“… [W]hat are the foundational texts of Western civilization, that can bolster our belief in the almost boundless power of the free individual human being?”—Niall Ferguson asks on the last pages of Civilization, The West and the Rest
And footnoted he answers:
“I would suggest the King James Bible, Isaac Newton’s Principia, John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, Adam Smith’s Moral Sentiments and Wealth of Nations, Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France and Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species— to which should be added William Shakespeare’s plays and selected speeches of Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill.”
A reasonable, rational, intelligent list I suppose, and one that condemns us to mediocrity and misunderstanding moving forward. The sort of list that emphasizes the differences between The West and the Rest, as Niall puts it, utterly ignores time, and in no way points towards a future where all life is embraced and honoured.
Here we have reached an impasse, and blocking our way are shelves full of ‘foundational texts’ such as these and the reams of academic blather derived from them.
However, superseding Isaac Newton’s Principia is Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.
What does that mean?
Isaac Newton dealt with the relationship and forces acting between bodies in space. All is cut and dried, the bodies in space and space itself. With Einstein we learn to our utter bafflement that the bodies ARE space—congealed so to speak—but one all the same.
Alongside the King James Bible as foundational to the West, Ferguson mentions the Koran as foundational to Islam. When he does so he merely highlights his own limited Newtonian thought, drawing clear distinctions between bodies of people in space and time.
Joseph Campbell on the other hand is Einsteinian in his approach to the matter. Listen:
“Looking back today over the twelve delightful years that I spent on this richly rewarding enterprise, I find that its main result for me has been its confirmation of a thought I have long and faithfully entertained: of the unity of the race of man, not only in its biology but also in its spiritual history, which has everywhere unfolded in the manner of a single symphony, with its themes announced, developed, amplified and turned about, distorted, reasserted, and, today, in a grand fortissimo of all sections sounding together, irresistibly advancing to some kind of mighty climax, out of which the next great movement will emerge.”—Joseph Campbell, on completion of his Masks Of God series
Joseph Campbell dissolves the ‘foundational texts’ and points the way forward. In latter-day holistic-speak, he transcends their limitations.
His is a foundational text for the future, and as such is high up on the Omphalos Cafe curriculum…. if there were such a thing.