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It is possible to draw certain parallels between the West's present predicament and similar periods of radical change and the dislocation of values, and so to suggest that this sort of thing has happened before, that man has always come our of such situations and landed on his feet, that history is basically cyclical, and that there is no need to be unduly alarmed about our contemporary situation. While it is possible to make a very convincing case for this argument, there are three major factors which are new today. Thanks to our past territorial expansion and new techniques of communication, there is no area of the Western World whose ideas and institutions have been unchanged, Today's changes are immediately carried to all parts of the world. Thus there are no longer any isolated areas to which people can go to escape change and its consequences. Also, thanks to the same means no classes in society are immune from these changes. Whereas in earlier centuries such changes affected only minority groups and limited areas, now they affect all groups and all areas. And further, as we have already noted, this combination of factors, plus the size of our institutions and their competition with one another, have served to increase the rate of change. These three new factors have helped to make our contemporary crisis both more widespread and penetrating than the others which Western Civilization has experienced. [excerpt]


This is a part of Section XIX: An Analysis of the Contemporary World's Search for Meaning. The Contemporary Civilization page lists all additional sections of Ideas and Institutions of Western Man, as well as the Table of Contents for both volumes.

More About Contemporary Civilization:

From 1947 through 1969, all first-year Gettysburg College students took a two-semester course called Contemporary Civilization. The course was developed at President Henry W.A. Hanson’s request with the goal of “introducing the student to the backgrounds of contemporary social problems through the major concepts, ideals, hopes and motivations of western culture since the Middle Ages.”

Gettysburg College professors from the history, philosophy, and religion departments developed a textbook for the course. The first edition, published in 1955, was called An Introduction to Contemporary Civilization and Its Problems. A second edition, retitled Ideas and Institutions of Western Man, was published in 1958 and 1960. It is this second edition that we include here. The copy we digitized is from the Gary T. Hawbaker ’66 Collection and the marginalia are his.