History of European Ideas 46 (5):563-581 (2020)

Georgios Varouxakis
Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London
ABSTRACT This article takes issue with the current orthodoxy that the idea of ‘the West' as a supranational self-description based on civilizational commonality first emerged in English in the 1890s and 1900s in the context of the needs of British high imperialism. It shows, first, that there were, already in the eighteenth century, incipient attempts towards a term denoting a distinctive West-European cultural unity. It argues, further, that such uses were rather casual and interchangeable with overwhelmingly more references to ‘Europe' as the supranational civilizational entity that the authors identified with, until - roughly - the middle of the nineteenth century. The first conscious and sustained attempts to articulate a distinctive ‘Western' identity and a concept of ‘the West' that was promoted as an alternative to the allegedly confusing term ‘Europe' came in the 1850s and 1860s, promoted by the British Comtists. Thus, while some of the first, relatively inconsistent, uses of ‘the West' conform to the stereotype of celebrating a liberty-cherishing ‘West', others – the most sustained articulations of an idea of ‘the West' – were inspired by an overtly illiberal project. The article argues that in both cases ‘the West’ was imported into English usage from German and French.
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DOI 10.1080/01916599.2020.1746079
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Did Europe Exist Before 1700?Peter Burke - 1980 - History of European Ideas 1 (1):21-29.

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