faith and religion provide an invisible support to the moral code, encourage discipline, and promote civility. Its influence on moral conduct and overt behavior is certain. Without the prop of religion and our churches, crime would certainly increase, and then the state would have the usual reason or excuse, or even pretext, to step in, to pass more laws against the law-abiding citizens, and to suppress more liberties, all in the name of combating lawlessness and crime. I find Judeo-Christian ethics and teachings beneficial to the survival of Western civilization and a just bulwark against anarchy on the one hand and the rise of socialism and tyranny on the other.”(13)
In short, there is a malevolent and concerted trend towards attacking Western civilization and dismantling Judeo-Christian ethics in general and the Catholic institutions in particular because, along with the family, they are seen as a bulwark against statism that must be removed to accomplish the objectives that authoritarian collectivists desire. These collectivists include social democrats who prefer Marx and Lenin and chant to the tune of Omar Khayyan’s famous lines, taken as the motto of the Fabian Socialists:
“Dear love, couldst thou and I with fate conspire
To grasp this sorry scheme of things entire,
Would we not shatter it to bits,
And then remold it nearer to the heart’s desire!”
These collectivist “remolders” of society, my friends, José and Rolando, must be opposed because, as we have seen from history, their dreams of creating utopias in the air have a nasty penchant to turn into nightmarish realities with ghastly brutality here on earth.
1. Plato. Five Great Dialogues — Republic, Books I-X. Walter J. Black, Roslyn, N.Y., p. 217-497
2. Aristotle. On Man in the Universe — Nicomachean Ethics and Politics. Walter J. Black, Roslyn, N.Y., p. 84-441
3. Faria MA. Cuba in Revolution: Escape From a Lost Paradise (2002). Hacienda Publishing, Macon, GA., p. 1-159
4. Faria MA. Liberal Orthodoxy and the Squelching of Political or Scientific Dissent. GOPUSA.com, August 19, 2013. Available from: https://haciendapublishing.com/liberal-orthodoxy-and-the-squelching-of-political-or-scientific-dissent-by-miguel-a-faria-md/
5. Blaylock RL. Managed Truth: The Great Danger to Our Republic. Medical Sentinel 1998;3(6):92-93.
6. Notre Dame de Paris. The Wonders of Man, Newsweek Book Division, New York, NY, 1971.
7. Faria MA. Mao Tse-tung — The Unknown Story of How the Chairman led China to Communist Hell. HaciendaPublishing.com, April 14, 2013. Available from: https://haciendapublishing.com/mao-tse-tung-the-unknown-story-of-how-the-chairman-led-china-to-communist-hell/
8. Faria MA. Martin Luther, the Sale of Indulgences, and the Reformation. HaciendaPublishing.com, November 21, 2011. Available from: https://haciendapublishing.com/martin-luther-the-sale-of-indulgences-and-the-reformation/
9. Faria MA. On the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades. HaciendaPublishing.com, September 12, 2011. Available from: https://haciendapublishing.com/on-the-spanish-inquisition-and-the-crusades/
10. Faria MA. Religion as the Opiate of the People? HaciendaPublishing.com, September 7, 2011. Available from: https://haciendapublishing.com/religion-as-the-opiate-of-the-people-by-miguel-a-faria-md/
11. Faria MA. A Relevant and Brief History of Islam. HaciendaPublishing.com, February 18, 2012. Available from: https://haciendapublishing.com/a-relevant-and-brief-history-of-islam/
12. Faria MA. Let’s not make any more excuses. Macon Telegraph, September 18, 2014.
13. Faria MA. Separation of Church and State — Worshipping at the Government Altar of Civic Religion. Macon Telegraph, April 22, 2012. Available from: https://haciendapublishing.com/separation-of-church-and-state-worshipping-at-the-altar-of-secular-civic-religion-by-miguel-a-faria-md/
Written by Dr. Miguel Faria
Miguel A. Faria Jr., M.D. is Associate Editor in Chief and World Affairs Editor of Surgical Neurology International. He is a former Clinical Professor of Neurosurgery and Adjunct Professor of Medical History. Dr. Faria is the author of Cuba in Revolution: Escape From a Lost Paradise (2002). He has written numerous articles on the blessings of liberty and the venalities of totalitarianism, collectivism, and communism — all posted at his website: https://HaciendaPublishing.com
This article is exclusive to HaciendaPublishing.com The photographs used to illustrate this commentary came from a variety of sources and were included for the enjoyment of readers at HaciendaPublishing.com.
This article can be cited as: Faria MA. A defense of Western culture and civilization without apologies. HaciendaPublishing.com, November 16, 2014. Available from: https://haciendapublishing.com/a-defense-of-western-culture-and-civilization-without-apologies-by-miguel-a-faria-md
Copyright ©2014-2017 Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D.