You are on page 1of 5

Naw Hser Coo

Section 4
4 Aug 2009
Western Civilization

The beginning, development and continuity of western civilization


The author of The Legacy of the Ancient World, W.G. De Burgh focuses on
the process of continuity rather than a completed one in western civilization.
Then, he mentioned two different approaches. First, we may start from modern
civilization to the past. Second, we may trace back from the ancient civilization to
modern history. Based on the approaches, he took three particular groups of
people: Hebrew, Greek and Roman to prove how world to-day owes what the
ancient world bequeathed to us especially in the threefold legacy of antiquity
(which was named by the author): religions, philosophy and laws. And, he
documented how the groups changed their social and political context through
over time by assimilation to become a new form in the Mediterranean.

De Burgh used historical framework as he used some evidence from the
historical facts and background by explaining how the groups changed from
moment to moment. He wrote this article because I think he is expert in the study
of Hebrew, Greek and Roman which is the most interesting area for him.
Moreover, he wanted to show us the connection between the three groups and the
modern world, convinced us to appreciate the ancient western civilization and not
to forget the legacies of the ancient world.

From my understanding of this article, there are three key messages of the
author to make a compelling, convincing and powerful article. First, he traced
back Western civilization as his starting point and depicted that the history of
antiquity started from the barbarism. Second, people developed their ideas and
implemented them from their experiences to achieve the state of tranquility, laws,
peace and order. Third, Western civilization has no destiny and will have
continuity through forming new forms in all spheres of our lives.

The beginning of Western civilization
De Burgh convinced me that civilization started from the barbarism by
using three particular groups of people: Hebrew, Greek and Roman. In the
beginning, people stayed under state of nature meaning barbaric. They did not
know how to rule the country; enact laws, morel, religious and political
institution; and organize people to become unity. They were not in order and well-
governed. Regarding this matter, the author motioned that Greek did not have a
peaceful order and was under the instable situation particularly in social and
political sphere as follow.

Greek cities present a dark scene of restless ambition, personal jealousy and party
faction, aversion from federal solidarity, continual revolution and civil strife.
(The legacy of the ancient world, p 5)

Therefore, if one powerless state was not in order, it was easily to intrude
and occupy by other powerful states.

In the Reformation period, Christendom was also dealing with chaos as
priests and religious leaders were not faithful to God and corrupted. Later on,
there were many changes in the Church and get admiration of the public at
present. Kagan, and Williams described the instability in the Church.

The ranks of the clergy are riven by rivalry and animosity; hatred, envy, and even
the wish for the death of others are aroused. Striving after pluralities of benefices
is encouraged. Poor clerics are maltreated, impoverished, and forced from their
posts. …. Prelates are deprived of jurisdiction and authority. The hierarchical
order of the Church is destroyed. (Great Issues in Western Civilization, p 63)

Not only politics and religion but also social sphere had significant events
during the beginning of the struggle and the transformation period. For example,
Apartheid Movement in Africa was severely cracked down by the colonial
government but later the movement was successful and the Apartheid was
abolished. Therefore, those events convinced me that whenever things are going
to be civilized or changed, they start facing with barbaric and violent.

Development during the process of Western civilization

Prior to, people experienced in chaos, disorder and instability. However,
these bitter experiences led them to develop things in unity, peaceful, order and
solidarity gradually. De Burgh explicated that the three groups were from different
background, they shared the Mediterranean habitant way of lives. Then they
contribute the economics enhancement and advancement of the area to be more
productive. He convinced me through the following passage.

Through all ages commerce and civilization have developed hand in hand;
commercial highways, the links of international intercourse, aid the distribution
not merely of material products, but of ideas and habits of life. Thus from earliest
recorded time the history of civilization has been the history of the Mediterranean
area, (p 7)

Similarly, the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century in England, workers
in England struck for the increasing price and declining wages which created
inequality economic income for survive. Consequence of the Revolution,
nowadays the salary of the blue-collar workers in the western countries is not very
different to the salary of the white-color workers.

Next, the end of the Cold War between the American (US) and Union of
Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was also important in the process of the
western civilization. People did not want to experience World War III as they had
experienced on WWI and WWII. Then, leaders between two countries and some
other mediators made several negotiations and compromising. Finally, the Cold
War was ended.

I would say that this was the signal of the civilization because they solved
the problem in diplomatic approach rather than bloodshed approach. If they
continued their tension, then war would break out and a number of people died
the completion of the nuclear armaments. Therefore, I see people learnt their past
bitter experience and tried to development the world to be a better place in the
process of civilization.

The continuity of Western civilization

De Burgh saw that Western civilization had continuity rather than
completion. He convinced me with the following explanation which showed that
the three groups of people had been changed in the process of civilization.
This sequel will show how the life of the Hebrew, Greek, and Roman peoples,
like that of the individuals composing them, was ever on the move, shaping itself
as it grew, and changing from moment to moment in relation to its physical and
social context. (p 9)
To be more powerful of his article, he gave illustration how the three
groups of people’s languages had been assimilated in the process of continuity.
The English vocabularies we use nowadays are from Latin words emphasizing
political ideas such as law, order, state, colony, responsibility, person, and Greek
words signifying philosophy and scientific terminology such as dogma, atom,
history, biology, logic. (p 10 and 11)
According to Norbert Elias, civilization is the continuity one rather than
the completed one. He developed his ideas through human social behavior then he
made a hierarchy standard upon the good manners. In his arguments, he gave
illustration with table manner. Through this manner, he saw people should behave
properly in the public to be looked courtesy. Before people did not think the good
and bad manners but over centuries this idea spreads all over the world and the
human behavior may change in the future as society expects them to do. (Elias.
The Civilizing Process. 2000)


In The Legacy of the Ancient World, W.G. De Burgh predominantly
focuses that civilization is the process of continuity rather than a completed one.
Then, he make a linkage by tracing back the ancient civilization and moving
forward to modern civilization to confirm how world to-day has debt on the
ancient world which bequeathed to us particularly in Christianity in Hebrew
religions, freedom and science in Greek philosophy, and laws and government in
Roman politics. Furthermore, he convinced me to see how the groups combined

and changed their social and political structure which greatly contributed to the
contemporary world history.

From his article, he convinced me with three key messages which open
my eye to have better understand about civilization and western civilization are all
about. The first and foremost, to have a civilized one, thing started from barbaric
and he proved me with some suitable explanations. Then, through this barbaric,
people developed their way of life to escapes from the unpleasant situation in the
process of civilization. Finally, he believed that civilization is the continuity one.

Looking at of these three key messages, I applied with my background
knowledge then I can clearly see that his arguments are true and make me
concrete to interpret what the civilization is.


De Brugh, W.G., 1961, The Legacy of the Ancient World, The Legacy of the
Ancient World, Maryland: Penguin Books.
Elias, Norbert, 2000, The History of the Concept Civilite, In Nobert Elias. The
Civilizing Process, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing.
Tierney, Brian, 1992, Great Issues in Western Civilization, The Road to
Reformation, United Stated of America: McGraw-Hill.