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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 Western and Central Europe and their close genealogical, linguistic, and philosophical colonial descendants, typically included are those countries whose dominant culture is derived from European culture.

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Western countries
Western life
Western thought

Western countries - Contents

To define what is typical of Western society and Western culture, it is necessary to understand its context. At different times and in different contexts, the definition of the West (also called the Occident) varies. It is not always clear which definition is being used.


Hellenic division

The Hellenic division between Greeks and " barbarians" predates the division between East and West. The contrast was between Greek-speaking culture of mainland Greece, the Aegean, the Ionian coast and Magna Graecia in southern Italy, and the surrounding non-Greek cultures of the Persian Empire, Phoenicians and Egypt. The division can be traced back to the Trojan War, which is dated traditionally at 1194 BC - 1184 BC. Presuming it had a historical basis, the conflict was between Achaeans and the non-Greek Trojans in western Anatolia. The Greeks also considered the Persian Wars of the early 5th century BC a conflict of east versus west.

Roman Empire division

The Mediterranean basin was united by Romans, but distinctions remained between the Empire's mostly Latin-speaking western half and the more urbanized eastern half, where Greek was the lingua franca. In A.D. 292, the Roman Emperor, Diocletian, divided the Roman Empire into two regions, each administered by an Augustus and a Caesar (the Tetrarchy); the eastern part evolved into the Byzantine empire, a Christian theocracy where the emperor was also head of spiritual life (" caesaropapism"). At the same time, Roman rule in the western half crumbled under pressures from outside the empire.

Christian division

The distinctions between the western and eastern parts of the Christian world remained through the Middle Ages, despite a nominal sense of Christian unity (the concept of " Christendom") brought about by the conquests of Christian lands by the Muslim Arabs and Turks. The Franks under Charlemagne established a western empire, which was recognized as the Holy Roman Empire by the Pope, offending the Byzantine Emperor. The Latin Rite church of western and central Europe headed by the Pope (the Patriarch of Rome) split with the eastern, Greek-speaking Patriarchates during the Great Schism. The extent of each expanded during the Middle Ages, 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 by the Eastern Church. "Latin" and "Frankish" Crusaders sacked the Byzantine capital Constantinople in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade as ruthlessly as they had the 'infidel' Muslims.In fact, a version of "Frank" spread through Muslim trade networks from the Middle East as far afield as India and Southeast Asia is still used with a meaning similar to "Western foreigner" (Arabic: ifrangi; Thai: farang; Greek: frangos). [1]

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 two under Second World because of their communist ideology.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 dictator 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.Greece and Portugal, like Turkey, were members in NATO, although they were not regarded as a part of the West until they won democracy and upgraded their economy to First World standards during the Seventies. On the other hand, Australia and New Zealand and later also Israel and Cyprus did not become members in NATO but became a part of the "First World" because of their democracy, high living standards and European cultural roots.

Post-Cold War
After the end of the Cold War, the phrase "second world" fell into disuse, and "first world" came to refer to the democratic, wealthy, industrial, developed nations, most of which had been aligned with the U.S. The "third world" came to refer to the poor, unindustrialized developing nations. That is, the term "Western" is not so much a geographical definition as it is a cultural and economic one, therefore:
  • Historians of Africa can speak of Western influences by the European countries that lie to its north, as well as by the Western country of South Africa at its southernmost tip.
  • Australia and New Zealand are Anglo-Saxon, Western countries located to the south of East Asia.
  • International companies founded in America may be considered foreign influences in Europe, but be said to be Western when their presence is seen (and sometimes criticized) in Asia.
  • Economically, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore, although located very far east, may still be considered Western or "first world" despite the fact that they remain culturally non-Western.
Nowadays, people differ in their definitions of the West, and different definitions overlap only partly. There are certainly non-Western developed nations, not all Western countries are members of NATO, etc.

Further definitions
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, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Turkey, 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, South Korea 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 Cyprus and Taiwan are not members of the OECD, they might also be regarded as "west" or "north" countries, 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 South America may be considered part of the West, particularly in writings on high art and literature. [2] [3]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".

