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The Western world, also known as the West and the Occident (from Latin: occidens "sunset, West"; as contrasted with the Orient), is a term referring to different nations depending on the context. There is no agreed upon definition about what all these nations have in common apart from having a significant population of European descent.
The concept of the Western part of the earth has its roots in Greco-Roman civilization in Europe, with the advent of Christianity. In the modern era, Western culture has been heavily influenced by the traditions of Renaissance, Protestant Reformation, Age of Enlightenment, and shaped by the expansive colonialism of the 16th-20th centuries. Its political usage was temporarily informed by a mutual antagonism with the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War in the mid-to-late 20th Century (1945–1991).
Although the term originally had a literal geographic meaning, contrasting Europe with the linked cultures of civilizations of the Near East (Muslim world), South Asia & Southeast Asia (Hindu world, Greater India) and remote Far East (Sinosphere), today it has little geographic relevance.
In the contemporary cultural meaning, the Western world includes many countries of Europe, as well as many countries of European colonial origin in the Americas and Oceania, such as the United States of America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Brazil, etc.
Western culture originated with Greece and Rome. Over time, their associated empires grew first to the east and south to include Eastern European coastal areas and Southeastern, conquering and absorbing many older great civilizations of the ancient Near East; later, they expanded to the north and west to include Western and Central Europe.
Historians, such as Carroll Quigley (Evolution of Civilizations), contend that Western civilization was born around 400 AD, after the total collapse of the Western Roman Empire, leaving a vacuum for new ideas to flourish that were impossible in Classical societies. In either view, between the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the Renaissance, the West experienced a period of considerable decline, known as the Middle Ages, which include the Dark Ages and the Crusades.
The knowledge of the ancient Western world was partly preserved during this period due to the survival of the Eastern Roman Empire; it was also greatly expanded by the Arab importation of both the Ancient Greco-Roman and new technology through Arabs from the India and China to Europe. 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 Christian peoples of Western and Central European empires, and particularly the globe-spanning empires of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Generally speaking, the current consensus would locate the West, at the very least, in the cultures and peoples of Western Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and a great part of Central and South America like Argentina and Brazil. There is debate among some as to whether Central and Eastern Europe (CEE)  is in a category of its own. The argument supporting Central and Eastern Europe being a part of the West is that Central and Eastern European countries such as Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Romania are now part of the European Union and NATO, which mostly comprise Western countries. Although geographically not located in Western Europe, Greece and Cyprus are usually considered a part of the Western world. This is partly due to political and economic reasons and partly due to Western culture having Greek roots.
Russia is often not counted as a part of the Western World. However, Russian culture (particularly literature, music and painting) is usually classified as a part of the Western culture.
The term "Western culture" is used very broadly to refer to a heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, religious beliefs, political systems, and specific artifacts and technologies.
Specifically, Western culture may imply:
The concept of Western culture is generally linked to the classical definition of the Western world. In this definition, Western culture is the set of literary, scientific, political, artistic and philosophical principles that set it apart from other civilizations. Much of this set of traditions and knowledge is collected in the Western canon.
The term has come to apply to countries whose history is strongly marked by European immigration or settlement, such as the Americas, and Australasia, and is not restricted to Europe.
Some tendencies that define modern Western societies are the existence of political pluralism, laicism, generalization of middle class, prominent subcultures or countercultures (such as New Age movements), increasing cultural syncretism resulting from globalization and human migration. The modern shape of these societies is strongly based upon the Industrial Revolution and the societies' associated social and environmental problems, such as class struggle and pollution, as well as reactions to them, such as syndicalism and environmentalism.
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. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Western and Central Europe was 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. Even following the Protestant Reformation, Protestant Europe continued to see itself as more tied to Roman Catholic Europe than other parts of the perceived civilized world.
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, though this dominance is somewhat recent. 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 term.
The Hellenic division between the barbarians and the Greeks contrasted in many societies 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 Europa versus Asia (which he considered to be all land north and east of the Sea of Marmara, respectively). 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.
Western society traces 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. The inherently "Greek" classical ideas of history (which one might easily say they invented) and art may, however, be considered almost inviolate in the West, as their original spread of influence survived the Hellenic period of Roman classical antiquity, The Dark Ages, its resurgence during the Western Renaissance, and has managed somehow to keep and exert its pervasive influence down into the present age, with every expectation[by whom?] of it continuing to dominate any secular Western cultural developments.
