Western world

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"Occident" redirects here. For the French political movement, see Occident (movement).

The term Western World or "the West" can have multiple meanings depending on its context. Originally defined as Western Europe, most modern uses of the term refer to the societies of Europe and their close genealogical, linguistic, philosophical, and cultural descendants, which include those countries whose dominant culture is derived from European culture, such as the countries of the Americas and most countries of Oceania.

At different times and in different contexts, the definition of the West (also on rare occasions called the Occident) varies. Even definitions of what constitutes the West today vary. To define what is typical of modern Western society and the Western canon of Western culture is hindered by the lack of a clear definition and the dichotomy between Western Christian and Western secular thought. Countries with close cultural ties to Western Europe and the United States, such as Canada and Australia are most commonly refered to as consituting Western Society.<ref name="Society in Focus">Thompson, William, Joseph Hickey (2005). Society in Focus. Boston, MA: Pearson. 0-205-41365-X.</ref>

Contents

[edit] Historical divisions

[edit] Hellenic

The Hellenic division between Greeks and "barbarians" contrasted the Greek-speaking culture of the Greek settlements around the Mediterranean to the surrounding non-Greek cultures. Herodotus considered the Persian Wars of the early 5th century BC a conflict of Europe versus Asia. The terms "West" and "East" were not used by any Greek author to describe that conflict. The anachronistic application of those terms to that division entails a stark logical contradiction, given that, when the term West appeared, it was used in opposition to the Greeks and Greek-speaking culture.

[edit] Roman

Image:Westeastrome.png
Western and Eastern parts of Roman Empire

Although the Mediterranean basin was united by Romans, there was a distinction between the Empire's more urbanized eastern regions, where Greek was the lingua franca, on the one hand, and the mostly Latin-speaking, rural western regions on the other. In A.D. 292, Roman Emperor Diocletian divided the Roman Empire into two regions, each administered by an Augustus and a Caesar (the Tetrarchy). From the 5th century onwards, Roman rule crumbled in the western half, but endured in the eastern part, with a new Roman capital inaugurated in A.D. 330 at Constantinople by Roman Emperor Constantine I and Christianity established as the state religion of the empire.

[edit] Christian

Image:Europe religion map en.png
Religious split in Europe (Catholicism and Protestantism are in blue and violet, Orthodoxy is in rose)

Under Charlemagne, the Franks established an empire that was recognized as the Holy Roman Empire by the Christian Patriarch of Rome, offending the Roman Emperor in Constantinople. The crowning of the Emperor by the Pope led to the assumption that the highest power was the papal hierarchy, establishing, until the Protestant Reformation, the civilization of Western Christendom. The Latin Rite Christian Church of western and central Europe headed by the Patriarch of Rome split with the eastern, Greek-speaking Patriarchates during the Great Schism. Meanwhile, the extent of each expanded, as Scandinavia, Germany, Britain, and the other non-Christian lands of the northwest were converted by the Western Church, while Russia and much of Eastern Europe were converted by the Eastern Church.

[edit] The Colonial "West"

The voyages of discovery, conquest, and exploitation of the Spanish and Portuguese and the rise of the Dutch, British and French colonial empires saw the expansion of Western European institutions around the world. The dissolution of Western Christendom and the legal establishment in international law of the principle of national sovereignty, culminated in the French Revolution with the creation of the Nation State. Coupled with the Industrial revolution in Britain, these political and economic institutions have come to influence most nations of the world today. This however, was due to mandates that required post-colonial societies to form nation-states, creating boundaries and borders that did not necessarily represent a whole nation of people. In this way, through the colonial cultural impostions and post-colonial political processes, Western Civilisation has become global in its influence.

[edit] Cold War

During the Cold War, a new definition emerged. The Earth was divided into three "worlds". The First World was composed of NATO members and other countries aligned with the United States. The Second World was the Eastern bloc in the Soviet sphere of influence, including the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries. The Third World consisted of countries unaligned with either, and important members include India, Yugoslavia and for a time the People's Republic of China, though some find it expedient to group the latter group under Second World either because of their communist ideology, or geopolitical importance.

