The Genius of Western Civilization
THE WEST is a landmark six-part documentary series celebrating the history, achievements and genius of Western Civilisation. Written & presented by NCF Senior Fellow Marc Sidwell, author of our critically-acclaimed book “The Long March: How the Left Won the Culture War and What to do About it,"
THE WEST is a bold reminder of who we really are – and why our culture is worth defending.
Inspired by legendary TV programmes such as Civilisation, Kenneth Clark's 1969 masterpiece, THE WEST seeks to update the genre for the 21st century and introduce a new generation to the genius of Western
Civilisation. The West is rarely spoken about in positive terms today. It is impossible, for example, to imagine the BBC making such a programme now. The New Culture Forum has therefore taken on the task, creating a series designed for the YouTube era.
Filmed in Britain, Italy and North America, THE WEST aims to convey the core story of the civilisation that shaped the modern world. Each episode explores a different theme and era.
Episode 1: Liberty or Death
Whatever happened to Western self-confidence? NCF Senior Fellow Marc Sidwell introduces this landmark series, and investigates the mystery of how the West lost faith in itself after the end of the Cold War. We then turn to the even greater mystery – how did the West emerge from primitive poverty in the ruins of Rome to dominate the world?
Debunking the myth that the West's exceptional achievements are founded on plunder and exploitation, we explore its unconventional and decidedly uncivilised origins in the rivalrous and individualistic culture of the barbarians and the patchwork of powers that emerged after the fall of Rome's empire in Western Europe. But the West's long road to civilisation would never have got started without a revolutionary faith from the East...
Episode 2: The Christian Revolution
In episode 2 of "The West," titled "The Christian Revolution," Marc Sidwell examines the influence of Christianity on Western civilization. The episode begins by tracing Christianity's impact on Europe from its arrival to its encounter with Roman power. It then delves into how the faith was adopted by the post-Roman barbarian world of the Franks and Saxons. The role of women in spreading the faith is given particular attention, including the stories of Saint Photina, Queen Bertha of Kent, and Bathilde, a former slave who became a liberator.
The episode highlights the revolutionary doctrines of Christianity, such as individual choice and moral equality, which transformed Western society. Overall, the episode explores the ways in which Christianity helped shape the culture and values of the West.
Episode 3: The Rule of Law
The West is a place where even kings must kneel before the law, and this episode explores the roots of this unique characteristic. It begins by discussing the scourging of King Henry II for the murder of St Thomas a Becket, before examining the decentralised and distributed structure of the West and how it unleashed human possibility.
The competition between Western nations and the conflicting power centers within, including the relationship between church and state, created spaces in which new ideas, projects, and inventions could emerge and take hold. However, the power of law to hold even kings and emperors accountable was the greatest secret of Western success, symbolized in the sealing of Magna Carta.
Overall, episode 3 of "The West" highlights the significance of the Western tradition of law and the decentralised structure that allowed for innovation and progress to thrive.
Episode 4: Science and Innovation
In episode 4 of "The West," the focus is on the West's history of technical innovation. From the beginning, the West has been inventive, using water mills to compensate for the lack of slave labor. The episode explores how the West continued to push the boundaries of innovation, from the rational vision of creation offered by Christianity to the mechanical clocks and glass lenses of the Middle Ages, to the groundbreaking discoveries of Isaac Newton and his successors.
However, the West's inventions were not without consequences. They challenged established truths and raised difficult questions about the use of the powers they had unlocked. The episode ultimately leaves viewers with the challenging question of how we should use the terrifying powers we have created.
Overall, episode 4 of "The West" highlights the West's history of innovation, but also raises important ethical considerations about the use of new technologies and the impact they have on society.
Episode 5: How Did the West Get So Rich?
Beginning with the age of exploration, this episode plunges into the West’s tumultuous and at times traumatic expansion out of Europe. From the accidental discovery of the Americas to the British Empire’s ending of the slave trade, Marc Sidwell offers a nuanced account of the West’s imperial and colonial phase. He also demolishes the persistent myth that slavery and plunder made the West rich, revealing instead the real answer: economic growth powered by industrial capitalism.