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What makes the history of the Euro-American cultural system interesting is not the west’s imperialistic dominance of the world at large, and it isn’t the development of empirical science and technology which contributed so much to that imperialism. It isn’t even the economic developments that present such a wealth of consumer goods and services and generally improved health, longevity, and leisure, making modernity the age of abundance driven by competitive materialism and reliable capital gains. Instead, and contrary to the story of human history presented to students in high schools or STEM programs, the decisive theme of western history has been a contest over the legitimacy of systems of sovereignty. This is most clearly evident in the historical spiral of revolt which began in Europe with John Wycliffe about thirty years after the Great Plague of 1348-50 and culminated in the French Revolution of 1789-99. In response to the attempt by the ruling factions of Medieval Christendom to perfect the strictest uniformity of collective hive mind, there blossomed the most profound resistance, critique, and assertion of alternatives. Universal literacy, mass education, a research imperative, and some democratic influence (elections) on institutions of sovereignty are all conspicuous consequences of the ongoing opposition to perennial oligarchic dominance, and of the central place in western history of an ongoing series of challenges to the legitimacy of such sovereignty. This is the real treasure of the west.

Copyright © 2017 Sandy MacDonald.