The Cosmopolitan Predicament   /   Fall 2009   /    Essays

Secularization and the Universalizing Process

John M. Headley

The current literary and intellectual fashions that prevail in the academic life of our campuses urge that nothing is unique or exceptional about our western civilization except perhaps its oppressiveness. Criticism of the West has indeed come to focus upon its expansionist or imperialist features. Yet the West in several respects manifests, as does no other civilization, a universalizing process that received part of its initial impetus from the Stoic notion of a world community, a cosmopolitan- ism that serves to create the possibility of a common humanity and addresses the public needs of that greater complex, humankind. The most obvious universalizing features are the West’s scientific and technological achievements, which have been extended to the entire globe and which the peoples of the earth seem eager to accept, thereby help- ing to promote a single, comprehensive modern civilization. Two other universalizing features of a political nature in western development—the idea of a common human- ity and the practice of political dissent—seem to have been forgotten in the rush after

1970 to marginalize political, legal, and constitutional history in order to explore other dimensions of history.

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