Image:Cold War Map 1980.png
East and West in 1980
Image:Europe 1988.png
European trade blocs as of late 1980s. EEC member states are marked in blue, EFTA – green, and Comecon – red.

There were a number of countries which did not fit comfortably into this neat definition of partition, including Switzerland, Sweden, and the Republic of Ireland, which chose to be neutral. Finland was under the Soviet Union's sphere of influence but remained neutral, was not communist, nor was it a member of the Warsaw Pact or Comecon. In 1955, when Austria again became a fully independent republic, it did so under the condition that it remained neutral, but as a country to the west of the Iron Curtain, it was in the United States sphere of influence. Turkey was a member of NATO but was not usually regarded as either part of the First or Western worlds. Spain did not join NATO until 1982, towards the end of the Cold War and after the death of the authoritarian Franco. The Western world became a synonym for the first world but included the West European exceptions mentioned earlier in this paragraph and excluded Turkey.

[edit] Further definitions

Image:Western Europe map.png
A common understanding of Western Europe in modern times.

As the term "Western world" does not have a strict international definition, Governments do not use the term in legislation of international treaties and instead rely on other definitions. If the term is used in academic articles it tends to be reserved for use in articles about those areas and times where the Western Roman Empire had a direct influence.

The term "Western world" is often interchangeable with the term First World stressing the difference between First World and the Third World or developing countries. The term "The North" has in some contexts replaced earlier usage of the term "the West", particularly in the critical sense, as a more robust demarcation than "West" and "East". The North provides some absolute geographical indicators for the location of wealthy countries, most of which are physically situated in the Northern Hemisphere, although, as most countries are located in the northern hemisphere in general, some have considered this distinction to be equally unhelpful. The thirty countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which include: the EU, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan, generally include what used to be called the "first world" or the "developed world", although the OECD includes a few countries, namely Turkey and Mexico, that are not wealthy industrial countries. The existence of "The North" implies the existence of "The South", and the socio-economic divide between North and South. Although Israel, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong are not members of the OECD, they might also be regarded as "western" or "northern" countries or regions, because their high living standards and their social, economical and political structure are quite similar to those of the OECD member countries.

The "West" may also be used as a cultural and social reference to "Western society". In this context both Latin America and the Philippines may be considered part of the West, particularly in writings on high art and literature. See: Western civilisation. [1] [2]

The "West" may also be used pejoratively by those especially critical of the influence of the West and its history of imperialism and colonialism.

Ethnocentric definitions of the term Western world are definitions constructed around one of the Western cultures. The British writer Rudyard Kipling wrote about this contrast: East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet, expressing that somebody from the West can never understand the Asian cultures as the latter differ too much from the Western cultures.

In the Near East or Middle East, (both terms relative to Europe as being in the west), the distinction between Western Europe and Eastern Europe is of less importance; countries that western Europeans might think of as part of Eastern Europe, i.e. Russia, might be counted as Western in the Middle East, in the sense of being both European and Christian. People from the West are known by many in the East and Middle East as "Westerners".

Culturally, many Latin Americans, particularly Argentines, Uruguayans, Chileans and Brazilians, firmly consider themselves Westerners, especially the ruling classes, although some Western Europeans and North Americans would probably not include these Latin Americans in their concept of Western. This happens mainly due to racist misconceptions and due to the fact that in Latin America, Europeans mixed with aboriginal populations.

