Where is the “West”?

One of the perceptions of the US is that it is a “Western” country. Yet, while many claim this, they also claim in the same breath that Latin America and Africa are not. What makes them different? A country like Mexico, for example, was former European colony like the US, speaks a European language like the US, and was created on Enlightenment principles into an elected government. Another example, more similar example would be South Africa, which, like the US, was a former British colony, speaks English, and has an elected government. What the hell, USA?

However, there are some key differences between the US, Latin America, and Africa. Unlike the US, many Latin American and African countries have retained some memory of their indigenous traditions. It is not uncommon to see references to the Inca in Peru, for example. Also, a large majority of politicians in said countries are mixed or indigenous themselves, such as the numerous non-White Hispanic politicians in Latin America or the numerous Black politicians in Africa. In fact, while the US struggles with its first Black president and is unable to elect a single female president to date, the “third world” has had numerous people of color and female politicians serve in parliaments and as heads of government.

It is clear that the US is no different in terms of development or history than its so-called “third world” cousins. The only difference is its remarkable success economically and politically as a world power. The real question to be asked is: what drives the difference between the US and other former colonies? One commonly proposed answer is laissez-faire capitalism, which in reality, is a paradoxical form of financial regulation that defends property while reducing protections for labor. Despite its prevalence in corporate media, this answer has several historical contradictions. The leading economist in the American tradition was Alexander Hamiliton, who clearly favored protection of American industry, what is known by economists as the “infant industry” argument. Even a century later, Abraham Lincoln, a conservative, argued, “Give us a protective tariff, and we will have the greatest nation on earth.” When foreign governments attempted to do the same, the US cracked down on them with CIA-based regime changes, such as the assassination of Salvador Allende in Chile, overthrow of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran, and elimination of Patrice Lumumba in Zaire. The modern condition of the developing world is in large part the history of US-backed state terrorism. American authoritarians may claim that as the US is the sole heir to the Enlightenment principles, ergo, it deserves to imperialize other “uncivilized” societies. Yet, this is a perversion of the Enlightenment philosophy. Enlightenment philosophers clearly stated that classical liberal values are not the sole property of one country or group of people but of human beings as a whole.

The US should acknowledge its history as a multinational state. There is no need to copy the Old World. While there have been significant developments in the West, there is still much to be done. As long as the US continues to hold on to its false sense of membership in the West, it will continue to be beholden to the past, one which is better not repeated. As American politicians like to say, the US is the leader of the world, so it could be if it acknowledged how radically unique and important it is as an exemplar.


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