Main themes in Western cultural history
An historical overview of how this played out over the centuries
A flow-chart of Western cultural history
A timeline of major events in ancient Western history (3000 - 500 BC)
A timeline of major events in Western history (500 BC - 1900 AD)
The student syllabus
The world map test


The "Self-Evident" Order

Western culture is basically an optimistic culture. Things happen, things have the capacity to operate or perform, in a way that fits a particular and somewhat predictable pattern.  This pattern can be studied and understood by the careful observer in such a way that events can not only be anticipated but even be directed or controlled by the educated individual (the philosopher or scientist).  This cultural understanding or appreciation of nature seems totally self-evident to any Westerner.

But in fact it is not so self-evident to everyone. For instance, the basic orderliness of life is not so self-evident to many Hindus and Buddhists.

For most Hindus, karma – not basic order – is at the heart of life. To the Hindu way of thinking, we do not inhabit a world which operates in an orderly fashion in accordance with some kind of benign transcendent will or all-encompassing set of natural laws. Rather, life is a complex array of individual lives that come together as a larger whole through the mysterious outworking of the consequences (karma) of personal deeds committed in our previous life-times. We all as individuals live out our separate but interconnected lives in order to atone for the deeds of earlier life-times. Until karma is fully satisfied, we as individuals are destined to go on living, dying and being reborn in an endless cycle, with no hope of escaping the iron grip of karma. To a Hindu, this is the ultimate reality of life – a reality before which all other judgments about life must bow.

For Buddhists, whose faith grew up within this basic Hindu world-view, life is itself merely an illusion. When we try to make it real and work for us, life only produces suffering – life-time after life-time. Wisdom demands that we find release (nirvana) from this endless cycle. This is achieved only by become aware of the illusory quality of life – and stilling our passions for the life of illusions. When we achieve such emotional detachment then we have broken the hold of suffering and the eternal sentence of rebirths. We have achieved nirvana.

So, indeed, the Western sense of the basic order to life is a very special cultural achievement. It comes naturally to us only because it is all-pervasive within our culture. It inhabits our thoughts about all matters. It drives us to try to solve life's problems – to look for solutions to everything, rather than to throw up our hands in resignation. It has made us "progressive" and ever-reforming. It has made us devoted; it has made us scientific. It has made us "Western."

The Two Opposing Viewpoints as to the Source of This Orderliness:
Mysticism and Materialism

However behind this widespread acknowledgment within Western culture as to basic order underlying our universe there persists a long-standing debate as to what the source of this orderliness might be. There are two distinct viewpoints as to the source of this orderliness – and thus two viewpoints on what our human response to this orderliness ought to be:

Mysticism.  One viewpoint is that we live entirely under the rule of an all-present, all-powerful and all-knowing Grand Consciousness, some kind of Eternal Force or Being ... in other words, a supreme "God" on whose plans and judgments all things on earth as well as in the heavens above depend for their orderly movement and on-going existence.  All life is thus seen as a vital flow of the power of God, a flow which holds all things together in a harmony of beauty and goodness.  But most strangely, man is the only known creature in the program endowed with not only knowledge of this power but also a totally free will and thus the ability either to cooperate or not cooperate with this power.

The mystic tends to the understanding that man’s natural or instinctive tendency however is to want to control rather than cooperate with the larger world.  This creates huge problems for man.  But under the guidance of society’s elders, man has the ability to learn how to overcome this self-centered or sinful tendency and thus live to the larger good.  But this requires the disciplining hand of an enlightened society guided by inspiring teachers, prophets, or leaders who exemplify this life of harmony.

In short, to the mystic, the goal of life tends to be one in which a person seeks harmonization with life ... through the quest for full cooperation with God, with the physical world God has created and sustains,
and with fellow man.

Materialism.  The other viewpoint looks in equally reverent awe at life as a perfect mechanical order of a universe of material things (including humans) functioning precisely according to natural design.  Reality is simply the universe of "things" that our five human senses (touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste) know through personal experience to truly exist.  There is no other reality ... especially a reality that exists nowhere in the physical world but merely in our imaginations, and in particular in the imaginary world of God and God’s heavenly kingdom. 

To the materialist, "Truth" can more than adequately be proven through mere observation and study of the world around us.  Clearly, God cannot be proven in this manner.  Indeed, the materialist is quite certain that God does not exist – except to weak minds that cling to the notion of God as some kind of false hope of escape from the hard realities of life.

The materialist believes that the realities of life are properly dealt with only by the careful study of the behavior of material things, the observance of their behavior until a natural pattern begins to reveal itself, ultimately the drawing from such observations of certain conclusions as to the causes of their behavior, causes that can then be tested and verified experimentally.  Employing such a mechanistic methodology, life and its causes can be brought step by step under the mastery of human knowledge or "science."

The materialist is well aware of the flaws surrounding human life but see this not as a problem inherent in human nature itself but in the structure of society, a flawed structure that has resulted from generations of unenlightened superstitions and inherited social bad habits.  These flawed social influences can be reformed or cleansed from human life by enlightened social policy, policy conducted by social managers possessing the "scientific" knowledge of social dynamics.  Thus life necessitates the scientific control and direction of society by such managers until society is fully reformed.

In short, to the materialist, the goal of life tends to be one in which a person seeks dominance over life ... through the mechanical (scientific/legal) management or control of both man and his material environment.


How long has this dualism within Western culture been around?  Actually, in reviewing the very ancient Jewish Scriptures (the Jewish Bible), we can see that this dualism has been around since the "beginning" of the Jews' own narrative, a narrative which reaches back in time before time itself was even counted with any accuracy.  This dualism indeed constitutes the key dynamic in the very opening episode of those Scriptures, with the story of the primal couple, Adam and Eve, and the matter of having to choose between two options in moving their life forward.  Were they going to continue to build their lives on a vital faith in the mystical powers of God himself?  Or would they choose to "eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of  Good and Evil," which the Satanic tempter, in the form of the Serpent, assured them that by doing so they would take on such knowledge that they themselves would become like God, possessing importantly the power to design their own lives, according to their own personal plans?  They chose the latter option.  And most tragically, the story did not end well.

So, this matter has been at the heart of Western society's own story, from its very beginning – in fact a story which reaches back countless centuries (thousands of years most probably) even before the coming of Christ in the Year One, AD,  the beginning of today's Christian or Western calendar.

The origins and early development of this debate

Indeed, this debate within the West seems to have reached a point of clarity about 500 BC (some kind of "Axial Age") on a number of fronts.

Gods and heroes as the early providers of order.
  Previous to that time, life was understood in polytheistic terms:  life was primarily the result of a number of contending gods who laid claim to particular powers or particular areas of jurisdiction.  These gods tended to be whimsical, violently passionate, and at times even lined up against each other in fierce competition.   But life was also filled with heroes, men and women who faced the gods, faced overwhelming struggles – and yet survived, even rising victorious in the struggle.  Life therefore was viewed as some kind of dynamic between the gods of heaven and the mortal heroes of the earth – a dynamic that ultimately did produce some kind of sense of order to life.

The Jewish vision (500s BC).  The Ancient Jews, who form one key branch in the Western family tree, saw life in terms of personal and collective righteousness which their God YHWH ("Yahweh" or "Jehovah"?) demanded of them.  They had their heroes (Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, David, etc.) and the stories or epics surrounding them.  But they also had their God-given system of law.  And together – God, heroes, and the law – these produced a strong sense of order in Jewish life.

When the Jews were led off to captivity in Babylon in the early 500s BC they had a serious question facing them.  Who or what had failed them?  Had their tribal protector Yahweh failed them in competition with the Babylonian god Marduke?  Was Marduke greater than Yahweh?  Or had Yahweh simply abandoned them because they had failed miserably in maintaining the standards of righteousness required of them by Yahweh (it had also been centuries since they had produced any heroes of significant stature to lead them in the paths of righteousness; prophets had also warned them that their lack of righteousness was going to draw Yahweh’s wrath)?   Or was it that Yahweh was the God of all nations, that even the Babylonians were part of his ruling hand – and that God had sent the Babylonians to discipline the Jewish remnant of God's own covenant people Israel (as Isaiah had previously stated and as Jeremiah reiterated – much to the discomfort of the  Jews)?

In the end the Jews came to see the situation posed in the last-mentioned terms:  Yahweh was the only God, the Creator of the universe, the Judge of all. There was no Marduke.  But there was plenty of Divine judgment to be faced.  Yahweh had used the Babylonians to punish the Jews for their failure to maintain righteousness.  And with that the Jews turned urgently to studying and practicing the law.

