Those of us raised in a Western culture like that of the U.S. have problems understanding why people don’t just turn themselves over to our way of doing things. After all, aren’t we wealthy and peaceful and don’t the wealth and peace arise from our efficiency and scientism? Oh yes, we have to brush under the rug our crazies and our poor, but overall we in the West seem to have won the original Culture Wars, particularly with the fall of Communism. Does anyone seriously consider either China or Cuba model Communist states?
Yet a person grows up in a culture and is formed by that culture. Breaking out of that is the job of the intellectual, though the record on that isn’t too good. People in the Eastern Mediterranean seem to have a different view of the world than those of us in the West and those in Eastern Europe seem to straddle East and West without fully committing to either. So what are the cultural roots that form these people? Why don’t they just jump whole-hog over to Western style democracy, religion, education, law, and orthodontistry?
We have to look at the world that formed those cultures and that world was dominated by the Byzantine world, a world that not only produced art, religion, government, and order for millions of people in the Eastern Mediterranean and Eastern Europe but staved off both an encroaching Islam and constant forays by the people of the Steppes. This went on a thousand years while Western Europe dug itself out of the Dark Ages, a thousand years of fragments and remnants of civilization rejuvenated by Islamic and Jewish scholars and taking inspiration from Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece.
So how do we manage to ignore the contributions of Byzantium? By using the word Byzantine as a word of opprobrium and by looking at only the last few hundred years when the region was dominated by the Ottoman-Turkish-Islamic Empire. The East had indeed sunk into squalor, giving us mainly refugee immigrants and Dracula. But that is not what formed the people of these regions. Consider a kind of cultural memory.