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2007: What is the West?

After a life lived in India, Rudyard Kipling famously remarked that East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet. But now they do: through immigration, through travel, through globalisation. But are the terms West and East merely a mental map that creates boundaries where none should exist? Can the distinction be meaningful when it is used to explain everything from the division of the Roman Empire to the Cold War and now the fight against jihadism?

Japan, Brazil, Israel and Australia all defy geography to claim to be “West”. Despite Russia’s European Christian roots it still counts as “East”.

Substantive or not, the terms determine our cultural self-awareness and the way we make sense of the world. Since Oswald Spengler’s Der Untergang des Abendlandes, Westerners (and others) have been discussing its future. More recently, Samuel Huntington has cautioned of a clash of civilisations in which the West will lose its pre-eminent place.

Is the defining feature of the West hostility to the East? Edward Said’s critique of Orientalism, once fashionable, is now discredited. The new theory is that Westerners have been bewitched by the riches and civilisations of the East: close observation and awe have been the hallmarks of that, not ignorant belittlement. Maybe the real prejudice today is not the idea of the “noble savage” but the outsider’s “Occidentalist” stereotypes about “depraved Westerners” and their dehumanised culture and society.

So how and where did ideas about the Western world arise? And how far are they accurate? How far is technological innovation and industrialisation a “Western” phenomenon? What are the spiritual characteristics and features that define the West today? Answers to these raise new questions. How do non-Westerners in modernised settings perceive the West? Are old national identities giving way to a new common Western identity at least, or at first, in Europe? Can the Euro-Atlantic West survive the decline of Atlanticism? If Western values are at least potentially universal is it practical or desirable to spread them across the world?


Roger Scruton: The West and the Rest from a Historical Perspective

Writer and Philosopher, UK

Philippe Nemo: The Invention of Western Values

Professor, Economics, Law and Social Sciences Department, ESCP Europe, Paris, France

Georgios Varouxakis: The Origins of the Idea of “the West”

Doctoral Student, Queen Mary University of London, UK

David Landes: Cornerstones in Western Development

Professor, Harvard University, USA

Robert Irwin: The Orientalists and Their Enemies

Historian, Novelist and Writer on Arabic Literature, UK

Larry Siedentop: Democracy in Europe

Dr, University of Oxford, UK

Tøger Seidenfaden: Western Values, National Identities

Editor-in-Chief at Danish Daily Politiken, Denmark

Robert Shapiro: Democracy in America

Dr, Chairman and Co-Founder, Sonecon, USA

Sahin Alpay: Turkey and Westernization

Professor, Bahcesehir University, Istanbul, Turkey

Nadezhda Mihaylova: The West Viewed from the Balkans

Former Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Institute for Democracy and Stability in South-East Europe

Marina Warner: The Compass of Story: Eastern Bearings in Western Literature

Writer, UK

Avishai Margalit: The West by the Rest

Professor of Philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Co-author with Ian Buruma of Occidentalism (2004), Jerusalem, Israel

Pankaj Mishra: The Legacy of Muslim Immigration

Writer, UK/India

Ibn Warraq: Self-­Criticism: The Redemptive Grace of Western Civilisation

Founder of ISIS (Institute for the Secularisation of Islamic Society), USA

Hans Kollhoff: Go West: Welcome in Europe

Architect, Germany

Philip Bobbitt: The Wars on Terror

Professor, Texas University School of Law, USA

David Frum: The Universality of Western Values

American Enterprise Institute, USA

Göran Rosenberg: The Future of the European Gemeinschaft

Journalist, Sweden

Rolf Ekéus: Threats to European Integration

Ambassador, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, Sweden

Bo Huldt: The Future of Transatlantic Relations

Professor, Swedish Defence College, Sweden