The Eternal Argument: A framework for understanding Western Literature and Culture

The Eternal Argument: A framework for understanding Western Literature and Culture

I consider cultural literacy and an understanding of the various world views that underlie our culture essentials of my kids’ educations.

I don’t just want them memorizing names, dates, and facts. I want them to be familiar with the ideas and writings that have shaped the very fabric of our culture, and to understand how and why it all happened. So, when I had the opportunity to review The Eternal Argument, I was intrigued. It looked like it might be a great resource to help us toward that goal.

The Eternal Argument: A framework for understanding Western Literature and Culturepublished by Analytical Grammar, frames the entire history of Western culture as one long argument between two opposing world views:

  • Theistic: “There is a God and He rules over a flawed mankind by giving us rules by which to live.”
  • Humanistic: “There is no God, so people decide whats good and what’s evil, and human nature can arrive at the rules.”

Or, to put it more simply, either man is flawed or man is perfectible. Author R. Robin Finley admits that these two terms are a bit simplistic and are often used in other contexts with a broader meaning, but for the purposes of the book, she chose them to represent the two extremes. She also makes it clear that most people fall somewhere along the continuum between the two and don’t fit neatly into a box. Often, you’ll see some elements influenced by each in the same work of literature.

Her premise is that this “argument” between the two opposing world views reflects and sometimes instigates historical events (even wars!), and that it’s best traced through literature, and what she refers to as the “chattering classes”: the philosophers, writers, and thinkers of the times. Throughout history, the “pendulum” swings back and forth between the two views.

Chapters include:

  1. Why Should We Read All Those Books?
  2. How Do We Stuff Stuff Into Our Heads?
  3. The Little Stinker
  4. What Are the Two Sides Fighting About?
  5. Does Someone Have To Be “In Charge”?
  6. What Is the Western Literature Platform?
  7. Should We Quarantine Our Kids?
  8. Really Old Guys: Ancients to the Middle Ages
  9. Just Old Guys: The Renaissance to Neo-Classicism
  10. Somewhat Old Guys: The American and French Revolutions
  11. Newer Old Guys: The Romantics to the Realists
  12. Newest Guys: The Naturalists to the Modernists
  13. Stuff You Need to Know to Teach This Stuff
  14. Now Let’s Apply All This to the Books We’ve Discussed
  15. Because It’s All About Me … What Do I Think?

In the first seven chapters, Ms. Finley lays out the foundation, or framework, of her method. She explains why cultural literacy is so important, why it’s important to expose our kids to viewpoints that are different from our own, the major differences between the two “sides” (theistic and humanistic), and what she calls the “Western Literature Platform”. The idea behind this platform is that nearly all of western literature draws from three sources: Greek and Roman mythology, the King James Bible, and to a lesser degree, Arthurian legends. These are portrayed as three “legs” holding up the “platform” of western literature. Terms, allusions, and expressions from these permeate our literature, not to mention our everyday speech, so a working knowledge of them is critical.

Chapter eight through twelve take this framework and trace it through history, showing how the pendulum has swung between the two extremes of theism and humanism through the ages.

The Eternal Argument

Chapter thirteen covers the basic literary terms and vocabulary. Chapter fourteen takes the framework and principles discussed in the previous chapters and applies them to great works of western literature: A Christmas Carol, The Red Badge of Courage, Wuthering Heights, The Republic, and Frankenstein, to name just a few. The final chapter wraps up with the author’s personal thoughts about where she falls on the spectrum, which she’s been careful to keep out of the previous chapters. Each chapter ends with several thought provoking discussion questions.

This was really a fascinating read!

Not only is the writing style very entertaining and readable, but the book provides a simple framework that equips students and educators to evaluate our literature and culture, identifying elements, ideas, assumptions, and beliefs that have been influenced by one worldview or the other.

The author suggests reading the book aloud as a family, and offers an audio version for this purpose. I think I’ll have my eighth and eleventh graders read the book independently, and we’ll come together after each chapter to discuss.

The Eternal Argument provides a simple framework for understanding the ideas and writings that have shaped Western culture and makes it easy to apply. This will influence the way we discuss history, literature, science, and more. It’s an essential tool for cultural literacy and an excellent resources for educators and families.

This is a title I’ll definitely be recommending to parents and educators as a resource for themselves, and as a valuable addition to high school literature work in particular. It’s available in paperback or on audio CDs for $24.95, or as a bundle of both for $44.95. You can also check out sample chapters and read much more on the official website.

Click the graphic below to read what other homeschool moms thought of The Eternal Argument and several grammar programs available from Analytical Grammar, then visit them on Facebook and Twitter:

The Eternal Argument
TOS Disclaimer

Subscribe to our mailing list for new posts, updates, and exclusive content!

* indicates required

Speak Your Mind


CommentLuv badge