The case for European civilization as the driving force behind globalization.
Headley (Emeritus History/Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Tommaso Campanella and the Transformation of the World, 1997, etc.) flies in the face of post-1960s criticism of the West to argue that the Renaissance and the Reformation laid the groundwork for the world’s present understanding of human rights and constitutional democracy. Although he makes few allowances for general readers, the author draws on a lifetime spent studying these periods to craft a provocative argument that will appeal mainly to specialists. Examining many facets of the new knowledge produced during the Renaissance, he reflects on the rise of European geography and mastery of the globe as evinced in Ptolemy’s Geographia (1561) and Abraham Ortelius’s Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (1570), and in the great age of exploration and discovery. All helped foster a “universalizing” of European civilization and a growing awareness of global connections, writes Headley, pointing to Montaigne’s affirmation in “Of Repentance” that we each bear within ourselves the entire form of the human condition. Thus Western civilization became the primary force in the process of globalization that has produced a common, modern civilization based on our shared humanity and adherence to a principle of universal equality. The Reformation seeded secularizing, dissenting elements and the emergence of the idea of a loyal opposition, as well as a system of ongoing criticism, that were eventually embodied in constitutional democracy. Headley offers considerable evidence for these Western contributions to pushing diverse cultures toward a new, globalized way of life. By 1840, Alexis de Tocqueville could write that “the old Asiatic world is vanishing, and in its place the European world is rising.” In a brief epilogue, the author sets aside his scholarly mien to launch a devastating critique of American policies at home and abroad since 2001. Democracy demands a respect for law, he says, and the prospects of the United States spreading democracy at present are dim.
A densely written defense of the Western tradition.