“The west” ideology part 2: the origins of “the west”

14 Sep

The origins of “the west”

It is the colonial rule that established an artificial cultural difference between the west and it’s colonies. And in fact, the very idea of “the west” comes from colonisation. By colonising the new world, Europe started to get a sens of itself, its borders, its superiority and its mission in the world.

By analogy, national cultures acquire their strong sense of identity by contrasting themselves with other cultures. Thus we argue, the West’s sense of itself – its identity – was formed not o~y by the internal processes that gradually molded Western European countries into a distinct type of society, but also through Europe’s sense of difference from other worlds – how it came to represent itself in relation to these “others.”

The very origins of the west thus are together christendom and coloial expansion as Hall explains:

And Hulme speaks of ” … the consolidation of an ideological identity through the testing of [Europe’s) Eastern frontiers prior to the adventure of Atlantic exploration …. A symbolic end to that process could be considered Pius ill’s 1458 identification of Europe with Christendom” (Hulme, 1986, p. 84). But in the Age of Exploration and Conquest, Europe began to define itself in relation to a new idea – the existence of many new “worlds,” profoundly different from itself. The two processes – growing internal cohesion and the conflicts and contrasts with external worlds – reinforced each other, helping to forge that new sense of identity that we call “the West.”
(…) Michael Mann offers an explanation of European development by making a series of historical generalizations about long-term socio-economic and religious factors: Why is “Europe” to be regarded as a continent in the first place?

This is not an ecological but a social fact. It had not been a continent hitherto: it was now created by the fusion of the Germanic barbarians and the north-western parts of the Roman Empire, and the blocking presence of Islam to the south and east. Its continental identity was primarily Christian, for its name was Christendom more often than it was Europe.

The very first definition of west as “the west” comes from colonial Columbus achievements. As the western commercial route to the east was barred by the “new world” it became the western colony of “the old world”: Spanish expansion, slavery trade, stealth of gold and expansion of Christianity. “Indies” became “west indies” and so “the west” was born. The new world were to be divided between the powers of the Old World and, for the first time in history, all European powers shared a common sense of colonization.

The first age of colonisation brings to the west its first ideas. The specificity of “the west” is that, because it is never really defined, it can carry the very first of its ideas to our days. Thus, the “christendom” is still a reference for extreme right nowadays constantly refering to “the west’s christian roots”.

Second wave of colonisation will bring second wave of ideological composition to the west. To Christendom will be add racial inequalities and “the white man’s burdens” characterising second wave of colonial race.

“The west” becomes less aggressive but more paternalistic. The colonial power is the eternal father to the colony, the eternal children. It is the civilization and it is the burden of the white men than to civilise culturally inferior society. It is then established that one culture is superior and one is inferior. And now the superior culture is the colonial power : English culture is no superior to the French culture or the German culture but the white man as a whole is superior to the world.

It is also during this second wave that Orientalism is used as a political tool for colonization so the notion of « orient » or « the east » comes to unite « the west » as a concept collectively responsible for bringing civilization to the rest of the world.

In the golden age of colonisation (piking during 1930s), « the west » is perfectly coupled with racist notion of white man and it’s scientifically proven superiority over other races. Domination is the ransom of superiority: “the white man’s burden”. Orientalism and racism ideology lives a perfect love story as they are both enjoying cultural hegemony and can rely on historical proof that the white west is ruling over the non-white world.

The abolition of slavery created a void soon filled by racism. White can no longer dominate the black man because of pure economic reasons, it dominates it because his race is culturally superior and thus morally obligated to educate the non-white. Arabs are less black so they can enjoy a status of hierarchical superiority over the black. This status will be granted because “Arabs are muslims” so, even inferior to the white they still enjoy a better status because of their monotheistic religion that brings them closer to “the west” as Christendom. The colonial world was thus designed to reflect this hierarchy. In the Nation’s League charter, colonial mandates are divided in three classes: A, B and C according to the development reached by the people and the amount of colonization they would need to attain full development.

The character of the mandate must differ according to the stage of the development of the people, the geographical situation of the territory, its economic conditions and other similar circumstances.
Certain communities formerly belonging to the Turkish Empire have reached a stage of development where their existence as independent nations can be provisionally recognized subject to the rendering of administrative advice and assistance by a Mandatory until such time as they are able to stand alone. The wishes of these communities must be a principal consideration in the selection of the Mandatory.

Other peoples, especially those of Central Africa, are at such a stage that the Mandatory must be responsible for the administration of the territory under conditions which will guarantee freedom of conscience and religion, subject only to the maintenance of public order and morals, the prohibition of abuses such as the slave trade, the arms traffic and the liquor traffic, and the prevention of the establishment of fortifications or military and naval bases and of military training of the natives for other than police purposes and the defence of territory, and will also secure equal opportunities for the trade and commerce of other Members of the League.

There are territories, such as South-West Africa and certain of the South Pacific Islands, which, owing to the sparseness of their population, or their small size, or their remoteness from the centres of civilisation, or their geographical contiguity to the territory of the Mandatory, and other circumstances, can be best administered under the laws of the Mandatory as integral portions of its territory, subject to the safeguards above mentioned in the interests of the indigenous population.

Extract of Article 22 of the covenants of the League of Nations

One can see how “prohibition of slave trade” becomes a natural basis for establishing the superiority of “the west” league of Nations through colonisation. One can also see how “the west” is able to fill the void in the ideology by reusing old concepts

Part 3: The borders of “the west”: cultures are different.


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