What makes Western Civlization unique?I have to write a paper where we have been asked to try to find something that makes "Western Civilization" Western and different or unique from other...

What makes Western Civlization unique?

I have to write a paper where we have been asked to try to find something that makes "Western Civilization" Western and different or unique from other civilizations whether it be government or religion or something else. 

Expert Answers
stolperia eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I'll try to expand on post #2's suggestion. The emphasis on individual rights comes into play in the transient nature of the Western mindset. In many Western cultures, epitomized in the United States but becoming more common in other parts of the world, it is easy to break away from the nuclear family unit and relocate to another place if there are potential advantages to be found in that new location.

rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The development of capitalism, I think, is the unique aspect of western culture and society. From that came a certain type of industrial arrangement (though not really industry itself) and one can argue a lot of the discourse about individual rights as well. It also contributed to the drive for expansion, which again was not especially unique except in its scale and scope. 

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that the most unique thing about Western civilization historically has been the idea of individual rights and democracy.  This has, of course, not been present at all times in Western history, but it is something that seems to have arisen in the Western world and that was not very present in any other major civilization.

Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One aspect of Western Civilization that makes it unique is Christianity.  Christianity has been a huge defining influence on the culture and history of the Western world, affecting law, art, music, and society.

etotheeyepi | Student

One aspect of cleanliness could be unique to Western Culture. It is not so much cleanliness as it is the thought process, which allows us to know when a thing is clean and when it is not.

As posting #15 points out, the Enlightenment changed the way the world applies reason. This has lead to many discoveries, which include Pasteur's discovery of germs and before that to public health statistics, which (if I remember correctly) were first applied to eliminate cholera in London.

najm1947 | Student

Frizzy, it's sad to know that your mother suffered due to unhygienic conditions in Egypt - a mother is a mother and it does not matters whose mother she is.

I did not intend to show disrespect to non-Muslims regarding cleanliness but only wanted to say that it is not unique to western civilization. You cannot blame Islam if the kitchen staff did not follow the most basic level of hygiene. As I have mentioned at many occasions, most of us call ourselves Muslims but give no importance to what we are required to do like the followers of any other religion.

It is a fact that too much of everything is bad. The use of antiseptic and medicated soaps in west and especially in US has adversely affected the immune system of its population and its ill effects are being recognized now. 

etotheeyepi | Student

About cleanliness

I read this book, Shogan, by James Clavell.  Actually, I'm not sure I read it in the book. Maybe somebody told me this when we talked about the book. But anyway according to Clavell, when Europeans arrived in Japan in maybe the ... (well actually I don't remember when) maybe the sixteenth century, the Japanese made the Europeans bathe. 

This might be because Japanese women have better noses than the rest of us. Clavell didn't say that.  My doctor told me.  I don't know if he is correct.

So cleanliness is not unique to Western Culture.

Also, about homosexuallity:

I'm a Christian. My church has gay and lesbian, as well as loving, families.  These people are not monsters.  They are raising healthy, well adjusted children.

I know that some Muslims and a few Bible-thumping, Devil-hatin', soul-winning Baptists find homosexality abhorant, but, seems to me, they need to get over it.

alphawolf9 | Student

the concept of equality and the cleanliness and i dunno...capitalism for one thing...

etotheeyepi | Student

I think I might vote for the Enlightenment as a unique kind of human endeavor, but I might change my mind when I learn more about the Golden Age of Islam.  As I understand it, Islam might have had two Golden Ages, one under the Abbasids and one under the Turks.

Another thing which might be uniquely Western is iron metalurgy, which produced iron in the form of chainmail, cannons, and clock springs.

frizzyperm | Student

What is 'unique' to western civilization? This is actually quite a tricky question. Some suggestions so far have been 'Christianity' and 'Capitalism' and I respectfully disagree with both of them. I don't think they are uniquely western.

I guess we need to decide what 'western civilization' is. I suggest it is Europe and those New World countries which were originally populated almost exclusively by European settlers (USA, Australia, Canada etc.)

So, for me, I think a major 'unique' thing for western culture is the direct influence of The Enlightenment.  Also known as 'The age of reason', this golden age of human progress over-turned the ancient power structures and kick-started The Modern Era. According to Kant, The Enlightenment was "Mankind's final coming of age, the emancipation of the human consciousness from an immature state of ignorance and error."

Enlightenment thinkers were frustrated that the universities had to conform to religious ideas. So they began a daring process of rationalization and secularization which rapidly overthrew theology's age-old grip on the academic world. The Enlightenment gave western universities a secular and rational bedrock. Freed from the blinding stasis of superstition, they asked lots of new questions; found lots of new answers and catapulted western civilization into an era of genuine learning, development, stabilization and affluence that has been the envy of the entire world.

etotheeyepi | Student

I must wonder if Frizzyperm and Najm1947 really disagree or maybe they are making a joke.

Najm's profile says that he teaches at a university.  With than kind of education, he must know that homosexuality exists in many cultures, even Islam. It is certainly not unique to Western Culture.  Frizzyperm's profile says that he likes catching bullets between my teeth and jumping off very tall buildings without a parachute. Obviously Frizzyperm has a sense of humor.

I might also say that violence is not unique to Islam. Here in Los Angeles, we have gang violence in which members from rival gangs assassinate each other.  In Mexico and Columbia, the drug dealers kill each other.  In the recent past, the Irish Republican Army and the Red Brigade were involved in violence something like Al Qaeda.

etotheeyepi | Student

The Code of Hammurabi "recognizes many ways of disposing of property--sale, lease, barter, gift, dedication, deposit, loan, pledge, all of which were matters of contract. Sale was the delivery of the purchase (in the case of real estate symbolized by a staff, a key, or deed of conveyance) in return for the purchase money, receipts being given for both. Credit, if given, was treated as a debt, and secured as a loan by the seller to be repaid by the buyer . . ."



Ever since I read post #5, I have wondered in capitalism is a modern thing.  The quote above suggest that people in Babylon 3500 years ago used all the implements of capitalism, so wonder if capitalism can be unique to Western Civilization.

etotheeyepi | Student


In A War Like No Other, a book about the Peloponnesean War, Victor Davis Hanson, he lists several things, like democracy and humanism, which could be unique to Western Civilization.  The thing he considers most unique is the tradition of combine military operations which began with the Greek hoplites that were protected by calvery.  He says this led to a tradition deciplined military operations which gave the west an advantage over other cutlures.