Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Issues in Western Civilization

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  • Edition: 1st
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2000-04-24
  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill Education
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This debate style reader is designed to introduce students to controversies in western civilizations. The readings, which represent the arguments of leading historians and researchers, reflect a variety of viewpoints and have been selected for their liveliness and substance and because of their value in a debate framework. This new title will be a beneficial tool to encourage critical thinking on important issues in western civilizations.

Table of Contents

PART 1. The Classical World

ISSUE 1. Was a Slave Society Essential to the Development of Athenian Democracy?

YES: Orlando Patterson, from Freedom, vol. 1: Freedom in the Making of Western Culture

NO: Donald Kagan, from Pericles of Athens and the Birth of Democracy

Sociology professor Orlando Patterson states that the presence of a large slave population was a necessary ingredient in the development of Athenian democracy. History professor Donald Kagan maintains that Athenian democracy developed gradually over three centuries and the leadership of Pericles was crucial to its success.

ISSUE 2. Does Alexander the Great Merit His Exalted Historical Reputation?

YES: N. G. L. Hammond, from The Genius of Alexander the Great

NO: E. E. Rice, from Alexander the Great

Professor emeritus of Greek N. G. L. Hammond states that research has proven that Alexander the Great is deserving of his esteemed historical reputation. Senior research fellow and lecturer E. E. Rice maintains that, other than his conquests, Alexander the Great left few tangible legacies to merit his exalted historical reputation.

ISSUE 3. Did Christianity Liberate Women?

YES: Karen Jo Torjesen, from When Women Were Priests

NO: Karen Armstrong, from The Gospel According to Woman: Christianity's Creation of the Sex War in the West

Professor of religion and associate of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity, Karen Jo Torjesen, presents evidence of women deacons, priests, prophets, and bishops during the first millennium of Christianity--all roles that suggest both equality and liberation for women. Professor of religious studies Karen Armstrong finds in the early Christian Church examples of hostility toward women and fear of their sexual power which she contends led to the exclusion of women from full participation in a male-dominated church.

ISSUE 4. Did the Roman Empire Collapse Due to Its Own Weight?

YES: Averil Cameron, from The Later Roman Empire: A.D. 284-430

NO: Derek Williams, from Romans and Barbarians: Four Views from the Empire's Edge, First Century A.D.

Historian Averil Cameron states that, although the barbarian invasions played a role in the demise of the Roman Empire, internal political, social, and economic problems were primarily responsible for its fall. Writer Derek Williams counters that the barbarian tribes, once Rome's allies, were principally liable for the empire's fall.

ISSUE 5. Did Same-Sex Unions Exist in the Early Middle Ages?

YES: John Boswell, from Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe

NO: Philip Lyndon Reynolds, from "Same-Sex Unions: What Boswell Didn't Find," The Christian Century

Yale University history professor John Boswell states that same-sex unions, which date back to pagan times, existed in medieval Europe until they were gradually done away with by the Christian Church. Reviewer Philip Lyndon Reynolds, while admitting that "brotherhood" ceremonies took place in medieval Europe, asserts that these ceremonies did not have the same authority as sacred unions and therefore cannot be equated with marriage rites.

PART 2. The Medieval/Renaissance Worlds

ISSUE 6. Were the Crusades Motivated Primarily by Religious Factors?

YES: Hans Eberhard Mayer, from The Crusades, 2d ed., trans. John Gillingham

NO: Ronald C. Finucane, from Soldiers of the Faith: Crusaders and Moslems at War

German historian Hans Eberhard Mayer states that although there were other factors important to the development of the Crusades, the strongest motivation was a religious one. British historian Ronald C. Finucane counters that although the religious influence on the Crusades was significant, political, social, economic, and military factors in medieval Europe also played a role in their origin, development, and outcome.

ISSUE 7. Did Women and Men Benefit Equally from the Renaissance?

YES: Mary R. Beard, from Woman as Force in History: A Study in Traditions and Realities

NO: Joan Kelly-Gadol, from "Did Women Have a Renaissance?" in Renate Bridenthal, Claudia Koonz, and Susan Stuard, eds., Becoming Visible: Women in European History, 2d ed.

Historian Mary R. Beard contends that during the Renaissance, Italian women of the higher classes turned to the study of Greek and Roman literature and committed themselves alongside men to developing well-rounded personalities. Historian Joan Kelly-Gadol argues that women enjoyed greater advantages during the Middle Ages and experienced a relative loss of position and power during the Renaissance.

ISSUE 8. Did Martin Luther's Reforms Improve the Lives of European Christians?

YES: Bernard M. G. Reardon, from Religious Thought in the Reformation, 2d ed.

NO: Richard Marius, from Martin Luther: The Christian Between God and Death

Bernard M. G. Reardon, retired head of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, contends that Martin Luther was neither a political nor a social reformer. Instead, he was a spiritual genius who created a new religion within Christianity that remained true to its traditional orthodoxy. Professor emeritus Richard Marius views the Reformation as a catastrophe in the history of Western civilization. He sees Martin Luther's challenge as inaugurating more than a century of religious bloodshed that could have been averted if Luther had remained silent.

