Although the Gates of Vienna Blog focuses on the relationship between the West and Islam, occasionally hosts philosophical posts on the identity of Europe as such. A recent post of that kind is about a book that sees in “secondarity” the main characteristic or foundation of the European identity, Eccentric Culture: A Theory of Western Civilization, by Rémi Brague.
Secondarity means that the West borrowed everything from elsewhere, mainly from the Greek and Jewish traditions. Being always and fundamentally second or “eccentric”, i.e., not being essentially identified with any culture – contrary to the way Byzantium understood itself as essentially Greek, an example that the author uses and explains – the West is more free to change, transform or re-invent its identity, more ready to develop, grow, expand and improve.
The theory of a western history that follows a progress-line belongs to the era of the so-called ‘Enlightenment’. The more demanding our thinking becomes, the more this theory collapses. Is Kant or Hegel more ‘advanced’, compared with Plato? Is Goethe or Hoelderlin more ‘advanced’, compared with Homer? Is Wesley or Luther more ‘advanced’ compared with Augustine or Maximus Confessor?
In reality there has been only one progress, in science and technology (and a really interesting question would be, why ancient Greeks, who discovered science, did not have a great interest in it). Not even in politics can we speak about a progress, since the older monarchic governments of the West and the current ‘democratic’ ones, in many and the most crucial aspects, are inferior to the governments of ancient Greece and Byzantium.
Therefore, what we have is a book that starts from a false/vague equation of the West with Progress, and continues with false arguments to prove it. Unfortunately, the aspects and arguments used, right or wrong, can not promote our understanding of the West, nor of the cultures that the West supposedly surpassed. However, the book contains a significant truth, because, even if not all peoples with a secondary culture travel to the planets, yet in order to achieve planetary traveling a people has to be homeless.
The West is perhaps the only civilization in the earth’s history that is homeless, unable to find a home in any of the cultures it adopted and transformed for itself, unable to find a home anywhere, ‘predestined’ in eternal departure, it became the only civilization without a heart, that is, without having faith in God as its central, most important, social value. Is this an achievement, and can it be compensated with planetary traveling, atomic bombs and advanced medicine?
On the other hand, Byzantium, the only political organisation that lasted for a thousand years, in the middle of attacks from the North, South, East and even from the West, may seem that in the end lost the battle, yet the appearances deceive. Byzantium does not exist as a political organisation anymore, but is alive and strong culturally in the millions of Orthodox Christians. It is important to remember that even Russia’s degradation to the point of the soviet tyranny is due precisely to the degree of the westernization of Russia, a westernization that was tyrannical and servile.