The last bulwark

Now that our daughter Nadja has victoriously returned home after a four year tour of duty in college, I had to work rather quickly to help everyone find and adjust their places in the household accordingly. In an attempt to head off what could have become a pecking order struggle between her and her next brother down, I advised Nadja to assume the position of the youngest adult in the household, rather than the oldest child. Now that she is “in the company of educated men and women,” Nadja is fully equipped to do what every responsible adult must do: that is, preserve, protect, and defend Western Civilization from the barbarian “culture” that surrounds and threatens it.

Let’s face it: We live in not only a post-modern or what some call a “post-Christian” world. We live in a post-civilized society. Western Civilization has largely been reduced to a high school course offering. In fact, in most high schools, the very concept of Western Civilization has been swallowed up by “World Cultures,” or Global History. It’s not that I have anything against African artistic expression or Chinese scientific advancements. It’s that I want my children to know who they are by understanding what they have inherited.

Since Nadja’s return, both the quantity and quality of films playing around the house has gone up. Too old to sleep in, her adolescence has given way to early morning screenings. Probably just beginning to realize how exhausted she really is, Nadja’s first week home has been filled with movie watching.

Generally, I wouldn’t be too thrilled with the constant stream of dialogue and soundtrack swells. But Nadja’s film repertoire reflects and promotes the hallmarks of Western Civilization. Films like “Judgment at Nuremberg,” “The Search,” classic Westerns and historical epics -- all of which were made before she was born, and many of which were made before I was born --demonstrate values we used to share, values that we could point to as the basis of our collective greatness.

So just what does lie at the core of Western Civilization? Here’s my list:

1. Belief in God and what is due to him

2. The value of each human life and the dignity of the human person

3. Joy in the complementarity of masculine and feminine

4. Reverence for all living things

5. Public virtue as an integral part of personal integrity

6. Freedom understood as the ability to use one’s gifts fully and responsibly, and in a way that advances the freedom of others

7. Civility and a proper respect for the difference between public and private

8. The value of -- and need for -- truth, trust, and honest self-evaluation

9. Self-reliance placed at the service of others

10. Rational thought governing emotional tides

11. The rule of law and its just application

12. Belief in what transcends not only the self, but this world

13. Aspiration to excellence and the willingness to work for it

14. Reverence for the beautiful as expressed in the arts

15. Belief in the nobility of man and the value of virtue and self-sacrifice

16. The value of the printed word

17. Scientific innovation with a moral conscience

18. Proper use of things and respect for personal property

19. A collective attention span long enough to build a cathedral

20. True hospitality and generosity, which offers another one’s best, not merely one’s surplus

21. The value of the family and one’s place within it

22. Decorum, table manners, and general cleanliness

23. Seeing the world as ordered and designed

24. The willingness to make commitments and the perseverance to keep them

25. The ability to give and accept meaningful correction

26. Respect for authority and experience

27. Recognition of the proper use of the power of symbol, sign, and ritual 

28. The value and dignity of work

29. Modesty and humility without self-deprecation

30. Courage without bravado

31. Valuing honor over reward

32. A sense of the sacred and the value of solitude

33. Self-discipline and moderation of appetites and desires

34. The distinction between the good and the pleasurable

35. Collaboration with others towards a common goal

These are values we have historically not only fought and died for, but what individuals and even nations stood for. Those who promote the “whatever culture” in which we live are the Visigoths and Vandals of our time. Sadly, Western Civilization is mostly a thing of the past. While I don’t know about anyone else, I, for one, do not intend to raise children who are essentially a small barbarian horde. 

As Spencer Tracy states in one of the closing scenes of “Judgment at Nuremberg:” “The real complaining party at the bar in this courtroom is civilization ... A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult.”

Perhaps the overarching value of Western Civilization is the willingness of nations and individuals to stand and the ability to do so when everyone else is running headlong over a cliff, or lying on a sofa. If a remnant of Western Civilization is to survive, I trust that it will be found among those who belong to the Church that first built it. After all is said and done, humanity is at its very best when it most closely follows the God who made man to bear his image.

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an author, speaker, musician and serves as Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.