1. On being the heir to Rome
The western world prides itself on being the heir to the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome.
It’s true that some parts of the world that we would not normally think of as being in the West – Russia and the Arab world, for example – have also been strongly influenced by classical Greco-Roman culture. Nevertheless, we feel, the western world is Rome’s true successor.
It’s hard to explain why. Perhaps, we believe, there is some unique essence of westernness which began in the ancient world, and which western Europe alone was heir to.
2. Fuzzily mapped
Pretty much everyone has a rough idea what “western civilization” means, even if we aren’t sure how to define it. It started in ancient Greece and Rome, with Plato and Aristotle. It is predominantly white and Christian, and its main language is English. It is associated with rationality, individualism, technological progress, democracy, and freedom, and it currently dominates the world.
And when people talk about “the west” or “the western world” we roughly know what that means. On a map it looks like this:
which goes to show that “west” does not necessarily have anything to do with geography.
Perhaps “the west” really means western Europe, plus those parts of the world whose cultural origins lie in western Europe as a result of colonisation. Except for Mexico and all of South and Central America and the Caribbean. And Israel is culturally western but it isn’t in the west. Um.
“West” is a fuzzy concept.
3. On Europe, and the ancient Roman Empire, and how they were not the same place
The origins of western civilization are said to lie in ancient Greece and Rome, but the ancients themselves did not think they were “west”. They considered themselves to be right at the center of the world, straddling Europe and Asia. They even named their sea the Mediterannean, which means “center of the Earth”.
And the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations are sometimes called “European”, but they weren’t, really.