However, the conquest of the Western parts of the Roman Empire by Germanic peoples and the subsequent 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 in a rupture of the previously existing ties between the Latin West and Greek thought, including Christian Greek thought. The Great Schism and the Fourth Crusade confirmed this deviation.
On the other hand, the Modern West, emerging after the Renaissance as a new civilization, has been greatly influenced by (its own interpretation of) Greek thought, which was preserved in the Roman Empire and the medieval Islamic world during the Medieval West's Dark Ages and transmitted from there by emigration of Greek scholars, courtly marriages, and Latin translations. The Renaissance in the West emerged partly from currents within the Roman (Byzantine) Empire.
Ancient Rome (510 BC-AD 476) was a civilization that grew from a city-state founded on the Italian Peninsula about the 9th century BC to a massive empire straddling the Mediterranean Sea. In its 12-century existence, Roman civilization shifted from a monarchy, to a republic, to an autocratic empire. It came to dominate Western, Central and Southeastern and the entire area surrounding the Mediterranean Sea through conquest using the Roman legions and then through cultural assimilation by giving Roman privileges and eventually citizenship to the whole empire. Nonetheless, despite its great legacy, a number of factors led to the eventual decline of the Roman Empire.
The Western Roman Empire eventually broke into several kingdoms in the 5th century due to civil wars, corruption, and devastating Germanic invasions from such tribes as the Goths, the Franks and the Vandals.
The Eastern Roman Empire, governed from Constantinople, is usually referred to as the Byzantine Empire after 476, the traditional date for the "fall of the Western Roman Empire" and for the subsequent onset of the Early Middle Ages. The Eastern Roman Empire survived the fall of the West, and protected Roman legal and cultural traditions, combining them with Greek and Christian elements, for another thousand years.
The Roman Empire succeeded the about 500 year-old Roman Republic (510 BC - 1st century BC), which had been weakened by the conflict between Gaius Marius and Sulla and the civil war of Julius Caesar against Pompey and Marcus Brutus. During these struggles hundreds of senators were killed, and the Roman Senate had been refilled with loyalists of the First Triumvirate and later those of the Second Triumvirate.
Several dates are commonly proposed to mark the transition from Republic to Empire, including the date of Julius Caesar's appointment as perpetual roman dictator (44 BC), the victory of Caesar's heir Octavian at the Battle of Actium (September 2, 31 BC), and the Roman Senate's granting to Octavian the honorific Augustus. (January 16, 27 BC). Octavian/Augustus officially proclaimed that he had saved the Roman Republic and carefully disguised his power under republican forms: Consuls continued to be elected, tribunes of the plebeians continued to offer legislation, and senators still debated in the Roman Curia. However, it was Octavian who influenced everything and controlled the final decisions, and in final analysis, had the legions to back him up, if it became necessary.
Roman expansion began long before the state was changed into an empire and reached its zenith under emperor Trajan with the conquest of Dacia in AD 106. During this territorial peak, the Roman Empire controlled about 5 900 000 km² (2,300,000 sq.mi.) of land surface and had a population of 100 million. From the time of Caesar to the Fall of the Western Empire, Rome dominated Western Eurasia and the Mediterranean, comprising the majority of its population. Ancient Rome has contributed greatly to the development of law, war, art, literature, architecture, technology and language in the Western world, and its history continues to have a major influence on the world today.
The Roman Empire is where the idea of the "West" began to emerge. Due to Rome's central location at the heart of the Empire, "West" and "East" were terms used to denote provinces West and east of the capital itself. Therefore, Iberia (Portugal and Spain), Gaul (France), Africa (Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco) and Britannia were all part of the "West", while Greece, Anatolia, Syria, and Egypt were part of the "East." Italy itself was considered central, until the reforms of Diocletian, when the idea of formally dividing the Empire into true Eastern and Western halves was introduced.
In 395, the Roman Empire formally split into a Western Roman Empire and an Eastern one, each with their own emperors, capitals, and governments, although ostensibly they still belonged to one formal Empire. The dissolution of the Western half (nominally in 476, but in truth a long process that ended by 500) left only the Eastern Roman Empire alive. For centuries, the East continued to call themselves Eastern Romans, while the West began to think in terms of Latins (those living in the old Western Empire) and Greeks (those inside the Roman remnant to the east).
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 Roman 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 Roman 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.
