Western world

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Clash of Civilizations map.png
Map summary of the influential 1996 book Clash of Civilizations, which defines "the West" according to US political scientist Samuel P. Huntington. In light blue are Latin America and the Orthodox World, which Huntington considers "intimately related" to the West based on cultural and religious factors. In fact, their marginal status demonstrates that geopolitical and economic factors, including US military presence and NATO membership, are far more important than culture and faith.

The Western world, also known as the West, is an ambiguous grouping of cultures derived from the ideologies and cultural histories of highly developed capitalist states, especially but not exclusively in Europe. In the hands of different authors, the concept may only include countries where Western Christianity is prevalent or where European natives and settlers live, or can be so broad as to include Japan,[1] South Korea, and Singapore. In fact, leftists use both definitions, but may also use the term imperialist or "Western-aligned" to distinguish the latter, broader concept. These disagreements about which countries count as "Western" betray the concept's true nature as a reflection of capitalist development as it spreads unevenly across the globe, bringing its superstructure — such as liberalism, liberal democracy, and property rights, collectively known as Western values — along with it. The First World is a closely related, and sometimes interchangeable, concept.

Because the term refers to a state of development and not to any one cultural tradition, Western culture is itself a nebulous concept which has shifted as capitalism itself has changed. Those who make use of the concept are themselves often blind to this fact, unable to decide whether or not to include US-aligned East Asian states, or to exclude Cuba, as they are torn between "Western values" (capitalistic values) and "Western culture" (Christianity, Greek philosophical thought, and Roman cultural heritage).[1] These ambiguous states are typically called westernized, reflecting their striking mass cultural, political, mass-media, and societal convergence with older Western states, especially the United States. This convergence is responsible for phenomena like the spread of Korean and Japanese culture throughout the capitalist world as their westernized form of mass culture becomes more palatable and recognizable to Western audiences.

It is clear that philosophic and historic connections to Europe, on their own, are not enough for a country to be called Western. Japan has only been in open contact with European culture since the 1860s and has become Westernized in the short span since, while historic cousins of Europe, such as Iran, Syria, and Turkey,[a] have yet to be invited to the group. This contradiction reflects the ideological confusion which attributes the emergence of capitalistic and liberal values in early modern Europe to a deeper historical superiority of European culture going back to ancient times. Yale classicist and prominent neoconservative Donald Kagan, in an introductory lecture on ancient Greece, summarized this view:

The West has created institutions of government and law that provide unprecedented freedom for its people. It has also invented a body of natural scientific knowledge and technological achievement that together make possible a level of health and material prosperity undreamed of in earlier times, and unknown outside the West and those places that have been influenced by the West.... Non-Western peoples who wish to share in the things that characterize modernity will need to study the ideas and history of Western civilization to achieve what they want and Westerners, I would argue, who wish to preserve these things must do the same.... The concept of individual freedom has had no importance in [the] great majorities of cultures in human history. The first and the sharpest break with this common human experience came in ancient Greece.[2]


Waves of capitalist development

*This section is a very rough WIP and may end up included in the lead section. But feel free to add or tweak it as long as you can source your arguments.*

1.Britain, France, Netherlands, United States
The four bourgeois revolutions. These states would spread European culture throughout the world, typically involving Christian evangelism, international trade, and military force. These states have never fallen out of the Western category.
The industrial development of the US decades after its bourgeois revolution makes it difficult to fit neatly. Regardless, white settler colonies, especially Anglophone ones, are universally considered Western. This is likely a cultural and racial distinction but also reflects their universal status as developed, US-aligned, and imperialist.
2. Australia, Canada, New Zealand
Other British colonies, such as India and South Africa, were never highly developed in the 19th century.[citation needed]

"Why should the Palatine Boors be suffered to swarm into our settlements, and by herding together establish their language and manners to the exclusion of ours? Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a colony of aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our language or customs, any more than they can acquire our complexion.... in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English, make the principal body of White people on the face of the Earth."

