Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization

Although I am wary of “the next worldview book,” and while this certainly isn’t intended to be a worldview book, it is probably the best worldview book there is.  And probably for that reason it doesn’t even mention worldview once.  It isn’t so much that politically correct views are logically false.  They are.  What makes this book superior is that it stirs the spirit–what earlier English authors meant by refining our sentiments.

Greece

Sophocles: Beware of passing laws that alienate man from his being.

Why did Greece make the jumps it made in logical thought and mathematics?  Esolen argues because Greece’s religious views, while wrong, were an advancement over earlier nature religions.  Nature religion, the old gods, venerated the Earth Mother. This was the tribe.  Blood ruled.  Aeschylus illustrates reason’s victory over nature religion in the Orestia.  

Clytemnestra kills Agammenon.  Orestes face’s the dilemma: as this is a capital offense, he would have to kill his mother.  Yet, killing his mother is one of the supreme crimes.  He does, in fact, kill his mother and is pursued by the Furies.  Athena intervenes and rules in favor of Orestes.  The polis triumphs over the tribe.  Reason, at least in its inchoate form, triumphs over nature religion.

Nine Inconvenient Truths About Greek Homosexuality

Plato and the Philosophers

The explanation of the universe can’t be material, since that, too, must also be explained.

Man has three parts: appetite, spirit, soul/mind.  The worst kind of society is one where the appetite rules.  If we say that we want the mind to rule, we aren’t denigrating the body.  We are putting it in a hierarchy.

Happiness is the enjoyment of the intellect.  Happiness, properly defined, doesn’t exist for the sake of anything else.  A man will say, “If only I had a million dollars, then I would be happy.”  No one says, “If only I were happy, then I could have a million dollars.”

Rome

I’m iffy on Esolen’s praising Rome’s patriarchy.  True, it did ensure a stable order but not without costs.  Further, it gave to the father judicial claims God never intended him to have.  Looking past that, though, and understanding that they were pagans, Rome’s senatorial rule was something to behold, and the young scholar could do far worse than learning Latin and musing on Livy.

Middle Ages

This chapter was actually too good.  It’s dangerous to paint glowing pictures on the Middle Ages, since they also conceal some ugly realities.  Our nihilist times, though, focuses only on those realities.  Our souls need to see the beauty again.  While nothing can replace sanitation, modern dentistry, and clean water, the medievals were superior to us on several fronts: they were never lonely, saw far more nature than even the most green hippie today, and lived lives that weren’t alienated from the natural rhythms of the cosmos (which word, incidentally, we can’t claim today since it presupposes an ordered harmony).

With the Renaissance onward Esolen, himself a Roman Catholic, has to wade the turbulent waters of Roman/Protestant polemics.  He is fair.  Aside from some fascinating insights on Renaissance man (who was as much a magician as a scientist), there isn’t much new here.

If every Christian student read this book in high school, or at least before going to college, he or she would be adequately prepared for any intellectual challenges ahead.  

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