As the Eastern (orthodox) and Western (firstly Catholic, then Protestant as well) churches spread their influence, the line between Eastern and Western Christianity was moving towards one another until it was fully set at the time of Lithuanian Christianisation. The border of Western/Eastern Christianity was moving and its movement was defined by the existence of the Byzantine empire and the fluctuating power and influence of the church in Rome. Now its border is East of Estonian border, via the very West of Ukraine until Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, not to mention enclaves in many countries such as Romania, Northern Albania etc. From Middle Ages until late 20th century religion was decreasingly important in Europe therefore the religious division followed a cultural divide and vice versa.
Huntington argued 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 fiercely criticized these views arguing they confuse the Eastern Roman Empire with Russia, especially considering the fact that the country that had the most historical roots in Byzantium, Greece, expelled communists and was allied with the West during the Cold War. Still, Russia accepted Eastern Christianity from the Byzantine Empire (by the Patriarch of Constantinople: Photios I) linking Russia very close to the Eastern Roman Empire world. Later on, in 16th century Russia created own religious centre in Moscow. Religion survived in Russia beside severe persecution carrying values alternative to the communist ideology.
Under Charlemagne, the Franks established an empire that was recognized as the Holy Roman Empire by the Pope in 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 West Christendom. The Latin Rite Christian Church of Western and Central Europe headed by the Pope split with the eastern, Greek-speaking Patriarchates during the Great Schism. Meanwhile, the extent of each expanded, as British Isles, Germanic peoples, Bohemia, Poland, Hungary, Scandinavia, Baltic peoples and the other non-Christian lands of the northwest were converted by the West Church, while Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, Belarus, Serbia, Caucasus and most of Ukraine were converted by the Eastern Church.
In this context, the Protestant reformation may be viewed as a schism within the Latin Church. Martin Luther, in the wake of precursors, broke with the pope and with the emperor, backed by many of the German princes. These changes were adopted by the Scandinavian kings. Later, the commoner Jean Cauvin (John Calvin) assumed the religio-political leadership in Geneva, a former ecclesiastical city whose prior ruler had been the bishop. The English King later improvised on the Lutheran model, but subsequently many Calvinist doctrines were adopted by popular dissenters, leading to the English Civil War.
Both royalists and dissenters colonized North America, eventually resulting in an independent United States of America.
The Reformation, and consequent dissolution of West Christendom as even a theoretical unitary political body, resulted in the Thirty Years War. The war ended in the Peace of Westphalia, which enshrined the concept of the nation-state and the principle of absolute national sovereignty in international law.
These 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.
This process of influence (and imposition) began with the voyages of discovery, colonization, conquest, and exploitation of Spain and Portugal; it continued with the rise of the Dutch East India Company, 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.
Although not part of Western colonization process proper, Western culture entered Japan in the so-called Meiji period (1868–1912). The traditional Japanese society was virtually overturned into an industrial and militarist power like Western countries such as the United Kingdom.
During the Cold War, a new definition emerged. The Earth was divided into three "worlds". The First World, analogous in this context to what was called the West, 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. It included some Central and Eastern European countries like Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Czechoslovakia (now split into Czech Republic and Slovakia).
The Third World consisted of countries, many of which were unaligned with either, and important members included India and Yugoslavia; some include the People's Republic of China, though this is disputed, as the People's Republic of China is communist, had friendly relations—at certain times—with the Soviet bloc, and had a significant degree of importance in global geopolitics. Some Third World countries aligned themselves with either the US-led West or the Soviet-led Eastern bloc.
There were a number of countries which did not fit comfortably into this neat definition of partition, including Switzerland, Sweden, Austria and Ireland, which chose to be neutral. Finland was under the Soviet Union's military sphere of influence (see FCMA treaty) but remained neutral, was not communist, nor was it a member of the Warsaw Pact or Comecon but a member of the EFTA since 1986, and was West of the Iron Curtain. In 1955, when Austria again became a fully independent republic, it did so under the condition that it remain neutral, but as a country to the West of the Iron Curtain, it was in the United States' sphere of influence. Spain did not join the NATO until 1982, towards the end of the Cold War and after the death of the authoritarian Franco.
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The exact scope of the Western world is somewhat subjective in nature, depending on whether cultural, economic, spiritual or political criteria are employed.
Many anthropologists, sociologists and historians oppose "the West and the Rest" in a categorical manner. 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 definitions.
