The West is not a geographic term. Poland is further east than Morocco. France is further east than Haiti. Australia is further east than Egypt. Yet Poland, France, and Australia are all considered part of “The West.” Morocco, Haiti, and Egypt are not.
The West is not an ideological or economic term either. India is the world’s largest democracy. Japan is among its most economically advanced nations. No one considers them part of the West.Before I even get to that, here’s this question that’s been bugging me:
What does it even mean when we refer to President Trump as the “leader of the free world”?
And I don’t mean that as a slam against Trump.
What I mean is, for the benefit of those too young to have lived through it, there once was a time in history, back in the “bi-polar” days, when the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact nations comprised one pole of the geopolitical world, referred to generally as “The East”, and the other pole, the United States, along with its NATO allies and other hangers-on, were called “The West”.
There were also nations that were not aligned with either side, known as “The Third World”, who seemingly saw their global function as playing one side off the other, sort of like a child of divorce playing his parents. And yes, while most of these were poverty-stricken, but that was not what defined them as “Third-World”, as that term is used nowadays — Third World nations were called that only because they could not be lumped in with the other two worlds.
So back in those days, where did Japan fall? And how about Haiti? Heh?
And let me say right that, while I agree with just about everything else Beinart says here (as I usually do), I don’t agree, at least under the classical definitions of “East” and “West”, that Japan and Haiti were in the “Eastern” camp, no matter where they were (and still are) located on the globe, and no matter what the predominant skin color of its inhabitants, since neither of them were under the spell of communism or the Soviet Union. Likewise, those of us in the so-called West are not called “Westerners” because we’re white or Judeo-Christian.
In fact, because the world is no longer divided into nations that allied themselves with the now-defunct Communist-led Soviet Union and others allied with the United States, if someone were to hold a world-wide referendum on it, I would cast my vote with those who think we should just retire the whole concept of “East” and “West”, and especially to stop automatically calling the president of the United States the “Leader of the Free World”.
Let’s get with it! The world has actually changed, and there are no real leaders of anything anymore, much less any arbitrary groups to be leaders of.
At least for the time being, that is. Maybe that will change sometime soon. Stay tuned; modern history is still being made. We’ll have to wait to see how this plays out.