In From Plato to NATO
, political historian David Gress takes a wide-ranging look at the development of Western Europe and its colonial outposts. Gress views Europe not just as a geographic entity, but as a complex of conflicting ideas such as social good and individual rights, control and freedom. Those ideas come from many traditions, and they have blended to make the region politically and economically unlike any other in the world. Gress's viewpoint is conservative, but the author also calls himself a "skeptical liberal." Readers of all political stripes will find much food for thought in these pages.
From Publishers Weekly
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-Francois 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.
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