[edit] Other views

A series of scholars of civilization, including Arnold Toynbee, Alfred Kroeber and Carroll Quigley have identified and analyzed "Western civilization" as one of the civilizations that have historically existed and still exist today. Most recently, in 1993, Samuel P. Huntington has appropriated these studies in order to forge a political science hypothesis he labelled the "The Clash of Civilizations?" in a Foreign Affairs article and a book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, in 1996. According to Huntington's hypothesis, what he calls "conflicts between civilizations" will be the primary tensions of the 21st century world. In this hypothesis, the West is based on religion, as the countries of western and central Europe historically influenced by two forms of Western Christianity, namely Catholicism and Protestantism, together with the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Huntington's thesis was influential, but was by no means universally accepted; its supporters say that it explains modern conflicts, such as those in the former Yugoslavia; the thesis' detractors fear that by equating values like democracy with "Western civilization", it reinforces racist and/or xenophobic notions about "non-Western" societies, as well as blatantly ignoring non-Western democracies.

In Huntington's thesis, the historically Eastern Orthodox nations of southeastern and eastern Europe constitute a distinct "Euro-Asiatic civilization"; although European and Christian, these nations were not, in Huntington's view, shaped by the cultural influences of the Renaissance. The Renaissance did not affect Orthodox Eastern Europe due to Ottoman domination, despite the decisive influence of Greek emigré scholars such as Georgios Gemistos Plethon, Manuel Chrysoloras, Theodorus of Gaza, Ioannis Argyropoulos, Markos Mousouros and Demetrius Chalcondyles on it. The Renaissance was weak in predominantly Catholic Hungary because its Ottoman rulers sought to limit Austria's influence in the region. Some claim the reforms of Peter the Great (1682-1725) and Catherine II the Great (1762-96) were inspired by the Enlightenment. However, they departed considerably from the Enlightenment idea of respect for the individual: Peter's projects for St Petersburg cost the lives of 30,000 workers, and under both Peter and Catherine most Russians remained serfs.

Huntington also considered the possibility that South America is a separate civilization from the West, but also mused that it might become a third part (the first two being North America and Europe) of the West in the future.

[edit] Western life and thought

Western countries have in common a high material standard of living, compared to the rest of the world. They often also have democracy, rule of law and developed bodies of laws that have some expression of rights for citizens in law. In addition, moderate levels of education and considerable scientific and technological development (a feat unmatched by any other society in the world, except Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and a few other countries generally considered non-western societies), and a similar, "modern" popular culture may reflect the Western or Westernized society. Militarily and diplomatically, these Western societies have generally been allied with each other to one degree or another since World War II.

The term Western thought is at times unhelpful, since it can define two separate (although related) sets of traditions and values: Firstly, the Christian (or Western Christian) moral tradition and religious values; Secondly, secular values, often with a rationalist anti-clerical tradition.

Some ideas that might be considered cornerstones of Western tradition are: Christianity, secularism, rational deductive reasoning, rule of law, esteem for human civilization, the development of science and technology. The Enlightenment has had a major influence in the western thought over the last two centuries.

[edit] The Debate over Greek Origins of Medieval Culture

Western society is sometimes claimed to trace its cultural origins to both Greek thought and Christian religion, thus following an evolution that began in ancient Greece, continued through the Roman Empire and, with the coming of Christianity (which has its origins in the Middle East), spread throughout Europe.

However, the conquest of the western parts of the Roman Empire by Germanic peoples and the subsequent advent of despotism in the form of dominance by the Western Christian Papacy (which held combined political and spiritual authority, a state of affairs absent from Greek civilization in all its stages), resulted into a rupture of the previously existing ties between the Latin West and Greek thought <ref>Charles Freeman. The Closing of the Western Mind. Knopf, 2003. ISBN 1-4000-4085-X</ref>, including Christian Greek thought. The Great Schism and the Fourth Crusade confirmed this deviation. Hence, the Medieval West is limited to Western Christendom only, as the Greeks and other European peoples not under the authority of the Papacy are not included in it. The clearly Greek-influenced form of Christianity, Orthodoxy, is more linked to Eastern than Western Europe. On the other hand, the Modern West, emerging after the Renaissance as a new civilization, has been influenced by (its own interpretation of) Greek thought, which was preserved in the Byzantine Empire during the Medieval West's Dark Ages and transmitted therefrom by emigré scholars. Moreover, European peoples not included in Western Christendom, such as the Greeks, have redefined their relationship to this new, secular, variant of Western civilization, and have increasingly participated in it in since then.