ISSUE 9. Did Convents Expand Opportunities for European Women?

YES: Olwen Hufton, from The Prospect Before Her: A History of Women in Western Europe

NO: Elisja Schulte van Kessel, from "Virgins and Mothers Between Heaven and Earth," in Natalie Zemon Davis and Arlette Farge, eds., A History of Women in the West, vol. 3: Renaissance and Enlightenment Paradoxes

Professor of history Olwen Hufton finds that, despite the harsh reforms instituted by the Council of Trent (beginning in 1563), convents remained a viable alternative for European women--a place where they could write, think, and live more independent lives than they could in the secular world. Professor of early modern cultural history Elisja Schulte van Kessel emphasizes the harshness of the Tridentine reforms, which took away the homey atmosphere of convents and restricted affectionate relationships between women, thus making convents a much less attractive alternative for European women.

PART 3. The Premodern World

ISSUE 10. Was the West African Slave Trade a Precondition for the Rise of British Capitalism?

YES: William Darity, Jr., from "British Industry and the West Indies Plantations," in Joseph E. Inikori and Stanley L. Engerman, eds., The Atlantic Slave Trade: Effects on Economies, Societies, and Peoples in Africa, the Americas, and Europe

NO: James A. Rawley, from The Transatlantic Slave Trade: A History

Economics professor William Darity, Jr., argues that the profits derived from the West African slave trade and its concomitant economic ventures played a crucial role in the development of British capitalism. History professor James A. Rawley states that the economic effects of the West African slave trade on the development of British capitalism have been exaggerated due to the faulty use of data and statistics.

ISSUE 11. Were the Witch-Hunts in Premodern Europe Misogynistic?

YES: Anne Llewellyn Barstow, from Witchcraze: A New History of the European Witch Hunts

NO: Robin Briggs, from Witches and Neighbors: The Social and Cultural Context of European Witchcraft

History professor Anne Llewellyn Barstow asserts that the European witch-hunt movement made women its primary victims and was used as an attempt to control their lives and behavior. History professor Robin Briggs states that although women were the European witch-hunts' main victims, gender was not the only determining factor in this sociocultural movement.

ISSUE 12. Was the Scientific Revolution Revolutionary?

YES: Herbert Butterfield, from The Origins of Modern Science, 1300-1800, rev. ed.

NO: Steven Shapin, from The Scientific Revolution

Historian of ideas Herbert Butterfield argues that the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries witnessed a radical break with the past and the emergence of dramatically new ways of understanding both knowledge and the world--in short, a Scientific Revolution. Professor of sociology and historian of science Steven Shapin questions the idea of a Scientific Revolution, suggesting that there was no philosophical break with the past and rejecting the existence of a single event that might be called a Scientific Revolution.

ISSUE 13. Was the French Revolution Worth Its Human Costs?

YES: Peter Kropotkin, from The Great French Revolution, 1789-1793, trans. N. F. Dryhurst

NO: Simon Schama, from Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution

Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921), a Russian prince, revolutionary, and anarchist, argues that the French Revolution eradicated both serfdom and absolutism and paved the way for France's future democratic growth. History professor Simon Schama counters that not only did the French Revolution betray its own goals, but it produced few of the results that it promised.

ISSUE 14. Did British Policy Decisions Cause the Mass Emigration and Land Reforms That Followed the Irish Potato Famine?

YES: Christine Kinealy, from This Great Calamity: The Irish Famine 1845-52

NO: Hasia R. Diner, from Erin's Daughters in America: Irish Immigrant Women in the Nineteenth Century

Christine Kinealy, fellow of the University of Liverpool, argues that the British government's response to the Irish potato famine was deliberately inadequate. The British government's "hidden agenda" of long-term economic, social, and agrarian reform was accelerated by the famine, and mass emigration was a consequence of these changes. Historian Hasia R. Diner documents large-scale emigration both before and after the Irish potato famine. Diner credits the Irish people with learning from their famine experiences that the reliance of the poor on the potato and the excessive subdivision of land within families were no longer in their own best interests.

PART 4. The Modern World

ISSUE 15. Were Economic Factors Primarily Responsible for Nineteenth-Century British Imperialism?

YES: Lance E. Davis and Robert A. Huttenback, from Mammon and the Pursuit of Empire: The Economics of British Imperialism, abridged ed.

NO: John M. MacKenzie, from The Partition of Africa, 1880-1900: And European Imperialism in the Nineteenth Century

Lance E. Davis and Robert A. Huttenback state that, although statistics prove that British imperialism was not a profitable venture, it was supported by an economic elite that was able to promote and derive profits from it. John M. MacKenzie argues that the motivation for British imperialism was multicausal and that most of the causes can be found in the general anxiety crisis permeating British society in the late nineteenth century.

ISSUE 16. Were German Militarism and Diplomacy Responsible for World War I?

