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(OPINION): Where has Western Civilization Gone?

Updated: Oct 10, 2019

Author: Babs Hough


In the game of university identity politics, the Spartans are regrettably the champions. University of Michigan’s “Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs” hub is no match for Michigan State University’s many centers devoted to everything but Western thought. For reasons I wish were obvious, I believe it’s time for MSU to add such a center.


Among its international programs and studies, MSU proudly lists an African Studies Center, Canadian Studies Center, Center for Gender in Global Context, and a Muslim Studies Center. We have an Institute for Jewish Studies too, though this is not included on the International Studies and Programs page.


Unless Canada has become representative of all Western civilization and thought, it

seems that something is missing. To be fair, MSU does have a Center for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies (CERES), “which emphasizes the need to explore linkages and study emerging challenges that transcend the cold war divisions of Europe and reach authoritatively into Post-Soviet Central Asia.”


Perhaps I’m missing something. After all, I am graduating from the MSU College of Social Science and have not had to take a history course. But from my own reading, I’ve found that Western civilization might be worth studying. As historian Kenneth Clark reminds us in his series Civilisation, “We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion, just as effectively as by bombs.” God help us if we become disillusioned with the fragility of civilization and the history which has led to today’s remarkable successes.


So while CERES has a valid emphasis, Western civilization made significant contributions to the way we live now, prior to the Cold War. Ideas that flowered in the West such being modern liberal democracy, widespread religious and social tolerance, the abolition of slavery, individualism, and the enlightenment were radical ideas at the time. They deserve our attention today.


Arizona is just one state making progress in this area. In 2016, their legislature dedicated $5 million to “economic freedom schools” at Arizona State and the University of Arizona. MSU would be wise to follow their example.


This isn’t a manifesto against the balkanization of higher education. It isn’t to say that Canada or the others mentioned don’t deserve their own centers. Nor is it simply claiming that the West deserves a center because the others all have one. Rather, I am saying that Napoleon, Descartes, and Thomas Jefferson might deserve one too. Western civilization deserves to be studied because it has made unparalleled strides in human development. MSU does itself and its students a disservice by failing to recognize this.

Contributor: Babs Hough

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