But they also laid in waiting for a new hero, a Messiah, to come to them, one who as the heroes of old (particularly David) would lead them personally to a greatness under Yahweh – a greatness that would bring the world to worship God at Zion (Jerusalem).  They would then be reconstituted as an entire priestly people, serving the world as God’s holy priesthood.

The Greek Debate.  At about the same time (500 BC) a number of Greek philosophers were beginning to look past their own older vision of the universe – a world directed by gods and heroes – to consider a basic or "natural" order that seemed to underpin all things.  As life settled down and prosperity increased, this natural "order" of things became more and more obvious – at least to some of the thinkers or "philosophers" of Greek Ionia. But as these philosophers contemplated this natural order they arrived at two distinctly differing conclusions as to how this order worked.  And this division of opinion on this matter helped produce in part the philosophical dualism that still exists within the West today.

One group – Thales, Anaxagoras and Democritus, and others – claimed that this order was inherent within all physical life itself.  Creation was a complex system of various materials (such as earth, wind, fire and water) which interacted with each other in rather fixed ways to produce the world that we find around us.  These "materialists" were the ones who laid the foundations for the secular viewpoint within Western civilization.

But another group – founded principally by Pythagoras (but promoted principally by Plato 150 years later) – asserted that the source of this order was to be found beyond the rather disorderly visible world itself: in some eternal, perfect, heavenly realm which inspires or directs the more unstable or imperfect visible world that we see around us.  This higher world is the mainspring of the oneness, of the order, of all things.  Ultimately this kind of thinking helped pave the way for the spread of theism through Western civilization.

However in another less happy way, the Greeks ultimately went down a tragic path intellectually and temperamentally, a path that leads to a spiritual sickness – a sickness that afflicts societies jaded by too much wealth and power and too little moral restraint to use that wealth and power humanely. They too had a sense of failed righteousness – though they had no particular remedy to the situation except to become existentially cynical. At best this produced a movement called Stoicism – which belied Western optimism and took on qualities of Eastern quietism (such as Buddhism). But coupled with the Christianity which would come along later, this would hold Western culture together during some very long Dark Ages ahead of them.

The Romans.  The Romans, who took over the Western program from the Greeks about a century before Christ, were an odd combination of traditional polytheists and skilled materialists.  Their minds did not fuss much with higher thought such as the Jews and Greeks engaged in.  For the longest time they were content to stay with the older gods and do their most inventive thinking in the material world around them.  Here they proved themselves to be geniuses.  They themselves produced earthly order: in their military, in their government, in their commerce, in their industry, in their public works.  In short, the Romans themselves bore outstanding witness to the power of the materialist-mechanist or secularist point of view about life.

The Christians.  As the Romans headed off strongly in the secularist direction, the Christians – as inheritors of the Jewish vision of life – headed off strongly in the theistic direction.  Their view was that Jesus was indeed the long-awaited Jewish Messiah – though more along the lines of a prophet like Moses than of a soldier like David. 

In his own life and death, Jesus opened the way for those who chose by deep faith to rely on a very personal God – whom Jesus termed as Abba (Father) – as opposed to relying on their own human reason and in the workings of the materialist-mechanist or secular social systems that human reason seeks to build.
This put the early Christians at distinct odds with everything that the Roman Empire stood for, especially at odds with the notion that the Empire – and its semi divine emperors at its head – ought to be the object of veneration of every member of the Empire.  Christians refused to offer sacrifices to the emperors, claiming that such a privilege belonged to God alone – and suffered harsh persecution for their stand. 

This also put them at odds with their own Jewish community, not merely because Jesus was not the kind of Messiah that they had been led to expect but because Jesus taught a Godly righteousness drawn not from the faithful observance of the Jewish law but instead from the heart, from personal compassion towards others, and from an total devotion to God as personal "Father" (a matter of great blasphemy to the Jews)

The synthesis: Imperial Christianity.  After almost three centuries of persecuted existence, in which Christians showed themselves (witnesses or "martyrs') to their persecutors as the heroes long lacking in Roman life, an increasingly spreading Christian faith was finally (early 300s AD) taken up by the Roman emperors themselves.   Within a few generations it even became the official religion of the Roman empire.

However, both the faith and the Empire were significantly changed in the process of Christianity becoming thus officially "Romanized."  Christianity joined Roman law to become the moral ethical underpinning of the Empire.  Jesus Christ was moved up alongside the emperors in status to become Christus Rex (Christ the King), friend and supporter of the emperors – and at this point a lofty figure quite removed from the common Christian. The latter now looked to the Virgin Mary and the saints for more intimate or personal spiritual support.

In turn, the empire saw itself as defender of the Christian faith through its formal offices – including the military.  Out of this new amalgam arose the firmly established Roman Catholic Church in the western half of the empire and the equally firmly established Orthodox Church in the eastern or Byzantine half of the empire. 

In short, while the Roman Empire took on certain theistic dimensions, the Christian faith gave up some of its pure theism in favor of a politically stronger, more secular religious position.*

*"More secular religious position" may sound like a contradiction in terms, because in today's world, secularism is treated as simply "scientific fact" – not "religion."  Actually, secularism is no less a religion than any other "worldview" or system of belief that instructs people about why life exists as it does ... and what the people are to do to make the most of such a life.

Into the "Dark" or Middle Ages

But the synthesis of Roman Empire and Christian faith did not shore up the sagging Roman system, which finally crumbled – at least in the West – under the pressure of German tribes who were pressing for resettlement within the Roman lands.  Though the Germans only wanted to possess the Roman order, not destroy it, their tribal touch only collapsed what little was left of the old imperial system.

However, two developments within Christianity helped keep the Christian faith intact in the West even as the empire collapsed there.  One of these was the belated conversion of the Irish to Christianity.  These Irish converts in turn infused the faith with new vigor and sent missionaries from the outer islands of Ireland and Britain into the midst of the German settlements, both in England and on the Western European continent.  Their brand of faith was of the very theistic variety: personal and Christ-centered.

The other development as Rome was collapsing was the influx into the ranks of the church of good Roman patrician blood, which gave the Catholic church power to stave off the collapse, at least with respect to the church.  Notable were the Roman popes Leo and Gregory – who rebuilt the powers of the religious hierarchy centered on Rome.  From Rome then went forth Catholic missionaries, drawing the Germans into the last vestiges of the old Roman imperium:  the Roman Catholic Church.  France, under Clovis, adopted in whole the Roman version of the faith.  England, facing two versions of Christianity, finally decided to follow the Roman rather than the Irish variety.  Thus a tendency of Christianity toward political or secular order rather than a personally theistic spirit won out in the end.  But even then, it was a feeble version – invested with huge doses of pagan superstition and subject to the political whims of its German rulers.

In its weakened political condition Western Europe in the 700s found itself vulnerable to new intruders: the Muslims who had also just overrun most of the Roman Empire in the Byzantine East ... although in a way they revitalized – even as they transformed – the Empire into a Muslim order, rather than collapse the Empire as the Germans had done in the West. 

But very significantly, the Franks under Charles Martel not only turned back this Muslim tide when it tried to enter deeply into Western Christian territory, but his grandson, Charlemagne, even began the consolidation of Christian Western Europe under his personal rule through what is today France, Germany and Italy (Spain, however, was lost to Muslim domination for centuries).

Charlemagne was crowned Emperor in Rome in 800, and one might have believed that somehow the ancient Roman Christian Empire had come back to life in the West.  But it was German and not Roman ways that directed Charlemagne's Empire – and in accordance with German custom, Charlemagne's lands were divided equally among his grandsons – and the impetus toward reorganization was lost.

Soon the Vikings or "Northmen" were taking up from the Germans in assaulting Western and Northern Europe – except that their hand was even more violent.  This spun these regions of Europe back into two more centuries of "Dark Ages."  But here and there these Northmen (or Normans) settled into conquered Europe and were eventually drawn into the Christian order – giving it new blood, of the military variety.  By 1100 their military talents were being put to use in a counter assault against Islam, carrying Christian "crusaders" all the way to Syria, Palestine and Egypt.  This marks the beginning of the period of revival of Western culture, one which has continued down to the present day.

Growing East-West contacts.  Though in the end the crusades proved to be a military failure (the Muslims pushed the Crusaders back out of the East during the 1200s) the Muslims indicated a willingness to replace Western efforts at conquest of the Muslim East with Western efforts at trade instead – and pilgrimage – as long as the Western Christians were willing to behave themselves!  So a new relationship was established between the Christian West and the Muslim East, one which proved to be a major benefit to the West.

The Muslim East had carefully preserved the ancient writings of the Greeks that the Western Christians had previously destroyed because they were pre-Christian and thus "pagan."  Aristotle and Plato had been known to the West; but now also other ancient Greek philosophers, mathematicians, and scientists came to light – as well as the Muslims' own contribution to learning (such as their Arabic numerals, their advanced methods of mathematical calculations known as al-jabr or algebra.)

