Where is the historical West? Part 5 of 5


The West also includes areas which are seen today as partially Western. I am thinking (firstly) of Russia. There is much uncertainty about Russia’s Europeanism. Perhaps of all the cultural factors which may classify Russia as Western none is more important than the bringing of Christianity to the Slavs by Byzantium scholars in the 10th century. With the end of Byzantium, the role of the emperor as a patron of Eastern Orthodoxy was certainly claimed by Ivan III (1440-1505), Grand Duke of Muscovy. Yet, the same Caesaropapism we saw in Byzantium developed in Russia, leading some historians to question Russia’s place in the West.  The Russian allegiance to Orthodox Christianity, they argue, kept Russia outside of the Catholic scholastic culture, the Papal Revolution, rise of autonomies cities and universities. Russia was the most resistant to classical liberalism. While Tsar Alexander I (1801-1825) was raised in the ideas of the Enlightenment, and during the beginning of his reign relaxed censorship and reformed the educational system, he refused to grant a constitution; and, after the defeat of Napoleon, he returned to strict and arbitrary censorship. In 1914 the Russian autocracy and its police were firmly in controlled. In March 1917, the Tsarist autocracy fell apart, and a provisional government led by the middle classes and liberal nobles passed reforms that provided universal suffrage, civil equality, and an eight-hour workday, but in October 1917 a small militant faction toppled this liberal government and set out to transform Russia into a bureaucratically centralized state dominated by a single party.  The Soviets tried to destroy every institution and cultural lifestyle associated with Russia’s Christian past in order to reconstitute society on the basis of an anti-Western doctrine called Marxism. This regime collapsed in the 1990s, but the emerging state structures, it is argued, remained mired in autocratic customs and policies.

But perhaps the most important reason why Russia is not altogether seen as Western is that geographically it occupies a vast territory extending from Eastern Europe deep into Central Asia, Siberia, and into the Far East. Other historians address Russia’s “distinctive” Slavic culture, but what is invariably left out from all these accounts is that Russia has been predominantly a culture and a territory founded and nurtured by Caucasians. The origin of the first Russian state, the state of Kiev, is a matter of much controversy; its existence has been dated roughly from the 800s AD to 1240, at which point it was thoroughly destroyed by the Mongols; and one of the contending arguments is that the founders of Kiev were Norsemen or Vikings. The name of Rus, from which the name “Russians” was derived, has been variously ascribed to “red-haired” Vikings. Now, Russia before the “Russians,” it is true, included a number of ancient cultures within the many landscapes that came to  be enclosed within its boundaries, including Scythians, Cimmerians, and Sarmatians, but many of these groups belonged to the Iranian and Thracian divisions of the Indo-European language families, and only some to an Asiatic, Mongol and Turkic-speaking background.  The Proto-Indo-European homeland, after all, was located in the general region of the Pontic-Caspian steppe, which is in present day Ukraine. The Indo-Europeans, who remained in this region, after the migrations, are said to be speakers of Balto-Slavic.

Looking at the ethnic composition of the former Soviet Union (circa 1979), we find that of a total population of 262.436 million, the Russians and Ukrainians alone numbered 187.307 million, not counting the Baltic peoples and other Indo-Europeans. After the Soviet Union broke up in the 1990s, the Slavs (Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians) came to account for about 85 percent of Russia’s demography. Most of the non-Slavic peoples found themselves neatly grouped within the newly demarcated nation states of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The “Asian” part of the former Soviet Union was thus cut off. The Turkic speaking peoples which remained inside Russia are now widely and sparsely distributed in the middle Volga, the southern Ural Mountains, the North Caucasus, and above the Arctic Circle. Russia is not only the largest country in the world but homeland to the most numerous ethnic group in Europe and one of the largest white groups in the world – notwithstanding its current low fertility rate.

Philippe Nemo’s claim that Russia is not really Western because under its Orthodox Christian order it did not experience the separation of church and state, Catholic Scholasticism, and the rise of representative institutions (2006) is wrong on ethnic grounds. It is wrong on high cultural grounds: Russia has contributed one of the greatest literary traditions to the West, starting with Alexander Pushkin, the poetry of Mikhail Lermontov and Nikolay Nekrasov, dramas of Aleksandr Ostrovsky and Anton Chekhov, and the prose of Nikolai Gogol, Ivan Turgenev, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Ivan Goncharov. It is wrong on geopolitical grounds: Russia’s relentless geographical expansion into Siberia, beginning in the late-1500s and reaching the Pacific by 1639, is as deserving of admiration as the achievements of other well-known European explorations. Russia has been a land of numerous great explorers associated with heroic expeditions from Siberia to the Artic into Space; it launched the first Earth-orbiting artificial satellite, the first human spaceflight in 1961, the first spacewalk in 1965, the first space exploration rover, on the Moon in 1970, and the first space station in 1971. Guillaume Faye’s vision of a Euro-Siberia federation covering all European lands in between the Atlantic and the Pacific is a salutation to Russia’s geographical achievement and possible impending role in the struggle with the Asian world for the survival of Western civilization.

