Assignment1: The idea of “the West” is a relatively recent one. Briefly present the history and implication of this idea.
The West is one of the four cardinal directions or points of the compass, the opposite direction from the East. Basically, it referred to all the states which geographically exist in the western division of the world including the European and the other western states. But recently, it has rather become a discourse that presents “the West” as a symbol of superiority and dominance. West now means a society which is urbanized, industrialized, secular and developed. The exact scope of the Western world, however, is somewhat subjective in nature, depending on whether cultural, economic, spiritual or political criteria are employed.
The geopolitical divisions in Europe that created a concept of East and West originated in the Roman Empire. The Eastern Mediterranean was home to the highly urbanized cultures that had Greek as their common language (owing to the older empire of Alexander the Great and of the Hellenistic successors), whereas the West was much more rural in its character and more readily adopted Latin as its common language. (Western world, n.d.)
After the fall of the Roman Empire and the end of unfair dominance of the Church (the darkness and brutality in the name of religion), the golden period of the geographical West began. Western and Central Europe were substantially cut off from the East where Byzantine Greek culture and Eastern Christianity became founding influences in the Arab/Muslim world and among the Eastern and Southern Slavic peoples. Roman Catholic Western and Central Europe, as such, maintained a distinct identity particularly as it began to redevelop during the Renaissance. (Western world, n.d.)
The European arts and culture revived, and scientific education, research and progress were welcomed. Starting with that, the West experienced such transformative episodes as the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, scientific revolution, and the development of liberal democracy.
The Renaissance was a period in European history, from the 14th to the 17th century, regarded as the cultural bridge between the Middle Ages and modern history. It started as a cultural movement in Italy in the Medieval period and later spread to the rest of Europe, marking the beginning of the Modern age.
Since the Renaissance, the West evolved beyond the influence of the ancient Greeks and Romans and the Islamic world due to the commercial, scientific and industrial revolutions, and the expansion of the peoples of Western and Central European empires, and particularly the globe-spanning empires of the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Reformation, and consequent dissolution of West Christendom as even a theoretical unitary political body, resulted in the Thirty Years War, a war fought primarily in Central Europe between 1618 and 1648. One of the longest and most destructive conflicts in human history, as well as the deadliest European religious war in history. Initially a war between various Protestant and Catholic states in the fragmented Holy Roman Empire. The war which resulted in eight million fatalities, ended in the Peace of Westphalia, which enshrined the concept of the nation-state and the principle of absolute national sovereignty in international law.
This process of influence (and imposition) began with the voyages of discovery, colonization, conquest, and exploitation of Portugal and Spain. it continued with the rise of the Dutch East India Company (18th century), and the creation and expansion of the British and French colonial empires. Due to the reach of these empires, Western institutions expanded throughout the world. Even after demands for self-determination from subject peoples within Western empires were met with decolonization, these institutions persisted. One specific example was the requirement that post-colonial societies were made to form nation-states (in the Western tradition), which often created arbitrary boundaries and borders that did not necessarily represent a whole nation, people, or culture, and are often the cause of international conflicts and friction even to this day. Though the overt colonial era has passed, Western nations, as comparatively rich, well-armed, and culturally powerful states, still wield a large degree of influence throughout the world. The Industrial Revolution, which began in Great Britain in the mid of 18th to early 19th century, forever modified the economy worldwide.
The concepts of a world of nation-states, coupled with the ideologies of the Enlightenment, the coming of modernity, the Scientific Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution, produced powerful political and economic institutions that have come to influence (or been imposed upon) most nations of the world today. Historians agree that the Industrial Revolution was one of the most important events in history.
Use of the term West as a specific cultural and geopolitical term developed over the course of the Age of Exploration as Europe spread its culture to other parts of the world. In the past two centuries the term Western world has sometimes been used synonymously with Christian world because of the numerical dominance of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism compared to other Christian traditions, ancient Roman ideas, and heresies. As secularism rose in Europe and elsewhere during the 19th and 20th centuries, the term West came to take on less religious connotations and more political connotations, especially during the Cold War. Additionally, closer contacts between the West and Asia and other parts of the world in recent times have continued to cloud the use and meaning of the word.
The term “Western world” is sometimes used with the term First World (or developed countries), stressing the difference between First World and the Third World (or developing countries). This usage occurs despite the fact that many countries that may be culturally “Western” are developing countries – in fact, a significant percentage of the American states are developing countries (Tennessee, Louisiana, Kentucky, Alabama, West Virginia, North Carolina, Mississippi, South Carolina etc.). It is also used despite many developed countries or regions not being Western (such as China, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, U.A.E etc.), and therefore left out when “Western world” is used to denote developed countries.
Many anthropologists, sociologists and historians oppose “the West and the Rest” in a categorical manner.32 The same has been done by Malthusian demographers with a sharp distinction between European and non-European family systems. Among anthropologists, this includes Durkheim, Dumont and Lévi-Strauss.
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 terms.