The High Middle Ages.  A period of peace began to settle in within the West itself during this time – which allowed the West to come into its own revival in Christian learning.  Actually, this had begun even as early as the late 1000s but reached a highly sophisticated level of during the 1200s.  This new learning produced on the one hand a rich spirituality or "Mysticism" (led in part by the Franciscans) and on the other hand a deep revival of intellectual order known as "Scholasticism" (led in part by the Dominicans).  The first of these emphasized a deep personal relationship with a loving God (theism) and the other tended to emphasize the benefits of a close examination of God's created order (the secularist instinct).  The old dualism thus showed its on-going hold on the Western mind even after centuries of dormancy.

By the 1300s this stirring intellectual curiosity had begun to shift its total focus away from God and was casting it more and more on human life – even just ordinary human life.  So also was a deepening interest in the cultural offerings of the pre-Christian pagan Roman past.  Things Roman (and not just Roman Christian) and Greek were beginning to fascinate the West – particularly the Roman and Greek achievements in art, architecture and literature (both poetry and prose).  Secular humanism was stirring.

The Renaissance.  In the West, attitudes of the Christian church toward these new secularist developments were favorable, with the church even being a major patron of this revived spirit of secular humanism (even elements of paganism).

Also, the Western church had never been adverse to holding political power – and soon it began to demonstrate that it was not adverse to holding big portions of economic power or wealth either.  By the 1400s popes and bishops vied with newly rising industrialists, merchants, bankers – plus a new breed of national princes and kings – in gathering up the fruits of a fast-unfolding secular order of power, wealth, art – and moral abandon.

The Protestant Reformation

Luther's Protestant "Reformation."  By the early 1500s this spirit growing up the Roman Catholic Church was about to find itself in opposition to two major social groups.  One was the piety of the traditional rural order which was growing increasingly offended at the secularism or materialism of their holy church.  Theistic reformers such as Luther and Simmons demanded that reforms be undertaken within the secular church to restore it to the theistic purity of the early church as founded by Jesus and the Apostles.

The Calvinists.  Another theistic social group, which found its voice in Calvin, was the fast-rising urban society which had no place in the old rural feudal order – and which saw itself as better able than the feudal order to realize the ideal community life of early Christianity.  This latter group, though pious in its theistic affections for God, happened also to command considerable intellectual and material or secular resources which could not be easily coopted back into the feudal Catholic Church – nor easily subdued by the power of the fast-rising national princes of Spain, France and England.
By the 1600s Europe was plunged into bitter war on a number of fronts – as all of these old and new forces vied for mastery of the European culture and soul.

The Path to the European Enlightenment

By the late 1600s two things were happening which would shift European culture away from the theistic agenda of the Reformation: the first was the sheer exhaustion from all the warring over the theological differences between Catholics and Protestants – over the issue of which religious group held the Truth.  The feeling began to grow up among Westerners that the Truth would never be found through bloodshed.  Toleration of differing religious opinions seemed to be more high-minded than all this sectarian squabbling.

The second thing was the rapid expansion of science (termed at the time "natural philosophy") and its seeming ability to explain all manner of natural events, whether in physics, chemistry or human anatomy.  Science had already in the 1500s started to challenge traditional theism in the West over the issue of whether the earth was or was not the center of the universe.  All theological tradition said that it had to be – for Scripture clearly places the earth as the center point of God's creation.  But astronomers such as Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler offered powerful mathematical theories that undermined the church's traditional position.  As the 1600s progressed, natural philosophers such as Descartes, Newton and Locke began to speculate and design theories about a physical reality which seemed to function quite apart from the issue of God.  This new science began to put the pieces together of a great mathematical puzzle which needed no particular involvement of God to make it all work.  At best God could be congratulated for having set the whole mechanism in motion – long, long ago.  But now that it was up and running, it no longer gave evidence of further involvement of God in the process.  The universe seemed to run simply under its own fixed or eternal physical or "natural" laws.

Theism and Secularism Turn on Each Other

By the early 1700s, secularism seemed to be elbowing theism aside in the West.  Those who continued to hold theistic views of the universe were looked upon by the newly "enlightened" thinkers of the day as being either deeply self-deluded or just simple-minded.  Universities once largely given to preparing ministers for their pastoral calls were now shifting the focus of their studies to the exploration of the secular world and the truths of "natural philosophy" (science) which undergirded a growing sense of a natural or secular order standing behind everything.

The ultimate victory for secularism over theism finally began to register itself in terms a shift in the sense of the nature and purpose of Western societies and governments.  Whereas the old Catholic feudal order and the newer Protestant commonwealths had justified their existence in terms of God's own will and pleasure, by the late 1700s political communities were being refashioned around purely secular principles in which man – not God – was the justifier of the enterprise.  Communities were being actively rebuilt or founded according to "rational" principles of governance – principles designed to enhance human stature, not the stature of God (notice that the American Constitution, written in 1787, does not contain a single reference to God in any manner whatsoever).

The Protestant "Great Awakening."  But theism was by no means dead.  Protestant pietism on the European continent and a spirit of Protestant revivalism in England and America (known in America as the "Great Awakening') stirred the theistic passions of many Westerners just prior to the mid-1700s.  Though within a generation this passion had once again subsided, it left in its wake nonetheless a strengthened church and a resolve among Christians not to let the fires of their faith flicker out.

Unitarianism/Deism.  Not all Protestant Christians had approved of these emotional outpourings – especially those of a more "reasoned" faith.  Unitarianism / Deism was very strong in the "colder" part of Christendom.  Unitarianism and Deism stood halfway between pure secularism and theism – acknowledging God as the source of the blessings of creation and Jesus as the master moral teacher of mankind.  But this viewpoint also tended to see Christianity as a moral responsibility rather than as a personal spiritual passion.  It dismissed much of the fervency of those swept up by revivalism and looked with disbelief and disdain on all the tales of miraculous events as key to the faith – either at that time or even previously, in Biblical times.  Unitarianism and Deism ultimately believed in a practical reality facing the Christian which was best approached through reason and science.  It was well on its way toward pure Secularism.

The French Revolution.  In Catholic France – and then elsewhere on the European Continent – the French Revolution and its political descendant, the Napoleonic Empire (late 1700s - early 1800s), took a more militant attitude toward theistic Christianity, blaming such "superstition" for having undergirded centuries of political tyranny in Europe.  French militants spread the accusation that Christian piety had dulled the spirits of the people in the face of feudal tyranny, by keeping them willingly submitted before traditional political authority because of the belief that this Old Regime had been ordained by God.  Christianity was also accused of weakening the people's resolve to improve their lot in this life through political revolution and the rule of human reason by deflecting their hope instead toward an afterlife – something Enlightenment philosophers viewed as dangerously superstitious escapism.

Reaction.  Ultimately such French Secularism destroyed its own moral credentials through the blood bath produced by the Paris guillotine – as French intellectuals, after having slaughtered the former ruling class, turned on each other in their quest to "rebuild" France around amore "rational" order, an order they seemed to be unable to agree on.  Indeed, their use of "reason" merely deepened their mutual opposition.  Soon they took to slaughtering each other.  This was a very ugly display of intellectual arrogance, and social blindness.
Then, the cultural imperialism undertaken by Napoleon in the early 1800s – in order to refocus French militancy away from France itself and outward, toward France's neighbors – ultimately stirred up anti-French nationalism around Europe.  This reaction to French haughtiness in fact also induced much of Europe to cling even more closely to its traditional Christian Order.  Thus, after the defeat of the French in 1815, Europe returned to the safety of older theistic views on life.  This coincided in America with wave after wave of yet another round of religious revivals (including the birthing of Mormonism) that swept across the country in the early 1800s.

The industrial revolution.  But Secularism was soon rescued by the ongoing industrial revolution — which produced unprecedented wealth, even eventually for the humbler classes, without the apparent aid of God.  Human reason and effort alone seemed to be the necessary force behind this wondrous material development in the West.  But unlike the French Revolution it needed to find no cause against Christianity.  The newly emerging industrial culture paid lip service to theistic Christianity – while in fact putting its greatest energies behind secular development.

Karl Marx.  Not all voices of the industrial revolution, however, were so respectful of Christianity.  In the mid-1800s, Marx, in explaining the servile condition of the European worker under the new industrial leaders, blamed Christian hypocrisy – in much the same language that the French Revolution had used.  Marx called Christianity – and its belief in a better afterlife for the weak and downtrodden – as the "opium of the masses," dished out to them to keep them dumbed down and submissive.  He called not only for the overthrow of these new industrial leaders in a grand workers' revolution, but also for the elimination of this Christian superstition.

