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Critical Analysis for “Why Western History Matters” by Donald Kagan
“Why Western History Matters” is an essay adapted from a speech Donald Kagan delivered to the National Association of Scholars, and was reprinted in the December 28, 1994, issue of the Wall Street Journal. Throughout Kagan’s essay, he describes the essential need for the college course, Western History. He does so by examining older cultures and explaining why they were quintessential to the past and to our future development as a society. I strongly concur with Kagan’s standpoint of the necessity of history, and the realization of how exactly our flourishing society came about. History is a key constituent in determining who we are; for to determine who we are one must first know from whence they came. In the words of George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.
Donald Kagan argues for the requisiteness of Western History by describing older cultures, and then explaining how these older cultures became a key influence in what our society has become today. He examines the ancient Greek, Christian, and English culture influences that helped form our country. Throughout his essay, his depth of historical research is quite evident. He uses historical research of past cultures to imply the necessity of knowing where we, as Americans, came from. This approach helps establish the author’s credibility, and makes his presentation more plausible.
The first ancient civilization that Kagan highlights is the Greek. He writes of their republic city-states, and pioneering of a “political life come to be shared by a relatively large portion of people”. He uses the Greek culture as an influence of science and reason. “The Greeks exposed everything they perceived—natural, human and divine—to the searching examination of reason.” Finally he describes the Greek quest for virtue and morality. He uses these examples to show how similar our culture is to the Greek.
Second, Kagan explains of the Christian influence on our society. With the controversial idea of Christianity, “Philosophy led to the powerful divisive quarrels about the nature of God and other theological questions”. The influence of Christianity established itself within great writers of American history, who helped shape our country. Such as John Locke, who influenced our country’s foundation with the idea of God given “natural rights”, life, liberty and property. All of which define our personal freedom today.
Finally, he discusses the influence of the English Revolution.
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In conclusion, my acceptance of the ideas expressed by Donald Kagan’s essay makes the study of Western History an obligation to bettering of society. After reading this essay of “Why Western History Matters” I feel I have a better understanding of where we as Americans came from. Donald Kagan stated in his essay, with ample historical evidence, “The abandonment of such a study or its adulteration for current political purposes would be a terrible loss to all of humanity”. The understanding of where we came from is essential to the further advancement of our society. A quote comes to mind, by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, “All truly wise thoughts have been thought already thousands of times; but to make them truly ours, we must think them over again honestly, till they take root in our personal experiences.”