No, this is not some right wing political rant about the socialization of America and the loss of freedom. Rather, it is a fascinating lecture (via Russ Roberts at Cafe Hayek) by a British historian on the discontinuity between modern existence and Western civilization. (As an interesting aside, he states that the idea of "Western civilization" is a fairly recent narrative of our place in history. Before the mid-1800's most Westerners considered themselves part of Christendom, not Western civilization.) Two of the major drivers of discontinuity he discusses are as follows:
1. A dramatic change in the "material conditions of existence" including an increase in population size and density as well as an increase in the standard of living. For example, he claims that the poor among us live better than ancient kings.
2. A change in the collective psychological worldview. For example, a shift to critical rationalism away from a worldview where it was theoretically, although not practically, possible to know all there was to know. Also, a shift where religion changed from a set of practices to a set of propositions that are believed.
This lecture is some seriously good brain candy. It is an intellectual's version of the monthly lecture my sixth grade teacher Mr. Wilson would give about how knowledge has exploded since over the last few centuries.
Update: The third source of discontinuity is the difference in cultural symbols between Christendom and modern society. Most of us, unless we've made an active study of it, would miss many of the allusions in Shakespeare. Also, we are likely to miss many biblical allusions. Just as an example, I was reading out of Samuel for the Sunday School lesson this week and discovered the phrase "God Save the King" in reference to Saul's selection as king of Israel. Or as a more basic illustration, Dr. Davies (the historian) mentions that about half of his students in a class weren't familiar with Adam and Eve.