In counter to any theistic understanding of the human social order, Marx counter-proposed a purely Secular or Materialist interpretation of society and its historical development.  He claimed that forces inherent in the material means by which societies produced their own wealth (land holding, slave labor, capitalism) produced dialectical or opposing class interests whose historical conflicts actually progressed societies to an ever-higher social state or condition.  Thus it was (to Marx anyway) that Materialist forces, not a divine hand, moved history ever-progressively. 

Ultimately, he boasted that his theory was scientific Socialism, not theistic superstition.

Charles Darwin.  This was coupled in the mid-1800s with an even more devastating indictment of the traditional theistic interpretation of life's dynamics.  Darwin tackled the entire question of the origins of all biological life – including human life.  He came up with a theory that claimed that life had progressed over the long run of the earth's history from simple life forms to very complex life forms.  This progression had occurred, Darwin claimed, through genetic accidents in reproduction – accidents which would give a non-normal creature a slight advantage over its cousins in its adaptability to newly arising changes in the environment.  This better-adapted creature would eventually establish itself as a new species.  And thus, over the long run of history, one specie produced another more complex specie – which would eventually produce yet an even more complex specie – until through a process of biological evolution the whole biological panorama of the present had come into being.  Even human life emerged through this process – emerging from less complex biological life, indeed emerging recently in this long biological history as a better adapted ape.

The impact of Darwin's theory was that it in no way necessitated the hand of a Creator God.  It ran on its own as a completely self-sustaining process, simply through the accidents of history.  God was a meaningless concept in Darwin's theory of biological evolution through natural selection.

This was a devastating challenge to theism – for which, to many Westerners, theism seemed to have no adequate response.

Social Darwinism, Nationalism and Imperialism

Social Darwinism.  This "evolutionary" or "progressivist" view of life, of human history, had a tremendous impact on the intellectual moral character of Western society in the 1800s.  Darwinism, in its social form, undercut deeply Roman Christendom's long-standing political-social doctrine of noblesse oblige, whereby the wealthy and powerful had a moral responsibility to care for the humbler or poorer classes.  Darwinist "Progressivism" claimed that it was the very heart of nature – and crucial to all historical progress – that the strong not be burdened in any way by the plight of the poor.  It was the destiny of the strong to rule – to take history forward – and the destiny of the weak to be cast out in the struggle for survival.
This "ethic" helped justify the huge wealth that was being amassed in the hands of the new industrial commercial financial elite – at the cost of the working poor, who were forced to work long hours for the rich with only the barest of compensation for their contributions to the industrial age.  But this is also what gave Marx the inspiration for his theory that history would advance to its next and final stage when the industrial worker realized his true strength and revolted against the ever smaller industrial capitalist class (the capitalists highly competitive urge towards monopoly ironically reducing their own ranks in number) – producing a revolution of the newly strong (the rising working class) over the weakening former dominators (the dwindling capitalist class)..

Nationalism.  But this competitive or Darwinist ethic not only set European "propertied class" against European "working class," it also set European nation against European nation. Darwinism produced an ever growing instinct or spirit of each European nation aggressively moving to prove itself historically superior to its neighbors.  For France and England, this competition already had a long history.  But it served in the 1800s to soften the class lines within the French and English nations as the lines of one nation against the other hardened.  Thus it was allowed – even encouraged – to develop, through the creation of "Romantic" national history, poetry, operas, anthems, etc. ("jingoism"), as a means of preserving social harmony within Europe's increasingly self-aware national units.

This urge also drove the Germans and Italians, who had long been divided internally as a single nation into a number of small states, to the creation of the new nation-states of Italy (1860) and Germany (1870).  It also stirred ethnic minorities within the remaining European multi-ethnic empires to demand the same national independence.

The nation and its need for glory came to command the full, overriding loyalty of its members – even to the extent of a call to die gallantly in war for the nation's rightful place in the sun.  The nation became celebrated as the supreme instrument of God's will on earth – as well as the ultimate source of all material well-being, justice and right-mindedness here on earth.   Indeed, Westerners were creating a new god of sorts: their beloved nation – whether England, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, America or elsewhere.

Imperialism.  This hotly competitive national spirit flung itself outward into the larger world – uniting imperial armies, industrialists and traders, and Christian missionaries in the effort to extend the influence of their sending nations among the pagans and heathens of the world.  The West was on the move, impelled by zealous forces which seemed to have no limit to their ambitions for mastery or dominance in the world.  The British pushed for global commercialism, headquartered in London; the French pushed for a global French language and culture, headquartered in Paris.  The Americans pushed for constitutional democracy and commercialism (mostly focused on Hispanic Mexico and Central America).  And the Germans and Italians, coming lately to the game, struggled to find imperial colonies for themselves to rule in a demonstration of Germanic or Italian greatness.  And the Russians and Austro-Hungarians looked to grab pieces of their Muslim neighbor, the Ottoman Empire, in their own program of imperial expansion.

But by the end of the century they had run out of overseas territories to grab in this Darwinian contest.  It was inevitable that these different sending forces would ultimately clash with each other – right at home in Europe itself – in a most ferocious sort of way.

This then brings us to the close of this section:
The Western Cultural Legacy (to 1900)

Looking ahead into the 20th and 21st centuries

Violent war.  The first half of the 20th century saw the inevitable clash of these nationalist forces
in two world wars and in the start-up of a "cold war" which drew most of the world into a vortex of unprecedented violence.  These nationalist urges which had their origins in the West not only dragged the rest of the world into the violence as victims – but eventually infused the same nationalist zeal among non-Westerners.  Everyone, it seems, wanted a place in the sun for their beloved national or cultural communities – as if the forces that directed the universe itself depended on the ultimate victory of one or another of these communities.

Standing behind the outrageous level of violence of 20th century wars was the power of modern materialist science.  Man had learned to control, even unleash, enormous powers – both to create and to destroy.  Long-range artillery could reduce towns and cities to rubble; air power could do the same.  With the discovery of the nuclear bomb – and the missile that could send these bombs from one side of the earth to the other – cities could even be disappeared in a single flash.  Gone were the days of the heroic warrior.  In his place stood the anonymous engineer who from the safety of his or her headquarters could conduct terrible war without the enemy having any idea of who or what was coming their way.

Mass society.   The 20th century saw the very rapid growth of the world’s population from approximately 1.65 billion at the beginning of the century to 6 billion at the close of the century.  Accompanying this was the shrinking of the globe in terms of the social distance of one part of the earth from another:  an explosion in transportation and communications technology brought the "outside" world to everyone’s doorstep (even inside the home, compliments of the internet and the wireless cellphone).

The result of this technological revolution was a tremendous loss of personal privacy once afforded by the rather local nature of how we used to live socially.  In so many subtle ways we found ourselves drawn into an ever-expanding world which was increasingly intrusive, complex, and impersonal.  We became ever busier in our labors – yet less able to control the outcomes of our efforts.  Our fates seemed more and more dependent on the actions of large social organizations run by social managers possessing tremendous powers to oversee human life.   A supposed efficiency and production of "plenty" was what this ever-larger social system claimed to offer – in exchange for our personal liberties.

But this kind of impersonal and lofty power offered by these mega-systems and their managers often proved to be very dangerous to human life.  Stalin’s Russia, Hitler’s Germany, Tojo's Japan and Mao's China demonstrated clearly the terrifying downside of "totalitarian" societies which easily resulted from this "progressive" trend.

The quest for identity and purpose.  But man is ultimately made to find meaning in life personally and spiritually – not mechanically.  Humanity or the quality of being truly human is a value which is developed through risk, struggle, even sacrifice – that is, personal heroics.  Man does not need impersonal institutions to take care of him.  Instead man needs to live on his own strength, tested and developed as he goes through life.

Man needs heroes, those who through the example of their own struggles and victories inspire others.  Man himself needs to be a hero – in order to live truly. 

And that brings us back full circle to the origins of the West in the ancient world of the Greeks.  And there we will begin our story.




