What is the West?

PARIS -- Everyone everywhere has by now heard about the “clash of civilizations.” This Samuel Huntington concept has become universal. In the 1950’s, the French economist, Alfred Sauvy had a comparable success with the expression “third world.” One reason these phrases gain wide acceptance is their lack of clear definition. The “clash of civilizations,” basically the West against the rest, is supposed to describe the world as it is. In reality, the West is vague enough to include a vast array of areas without describing their unifying characteristics.

So what exactly is West? What does Westernization mean? Why is Japan considered Western and China not? Where does Shanghai stand? Is Russia part of the West?

From these uncertainties, we can conclude that the West is not a geographic entity. It probably first established itself as a mindset when the Greeks, 25 centuries ago, perceived themselves as Western versus the Oriental Persians. Since the West has lost any clear territorial basis since then, the phrase “the West” has become a universal not a local notion.

To be Western or Westernized, above all, is a mindset which does not coincide with any continent, nor with any specific nation or religion. Huntington’s mistake, it seems, was to contain the West inside national borders: there is no map of the West.