“Western civilization,” “North Atlantic community,” “the unity of the free world”—such phrases are employed nowadays by our publicists and our politicians so frequently and loosely that, to a good many of us in America, the words have ceased to signify much. Yet the United States of America is engaged in a tremendous defense of an ancient culture in which our country participates. We sense that, in this time when the fountains of the great deep are broken up, we are resisting as best we can a barbarous force: the power of a totalitarianism which would put an end to our civilization. It is high time, I think, that we began to come to a better understanding of the cause which is ours.

Nearly a generation ago, in “The Revolt of the Masses,” José Ortega y Gassett wrote that American civilization could not long survive any catastrophe to European society. Ortega was right. American culture, and the American civil social order, are derived from principles and establishments that arose in Europe. We are part of a great continuity and essence, bound up with an ancient culture. In conscience and in self-interest, we dare not abandon our fellow-sharers in that cultured inheritance.


The principal elements of this common patrimony of American and European civilization are the Christian faith, the Roman and medieval heritage of ordered liberty, and the great body of Western literature. It is a legacy of belief, not a legacy of blood. So far as race and nationality are concerned, the continuity between Europe and America is very confused and imperfect.

The most valuable thing in our common inheritance is the Christian religion. As one of the most perceptive of American philosophers and critics, Irving Babbitt, wrote ...

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