Benjamin Franklin, 1751[3]

3.Germany, Japan
The bourgeois states continued to treat Germany as non-Western and uncivilized until the end of the First World War as a result of its late development of capitalism, especially in anti-German propaganda. This provides a clear example of how timing of development affects a country's status as Western.
4.Spain, Italy, Russia
Treated as barbaric in the early 20th century because of their poverty and low development. After World War II, Italy was molded by the Marshall Plan (and Gladio) and Spain developed rapidly under Franco, but Russia remained "non-Western" in the form of the Red Menace. The former two, united under NATO after 1982, have been Western ever since. The Cold War thus made "the West" became a political concept on top of a cultural one.
5.South Korea, Singapore, (Hong Kong, Republic of China)
The "Four Asian Tigers". West Germany is also rebuilt during this time, not only fully Western but a stronghold of Western-ness. Japan plays a similar role.
6. Israel
American ideological defenses of Israel highlight the social liberalism afforded by the country's high level of development and protection by the United States, referring to the state as "the only democracy in the Middle East". Israel also, for example, is the only Middle Eastern participant in the Eurovision Song Contest, having been added in 1973.
7. Former Eastern Bloc, later including Ukraine
After their separation from Russia, these states were the subject of an unprecedented propaganda campaign to emphasize their Western-ness, now predicated on NATO membership and a newly liberalized political system. Liberal democracy, now called "Western democracy", is presented as the natural end result of a culture and value set which are inalienably Western. Two "clashes of civilizations" begin - one against the Muslim world, and another against historically Orthodox countries which are aligned with Russia. Samuel P. Huntington thus draws his line directly along the Poland-Belarus border. Years later, the Ukraine will become a new frontier in this war, suddenly thrusting the medieval Christian Kievan Rus' into the spotlight.
The overlap between Western influence and capitalist development is fully broken. A state with a culture truly foreign to Europe becomes a world power. The implications of this are yet to be realized.



As European power spread across the world starting in the 16th century, Western powers constantly fought one another for global dominance. This rivalry escalated for centuries. After the October Revolution, the powers of Europe came to cooperate against the existential threat of communism, but it was not until the utter destruction of the two World Wars (see Second Thirty Years War) that the exhausted war machines of Europe were united under British-American hegemony. This Bloc was known as the "First World", a term still used today as another term for the West.


The concept of Western values is integral to the ideology which rationalizes the global expansion of liberalism and European influence. In the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, EU High Representative Josep Borrell made an infamous remark that revealed that this Western chauvinism was still indispensable to European goals:

Europe is a garden. We have built a garden. Everything works. It is the best combination of political freedom, economic prosperity and social cohesion that the humankind has been able to build - the three things together…. Most of the rest of the world is a jungle.[4]

This analogy was possibly inspired[5] by the 2018 book The Jungle Grows Back by Robert Kagan of the Kagan family (son of the aforementioned Donald Kagan).

See also


  1. The obvious candidate reason for their rejection is Islam. However, it would be more precise to say that many Islamic countries were historically under the influence of the Persians (Iran) and the Ottomans (Syria and Turkey), both of which were on the back foot during the 19th century. It seems that the "clash of civilizations" thesis, in which Islam is inherently non-Western, is an ad-hoc explanation for their relative lack of liberalism. In any case, the connection between Islam and capitalist development is an interesting area for discussion.


  1. 1.0 1.1 https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/list-of-western-countries.html
  2. YaleCourses. "1. Introduction". YouTube. Retrieved 2023-06-06.
  3. "Founders Online: Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, 1751". University of Virginia Press. Retrieved 16 Nov 2023.
  4. Borrell, Josep (2022-10-13). Opening remarks at the inauguration of the pilot programme (Speech). European Diplomatic Academy. Bruges. Retrieved 2023-06-06.
  5. Lehne, Stefan (28 Feb 2023). "After Russia's War Against Ukraine: What Kind of World Order?". Carnegie Europe. Retrieved 12 Mar 2024.