Let’s Require Courses in Western Civilization

the National Association of Scholars’ 100 Great Ideas for Higher Education


Every American should know Western civilization, of which
American culture and political institutions are an integral part.

By Western civilization I mean the constellation of ideas,
political arrangements, ethical precepts, and ways of organizing society and
the economy that are traceable to (1) the ethical monotheism of the Ancient
Hebrews, adopted by Christianity, which implied that man, as God’s creation,
has inherent worth and dignity, and (2) the tradition of rational inquiry,
indispensable to science and technological progress, that began in Ancient

Much of Western civilization is distinctive, and several of its essential
features are unique: a belief in progress and even, at times, in humanity’s
perfectibility; a Promethean faith in man’s ability to harness nature; a strong
emphasis–greater than in other civilizations–on individual rights and the
inviolability of individual conscience; and a belief in moral principles,
grounded in nature and discoverable through reason, that are timeless,
absolute, and universal.

To be fully educated, students should know what Western civilization has given
to America and to humanity. In practical terms, this means mandatory courses in
Western history, philosophy, and literature. Without having at least some
knowledge of these, American students cannot function as informed citizens in a
country arguably superior to the various dictatorships in Asia, Africa, and the
Middle East–themselves reflections of civilizations very different from Western

This does not imply that America is perfect. But to effect change, students
must understand the history of their own civilization and society.


Bergman teaches history at Central Connecticut State University.


  • Jay Bergman

    Jay Bergman is a professor of history at Central Connecticut State University and serves on the National Association of Scholars' Board of Directors.

2 thoughts on “Let’s Require Courses in Western Civilization

  1. “While many faculty have a political agenda, most freshman don’t, and are anyway broader minded than most faculty.”
    But profoundly ignorant; that’s why an American History survey courses and Western Civilization are vital in providing a solid foundation in our own society. Let them choose and they will choose partisan ephemera, such as is found in the studies curricula.

  2. I reluctantly disagree, for I support the ideas of learning to appreciate Western civilization:
    The damage content does to students — mostly waste of time and money, hardly anyone believes the garbage — is made possible by requirements in the college curriculum. Let students be free to choose to make the content of their own credential, and I wager the tendentious fluff will all but disappear, and it wouldn’t take long.
    Obversely, if Western Civ were made a requirement, it would not take long before the content were taken over by the studies people.
    While many faculty have a political agenda, most freshman don’t, and are anyway broader minded than most faculty.

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