FROM PLATO TO NATO by David Gress

FROM PLATO TO NATO

The Idea of the West and Its Opponents
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KIRKUS REVIEW

An erudite examination of the history of the West and what this history has meant to both its proponents and opponents. “The West” is not, for Gress, a fellow at the Danish Institute of International Affairs, simply an idea. Presented as an unblemished history of progress from ancient Greece to the present, this idealized “Grand Narrative” in its perfection was easy prey for those who would oppose the West; it couldn—t possibly live up to its billing. This “Grand Narrative” was bad history, and Gress attempts to present a better history. He finds that the modern West evolved not as an idea but as a series of practices and institutions, some quite accidental and fortuitous, some tragic. Specifically, he finds the West to be an amalgam of ancient Roman, Christian, and Germanic cultures (the “Old West”) mixed with the Enlightenment creations of liberty, reason, and economic freedom (the “New West”). The scholarly detail with which the author presents this history is truly impressive. In the end, he concludes that the West of today, while not universal, not a destination at which all nations will or must arrive, is beyond question worth preserving and defending. He has, however, no patience whatsoever for those who would disparage the West. While his history is an intellectual marvel, his depiction of critics of the West consists of caricature and intellectual chicanery. Any criticism of the West is, for Gress, an attack on the whole tradition, so that the anti-Americanism of the Vietnam era simply became reformulated as anti-Westernism, so that “environmentalism” is nothing more than something invented by people to serve an authoritarian agenda. Thus does scholarship become reduced to polemic. Still, despite its flaws, this is a thought-provoking work, whether one is “for—— or “against—— the West.

Pub Date: July 13th, 1998
ISBN: 0-684-82789-1
Page count: 624pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1998




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