The Huntington definition

In 1993, Samuel P. Huntington published the article " The Clash of Civilizations?" in Foreign Affairs, which was later expanded into a book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, in 1996. Huntington's thesis was that the world can be understood as being made up of several civilizations, and that conflicts between civilizations will be the primary tensions of the post-cold-war world, replacing the ideological conflicts (i.e capitalism vs. communism) that characterized the cold-war world. According to Huntington's thesis, the primarily Roman Catholic and Protestant countries of western and central Europe, together with the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, constitute the "Euro-Atlantic" civilization, which share a common system of values, shaped by the historic influence of the Renaissance, Reformation, and Enlightenment. Huntington and his followers understood "The West" to be roughly synonymous with the Euro-Atlantic civilization, although countries with roots in other civilizations, such as Greece, Turkey, or Japan, may choose to ally themselves with the West as a result of having absorbed "Western" ideas and values into their societies. 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 (for example India, which holds roughly a third of all the people in the world who live under a democratic system, although this could be argued to be a legacy of British influence).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, Reformation, and Enlightenment, and were not "Western" in the same sense as the Euro-Atlantic civilization. Although it is true that Renaissance didn't happen in Orthodox Eastern Europe (partly due to Ottoman domination in the Balkans and the Mongol domination in Russia) it also be noted that Renaissance and Reformation were effective in predominantly Catholic Hungary because of the Ottoman domination there.Huntington also considered Latin America to be a separate civilization from the West.

Western life - Contents

Western countries have in common a high standard of living for most citizens - compared to the rest of the world. They may also have democratic, secular governments, rule of law and developed bodies of laws that have some expression of rights for citizens in law. Also, high levels of education, 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. In fact, some would argue that this is the definition of the West and explains why Japan is usually considered Western while Colombia is not.

Western thought - Contents

The term Western is usually associated with the cultural tradition that traces its origins to Greek thought and Christian religion. (See Western culture.) Some cornerstones in this tradition are arguably: deductive reasoning, rule of law, esteem for human civilization, and value for the human condition relative to other animal species. Also, Christianity had major influence in the western thought, especially the last 1500 years. In the 21st Century Christianity has declined in influence in many western countries in Europe and elsewhere. Secularism and Freethought are increasingly important. An exception is the so-called Bible Belt of the Southern United States where religion and Religious fundamentalism is important. There are also Bible Belts in Europe and Canada.Western society may be thought of as following an evolution that began with the Greek philosophers of Athens such as Solon and Socrates. It continued through the Roman Empire and, with the addition of Christianity (which had its origins in the Middle East), spread throughout Europe. During the colonial era, it became implanted in the Americas and in Australasia.In the early 4th century, the 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. This cultural division was and is long lasting; it still existed during the Cold War as the approximate western boundary of those countries that were allied with the Soviet Union.However, there are many who question the meaning of the notion of Western values and point out that societies such as Japan and the United States are very different. Furthermore, they point out that advocates of Western values are selective in what they include as Western; for example, they usually include concepts of freedom, democracy, and human rights, but not totalitarianism, which was first created in the West, or slavery, which reached massive levels in the West, and whose history in the West goes back millennia. Therefore by selecting what values are part of "Western values", one can tautologically show that they are superior, since any inferior values by definition are not Western. See also: No true Scotsman fallacyA different attack on the concept of Western values comes from those who advocate Islamic values or Asian values. In this view, there are a coherent set of traits that define the West, but those traits are inferior and are usually associated with moral decline, greed, and decadence. Those who hold this view are concerned about the Westernization of the rest of the world, or concerned about the era of New Age thinkers who sometimes attempts to adapt Eastern traditions in a Western context.Since the countries in the "West" were generally those that explored and colonized outside of Europe, the term Western became, to some people, associated with European colonialism. However, many others have established colonial rules, so it is not uniquely a Western phenomenon.
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