When we argue about what should be taught in schools and colleges, at stake is our conception of the world. Our theory of the world tells us what we should teach, and whom we may ignore.

Debates precipitated by Secretary Bennett’s important criticism of the Stanford curriculum centered upon the inclusion of formerly-ignored groups. But how to include Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Pacific in such a way as to hold the whole together? Merely political arguments against or for affording a full hearing to the neglected parts of the world are beside the point. If Africa, China, and Latin America are important, they belong within the curriculum, and if not, then mere institutional politics should not make any difference. But what defines importance? The real question is not how to include everyone, but why to include anyone, East or West. There has to be a single theory of the whole, of what has made the world we propose to explain to the coming generations and so to hand on to them.

I think we should continue to lay stress on the West and its history and culture, because the West has made the world we know. Anyone who wants to participate in world civilization in the coming century had better know precisely how and why the West has defined, and will continue to define, that civilization. Why do I say so? Because everybody wants what we have.

People aspire to those material advantages that flow, uniquely I think, from the modes of social organization that the West has devised—the West’s economics, the West’s science and technology, and also, let us say it straight out, the West’s politics and philosophy. Since the simple fact of world civilization is that the West has now defined the world’s economy, politics, and philosophy, and since all social systems measure themselves by Western civilization in its capacity to afford to large masses of people both material wealth and political power, the West demands close study.

Study India, China, Japan, Latin America? Of course. But what do we want to know? One critical question that demands our study of the rest of the world is simply this: why has the West created what the rest now wants? Why is there no capitalism in India, China, or Judaism? Why no science in Africa? Why so little democracy in Asia? And, conversely, why all of these in the West?

We have so much to learn from other countries, once we establish our common questions and perspectives. But there is no understanding the world without the West. Democracy, capitalism, anticolonialism, science, technology, ever-rising productivity in industry and agriculture—these deeply Western (and, as a matter of fact, quintessentially American) values are now universal. They define what there is to know about everyone, everywhere—beginning, of course, with ourselves.