The Western world is also considered to be the collection of nations, where Indo-European languages and cultures (primarily of colonial origin) are practiced and dominated. Ethnically speaking, it can refer to Germanic, Greek, Latin, Celtic, Baltic and Western Slavic peoples and most of their territories. It can also refer to some Southern Slavic (Slovenia, Croatia and Bulgaria) territories.
From a cultural and sociological approach the Western world is defined as including all cultures that are directly derived from and influenced by Western European cultures, i.e. Western Europe, Central and Eastern Europe, United States of America and Canada, (Latin America - Argentina and Brazil), Australia and New Zealand. Together these countries constitute Western society.
In the 20th century, Christianity declined in influence in many Western countries, in Western Europe and elsewhere. Secularism (separating religion from politics and science) increased. However, while church attendance is in decline, most Westerners nominally identify themselves as Christians (e.g. 70% in the UK) and attend church on major occasions, such as Christmas and Easter. In the Americas Christianity continues to play an important societal role (though at least Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Brazil, specially among the middle and upper classes, are experiencing processes of secularization similar to European ones).
The official religion of the United Kingdom and some Nordic countries is Christianity, even though the majority of European countries have no official religion. Despite this, Christianity, in its different forms, remains the largest faith in most Western countries.
Due to the high influence of European culture in places like South Africa, it could be said that the country is Western or has achieved Westernization. Moreover, White South Africans of European origin make up about 9% of South Africa. Another 9% are of mixed race. Unlike Black South Africans who've maintained their own native languages, most mixed South Africans speak Afrikaans as a first language. Likewise, most Indian South Africans speak English natively today. Therefore, it can be argued that this collective 20% of native English and Afrikaans speakers (both European-derived) live in heavily Western influenced cultures. Similarly, whites and coloureds are over 10% of Namibia. They primarily speak Afrikaans and German as a first language. In addition to that, many Black South Africans and Namibians speak European languages, e.g. Afrikaans and English, fluently and are also considered native speakers of those languages.
Countries of the Western world are generally considered to share certain fundamental political ideologies, including those of liberal democracy, the rule of law, human rights and a high degree of gender equality (although there are notable exceptions, especially in foreign policy). All of these are prerequisites, for example, for a state to become a full member of the European Union and therefore from modern political point of view all European Union member states from the Western, Central and Eastern Europe are considered to be part of the Western world in political terms.
Though the Cold War has ended, and some members of the former Eastern Bloc are making a general movement towards liberal democracy and other values held in common by the traditionally Western states, most of the former Soviet republics (except Baltic states) are not considered Western because of the small presence of social and political reform, as well as their obvious cultural, economic and political differences to what is known today as described by the term "The West" North America (USA and Canada), Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
The term "Western world" is often interchangeablebly used with the term First World 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 geographically or culturally Western are developing countries. In fact, most of the Americas are developing countries, which make up a significant percentage of the West. It is also used despite many Developed countries not being Western (e.g. Japan, South Korea, Singapore).
The existence of "The North" implies the existence of "The South", and the socio-economic divide between North and South. 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 the terms "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 high-income countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which include: Australia, Canada, Iceland, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea, Switzerland, the United States and the countries of the EU (except for: Bulgaria, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta and Romania), are generally included in what used to be called "developed world", although the OECD includes three countries, namely Chile, Mexico and Turkey, that are not yet fully industrial countries, but newly industrialised countries. Although Andorra, Cyprus, Hong Kong, Malta, Liechtenstein, Monaco, San Marino, Singapore, Taiwan and Vatican City, are not members of the OECD, they might also be regarded as developed countries, because their high living standards, high per capita incomes, and their social, economical and political structure are quite similar to those of the high income OECD countries.
A series of scholars of civilization, including Arnold J. 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. Toynbee entered into quite an expansive mode, including as candidates those countries or cultures who became so heavily influenced by the West as to adopt these borrowings into their very self-identity; carried to its limit, this would in practice include almost everyone within the West, in one way or another. In particular, Toynbee refers to the intelligentsia formed among the educated elite of countries impacted by the European expansion of centuries past. While often pointedly nationalist, these cultural and political leaders interacted within the West to such an extent as to change both themselves and the West.
