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Impact of Western European Ideologies on Western Civilization

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will learn about the impact of Western European ideologies on Western Civilization. We will also identify the heritage of the Angles, Saxons, Magyars, and Vikings.

Western Civilization and Its Roots

Democracy. Individualism. Human reason. Capitalism. Tolerance. What do all of these themes have in common? They are all core components of Western Civilization. Western Civilization consists of the heritage, norms, and values associated with European civilization. As Americans, we are products of Western Civilization. Our emphasis on science and logic, our capitalist system, our technological achievements, and our philosophic framework for understanding reality are distinctively Western.

Western Civilization and Western European ideology are more or less the same thing. Western Civilization is, at its core, European civilization, and European civilization as we know it was particularly vibrant throughout Western Europe. Think of Western European ideology as the epitome of what Western Civilization is.

The ideologies of Western European culture can be traced back to ancient times. The ancient Greeks and ancient Romans are often cited as inaugurating Western Civilization. The ancient Greeks developed modern democracy as we know it, and their contributions to science, medicine, philosophy, and architecture form the foundation for Western culture. Their contributions continue to be relevant to this day. For example, the American capital, Washington, D.C., is constructed in a neo-classical architectural form, a form based on Greek and Roman architecture. The Romans borrowed much from the Greeks, and they were instrumental in spreading this culture from the Mediterranean to Europe. From there it spread to various European people groups.

An example of neo-classical architecture.
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The Angles and Saxons

Our knowledge of ancient European people groups is limited. We know much more about the people of the Middle East during ancient times, than we do about Europeans. However, we do know that in the post-Roman period, the Angles were one of the chief people groups to settle Western Europe, particularly the region of what is now called Great Britain. It is believed by some experts that the Angles originated from the Scandinavian region, before migrating to the British Isles. Another Germanic group, the Saxons, from central Europe (probably what is now Germany) in time merged with the Angles, to form the Anglo-Saxons, the first group to settle and rule England. The Anglo-Saxons settled England in the 5th century. Interestingly, the word 'England' has its root with the Angle people group.

Over the course of the Middle Ages, the Anglo-Saxons developed an advanced society. The English language is perhaps the most significant and enduring legacy of the Anglo-Saxons. By the seventh century, a primitive form of English, called Old English began to replace the forms of Latin spoken by the Romans. The Anglo-Saxons adopted democracy, and developed their own unique style of architecture. The All Saints' Church, Earls Barton is a notable Anglo-Saxon architectural piece.

An Old English script.
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The Magyars and Vikings

The Magyars, or the Hungarians, are another people group who originated in central Europe. They came to dominate the region that is now the country of Hungary, and during the Middle Ages, extended throughout central Europe. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, the Magyars clung to absolutism, a form of government in which a king or queen holds absolute power over citizens. Throughout the Middle Ages and even well into the Modern Age, absolutism was popular throughout Europe. Think of the many European monarchs: King James I, King Louis XVI, and Queen Elizabeth I, just to name a few. European absolutism provided stability and strength for nation-states, but at times also oppression. Like other areas of Europe, Christianity eventually spread among Hungary, and became a defining part of Magyar culture.

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