The most dangerous aspect of Rep. Steven King’s claim that Europeans have contributed more of value to world civilization than other “subgroups” is his view that “subgroups” exist over extended periods. Even among those denouncing him, few question his faulty premise. Cultures are not products of separate regions sealed off from one another. The Upper Nile (modern Sudan) was a source of Egyptian Pharaonic culture. The ancient Greeks traced the roots of their culture to Egypt. Alexander the Great conquered Persia, and Persia conquered Alexander. Christian doctrine drew heavily on ideas that were circulating widely outside of what would later become the Holy Land. Following the “fall” of Rome, when Western Europe was mired in superstition, the Islamic world kept alive the classical traditions of humanism and scientific inquiry and the works of the Greeks and Romans. Those works were important sources of the European Renaissance, a moment of world-historic significance.
Agriculture, urban life, patriarchal religion and the state were born in the Tigris-Euphrates Valley around 7,000 BCE. The first literary object to emerge from Britain that anyone from anywhere else would take any interest in was Beowulf, around 1000 CE. Around eight thousand years elapsed between the birth of what is called civilization and anything of literary value from Britain. Yet that vast gap in time and space did not prevent the inhabitants of Britain from going on to produce works that illuminated the human condition everywhere, nor did it stop them from tracing their cultural roots to other lands. And that is as it should be. Everything created by human beings everywhere is and ought to be the property of human beings everywhere. I knew an African-American woman who called Milton a black poet. On being asked why, she replied, “Well, I’m black and I like him.” She rejected the iron cage of “Western Civilization,” and so should we.