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Feb 7, 2020 in Analysis

The Development of Modern Western Civilization


Western civilization is a set of cultural, political and economic characteristics that unite North America and Europe and distinguishing them in comparison with other countries in the world. Its core values are the dynamism, focus on novelty; approval of the dignity of and respect for the person; individualism, the installation on the autonomy of the individual; rationality; the ideals of freedom, equality and tolerance; respect for private property; preference for democracy to all other forms of government. Western civilization is at a certain stage of development that assumes the character of industrial civilization. The main events that shaped the modern Western civilizations were those that brought major changes contributing to the abovementioned values. There were several central themes that dominated in the formation of modern Western civilization: the review of such values as humanism, individualism; formation of capitalism and the growth of its importance; the existence of crises that influenced the role Western civilizations has been playing in the world. The purpose of the paper is to analyze the development of modern Western civilization and the abovementioned themes via the prism of such events as Enlightenment, French Revolution, Napoleonic Revolution, Industrial Revolution, Age of Ideologies, Nationalism, New Imperialism, Modern life, the First World War, New Political Systems, World War II and the Cold War. 

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The Development of Modern Western Civilization

There were ups and downs in the development of modern Western civilizations because of certain events. The beginning of its formation was the Enlightenment that was one of the key periods in the history of European culture, associated with the development of scientific, philosophical and social thought. It was the beginning of formation of what is known as Western world values: humanism, individualism, unity, human rights, multiculturalism and other concepts. Rationalism and freethinking were the basis of this intellectual movement. The foundation of the ideology of the Enlightenment becomes faith in man. One of the Western civilization values is humanism and placement of a human being in the center of attention. Therefore, the Enlightenment marked the beginning and origin of one of the most important features of Western civilization.

The next important stage of Western civilization formation was the French Revolution. Despite having specific location, it influenced the rest of what is called the Western world. The French Revolution was the largest transformation of social and political systems of France, which led to the destruction of the country's old order and the absolute monarchy and the proclamation of the First French Republic, de jure free and equal citizens under the motto "Liberty, equality, fraternity". The event of French Revolution has received tremendous importance in the history of Western world, especially in European states. Just as the German Reformation in the XVI century explained the local causes and, in turn, determined the subsequent history of Germany, the French Revolution with a special relation to the place of origin, gets a more general sense in terms of the whole Western history. There are two main historical facts to which it refers: the destruction of feudalism, which latter prevailed in the social sphere and even the stained political relations, on the one hand, and the introduction of the state and public life, political and individual freedom, on the other. The gradual destruction of feudalism was one of the basic moment of Western history; another equally important fact was the growth of personal and social identity, coupled with the desire for self-determination in the spheres of individual and national life.

The revolution led to the collapse of the old order and the approval of a new, more democratic and progressive society in France. The French Revolution had a huge international significance, contributed to the spread of progressive ideas in the world, had an impact on a series of revolutions in Latin America, as a result of which the latter was released from colonial dependence, and influenced a number of other events in the first half of the XIX century. Therefore, the French Revolution established new state orders in many countries and influenced one more Western civilization value – democracy.

The French Revolution and Napoleonic Revolution are two indivisible events. The main contribution to the Western civilization made by the latter was the Napoleonic Code. It is a French legislative act, which is a large-scale codification of civil law that gave a powerful impetus for the subsequent codification process in many countries. Developed and adopted at the beginning of the XIX century on the initiative of the First Consul of the French Republic of Napoleon Bonaparte, it acts as amended up to the present day. The purpose of drawing up the Code was events in France, and the Code was replacing the chaotic and fragmented array of civil law sources including both legal traditions and different regulations. This contribution to modern Western civilization development belongs to theme of values formation and creation of new view on state order by legal means.

The theme of capitalism started to develop with the Industrial Revolution that was the transition from manual labor to machine, from manufacture to factory, which was observed in the leading Western powers in the XVIII-XIX centuries. The main feature of the Industrial Revolution was the industrialization that is the transition from a predominantly agrarian economy to industrial production. The result of this process was the transition to an industrial society from the agrarian one. A characteristic feature of the Industrial Revolution is the rapid growth of productive forces on the basis of large-scale machine industry and adoption of capitalism as the dominant global economic system.

The Industrial Revolution in Europe and the United States allowed to make a transition from agrarian society to industrial one in a very short time of only 3-5 generations. The middle class as a separate social stratum with its ethics and philosophy of life appeared as the result of this process. In many ways, the middle class that is the characteristic of Western civilization was created by the Industrial Revolution: the owners of small factories, managers, new professional strata, such as, for example, engineers. The Industrial Revolution marked the beginning of market economy creation, intensification of communications and technological advances that made Western countries world leaders.