13,000 BC Retreat of the last ice age begins the Holocene (recent) Epoch
10,000 BC Flint knives used in Palestine in reaping wild grains
9000 BC End of the last Ice Age; domesticated sheep in the North Tigris valley
7500 BC Fortified Jericho settlement — cultivated cereals
7000 BC Fertility cult in Asia Minor (Turkey) indicates use of domesticated cattle
Earliest pottery invented in the Middle East
6500 BC Copper in Asia Minor — used for ornamentation
5000 BC Copper in Mesopotamia (land of the "two rivers" in modern Iraq)
Sumerians settle lower Mesopotamia
3700 BC Rise of the city-states in Sumer:  Ur, Uruk, Lagash, Kish 
Wheel-made pottery, sailboats, animal-drawn plows 
Bronze in use in both Sumer and Egypt
3500 BC Two separate kingdoms in Egypt along the lower and upper Nile
3200 BC Sumerian cuneiform writing used to keep royal records
3100 BC Hieroglyphics (pictorial writing) in Egypt
3000 BC The rise of the unified Egyptian state governing vast reaches of the Nile; 
Wheeled vehicle used in Sumer
2550 BC Beginning of pyramid building in Egypt
2360 BC Sargon the Great of Akkad (central Mesopotamia) rules the bulk of the Middle East
2000 BC The beginning of the Aryan migrations from southern Russia: 
   to India (Hindus), to Asia Minor (Hittites) and to Greece (Myceneans)
   somewhat later to Central Europe (the Celts)
Possibly the time when Semitic migrations from Arabia occur 
   Abraham migrates from Ur to Palestine?
The rise of the Greek-speaking Minoan state in Crete; palace at Knossos
The powerful Middle Kingdom of Egypt
Sumer in decline
1800 BC Hammurabi:  law-giver and ruler of Babylonian empire (based in central   Mesopotamia)
1700 BC The Hittite Empire emerges in central Asia Minor (modern Turkey); 
  Hittites use the new secret metal:  iron
The Semitic Hyksos overrun Egypt 
Hebrews (Jacob and Joseph and his brothers) settle in Egypt — perhaps under
   Hyksos protection
1550 BC Egyptian power restored 
The Hyksos expelled from new Egyptian Empire (Hebrews enslaved?)
1450 BC Cretan (Minoan) civilization collapses — probably as a result of devastating
   volcanic or earthquake activity
1390 BC The "Golden Age" of Egypt begins under pharaoh Amenhotep III
1350 BC Akhenaten, son of Amenhotep III, tries to establish monotheism in Egypt
1275 BC Ramses II the Great pharaoh of Egypt
Moses leads the Hebrews from Egypt?
Aryan Medes and Persians invading Iran
Assyrians from the north extending their power over Mesopotamia
1250 BC Troy besieged by the Greeks
1200 BC The period of the Israelite Judges begins
The Hittite empire collapses
1100 BC Beginning of the Dorian and Ionian invasions of Greece
1070 BC The Philistines conquer Israel and settle the coastal plains
1000 BC David rules a united Israel from Jerusalem
Germanic (Aryan) tribes migrate to the Rhine River
961 BC Solomon succeeds his father David to the throne of Israel
922 BC Upon death of Solomon, Israel splits into two kingdoms:  Israel (Northern) and
   Judah (Southern)
850  BC Assyrian power in the ascendancy again:  attacks Israel (Northern kingdom)
800 BC  Traditional date for the writing of Homer's Epic poems:  the Iliad and the
   Odyssey (but modern scholars place the date closer to 700 BC)
Aryans establishing the Hindu caste system over the Indian population
750 BC Israel (Northern Kingdom) at height of prosperity under Jeroboam II
The traditional date for the founding of Rome by Romulus and Remus
722 BC Sargon II of Assyria overruns Israel (the Northern Kingdom); takes 27,000 Israelites captive; destroys Israel
650 BC Beginning of period of rule of Greek city-states by tyrants (dictators)
626-609 BC Wars of independence by subject nations of the Assyrians; Assyria collapses
605 BC Rise of Babylonian power under Nebuchadnezzar II (to 561 BC)
594 BC Solon in Athens reforms the severe laws of Draco, setting up democratic rule
586 BC Nebuchadnezzar II sacks Jerusalem and carries the population of Judah into captivity
559 - 529 BC Cyrus II, the Great, king of Persia; overruns Asia Minor (546) and Babylon (539);
   allows the Jews to return to Judah, ending the "Babylonian Captivity"
500 BC Persia rules from Egypt in the West to the Indus River in the East (Darius I,
   king:  521-486).
Athens has confirmed its commitment to democracy--against a Spartan effort
   to restore aristocratic rule in Athens (507)
Etruscans are at the height of their power in northern Italy
But Rome is under Republican government and in control of the whole of
   Latium (west-central Italy)

FROM 500 BC TO 1900 AD

A printable PDF copy of the 4-page CENTURIES chart
A printable PDF copy of practice test 1
A printable PDF copy of practice test 2
A printable PDF copy of practice test 3
In order to get a full-page PDF printout:
     click on the "download" arrow in the upper right-hand corner of the PFD document;
     select "Open with Adobe Reader (default)" and click "OK"
     click on the print icon in the upper left hand corner ... and voilą!

Rise of Greek philosophy in Ionia + Southern Italy / Jewish culture in the East
Secularist-Materialists: Thales (early 500s), Anaximander (early 500s), Anaximenes (mid-500s)
Transcendentalist-Mystics: Pythagoras (mid to late 500s)
Solon reforms Athens' constitution along democratic lines (early 500s)
Cleisthenes reforms Athens along more fully democratic lines (late 500s)
Jewish prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah and their disciples refine monotheistic Judaism
Golden Age of Greece + Hellenic culture / the "Age of Pericles" in Athens
Athenians under Themistocles and Miltiades defeat Darius at Marathon (490)
Persians more decisively defeated at Salamis (480 BC) and Platea (479 BC)
Mystics: Heraclitus (early 400s), Parmenides (early 400s)
Materialists: Anaxagoras (mid 400s), Democritus (late 400s - early 300s) 
Sophists: Protagoras (mid 400s)
Socrates (late 400s)
Pericles turns the Delian League into an Athenian empire (ca. 460-430 BC)
Athens and its allies fight Sparta and its allies in the Peloponnesian Wars (431-404 BC)
    destroying Athens, devastating the rest of Greece and ending the Golden Age of Greece
Decline of Classic Hellenic-Athenian Greek culture / Rise of Alexander and Hellenistic culture
Plato (early 300s) and Aristotle (mid 300s)
Cynics/Skeptics: Diogenes (early 300s), Pyrrho of Ellis (late 300s), 
Macedonian/Greek Alexander the Great conquers from the Nile to the Indus (334-323 BC)
Hellenistic (mixture of Greek + Eastern) culture is thus born
At his death, Alexander’s empire is carved up into separate kingdoms, the largest of which were:
    Egypt (the Ptolemies), Syria and the East (the Seleucids) and Macedonia-Greece (the Antigonids)
Meanwhile after Rome was burned by the Gauls (387 BC) it recovers — and begins its gradual 
    expansion in northern Italy against the Etruscans, Gauls and Samnites
Hellenistic culture cynical, passive and scientific; Rome fights Carthage
Cynics: Crates (early 200s); Epicureans: Epicurus (late 300s - early 200s); 
Stoics: Zeno of Citium (early 200s)
Scientists: Aristarchus (early-mid 200s) and Archimedes (mid-late 200s)
Rome seizes the Greek kingdoms of southern Italy and Sicily in the Pyrrhic War (280-275 BC)
Roman-Carthaginian Punic Wars: 1st (mid 200s); 2nd (late 200s: Hannibal nearly victorious)
The Rising Roman Republic defeats Carthageand Macedonian Greece
The 3rd Punic War (mid 100s): Carthage is destroyed (146 BC); 
Greece is also defeated (146 BC) but its culture is respected and absorbed by the Romans
Marius reforms the Roman army, offering poor Romans professional status as full-time soldiers (107 BC)
50s BC Julius Caesar + Roman Army lay the foundations for the military-run Roman Empire

