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Is the West Really Best?

Is The West Really Best?
The Western presumption of superiority over the East and the rest of the world has been with us for a long time.

There are different views as to whether such triumphalism can be said to be waxing or waning, although at the moment, westernism appears to be on the increase.

Joining the programme to talk about this subject is Professor Alastair Bonnett, from Newcastle University who wrote one of the most influential books on this subject called ‘The Idea of The West’, published in 2004.

In this first of a two-part series, Professor Bonnett talks about the history of the idea of the West, and points out that it is only comparatively recently that the West has been considered to be something separate from the East.

“Although we had the split of Christianity in 1054, we did not have formation of separate identities until the beginning of the 20th century according to my research….To a certain extent, the process of westernisation seems to have started about then; countries like Japan and Turkey changed markedly and became westernised. Another development was the rise of America. With the rise of U.S. power and America becoming the world hegemon, one needed a geographical concept that would encompass not just north-western Europe but a much wider arc of European society.”

The concept of the West is not just western-based, Professor Bonnett points out. “…In a country like Russia, there was a huge debate between the ‘westernisers’ and the ‘slavophiles,’ throughout the late 18th and 19th centuries, a time when talk about the West was simply not taking place in cities like London or Paris.”

Professor Bonnett mentions that we have retreated over the past couple of decades into a bipolar world. “For a while it seemed like we were going to have a much more multi-polar, diverse world, with different models, but partly because the other competing models of civilisation appear so defensive, westernisation seems to be coming back….At the end of the 20th century, people thought that it is all over now, the West is in decline, it is the Asian century and so on. It may be the Asian century in terms of economics, but in terms of civilisational models, and cultural influence I think that westernisation has come back with a vengeance.”

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