For people from Eastern Europe (at least), "The West" means Western Europe, North America, and Japan (in approximately that order of importance), otherwise collectively known as the First World.

The West cannot be precisely defined in terms of where it is or its definitions. A rough starting point would say that it is where rich, white people live in multicultural, liberal societies, imbued with Judeo-Christian values tempered with renaissance thinking, and pragmatically transformed by the effects of the industrial and neo-liberal revolutions.

But where would that put Hungary, or Nazi Germany, or Singapore, or Chile, or South Central Los Angeles, or the Bible Belt?

The concept of the West has changed considerably over history anyway:

Before Christopher Columbus, The West was everything west of a diagonal line from Moscow to Salonika. Feudal exploration led to contact and ultimately settlement in Siberia, the Americas and other parts of the world. In Europe around the 1500s a mordernising core emerges in Italy, France, north Germany, along the Danube and English Channel and Saint Petersburg. Nation states also emerge, promoting the concept of citizenship over basing societies on ethnic or religious lines. Eventually this leads to Europe dominating the rest of the world through its economic, military and scientific ascendancy.

From this the technology and economic base emerges that allows European states to accelerate and sustain colonialism, and trigger the start of the Industrial Revolution. Concepts of liberal democracy emerge, leading to the downfall of autocratic political structures. The arts and literature likewise influenced and were influenced by people rethinking their relationships with their God, their kings and themselves.

Western values appeared promoted individualism over the loyalty to the family, clan or state. Some rulers in the West were thus naturally reactionary to this idea. Some reformed their political systems, others ended up loosing control altogether in bloody revolutions. Totalitarianism reemerged as a reaction to individualism, leading to World War II. Subsequently many Western countries relinquished their colonies, but their technology, human capital, political stability and financial strength made them remain economically potent. In particular, the West's individualism and separation between culture and politics has made it possible to attract and absorb immigrants from all over the world.

Various international groupings like the European Union, the Commonwealth, ANZUS and NATO give us a very rough idea where the elusive West exists. These societies are based on democratic values, human rights and property rights. But if you were a true Westernist (note that the word does not exist for a good reason) you would say that Westernism is merely a semantic construct, and that hypocritically it has its own dark episodes.

The heterogenity of the West makes it hard to define. The French adamantly consider their society is distinct from the Anglo-Saxons. Mediterranian family values might look similar to Asian ideals of the extended family. As Margaret Thatcher said, societies do not exist, only individuals exist.

I. The West

Beyond the moor and mountain crest
Comrade, look not on the west —
The sun is down and drinks away
From air and land the lees of day.

The long cloud and the single pine
Sentinel the ending line,
And out beyond it, clear and wan,
Reach the gulfs of evening on.

The son of woman turns his brow
West from forty counties now,
And, as the edge of heaven he eyes,
Thinks eternal thoughts, and sighs.

Oh wide’s the world, to rest or roam,
With change abroad and cheer at home,
Fights and furloughs, talk and tale,
Company and beef and ale.

But if I front the evening sky
Silent on the west look I,
And my comrade, stride for stride,
Paces silent at my side.

Comrade, look not on the west:
‘Twill have the heart out of your breast;
‘Twill take your thoughts and sink them far,
Leagues beyond the sunset bar.

Oh lad, I fear that yon’s the sea
Where they fished for you and me,
And there, from whence we both were ta’en,
You and I shall drown again.

Send not on your soul before
To dive from that beguiling shore,
And let not yet the swimmer leave
His clothes upon the sands of eve.

Too fast to yonder strand forlorn
We journey, to the sunken bourn,
To flush the fading tinges eyed
By other lads at eventide.

Wide is the world, to rest or roam,
And early ‘tis for turning home:
Plant your heel on earth and stand,
And let’s forget our native land.

When you and I are spilt on air
Long we shall be strangers there;
Friends of flesh and bone are best:
Comrade, look not on the west.

A.E. Housman, Last Poems

Public domain: first published in 1922.

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