Wednesday, January 20, 2010

5 Cities that Ruled the World

By Douglas Wilson, 236 pages,, $14.99.

Wilson offers readers a Christian view of history, which is a refreshing departure from the usual deconstructing, anti-Caucasian, anti-Western, and anti-Christian views. Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, London, and New York played central roles in the founding of the creative, dynamic, free West that the author admires. He shows how the ancient Greco-Roman genius for philosophy and law grafted onto the Hebrew and thence Christian spiritual views and produced Western culture. This lead to the lofty literature of London and the capitalist genius of New York City.

He argues rather successfully that these five cities are the cities of liberty. Each contributed in their own way to the modern multi-faceted view of freedom. Athens' intellectual dynamism went well with Roman rule of law. Jerusalem completed them by offering the inner liberty of the spirit.

In a short book such as 5 Cities that Ruled the World, Wilson is unable to develop more fully the interactions among these different notions. Nor does he offer a critical examination of his thesis. He believes wholeheartedly in American capitalism, and offers short shrift to other cultures, such as Islamic. He fails to criticize capitalism for its global upheaval of human ecology or its role in environmental degradation.

The author does critique the common misconception that dour Puritans never had fun and were simple-minded Bible-thumpers. He counters: “Their swashbuckling Calvinism, their classical education, and their love of beauty were culturally compelling,” in contrast to the “rigorist” papacy of the time.

Despite the lack of critical examination of capitalism, it's nice to read a book that highlights the many great achievements of Western culture, rather than focusing on the bad side.

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