Latin America

Another area of the world often classified as both Western and non-Western is Latin America. The countries comprising Latin America, one argument goes, inherited many of the feudal institutions of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Spain and Portugal, which had long stagnated, in contrast to North America, which was founded by a group of settlers representing the latest phase in the cultural progression of Europe, the principles of limited government, natural rights, religious tolerance, and individual enterprise. Whereas the North was gradually populated by enterprising families who brought with them the basis for the creation of “an institutional matrix” that committed the emerging state to set up a set of legal and political organizations, rules and enforcement of property rights, which ensured relative order and economic prosperity, Latin American culture became rooted in the Iberian tradition of a privileged nobility and a medieval landholding system in which most of the land was owned by a small clique ruling over a mass of  impoverished peasants lacking property rights and land. Historians also point to the persistence of a mercantilist disposition among Latin American rulers. From colonial times, the crown acted as the supreme economic patron, with the result that much commercial activities came to depend on special licenses, grants, monopolies, and trade privileges.  The import-substitution policies adapted from the 1930s through to the 70s created economies dominated by bloated and inefficient state sectors that either manage the economy directly or burdened it with massive regulations.

The message of this rather influential interpretation is that Latin America can be classified as Western in the degree to which it has adopted liberal democratic values and institutions. Mario Vargas Llosa, winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature, an avowed admirer of Margaret Thatcher, believes that there is already “a Westernized Latin America that speaks Spanish, Portuguese and English (in the Caribbean and in Central America) and is Catholic, Protestant, atheist or agnostic.” There is another Latin America that remains authoritarian, hierarchical, corporatist, and patrimonial. But he is “convinced” this Latin America will become, “sooner rather than later,” Western thanks to further modernization and democratization. Latin American, he adds,  has been bedeviled not only by a pre-liberal Hispanic political culture, but by an indigenous “pre-Hispanic” presence particularly in countries like Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. Once liberalism takes firm roots, and “race-mixing” is extended “in all directions,” then “all Latin Americans” will join the Western world. Vargas Llosa opportunely announces that “the distinctive identity of a mestizo continent” will make Lain America “a model for the rest of the world.”

Latin America possesses some Western traits; this cannot be denied, the Spanish legacy, Christianity, and a high number of rather original writers: Jorge Luis Borges, known for his invention of the philosophical short story; Rubén Darío and the modernismo poetic movement; Alejo Carpentier, Miguel Ángel Asturias, Julio Cortázar — to mention a few names of European descendants. But Mario Vargas Llosa is correct to emphasize the overwhelming reality of mestizaje in this continent even if he wants to promote two incompatible things: i) the idea that Latin American is becoming liberal, transcending its ethnic identity and creating a culture “possessed by individuals and not collectivities,” and ii) the idea that Latin America is becoming a place where a new race, the Mestizo, will emerge standing as a “model” (a new and improved species?) for the rest of the world. The implied logic of his argument is that Indians should willingly engaged in miscegenation in the name of La Raza Cósmica. He neglects altogether the wishes of the more than 2000 different Indian groups in Latin America to retain their racial makeup, shared habits, folkways, and collective rights to their ancestral lands. The notion of the autonomous individual is not a cultural construct of Indians.

Mestizaje is also a denial of whiteness in Latin America. The ethnic composition of most Latin Americans is not European. Nevertheless, some countries, certainly Uruguay, regions of Argentina and even Brazil, do exhibit a considerable European genetic heritage. There is debate, and acrimonious exchanges on this question, for example, about the exact whiteness of Argentineans, with some studies questioning the commonly held view that Argentina is uniquely a European nation; still, the bio-geographic ancestry of Argentineans has been shown to contain “a large fraction of European genetic heritage in their Y-chromosomal (94.1%) and autosomal (78.5%) DNA, but their mitochondrial gene pool is mostly of Native American ancestry (53.7%)”. While the mitochondrial or the maternal gene inheritance may seem low, many Argentines are the descendants of an exceptionally high rate of European immigration: between 1857 and 1950, 6,611,000 European immigrants arrived in Argentina. According to a 1914 Census, over 80 percent of the Argentine population were immigrants, their children, or grandchildren. Uruguay, with about 88 percent of its population white and descended from Europeans, and only 4 percent black and 8 percent mestizo, is more European than the present United States.

Concluding Thought

The transformation of the vast pristine continents of North America and Australia into core members of Western civilization is one of the supreme accomplishments of Europeans. The countries erected out of these continents, Canada, United States, Australia and New Zealand, were overwhelmingly white not long ago. This is no longer true. The headlines speak for themselves: “For the first time in history, there were more minority children born in the United States than white, according to 2011 census data.” “Australia’s Asian population is soaring as immigrants from across the region – particularly China and India – enter the country, official data suggests.” The top four countries of immigrants to Canada between 2001 and 2006 were China, India, Philippines, and Pakistan. “Canada is becoming a nation of Tiger Mothers”. Europe is experiencing similar trends; the Africanization France is well underway.

Where will the West be in the future? The difficulties we encountered identifying the historical West will pale in comparison to the immense struggles we will face recognizing this civilization in a thoroughly mongrelized geography.

End of Part 5 of 5.

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