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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking Analysis, September 9, 2005
This review is from: From Plato to NATO: The Idea of the West and Its Opponents (Paperback)
Gress' book is intensively researched and well formulated. It somewhat overstates the case "against" Greece as an ancestor of the modern West, but this really amounts to the author being very vigorous in deconstructing the "Grand Narrative" (the post-WWI narrative concocted by mostly American scholars and public intellectuals that celebrated Greece as the cradle of Western "democratic" civilization).

I would suggest, as someone who was an undergrad in the 1970s, that the "Grand Narrative" no longer needs quite so much deconstructing. It was much criticized in the 1970s, and I don't think it's taught at all today. The 19th century German penchant for locating the source of all political enlightenment in Ancient Greece is just no longer a problem for us.

Moreover, any modern Westerner surveying the history and literature of the ancient world will find his political sympathies lying with that of Greece, and specifically and definitely NOT with that of China, India, Persia, or Egypt. Gress' thesis that the modern West arose from a synthesis of Roman, Christian, and Germanic philosophies and practices is useful in highlighting the undoubted contributions of those influences. Certainly the American ideas of individual liberty and self-government did not spring unmediated from Ancient Greece. But there is a reason why a modern American can read Thucydides' account of the political bickering in ancient Athens and see himself -- and why he doesn't have a like sensation when encountering ancient texts from other parts of the world. Athenian Greece, alone among ancient civilizations, had an idea of citizenship and self-government that has survived into the modern era -- modified over time with ideas on individual worth and equality before law, as well as limited government and checks and balances, that came from Rome, Christianity, and the Germans of late antiquity and the Middle Ages.

If Gress were to write this book again, in later life, I think he might tone down his argument AGAINST Western ideas having Greek origins, and rather emphasize that although some key Western ideas were indeed found in Ancient Greece, others derived from separate or more recent sources. Considered in this way, his contribution in identifying the other sources, and their importance in creating all of what the West is today, is outstanding.
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