Americans do not share a common ancestry and a common blood.

What they have in common is a system of laws and beliefs that shaped the establishment of the country, a system developed within the context of Western civilization.It should be obvious, then, that all Americans need to learn about that civilization to understand our country's origins.

At present, however, the study of Western civilization is under attack.

We are told we should not give a privileged place in the curriculum to the great works of its history and literature.

At the extremes of this onslaught, the civilization, and its study, is attacked because of its history of slavery, imperialism, racial prejudice, addiction to war, its exclusion of women and people not of the white race from its rights and privileges.

Some criticize its study as narrow, limiting, arrogant and discriminatory, asserting that it has little or no value for those of different cultural origins.

Others concede the value of the Western heritage but regard it as only one among many, all of which have equal claim to our attention.

These attacks are unsound.

It is necessary to place Western civilization and the culture to which it has given rise at the center of our studies, and we fail to do so at the peril of our students, country and the hopes for a democratic, liberal society.

The assault on Western civilization badly distorts history.

Its flaws are real enough, but they are common to almost all the civilizations on any continent at any time in history.

What is remarkable about the Western heritage is the important ways in which it has departed from the common experience.

More than any other, it has asserted the claims of the individual against those of the state, limiting its power and creating a realm of privacy into which it cannot penetrate.

By means of the philosophical, scientific, agricultural and industrial revolutions in the West, human beings have been able to produce and multiply the things needed for life so as to make survival and prosperity possible for ever-increasing numbers, without rapacious wars and at a level that permits dignity and independence.

It is the champion of representative democracy as the normal way for human beings to govern themselves.

It has produced the theory and practice of the separation of church from state, protecting each from the other and creating a free and safe place for the individual conscience.

At its core is a tolerance and respect for diversity unknown in most cultures.

One of its most telling characteristics is its encouragement of criticism of itself and its ways.

The university itself, a specially sheltered place for such self-examination, is a Western phenomenon only partially assimilated in other cultures.

But a liberal education needs to bring about a challenge to the ideas, habits and attitudes students bring with them.

Take pride in your family and in the culture they and your forebears have brought to our shores.

Learn as much as you can about that culture.

Learn as much as you can of what the particular cultures of others have to offer.

But do not fail to learn the great traditions that are the special gifts of Western civilization.