Not the least important insight of David Gress’s frequently important and always useful book is that the cultural vandals who have been taking their little hatchets to the idea of “Western Civilization” for the past thirty years or so have been powerfully aided by the overweening of that idea’s advocates and champions. Influenced by America’s civic religion and the tradition of the mythologizing of the Founding Fathers, they invented what Mr. Gress calls the “Grand Narrative” of Western civilization based on a “Magic Moment” theory of historiography. The first and paradigmatic Magic Moment for these theorists was the discovery (as they imagined it) by the ancient Greeks of the abstract principles of democracy and individual liberty. History since then can be summed up as the loss and rediscovery of these principles in further Magic Moments, such as the Enlightenment or the founding of the American...

 
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