Published On: Fri, Jan 31st, 2014

“Team West” is worried about its decline. Don’t be. It is quite normal

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Many Westerners fret about the relative decline of the West.  For over 500 years, since the successful conquest of the Americas by Atlantic Ocean facing European countries, the West has dominated the world in terms of wealth, power, influence and culture.

This domination is ending and Westerners are struggling to come to terms with their new status. There is a lot of debate as to why this has been happening: high levels of private and national debt; a social net that is too expensive; loss of manufacturing; too much free trade or not enough free trade; not enough education; wealth inequality; too high taxation or too low taxation and so forth.  Yet none of these explanations are really satisfying and many are contradictory.

There is another way of looking at the issue.

If you look at the West as one homogenous group it appears to have maintained its dominance over the world for over 500 years and it now appears to be in decline. However, if you look at it as a series of heterogenous, individual, states you will see a series of distinct rises and falls. Spain rose and fell.  Portugal rose and fell.  The Netherlands rose and fell.  France rose and fell.  Britain rose and fell. Germany rose and fell. The United States rose and is falling. In each case the fall of one Western country was overlapped by the rise of another Western country, as though there were all team members in a gigantic relay race against the rest of the world. “Team West” has done very well, but the individual members all faltered after a time.

What is different today, however, is that the United States is in decline and there is no successor Western state waiting to pick up the baton for “Team West”.

If the concept of “the West” is broadened so that it is not merely a synonym for whit(ish) skinned people of a European Christian heritage and encompasses the broader intellectual concepts of Western science, medicine, law, capitalism and values, then even the rise of China could be seen as another triumph of “the West”.  They could be co-opted into “Team West”.

While non Westerners and Westerners alike will probably be affronted by this concept, for different reasons, this is not too dissimilar to what happened to the Roman Empire from the mid 300s AD onwards. Germanic tribes north of the river Danube began to invade the Roman Empire and settle within its borders.  What the fairer skinned Germans all had in common was a desire to be part of the darker skinned Roman Empire.  They did not invade to destroy it, but rather they envied its wealth and culture and wanted to be a part of it.  They stopped using their Germanic languages, wrote in Latin, used Roman law and promoted Rome’s official religion: Christianity.  Over time the German tribes that invaded what is now France, Spain, Portugal and Italy would end up speaking the Latin based languages that morphed into French, Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese and Italian.  Even as late as 800 AD the German ruler of much of Western Europe, Charlemagne (Charles the Great) had himself crowned as the Holy Roman Emperor.

So when looking at the decline of the West it is important to remember that most of the major Western powers have been through their own rises and falls already.  Decline is normal, from a historical perspective.

A more interesting question is how did  “Team West” rise in the first place?  This is the subject of the next article on History Future Now.

Stay tuned.

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