Yet more recently, Samuel P. Huntington has taken a far more controversial approach, forging a political science hypothesis he labeled the "The Clash of Civilizations?" in a Foreign Affairs article and a book. 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 West and Central Europe were historically influenced by the two forms of Western Christianity, namely Protestantism and Catholicism. Also, some Anglophone countries share these traits, e.g. Bermuda, Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the more heterogeneous United States and Canada.
Huntington's thesis, while influential, was by no means universally accepted; its supporters say that it explains modern conflicts, such as those in the former Yugoslavia. The thesis's detractors fear that by equating values like democracy with the concept of "Western civilization", it reinforces stereotypes that some perceive as being common within the West about non-traditionally Western societies that some may consider racist or xenophobic. Others believe that Huntington ignores the existence of non-Western democracies such as the East Asian and South-Central Asian democracies. As such, these detractors believe that it will serve to provoke and amplify conflict rather than illuminating a way to find an accommodating world order, or in particular cases a commonly agreed solution.
In Huntington's narrow thesis, the historically Eastern Orthodox nations of Southeastern and Eastern Europe constitute a distinct "Euro-Asiatic civilization"; although European and mainly Christian (as well as notable Muslim influence and populations, particularly in the Balkans and southern/central Russia), 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 in part to the proximity of Ottoman domination, despite the decisive influence of Greek émigré scholars on the Renaissance.
Other views might be made regarding (Central and) Eastern Europe.
A controversial theory of Huntington is that he considered the possibility of South America being 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.
Palestinian-American literary critic Edward Said uses the term occident in his discussion of orientalism. According to his binary, the West, or Occident, created a romanticized vision of the East, or Orient, in order to justify colonial and imperialist intentions. This Occident-Orient binary is focused on the Western vision of the East instead of any truths about the East. His theories are rooted in Hegel's Master-slave dialectic: The Occident would not exist without the Orient and vice versa. Further, P writers created this irrational, feminine, weak "Other" to contrast with the rational, masculine, strong West because of a need to create a difference between the two that would justify imperialist ambitions, said influenced Indian-American theorist Homi K. Bhabha.
The term the "West" may also be used pejoratively by certain tendencies and especially critical of the influence of the traditional West, due to the history of most of the members of the traditional West being previously involved, at one time or another, in outright imperialism and colonialism. Some of these critics also claim that the traditional West has continued to engage in what might be viewed as modern implementations of imperialism and colonialism, such as neoliberalism and globalization. (It should be noted that many Westerners who subscribe to a positive view of the traditional West are also very critical of neoliberalism and globalization, for their allegedly negative effects on both the developed and developing world.)
Allegedly, definitions of the term "Western world" that some may consider "ethnocentric" are considered by some to be "constructed" around one or another Western culture. The British writer Rudyard Kipling wrote about this contrast: East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet, expressing his belief that somebody from the West "can never understand the Asian cultures" as the latter "differ too much" from the Western cultures. Some may view this alleged incompatibility as a precursor to Huntington's "clash of civilizations" theory.
Paradoxically, today Asia and Africa to varying degrees may be considered quasi-Western. Many East Asians and South Asians and Africans and others associate or even identify with the cosmopolitan cultures and international societies referred to sometimes as Western. Likewise, many in the West identify with a transcultural humanity, a notion often found in visions of the sacred.
From a very different perspective, it has also been argued that the idea of the West is, in part, a non-Western invention, deployed in the non-West to shape and define non-Western pathways through or against modernity.
Of the three great civilizations of Western Eurasia and North Africa, that of Christian Europe began as the least developed in virtually all aspects of material and intellectual culture, well behind the Islamic states and Byzantium.
For some generations before Muhammad, the Arab mind had been, as it were, smouldering, it had been producing poetry and much religious discussion; under the stimulus of the national and racial successes it presently blazed out with a brilliance second only to that of the Greeks during their best period. From a new angle and with a fresh vigour it took up that systematic development of positive knowledge, which the Greeks had begun and relinquished. It revived the human pursuit of science. If the Greek was the father, then the Arab was the foster-father of the scientific method of dealing with reality, that is to say, by absolute frankness, the utmost simplicity of statement and explanation, exact record, and exhaustive criticism. Through the Arabs it was and not by the Latin route that the modern world received that gift of light and power.
For many centuries the Porld of Islam was in the forefront of human civilization and achievement…. In the era between the decline of antiquity and the dawn of modernity, that is, in the centuries designated in European history as medieval, the Islamic claim was not without justification.