The Meaning of “the West”

Many people use the term “the West” or “Western civilisation” as if they actually knew what it meant. Politicians especially love to speak of “the West,” not just as a political entity but even as a quasi-mystical or mythical being. The Buddhist has the sangha, the muslim has the ummah, the Christian has the oikoumenē. The politician, however, has “the West” and speaks of it in much the same way.

Not only does the politician not have a sniff of a clue what he’s talking about, he actually imposes upon us a falsehood. The politician does so for one reason — to make us governable. His especial interest is in winning power and authority and in the exercise of that power and authority. If a lie will accomplish that better than a truth, then the lie will always be preferred to the truth. The lie is simply called “political truth”. What is “political truth”? It is a lie designed to make us governable. But a lie which, in the end, corrupts us all.

In the rhetoric of the politician, “the West” and “the Modern Era” are exactly equivalent. He confuses a transient, temporal block of time with a geographical and spatial one, and then imposes this confusion on us.

Following Rosenstock-Huessy and William Blake, too, I want to try to bring some clarity to the meaning of “the West”. That history is, after all, largely our own autobiography, taking the fact that most of the readers of the Chrysalis are Westerners. Even in Blake’s “fourfold vision” there is more profound historical truth than Blake is ever given credit for, and it is Blake’s “fourfold vision” that I want to rely on for re-interpreting and revealing the meaning of “the West”, and why “the single vision” of the contemporary politician — and of our current “common sense” —  is a disaster.

In Rosenstock-Huessy’s “quadrilateral logic” of the cross of reality, and in Blake’s “fourfold vision” there is a new and superior logic of times and spaces that is truly revelatory and transformative, something you may have sensed in past posts on Blake’s “fourfold vision” and Rosenstock’s “grammatical method”. In some ways, this thinking is in the form of a mandala as contrasted with the pyramid of consciousness I have so often discussed before, and as this pyramid or cone is so frequently represented in the symbols of the Modern Age. That pyramid is the shape of our consciousness — perspectivising or “point-of-view-line-of-thought” consciousness.

As noted before, you can see the fundamental structure of the new consciousness with its new logic in comparing Blake’s fourfold vision with Rosenstock’s “cross of reality”, and how these, in turn, differ from the pyramid of perspectivising logic which is, at best, a triangular logic rather than a quadrilateral logic. The triangular logic of perspectivising consciousness is a logic geared to space only as it expands in three dimensions — length, breadth, and depth. Depth was the new factor that emerged in the Renaissance with the perspective artists. The new quadrilateral logic adds the dimension of time to thinking, especially since Einstein’s disclosure of time as “the fourth dimension”.

William Blake -- the Fourfold Vision

William Blake — the Fourfold Vision

Rosenstock-Huessy's "cross of reality"

Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”


You can appreciate how these illustrations of the new logic compare to the Buddhist mandala and the Sacred Hoop of the North American native peoples, too.

Buddhist "Vantra" -- Mandala of the Integral

Buddhist “Vantra” — Mandala of the Integral


Sacred Hoop Symbol

Sacred Hoop Symbol

And, for good measure, we’ll also reproduce Carl Jung’s mandala of the integral self and his theory of psychological types.

Jung's four psychological functionsOn the basis of this new mandala-like, fourfold logic, the previously undisclosed history of “the West” is revealed, and this has surprising consequences for our entire relationship to reality and our self-understanding, ie, our consciousness and our perception. This is the significance of William Blake, of Rosenstock-Huessy, of Jean Gebser and others.

Rosenstock-Huessy showed in his book Out of Revolution: Autobiography of Western Man that the Modern Era  was shaped by four revolutions — the Lutheran (Reformation), the English Glorious Revolution, the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution (the American Revolution wasn’t a revolution, but a colonial war of independence). This series, he argued, was made necessary and fateful by precedents established in the Lutheran revolt. Each revolution subsequently was a specialisation in adjusting to a new picture or image of the human — the shaping of “modern man”. This pattern of four revolutions corresponds to Jung’s four psychological types and to Blake’s image of the fourfold human, too.  The “new man” — the man of the modern type — had to be re-adjusted in his thinking, feeling, sensing, and willing. And what each revolution left  unfinished in this transformation of the total human form, became the exaggerated principle of the next in the series. From Luther to Lenin is the record of the transformation of the human form, the human image, from soul to body or, as they say, from crown to foot.

As the Modern Era and its “new man” was shaped by these revolutions, so what is called “the West” as an historical entity is the result of four streams of influence and representative types:

The Tribal, whose representative type is the Bard (art, poetry).
The Judeo-Christian, whose representative type is the Prophet (religion, priest).
The Greek, whose representative type is the Philosopher (thinker, science).
The Roman, whose representative type is the Politician (lawyer, rule of law).