Year 1 Jesus is born in Judea
Octavius Augustus Caesar builds up Imperial Rome 
1st century AD The Roman Empire matures and Judaism goes into the diaspora
Rome burns, destroying 2/3s of the city (64); Christians are subsequently blamed and persecuted
Jewish Revolt against Rome (67-70) 
    Jerusalem and the Temple are destroyed (70) — and the Jews banished from Jerusalem
Rome reaches the height of her power
The "Good Emperors" Trajan (98-117), Hadrian (117-138), Antoninus (138-161) and
    Marcus Aurelius (161-180) bring Roman expansion and its wealth to its greatest extent
200s Rome in a state of material and moral decline
For 50 years, 25 emperors are made and unmade in rapid succession by a venal Praetorian Guard
Diocletian (285-305) tries to restore Roman discipline — and the purity of "original" Roman society
    including the elimination of the detested "foreign" Christian religion
300s Christianity adopted as the official religion of Rome; but the material decline continues
Emperor Constantine (312-337) makes Christianity legal (313); he helps formalize "Nicene" or Trinitarian
    Christianity; he moves the imperial capital to Byzantium (Constantinople)
The Arian controversy over the nature of Christ develops — producing a lasting split within the faith
Emperor Theodosius (379-395) makes Nicene (anti-Arian) Christianity the sole religion (late 300s)
Meanwhile Ulfilas spreads Arian Christianity to the German Goths + from there to other German tribes
The Romans permit the Visigoths to cross the Danube to escape the Asian Huns (376)
But Visigothic-Roman tensions build, the Goths revolt, and the Roman army is crushed at the Battle of
    Adrianople (378).  Obvious to all, Rome can no longer defend itself.
400s Rome in an advanced state of decay and collapse — especially in the West
Visigoth chief Alaric conquers the city of Rome in 410 (Ravenna is actually now the Western capital)
Germans spread quickly throughout the Western empire: Visigoths + Suevi to Spain, Vandals to
    North Africa, Franks + Burgundians to Gaul or "France," and Saxons + Angles to Britain or "England"
Patrick travels to Ireland (mid 400s?) - to help convert Ireland to Nicene Christianity
Leo I (bishop or "pope" 440-461) greatly strengthens Rome as the center of Western Christianity
Clovis (King of the Franks) unites much of Gaul and Western Germany (late 400s/early 500s);
    he converts from paganism to Nicene Christianity (late 400s)
500s Roman (Byzantine) Emperor Justinian (527-565) attempts to restore the Roman Empire
But: constant warfare with Persia and the expense of partial Roman reconquest in the West
    drain physical strength from Byzantine Rome
Also: theological splits and assaults on Christian "heretics" drain moral strength from Byzantine Rome
Roman Christianity in the West is strengthened by Benedict (Italian monastic reformer), Pope Gregory
    (developer of Catholic Christianity), Irish missionaries Columba (to Scotland) and Columbįn (to
    Burgundy, Switzerland and Northern Italy) and Roman missionary Augustine (to the Anglo-Saxons)
600s Muhammad’s Arabs conquer huge portions of Eastern (Byzantine) Rome + all of Persia
A series of Byzantine-Persian wars (613-630) devastates and exhausts both empires
Muhammad (630) unites the tribes of Arabia around his Arian religion, Islam
Muslim Arabs overrun much of the Byzantine Empire:  Syria (634), Jerusalem (637), Egypt (641)
The Persians are completely mastered (633-641) — though they take up dissenting "Shi'ite" Islam 
Celtic missionaries continue their work in bringing Germanic West Europe to Nicene Christianity
But the Synod of Whitby (664) replaces Celtic Christianity with Roman Christianity in England
700s Spain lost to Islam; Rise of the Carolingian Franks; Muslims fail to capture France
Muslim Arabs cross from North Africa to conquer the Visigothic kingdom in Spain (711-718); 
But they are stopped further north by Frankish general Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours (737)
Muslims retreat back into Spain and establish an Islamic Umayyad dynasty there (for 700+ years)
Charles Martel establishes the Carolingian dynasty in France.
800s Charlemagne's Empire established — then breaks up; Vikings begin their terrible raids on Europe
Charlemagne conquers and unifies France, Germany, and Lombardic Italy; he is crowned emperor in 800
A revival of sorts stirs within Western Christendom
But his warring grandsons divide up and weaken his empire (The Treaty of Verdun: 843)
Viking raids are a regular feature of life in Europe — throwing it back into very dark times
900s The height of the Viking Age
Viking attacks are constant along the Irish, English, French and Dutch coasts; Swedes invade Russia
But Viking (Norman) leader Rollo is permitted (911) by the King Charles to settle the French coast
     The Normans are quickly Romanized — and brought into Western political-military service
Viking (Rus) leader Vladimir of Kiev converts to Byzantine Christianity (988); he dominates East Europe
1000s The first stirrings of a Western revival (which lasts all the way into the 20th century!) 
Viking King Canute (or Cnut) unites England, Denmark, Norway and parts of Sweden (early 1000s)
    bringing some degree of stability to Northwestern Europe 
Saxon England is conquered by French Normans at Hastings (1066) — 
    bringing it more closely into European affairs
Benedictine monk Anselm of Canterbury stirs the fires of renewed Christian scholarship (late 1000s)
Pope Urban calls the 1st Crusade (1095) to "liberate" the Holy Lands from Muslim Turks
1100s The Christian West breaks out of its political and intellectual confines
The 1st crusade is a success — with Christian kingdoms established in the Holy Lands (1100)
Western scholarship develops under French monks Abelard, Bernard, and Lombard
Height of the Church-State "investiture controversy" as Roman Popes and (German) Holy Roman 
    Emperors compete for dominance in the newly rising Europe
Saladin manages to retake for the Muslims much of the Crusader gain in the Middle East (later 1100s) 
But new waves of crusaders arrive (the 2nd crusade) — though they prove unable to oust Saladin; 
    However East-West commerce begins to replace crusading in importance
Venice begins its rise as a rich and powerful commercial-maritime city-state (late 1100s)
1200s The High Middle Ages
Muslim Arabs drive out the last of the crusaders at the end of the 1200s
    but allow commercial + intellectual relations to continue
Venice establishes a vast commercial empire around the Eastern Mediterranean
Genoa, London, Paris, the city-states of Flanders and the Hansa cities of North Germany also prosper
Age of northern (Gothic) cathedrals and cathedral schools (future universities)
Age of Scholasticism and Aristotelian thinking (Dominicans, especially Aquinas)
But also a strong strain of Christian mysticism thriving (Franciscan "Spirituals')
1300s The Closing of the High Middle Ages + beginning of the "Renaissance"
The Black Death (mid 1300s) and the Pope's "Babylonian Captivity" at Avignon, France (1309-1378)
    undermine Christianity’s moral/political hold and help bring an end to the Middle Ages
Fine arts and literature begin to stir with the Italian artist and architect Giotto (early 1300s), 
    the Italian writers and poets Dante (late 1200s/early 1300s), Petrarch + Boccaccio (early 1300s)
    and the English writer Chaucer (late 1300s)
1400s The height of the Renaissance: great material/intellectual progress in Western Europe
Commercial families of urban Italy (such as the Medici of Florence under Cosimo and Lorenzo) 
    and princely/kingly families in Northern Europe (such as the Valois of France under Louis XII 
    and the Tudors of England under Henry VII) come to political prominence
Humanist art, architecture, industry, commerce in Italy and Flanders reach levels of ancient Rome
Beginning of the Age of Exploration — in the quest of a direct route to the wealth of East Asia
Eastern Christendom or Byzantium finally falls to Turkish Muslims (1453) —  even as Muslim Spain is 
    losing out to Christian Spain (the last Muslim state in Spain, Granada, finally falls in 1492)
1500s The Age of Spain:  secular wealth strengthens rising classes and undercuts Church + Empire
Luther and Calvin develop Protestantism as a separate Christian branch
    Lutheranism appeals to N. European princes/kings seeking independence
    Calvinism appeals to Northern European urban commercial class seeking independence
Very Catholic Hapsburg Spain under Charles I (1506-1556) and Philip II (1556-1598) rules supreme
    in Europe based on plundered wealth from Mexico (Cortés) + Peru (Pizarro)
The Hapsburgs try to stamp out Protestantism — but the Turks under Suleiman divert them from this 
    task when the Turks lay siege to Habsburg Vienna (1529)
England under Henry VIII (1509-1547) and Elizabeth I (1558-1603) and 
    France under Francis I (1515-1547) and Henry IV (1589-1610) continue to rise politically
Defeat of the Spanish Armada by England (1588) brings the beginning of the decline of Spanish power
1600s Europe torn by religious strife; turns to secular science as an alternative path to Truth
Thirty Years War (1618-1648) leaves continental Europe spiritually exhausted
The first English settlements are established in the "New World" — early 1600s
    Virginia is settled by company-sponsored fortune hunters aspiring to become "aristocrats"
    New England is settled by Puritan refugees seeking to build a community pleasing to God 
    Middle Colonies are settled by diverse groups, including Quakers, Mennonites and Catholics
    (joining the Protestant or Reformed Dutch of New York and Swedes/Dutch of Delaware)
England torn by Civil War between Royalists and Puritans - mid 1600s;
    Cromwell establishes a short-lived Puritan Commonwealth in England (1650s)
France under Absolutist King Louis XIV (1643-1715) brings French culture to a  position of dominance
    in Europe, but drives out France's industrious Huguenots (he revokes the Edict of Nantes in 1685)
English Parliament overthrows James II's effort to become an absolutist king like Louis XIV
    (The "Glorious Revolution" — 1688-1689)
Newton and Locke lay the foundations of modern science — birthing the "Enlightenment" (late 1600s)
1700s Age of Enlightenment, Royal absolutism and the early stirrings of democracy
Royal families of Europe (Russia, Prussia, Austria, England) mimic French royalty
But Absolutist  hold of French monarchy itself slips as royal wealth dries up
French philosophes (Voltaire, Diderot, Condorcet, etc.) call for a rule in France of Human Reason
    — or Human Instinct, untainted by traditional social conventions (Rousseau)
English Absolutist "wanna-be" George III drives English colonies to rebellion (1770s) — 
    by which the colonies ultimately (mid 1780s) secure total "American" independence
American democratic traditions produce a model constitutional democracy (later 1780s)
But in France democratic impulses collapse France into a chaotic Revolution (1789)
    which spreads to the rest of Europe through French Revolutionary armies
The French "Reign of Terror" (1792-1794) shocks Europe
1800s: 1st quarter French Nationalism stirs to life other nationalisms in Europe
Napoleon takes charge of the French Revolution (1800) and challenges the rest of Europe
Hegel lays out the case for all history evolving through the work of a Weltgeist (World Spirit)
Napoleon and France are defeated (1815) 
     and attempts are made to restore the Old Order (Ancien Régime) of church and royal state...
     but French nationalism has stirred up political activism among Europe’s commoners
America’s War of 1812 has fueled a spirit of American nationalism "Romanticism" gives the spirit of nationalism a passionate spirit
2nd quarter
The industrial revolution begins to create new and deep social class tensions
 Wealthy middle class industrialists take command of politics in England (1830)
 Victoria becomes queen — and symbol of mighty Victorian England (1837-1901)
 Americans push westward and overrun the Mexican lands to the West (1840s)
 There is a commoner uprising against aristocratic rule in Austria, Germany and France (1848)
3rd quarter
 "Popular" nation-states (built around the identity of a particular people) take shape —
     throwing into question the sovereignty of "Christian" kings and emperors
Louis Napoleon creates the 2nd French Empire — and brings Paris to splendor (1850s/1860s) 
The nation-state (but monarchy) of Italy is founded by Cavour, Mazzini + Garibaldi (1860)
A fierce conflict between Yankee and Southern nationalisms erupts in America (1860s)
The nation-state (but empire) of Germany is founded by Bismarck (1870)
Meanwhile the old order comes under even deeper intellectual-spiritual attack:
Marx's Communist Manifesto (1848) and Das Kapital (vol. 1: 1867) demonstrate "scientifically" 
    that a workers' revolution would inevitably bring about a state-less, property-less society, thus 
    encouraging the industrial workers of the West to rise up against the factory and mine owners
    and their governments
The publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859) and Descent of Man (1871) explains "evolution"
    not as an act of God but one of "natural selection" whereby the strong push aside the weak as
    the necessary price of progress, stirring up the idea of the necessity of the strong to rule over 
    the weak — in the West and in the world
4th quarter
The Age of Western imperial domination in the world
An imperialistic West moves to global dominance 
     England and France (and, to a lesser extent, Germany) in Africa and Asia
     The United States in Central America
     A Western condominium (“Open Door” policy) in China
But Japan takes up Westernization for itself to become imperial power of its own in Asia
Meanwhile the industrial revolution and land pressure on the countryside is changing the West — 
     as urban culture begins to replace rural culture as the norm for Western societies
The closing of the American frontier closes the escape hatch of the Western poor
     and puts a tightening economic hold on the working poor in the West (1880s/1890s)
But extreme nationalism seems to be deflecting much of the workers wrath into a readiness to have 
    a war — not with the nation's industrial owners but with foreign nationals (1890s)
[The stage for the tragedy of World War One is thus set]