YES: V. R. Berghahn, from Imperial Germany, 1871-1914: Economy, Society, Culture, and Politics

NO: Samuel R. Williamson, Jr., from "The Origins of the War," in Hew Strachan, ed., The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War

History professor V. R. Berghahn states that, although all of Europe's major powers played a part in the onset of World War I, recent evidence still indicates that Germany's role in the process was the main factor responsible for the conflict. History professor Samuel R. Williamson, Jr., argues that the factors and conditions that led to the First World War were a shared responsibility and that no one nation can be blamed for its genesis.

ISSUE 17. Did the Bolshevik Revolution Improve the Lives of Soviet Women?

YES: Richard Stites, from The Women's Liberation Movement in Russia: Feminism, Nihilism, and Bolshevism, 1860-1930

NO: Françoise Navailh, from "The Soviet Model," in Françoise Thébaud, ed., A History of Women in the West, vol. 5: Toward a Cultural Identity in the Twentieth Century

History professor Richard Stites argues that in the early years of the Bolshevik Revolution, the Zhenotdel, or Women's Department, helped many working women take the first steps toward emancipation. Film historian Françoise Navailh contends that the Zhenotdel had limited political influence and could do little to improve the lives of Soviet women in the unstable period following the revolution.

ISSUE 18. Was World War II the Result of Hitler's Master Plan?

YES: Andreas Hillgruber, from Germany and the Two World Wars, trans. William C. Kirby

NO: Ian Kershaw, from The Nazi Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation, 3rd ed.

German scholar and history professor Andreas Hillgruber states that Hitler systematically pursued his foreign policy goals once he came to power in Germany and that World War II was the inevitable result. Ian Kershaw, a professor of history at the University of Sheffield, argues that Hitler was responsible for the execution of German foreign policy that led to World War II but was not free from forces both within and outside Germany that influenced his decisions.

PART 5. The Contemporary World

ISSUE 19. Was Stalin Responsible for the Cold War?

YES: John Lewis Gaddis, from We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History

NO: Martin J. Sherwin, from "The Atomic Bomb and the Origins of the Cold War," in Melvyn P. Leffler and David S. Painter, eds., Origins of the Cold War: An International History

Historian John Lewis Gaddis states that after more than a half a century of cold war scholarship, Joseph Stalin still deserves most of the responsibility for the onset of the cold war. Historian Martin J. Sherwin counters that the origins of the cold war can be found in the World War II diplomacy involving the use of the atomic bomb, and he places much of the blame for the cold war on the shoulders of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, and Winston Churchill.

ISSUE 20. Were Ethnic Leaders Responsible for the Disintegration of Yugoslavia?

YES: Warren Zimmermann, from Origins of a Catastrophe

NO: Steven Majstorovic, from "Ancient Hatreds or Elite Manipulation? Memory and Politics in the Former Yugoslavia," World Affairs

Career diplomat Warren Zimmermann, the United States' last ambassador to Yugoslavia, argues that the republic's ethnic leaders, especially Slobodan Milosovic, bear primary responsibility for the nation's demise. Political science professor Steven Majstorovic contends that while manipulation by elite ethnic leaders played a role in the disintegration of Yugoslavia, the fragile ethnic divisions within the country also played an important role in the country's demise.

ISSUE 21. Will the European Monetary Union Increase the Potential for Transatlantic Conflict?

YES: Martin Feldstein, from "EMU and International Conflict," Foreign Affairs

NO: Werner Weidenfeld, from "The Euro and the New Face of the European Union," The Washington Quarterly

Harvard economics professor Martin Feldstein states that the real rationale for the European Monetary Union is political rather than economic. He predicts that a united Europe, free of threats from the Soviet Union, may seek alliances and pursue policies contrary to the interests of the United States. Werner Weidenfeld, director of the Munich Center for Applied Policy Research, sees the European Union as a vehicle for restructuring the transatlantic relationship between Europe and the United States. If they develop a partnership between equals, they will be positioned for international crisis management and other global challenges.

ISSUE 22. Should Contemporary Feminism Ally Itself With Individualism?

YES: Françoise Thébaud, from "Explorations of Gender," in Françoise Thébaud, ed., A History of Women in the West, vol. 5: Toward a Cultural Identity in the Twentieth Century

NO: Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, from Feminism Without Illusions: A Critique of Individualism

A lecturer in women's history at the Université Lumière Lyon, Françoise Thébaud states that the pursuit of individualism and the acquisition of full citizenship rights have permitted women to escape from the confines of the family and achieve independence in the modern world. Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Emory University professor of history and director of women's studies, argues that individualism, which refuses to place any limits on the tyranny of the individual will, is a dead end for feminists, who must insist that the rights of individuals derive from society and not from their innate nature.

ISSUE 23. Is Western Civilization in a State of Decline?

YES: Samuel P. Huntington, from The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order

NO: Francis Fukuyama, from The End of History and the Last Man

Samuel P. Huntington, a professor of the science of government, maintains that due to internal weaknesses and threats from potential rivals organized along civilizational lines, the West is in danger of losing its status as the world's preeminent power base in the twenty-first century. Francis Fukuyama, a former deputy director with the U.S. State Department, argues that with the end of the cold war and the absence of alternatives to liberal democracy, the West is in a position to maintain and expand its role as the world's primary power base.

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