These are, in effect, William Blake’s “four Zoas” of the fourfold human, and each represents equally Jung’s model of psychic integration or fracture. Each has contended historically and even individually for dominance of both the psychic ecology and society: Tribal man against Judeo-Christian man (Nazism), the thinker against the poet (Plato), the politician against the priest, and vice versa and so on. There are not “two cultures” in conflict, as C.P. Snow famously argued — arts and science. That is the typical myopia of dualistic thinking. There are four “cultures”. These reflect not only the psychic constitution of the fourfold human as being of thinking, feeling, sensing, and willing, but also the structure of spacetime — two times (past and future) and two spaces (inner and outer). Backwards and forwards, inwards and outwards maps the expansion or contraction and the directedness of our awareness.

Given this, what we read in Blake’s manifesto “There is NO Natural Religion” is a very profound diagnosis of the Western condition,

 If it were not for the Poetic or Prophetic Character, the Philosophic and Experimental would soon be at the Ratio of all things; and stand still, unable to do other than repeat the same dull round over again.

A cursory reading of this passage might lead one to conclude that there are only two “camps” or options — “the Poetic or Prophetic” on the one hand and the “Philosophical and Experimental” on the other. But these are actually four different streams. The Poetic and the Prophetic correspond to past and future; the Philosophic and Experimental correspond to the inner and outer (subject-object), respectively. This is consistent with Blake’s understanding of the fourfold and his four Zoas of the integral human.

(It should be pointed out that in Western terms, it was not the Druid or priest that was the dominant type in the Celtic tribes. It was the Bard or poet who was most respected and also most feared because of his ability to either exalt or debase your name and your deeds. Likewise, it’s assumed that the shaman or medicine man is the central or most honoured figure of the tribal societies of North America. That is not the case. It was the man or woman who could “speak from the centre of the voice”.

This “centre of the voice” might sound strange, but it is in effect the Heraclitean “Logos” or the Buddhist “dharma” or the Tao, or the Norse world axis Ygdrasil, etc.  To speak from the centre of the voice is to speak from the centre of the Sacred Hoop, illustrated above. That is quite the same “place” as the centre of Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” or William Blake’s “Adam” in the illustration of his fourfold vision above.  The one who speaks from the centre of the voice is the one who, by his speech, integrates the guardians of the four directions — North, South, East, West.

(And, as you may recall, this is also the legend of the Buddha who, upon his enlightenment, was gifted the begging bowls of the Guardians of the Four Directions, but which he “for the sake of his dharma” integrated with his own begging bowl).

Blake thought of politics as the chief “art” because it was, ideally, supposed to be the reconciliation and harmonisation of these four streams, and a guarantor of the dynamic equilibrium amongst them. Instead, it had become a usurper and itself a tyrant.

And that is, largely, the complaint also of John Ralston Saul in Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West. At least, I have found so far in my reading of it that it is not “reason” per se that has become dictatorial, but the degeneracy of reason into technicism, managerialism, and rationalisation, or what we might call “the politics of reason” having become indistinguishable from unreason.


2 responses to “The Meaning of “the West””

  1. Scott Preston says :

    John David Ebert is a cultural philosopher, and he has produced a series of lectures on Understanding Modern Art on YouTube. The lectures are, he says, based on his book Art After Metaphysics. The first lecture is here,

    And you can catch the rest of the series (4 at this time) posted on the YouTube sidebar.

    The reason I wanted to mention this (I haven’t yet listened to the whole series) is that Ebert also did a very lengthy series of lectures on Jean Gebser and his book The Ever-Present Origin, which you can also view on YouTube, so there may well be overlapping themes in this discussion of art and consciousness mutations. (I’ve only viewed his class on Jackson Pollock so far, posted this afternoon, so I can’t vouch for the series as a whole).

    The state and fate of art might be something you may be interested in as it reflects our present situation.

    • LittleBigMan says :

      The first and the second in the “Understanding Contemporary Art Class” series were pretty good, in my opinion. Van Gogh’s brilliantly colored painting are always a pleasure to look at. But I thought the best work of art – which by the way I had never seen or heard of before – was Picasso’s 1910 “Portrait of Ambrose Voilard” which appeared in the second of the video series. Oh my, oh my, that’s some serious stare into man’s unconscious. No wonder Picasso’s name had the honor of having been mentioned by Seth. Here’s an image of the painting:

      In “The Over-Soul”, Emerson said something about the North American native people’s “centre of the voice,” too. Here’s that excerpt:

      “If he have found his centre, the Deity will shine through him, through all the disguises of ignorance, of ungenial temperament, of unfavorable circumstance.”

      It’s marvelous that truth transcends peoples and times. The real obstacles are within man himself. Once he sees this, he will begin his journey on a glorious path. I am a firm believer that sooner or later Mother Earth will teach man how to behave.

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