Western Cultural History to 1900

1. Part One (1st Quarter) — The Classical Age

Unit 1 - The Greek Cultural Legacy - 500s + 400s BC
The Minoan predecessors 
The Mycenaean or Homeric age
The first stirrings of Greek philosophy in Ionia and Magna Graecia
The Persian Wars
The Classical Age of Greece: Sparta and Athens
Socrates, the Sophists and Plato — and Democritus
The Peloponnesian Wars and the decline of the Classical Order

Cynics and Skeptics

Unit 2 - The Hellenistic Legacy - 300s + 200s BC
Alexander’s Empire and a mix of Greek and Eastern culture produce the Hellenistic order
Epicurus / Aristarchus / Archimedes

Unit 3 - The Romans - 200s BC - 200s AD
The rise of the Roman Republic — and the contest with Carthage and Greece
The Roman love of Social-Material Order / Lucretius and Cicero
The Roman military and the rise of the Empire / Julius and Augustus Caesar
The material zenith of Rome / Trajan / Hadrian /Marcus Aurelius
A growing sense of decline in the Roman moral-spiritual and political order

Unit 4 - The Jews and Christians - 500s BC - 200s AD
The Babylonian experience and the birth of Judaism / Isaiah and Jeremiah
Messianic expectations in the face of Greco-Roman intrusions
Jesus the Messiah — and the first apostles of Christ
The Jewish uprising — and Jewish-Christian split
The early church and the spread of the faith

2. Part Two (2nd Quarter) — The Age of Christendom

Unit 5 - The Great Greco-Roman-Christian Synthesis - 300s AD
The fear and persecution of the Christians / Diocletius
Constantine and the establishment of Christianity
The problem of heresy / the ecumenical councils
Rome’s worsening problems / Augustine

Unit 6 - The collapse of Rome and the "Dark Ages" - 400s - mid-1000s 
The Germanic occupation of the Western lands
Bishops and monks try to hold the Christian legacy together / Benedict
Rome continues in the East as the Byzantine Empire
Muhammad and Islam / the Qu'ran
Charlemagne and Carolingian Europe
The Vikings and other predators sink the West back into the Dark Ages
Medieval piety

Unit 7 - The High Middle Ages - mid 1000s to mid-1300s
The domestication of the Vikings
The economic-political stirrings of Europe
Signs of early intellectual ferment / Anselm / Abelard / Bernard / Hildegard
The Crusades - and the impact of East-West contacts
Cathedrals, universities and scholasticism / Aquinas / the Franciscans
Early humanism in the 1300s / Dante / Giotto / Petrarch / Boccaccio / Chaucer
The “Babylonian Captivity” and the “Black Death” as a time of transition

Unit 8 - The Renaissance - 1400s
Renaissance Italy and Flanders: the guilds and the leading families / the Medici
Humanist artists and poets in Renaissance Italy
Political realignments: emperors, popes and princes / Machiavelli
The beginning of the Age of Exploration

3. Part Three (3rd Quarter) — Cultural Crisis

Unit 9 - The Protestant Reformation  - early to mid 1500s
Luther, backed by independent-minded German princes, revolts against Catholic
     corruption and power / sides with the princes against the peasants
Charles of Spain and the beginning of the Catholic counter-reformation
Francois I of France and Henry VIII of England respond to Protestantism
The rising mercantile middle class also becoming more independent-minded
Zwingli, Calvin and Calvin’s Geneva, Knox in Scotland

Unit 10 - Political Realignments - mid 1550s to mid 1600s
Habsburg Spain as the wealthy "Superpower" of the 1500s
The split in France: Catherine de Medicis and Henri IV
Philip of Spain and the Counter-reformation
Elizabethan England walks a dangerous path
The Age of Exploration continues
The Dutch rebellion / the decline of Habsburg Spain
The Stuarts and the Puritans
The settlement of English North America: Virginia and New England
The 30-Years War / Richelieu
The devastation of Germany
The English Civil War / Hobbes

Unit 11 - The "Age of Reason"
Natural Law and natural philosophy
The rise of British empiricism and utilitarianism / Smith / Bentham / Hume
The French philosophes Voltaire / Diderot / Rousseau / Condorcet
Hume and Kant challenge the new cosmology
Meanwhile: the Enlightenment and the Great Awakening in America

Unit 12 - Mounting Tensions: Royal absolutism and bourgeois intellectualism
Louis XIV and royal absolutism
The Stuart Restoration / The Glorious Revolution / Locke
The rise of Romanov Russia
The rise of Hohenzollern Prussia 

4. Part Four (4th Quarter) — The Challenges of "Modern" Culture

Unit 13 - Revolution
English king and colonies in growing conflict over political authority
The Declaration of Independence /America’s War of Independence 
Constitutional democracy in America /de Tocqueville
The “Fathers” reflect on the moral-spiritual underpinning of the democracy
Slow movement towards the idea of single nationhood
Economic catastrophe and failed efforts at reform in France
The outbreak of revolution in France / the "Rights of Man"
The "Reign of Terror" betrays the doctrine of democratic progress

Unit 14 - Social-cultural and political shifts
The Napoleonic dictatorship
The spread of revolution to the rest of Europe
The industrialization-urbanization of Western culture
Victorian England
Napoleon III and the 2nd French Empire
The on-going spirit of revolution in the 1800s
The American Civil War and post-war industrial Yankee America

Unit 15 - Cultural and intellectual ferment
Romanticism / transcendentalism
Hegel and the Weltgeist
The Whiggish doctrine of progress 
The Darwinian doctrine of materialist biological evolution
The Marxist doctrine of materialist social evolution
Christianity responds to the all-pervasive notion of evolution

Unit 16 - Nationalism and  Western imperialism
The rise of the nationalist spirit / the creation of the Italian and German States
British India / Dutch and French Southeast Asia / the carving up of Africa
"White Man’s Burden" / "la mission civilisatrice"
America gets in on the act / frustration in Latin America
The Japanese surprise / an "Open Door" in China
Russia in confusion / the Turkish Ottoman "Sick Man of Europe"
Edging ever-closer toward the "Great War"


Essay #1:  The Greek and Hellenist Philosophers

1. Explain the process by which the Greeks began to move from the idea of the cosmos
        or all of life and existence being controlled by the actions of gods living atop Mount
        Olympus — to the idea that there is some kind of basic order that underlies all

     1a.  How did Thales and the other Ionian materialists understand the makeup of the
        cosmos and the way it worked? 