Therefore, the idea of Western society being influenced from (but not being the single evolution of) ancient Greek thought makes sense only for the post-Renaissance period of Western history.

The philosopher Bertrand Russell, in his History of Western Philosophy, accepted the idea of the West as the heir to ancient Greek and Jewish culture, but went on to treat Islam and Marxism as developments within Western culture.

[edit] Christianity

In the 20th Century, Christianity declined in influence in many western countries, in Europe and elsewhere. Secularism became increasingly important. However, while church attendance is in decline, most westerners still identify themselves as Christians (e.g. 70% in the UK) and occasionally attend church on major occasions. In the so-called Bible Belt of the Southern United States and other regions, religion remains important.

During the colonial era, western thought might be said to have been implanted in the Americas and in Australasia.

[edit] Religious schism

In the early 4th century, the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great established the city of Constantinople as the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. The Eastern Empire included lands east of the Adriatic Sea and bordering on the Eastern Mediterranean and parts of the Black Sea. These two divisions of the Eastern and Western Empires were reflected in the administration of the Christian Church, with Rome and Constantinople debating and arguing over whether either city was the capital of Christianity (see Great Schism). As the eastern and western churches spread their influence, the line between "East" and "West" can be described as moving, but generally followed a cultural divide that was defined by the existence of the Byzantine empire and the fluctuating power and influence of the church in Rome. Some, including Huntington, theorized that this cultural division still existed during the Cold War as the approximate western boundary of those countries that were allied with the Soviet Union; others have criticized these views on the basis that they confuse the Eastern Roman Empire with Russia, especially considering the fact that the country that had the most historical roots in Byzantium, Greece, was allied with the West during the Cold War.

[edit] Modern sense

Image:Westerncultures map.png
The countries shown in blue as most commonly considered to constitute Western Society.
Image:West.png
This map shows the varying geo-poltical definitions of the western world.

The exact scope of the Western World is of somewhat subjective nature, depending on whether geo-politics or culutre is used as a definition. From a culutral and scoiological apprach Western Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are commonly refered to as western societies.<ref name="Society in Focus">Thompson, William, Joseph Hickey (2005). Society in Focus. Boston, MA: Pearson. 0-205-41365-X.</ref> Additionaly countries with alliances or strong culutrual ties to Western Europe, NATO or the United States, such as Japan and South Korea may also be refered to being part of the western world Western. Coincidentally, these are generally nations which enjoy relatively strong economies and stable governments, have chosen democracy as a form of governance, favor capitalism and free international trade, and have some form of political and military alliance with the western hegemons, especially with the United States and NATO.

As such, this definition of "western" is not necessarily tied to the geographic sense of the word. Geographically western nations such as Cuba and Venezuela are normally not considered "western" due to their political opposition to the powerful western leaders[citation needed]. Conversely, some eastern nations, for example, Australia, Kuwait, Japan and South Korea, could be considered "western", due to their alliance with the western hegemons (including dependence for military protection).

Though the Cold War has ended, and the former Soviet Bloc is making a general movement towards capitalism and other values common for the United States and Western Europe, most former Soviet republics are not considered "western" because of the small presence of international capital in their economy.

Currently, in the post-Cold War era, particularly after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States of America and the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy, countries of the Western world have had several issues with the Muslim world. Some westerners accuse Muslims (including some muslim immigrants in Western countries) of not recognizing and adopting, and, in some cases, of oppressing the social values of Western society (such as free speech and gender equality)[3] [4]. On the other hand, radical Islamists have accused the Western world of being imperialistic and having inferior moral and spiritual beliefs. Several incidents such as the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy and Pope Benedict XVI Islam controversy spurred hunger and discomfort of muslims around the world[5][6], and the cancellation of Idomeneo in Berlin due to security issues linked with radical Muslims, provoked indignation among broad sections of the Western society [7].

[edit] See also

[edit] References

<references />

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Western world

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