From Plato to NATO: The Idea of the West and Its Opponents

David Gress, Author
David Gress, Author Free Press $30 (624p) ISBN 978-0-684-82789-6
Paperback - 624 pages - 978-0-7432-6488-4
Ebook - 624 pages - 978-1-4391-1901-3
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Conventional historians, asserts Gress in this original, sweeping study, see Western civilization as a progressive, linear sequence ""from Plato to NATO,"" meaning that our modern ideals of freedom and democracy flowed directly from classical Greece. To the contrary, argues Gress, the notion of modern political liberty--a set of practices and institutions--took shape between the fifth and eighth centuries in a synthesis of classical, Christian and Germanic cultures. Gress's thesis that the Germanic tribes who invaded the former Roman Empire infused new energy and an ethos of heroic, aristocratic freedom was popular in the U.S. until the early 20th century, but, as he notes, it fell out of favor after two world wars and the experience of Nazism. The real strength of his scholarly inquiry lies in its fertile dialogue with Gibbon, Tocqueville, Goethe, Nietzsche, Marx, Montesquieu, T.S. Eliot, Joseph Campbell and numerous others as he wrestles with Western survival and the concept of Western identity. Arguing that the U.S. remains the bulwark and heartland of democratic liberal Western values, Gress mounts a withering attack on those he considers motley critics of modern capitalism and the West, including Sartre's slavish Stalinism, Toynbee's anti-Americanism, postmodernist nihilists (Jacques Derrida, Jean-Fran ois Lyotard), multiculturalists who assume that no single culture is preferable to any other and ""Singapore school"" economists who divorce economic development from political liberty. Gress, a historian, is a fellow at the Danish Institute of International Affairs. (July)
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