Europe and the West: Two Mutually Exclusive Concepts?

    • Cover Porto 2017
    • Presentation speakers
      • Jasper Trautsch, University of Regensburg, Germany


    The concepts of Europe and the West have different historical origins, and until the mid-20th century they referred to two distinct and clearly delineated communities. The concept of Europe as a historically grown cultural community demarcated the western peninsula of the Eurasian landmass from non-Christian Asia and Africa as well as from the mass society on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. The concept of the West as a political community originally developed within a transatlantic context setting the more liberal countries in the western part of the Continent and North America apart from the more autocratic regimes in the eastern half of Europe. However, in the early phase of the Cold War, both concepts increasingly merged. To justify the inclusion of the former fascist enemy states of Italy and (West) Germany and the authoritarian regime of Portugal into NATO, the concept of the liberal West was redefined to also refer to a cultural community uniting the Christian countries against the atheistic ‘East’. The conservative concept of Europe as a Christian civilization (‘civilisation chrétienne’ in French, ‘civiltà cristiana’ in Italian, ‘Abendland’ in German) conversely was democratized to incorporate North America, thereby reconciling Western European conservatives to the alliance with what the U.S., which they had traditionally rejected as too materialistic. This fusion of the conservative concept of Europe as a cultural community and the liberal concept of the West as a political community was very useful in the context of the early Cold War to justify and consolidate the Atlantic alliance. However, in the long run it put the formation of a European identity and attachment to ‘the West’ in a competitive relationship. Since both ‘Europe’ and ‘the West’ were defined by the same markers, attempts to promote one concept usually came at the expense of the other. European identity formation therefore required, at least, to an extent, a denial that Europe and North America shared the same historical heritage and the same political values.