In the discourse of the United States today, everything is supposed to be about race. That particular American view infects any American discussion of the West. Overt racists like Lothrop Stoddard associated Western civilization with racial whiteness. Today, the American left often seems to agree with Stoddard, viewing “the West” as code for racial whiteness – as when Natalie Wynn says “the association between whiteness and the West is always lurking beneath the surface”. But the Greek, Semitic and Latin historical roots that make the West go back much earlier than the 17th-century concept of the “white race”; Westerners thought of themselves as “Christendom” long before they thought of themselves as “white”. Anti-black and anti-native racism are the US’s original sin, but we mislead ourselves in a deeply parochial way if we think of the whole world in those American terms.
Rather, it seems to me that the important thing is to reclaim the West from that recent (and harmful) concept of whiteness. “Whiteness” never was constitutive of the West as a historical complex, and the last thing we should do is treat it that way now. For as it turns out, the history of the West is in key respects not even European.
To see why, let’s take a look at the history of the West. Philosophy forms a key part of that history, and this is a philosophy blog, so the history of Western philosophy is as good a case study as any other.Continue reading