The crises of Western civilization stem from the clashes of ideologies. The XX century was the period of struggle of ideologies: liberalism and social democracy inextricably linked with it, communism and fascism each of which had an opportunity to realize itself in practice in one or several states. As a result of this process a struggle of nations and their unions for global leadership began. All these ideologies or preconditions for their emergence appeared in the XIX century, but their final form they acquired after the First World War broke out, and soon after the world crisis. And each of ideologies gave its own version of solving the crisis.

Main conservatism ideology was formulated in the XVIII century by Edmund Burke (1729-1797). Its central idea was respect for tradition. The opposite to conservatism were the ideas of liberalism. In England, they were formulated by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). He viewed society as a unity of people with own interests. The prosperity of the society, according to Bentham, is possible under the conditions that the rights of the person are respected and there is the inviolability of private property. The philosopher supported free enterprises and believed that there should be no obstacles for their development, other than those which limit the potential harm to others.

Many historians call the XIX century the era of nationalism. The latter became one of the most influential and sustainable ideologies of human history. The start of nationalism views distribution in Europe was caused by the French Revolution in the XVIII century, which proclaimed the nation as the association of free citizens and a source of state power. Because of the Napoleonic wars, the new ideas began to spread in Europe. Napoleon, who is called "itinerant nationalism trader", supported the national movements in Italy and Poland, as well as caused by own actions an explosion of patriotic feelings among enslaved people who did not have their own state.

In the first half of the XIX century. the development of socialist ideas was associated with the works of French scientists. They started to use the concept of "socialism" and "communism" in the first quarter of the XIX century. The socialist views united the thinkers who advocated the elimination of the then-order and wanted the creation of a new society in which there would be an absolute social equality of people, and there would be no exploitation of workers. The middle of the XIX century was a period of further development of socialistic theories. There were also the supporters of the trade-unionist ideology that limited tasks of the labor movement to the economic struggle for the establishment of more favorable conditions of work, and especially for skilled workers. They denied the necessity of the political struggle of the workers against the then regime; it was considered unnecessary to establish a separate business proletarian party or they reduced it to the role of the parliamentary representation of trade unions.

Therefore, the age of ideologies showed how the world is divided and showed that Western and Eastern civilizations are prone to different ideologies. Liberalism and nationalism are the distinguishing features of Western civilization. Even now, it is possible to trace the spread of Western civilization by the emergence of liberalism ideas and movements in other countries.

Nationalism is one of the main features, values and state order components of Western civilization. That is the ideology that deems the value of the nation as the highest form of social unity and that nation is a crucial power in the state-process. Nationalism is also a political movement and its objective is the upholding of a peculiar national community interests taking into account its relations with the government. The specifications of nationalism are similar to specifications of Western civilization: devotion to nation, the primary role of political independence, making efforts for the benefit of own nation, cultural and spiritual growth of the country, the national self-identification, protection of the nation's interests, its territory, economic resources and spiritual values. Nationalism to some extent is akin to patriotism. This ideology is uniting and mobilizing the population for successful transition to a capitalist economy. However, the activity of radical movements creates the conditions when nationalism is often associated with ethnic, cultural and religious intolerance (or any other hostility to "other" ethnicities). Such intolerance is condemned by supporters of the moderate currents of nationalism. That is why Western civilization may be seen as hostile by some nations such as Arab states or Asian countries.

One of the probable reasons that led to wars and crises was the impact of the New Imperialism on the Western world countries. The New Imperialism or neo-imperialism is the state policy aimed at the establishment of political and economic control over other nations. It is more important in the global context in which the relationship is established between the neo-imperialistic industrialized countries and the Third World. The New Imperialism was especially visible in foreign policy of the United States. The policy held in Afghanistan was the bright example. In modern world, though it is multipolar, the United States and the European Union as the most prominent representatives of modern Western civilization, try to get stronger positions as world superpowers.

The crises showed modern Western civilization its weak points. Bringing many changes to the whole world, the obvious alterations happened in the structure of western civilization as well. Namely the First World War could serve as a starting point in time count of the new historical epoch. World War I (1914-1918) was the major historical event of the beginning of the XX century. It shook the foundations of Western civilization, the capitalist society that was in the first place in Europe. The war led to the mass destruction of people, large-scale destruction of property, economic and political structures of the belligerent powers. The immediate result of the First World War was the disintegration of the former state entities. It broke up the Austro-Hungarian Empire into a number of independent countries: Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Hungary and Austria. As a result of social revolutions have ceased to exist in their previous form the German and Russian empires. Germany lost a large part of its territory, and from the Russian Empire, in addition to the Soviet socialist republics, formed independent countries: Finland, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

In general, as a result of the First World War, Western civilization fell into a situation of deep crisis. Spiritual crisis erupted. Many absolute values of the XVIII-XIX centuries such as faith in progress, in the constructive-creative power of man, in the person's ability to rationally manipulate the environment to improve people’s life, in the ability of science and technology to realize age-old aspirations of mankind, and others failed. Leading public mood of the postwar period was the mood of decline, disappointment in the possibilities of society to cope with its problems, lack of faith in the future and fear. Therefore, the First World War was the crisis of modern Western civilization as well as World War II later was.