     1b.  How did Pythagoras hold a quite different idea of the cosmos and how it operates?

     1c.  What philosophers came up with the idea of the Logos?  What was it all about?

     1d.  How did Democritus" philosophy contribute to the materialists" understanding of
        the cosmos and human life?

2.  We think of Athens as the cradle of Western democracy.  What were its good points
        — and its flaws?

     2a. Who were the Sophists and what was their impact on Athens?

     2b.  What were Socrates" ideas about the perfect political system?  How well did he
        fare under Athenian democracy?

     2c.  What were Plato’s thoughts on the subject of the perfect Republic?

     2d.  How did Aristotle depart from his teacher’s idealism to add greatly to materialism?

3.  As long as the Greeks were under intense pressure from the Persians, they
        demonstrated greatness as a people.  But once that pressure was reduced, they
        fell into much less noble infighting.  Explain.

     3a.  How did the Cynic Diogenes take a much less optimistic view about man's
        abilities to understand and manage life?

     3b.  How were the Skeptics even more pessimistic?

4.  Alexander’s widening of Greek horizons with his conquest of the East brought a whole
        new Greek evaluation of life and its meaning — as Eastern ideas mixed in with Greek

     4a.  How did Greek science flourish under the impact?

     4b.  But how did Greek philosophy take a more Stoic turn?

Essay #2:  The Decline of Rome — to the Rise of the West 
during the High Middle Ages

1.  What were Republican and Imperial Rome’s contribution to the Western cultural legacy?

2. What were the causes of Rome’s decline in the West? 

3.  How was Christianity at first blamed, then looked to for salvation, in the face of an
        obviously declining Rome?  Why did neither strategy halt Rome’s decline?

4.  How was it that the Western portion of the Empire suffered the worst part of the
        decline — at least at first?  What portion of Western Rome survived at that point?

5.  What began to eventually weaken the Eastern or Byzantine portion of the Empire?

6.  Who were the Arabs and why did they have such an impact on the 600s?
        What event stopped their spread into Western Europe?

7.  Why might the Pope in Rome have thought that Charlemagne was indeed bringing
        the Roman Empire back into power?   What happened to Charlemagne’s “Empire”?

8.  Explain the rise finally beginning in the mid 1000s of Western Europe out of its “Dark

9.  What were the major features of the High Middle Ages (mid 1100s to mid 1300s)?

10.  What brought the High Middle Ages to close in the second half of the 1300s?

Essay #3: From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment
(Early 1400s to mid-1700s)

1.  What developments moved Europe into a “Renaissance”of classic culture? What were the main cultural features of this Renaissance?

2.  How did the cultural-political features of Renaissance of the 1400s ultimately produce the outbreak of the Protestant Reformation in the early 1500s?

3.  How did Luther and Calvin give different emphasis to the need for Christian reform?  How did each affect Europe differently?

4.  How were the “Wars of Religion” as much political as religious?

5. Why is it that the “modern era” is said to begin with the Treaty of Westphalia?

6.  What different social-political points of view or philosophies emerged with the Enlightenment?  

     a.  The Divine Rights of Kings (“Enlightened Despotism”)
     b.  The Philosophes and the rule of Human Reason
     c.  Rousseau and the rule of the human heart (Romanticism)

7.  How did the Calvinist Puritans of New England take on a different understanding of society and its dynamics?  How was Virginia more representative of the intellectual trends of Europe?

Essay #4: Evolution, Nationalism and Imperialism

1.  Explain how the French Revolution and Napoleon unleashed the idea of human progress — so that the 1800s was a century in which the doctrine of progress became almost a god in itself.  Include a brief description of how the following individuals made major contributions to the doctrine of progress:
     a.  Hegel
     b.  The Whigs and their “Industrial Revolution”
     c.  Darwin
     d.  Marx

2.  Why did the “reactionary” political leaders who attempted at the Congress of Vienna and the Concert of Europe to restore the political and social status quo that had existed before the French Revolution and Napoleon ultimately fail in their effort?

3.  Explain how Romanticism rejected the ideas of the French Enlightenment — yet at the same time contributed to the growing spirit of nationalism and democracy that swept Europe in the 1800s.

4.  The American Civil War (1861-1865) was a struggle between two very different cultural lifestyles in America that had been building since the Republic was formed in the 1790s.  Why was it so violent?

5.  The Italians and the Germans finally got their nation-states in the 2nd half of the 1800s.  Explain the process by which they did so — and how his affected also France, England and Russia.  Why did all of this leave the Habsburgs" Austrian Empire? 

6.  How was Western Imperialism a natural outgrowth of the nationalist spirit of the late 1800s?

7.  How did all this “humanist progress” produce among Western intellectuals a deadening spiritual side-effect known as “Existentialism”?  Why was Nietzsche’s ?bermensch (Superman) not a satisfying spiritual substitute for the West’s traditional Christian faith?

8.  What problems will all of this produce for the 20th century?



A printable PDF copy of the World Map Answer Sheet

  1  Canada
  2  United States
  3  Mexico
  4  Cuba
  5  Haiti
  6  Dominican Republic
  7 Jamaica
  8  Guatemala
  9  El Salvador
10  Honduras
11  Nicaragua
12  Costa Rica
13  Panama
14  Colombia
15  Venezuela
16  Guyana
17  Suriname
18  Brazil
19  Ecuador
20  Peru
21  Bolivia
22  Paraguay
23  Uruguay
24  Argentina
25  Chile
26  Greenland
27  Iceland
28  Ireland
29  United Kingdom
30  Norway
31  Sweden
32  Finland
33  Denmark
34  Germany
35  Netherlands
36  Belgium
37  France
38  Spain
39  Portugal
40  Italy
41  Switzerland
42  Austria
43  Czech Republic (Czechoslovakia)
44  Slovakia
45  Poland
46  Lithuania
47  Latvia
48  Estonia
49  Russia
50  Belarus
51  Ukraine
52  Moldova
53  Romania
54  Hungary
55  Slovenia
56  Croatia
57  Bosnia
58  Serbia (Yugoslavia)
59  Macedonia
60  Albania
61  Greece
62  Bulgaria
63  Turkey
64  Georgia
65  Azerbaijan
66  Armenia
67  Iraq
68  Syria
69  Lebanon
70  Cyprus
71  Israel
72  Palestine
73  Jordan
74  Saudi Arabia
75  Egypt
76  Libya
77  Tunisia
78  Algeria
79  Morocco
80  Mauritania
81  Senegal
82  Guinea
83  Sierra Leone
84  Liberia
85  Ivory Coast
86  Mali
87  Ghana
88  Niger
89  Nigeria
90  Chad
91  Cameroon
92  Central African Republic
93  Gabon
94  Congo
95  Dem. Rep. of the Congo (Zaire)
96  Angola
  97  Namibia
  98  South Africa
  99  Botswana
100  Zimbabwe
101  Mozambique
102  Madagascar
103  Malawi
104  Zambia
105  Tanzania
106  Burundi
107  Rwanda
108  Uganda
109  Kenya
110  Somalia
111  Ethiopia
112  Sudan
113  Eritrea
114  Yemen
115  Oman
116  Kuwait
117  Iran
118  Turkmenistan
119  Uzbekistan
120  Kazakhstan
121  Kyrgyzstan
122  Tajikistan
123  Afghanistan
124  Pakistan
125  India
126  Sri Lanka
127  Nepal
128  Bangladesh
129  Myanmar (Burma)
130  Thailand
131  Laos
132  Vietnam
133  Cambodia
134  Malaysia
135  Indonesia
136  Australia
137  New Zealand
138  Philippines
139  Taiwan
140  China
141  Mongolia
142  North Korea
143  South Korea
144  Japan

  Miles H. Hodges