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Legacy - The Barbarian West

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Legacy - The Barbarian West

In the beginning of this episode, Wood states that the "history of the West, more than any other, has swung between savagery and idealism, a contradiction apparently deeply rooted in our character and history." This episode explores the history of this contradiction and the development of individualism, based on the ownership of property and a free marketplace, as a guiding principle of Western civilization. This exploration starts in ancient Greece and moves to Rome, Barbaric Europe, the rise of Christianity, the Reformation, the age of exploration, the conquest of the New World, the early United States, and the drive for unification in Europe.

Wood's presentation of the history of the West is heavily focused on its outward movements rather than on internal developments. He asks the question, "how was it that such small countries came to dominate other peoples?". The conquests of Alexander the Great and the colonization of much of the world by Western nations are discussed at length and with a disturbing enthusiasm as the destruction and long-term oppression produced by these conquests is often glossed over and the West is held up as a champion of uniting the world into "an organic whole" and creating a world economy. For example, Wood exclaims that "Greek conquests liberated tremendous historical energies" and opened great trade routes, but he does not discuss at length the cost many Westerners and conquered peoples were forced to pay in order to make these conquests and trade routes viable.

In contrast to the other episodes, this one shows modern technology and culture as an integral part of present-day Western civilization. Instead of giving examples of how many Westerners carry on the traditions of their ancestors, parallelling the examples on the other episodes, present-day Westerners are shown in a fully modern context. That is, the modern expression of the great tradition of the West is presented whereas ancient expressions of other great traditions are emphasized. The difference in the style of presentation of Western and non-Western civilizations throughout the series creates the following set of oppositions:

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