The wars showed the necessity of creation of new political systems in the world. The main function of the political system is to manage all public relations and all systems of a society. It accumulates interests and needs of the various political entities, ranks them according to importance, priority and makes the appropriate decisions to meet them. The development of Western civilization resulted in the development of liberal political system. In liberal political systems, power belongs to the economically dominant class and is characterized by the separation of powers (legislative, executive and judicial). There is a system, which does not allow separate branches of government to become mainstream, and independent judicial system ensures the equality of all before the law. For American liberals (and conservatives), the state includes a set of social institutions that ensure public order and defense: the police, courts, prisons, the army, and others. It acts as a "night watchman" and cannot restrict private citizens’ individualism. For Europeans, in addition to the abovementioned, there are included such institutions as schools, universities, hospitals, municipal systems, science, and so on.

World War II (September 1, 1939-September 2, 1945) was the war of the two world military and political coalitions, which became the largest armed conflict in the history of mankind. The Second World War had a huge impact on the fate of mankind. It has weakened the role of Western Europe in world politics. The Soviet Union and the United States became the world superpowers. Britain and France, in spite of the victory, were significantly weakened. The war demonstrated the inability of other Western European countries to have vast colonial empire. Fascist and Nazi ideology were considered criminal at the Nuremberg trials and were banned. For many years Europe was divided into two camps: the capitalist West and the socialist East. Relations between the two blocs deteriorated sharply. After a couple of years after the war, the Cold War started.

The Cold War greatly influenced on how Western civilization is developing in modern world. It was the global geo-political, military, economic and ideological confrontation in the years 1946-1989 between the USSR and allies, on the one hand, and the US and its allies, on the other hand. This phenomenon was not the war in international legal sense. One of the main components of the confrontation was the ideological struggle as a consequence of the contradiction between the capitalist and socialist models of the state system.

As a result, after the Soviet Union was defeated in the Cold War, there was formed the unipolar model of the world with a dominant superpower - the US. However, there are other consequences of the Cold War. They are the rapid development of science and technology, especially the its military sector. Then, there was a division of the world into spheres of influence and the struggle for them. In fact, the whole planet was viewed as opposing sides in the struggle with each other. Therefore, certain regions of the world were a sphere of influence, for the control of which superpowers conducted a fierce struggle at the level of policy, advocacy, support of those or other forces in individual countries and secret security services operations.

As for modernity, modern Western civilization is still facing the consequences of the Cold War. The world is divided into East and West with different values, ideologies, types of governing, political systems and other aspects. The interests of West and East intersect in areas of crises and recent events in Syria and Turkey showed that. The countries that are situated between two civilizations are under the risk. Western civilization is associated with westernization in many other states, and they often consider it as negative phenomenon. The policy of Western civilization is spreading its values, especially, democracy to other world regions, and they may resist it.

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Western civilization is a special type of civilization (culture) that has historically emerged in Western Europe and in the last century underwent the process of social modernization. The features of Western civilization are: the accelerating development of science and technology, individualism, positivism, universal morality, a variety of ideologies such as democracy, liberalism, nationalism, socialism, proposed to replace the traditional values.

Many features of Western civilization have been borrowed by other nations over time, in particular the Japanese are ahead of most Western European countries in scientific and technological progress and economic development. This significant difference in mentality between the "East" and "West" is preserved up to this day. As for the development of modern Western civilization, there were several changes that brought significant contributions to the process. The Enlightenment put the humanism in the center of Western civilization values system. The French Revolution and Napoleonic Revolution eliminated feudalism, changed the legal system of Western world as well as transformed the political map of the world. The Industrial Revolution brought technological changes that made Western countries leaders, created middle class and market economy. The age of ideologies established a theoretical and ideological base of modern Western civilization and created such notions as nationalism, new imperialism and new political systems, out of which liberal political system became a symbol of Western civilization. The First World War and World War II marked the major crises of Western world, but the Cold War established the confrontation between West and East, putting Western civilization forward again.

Additionally, after the Cold War, based on the created by the US military-political mechanism of NATO to oppose Soviet Union, as well as having the most powerful military machine that also appeared in the arms race with the Soviet Union, United States have received all the necessary mechanisms to protect their interests in any part of the world, regardless of the decisions of international organizations and other countries of interest.

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