Peter Montgomery wrote:
> So you could say
> that modern western civilisation started with the european
> Renaissance especially through the invention of the printing
> press.

A Chinese invention. Also, a social construction such as "Western
Civilization" does not really exist until it's _named_. As I mentioned a
couple weeks ago, I've been re-reading Wordsworth's _Prelude_, and you
would be hard-pressed to see any concept of "Western Civilization" as a
distinct entity existing in it. And 80 years before that, Pope organized
his _Dunciad_ on the concept of "Civilization" moving steadily from east
to west -- same entity but moving geographically.

You can separate my original post into two parts: 1) The claim that
"western civilization" was a relatively new concept. The material below
from the OED makes that pretty clearly the case. 2) A hip-shot
historical explanation of _why_ the concept appeared _when_ it did, and
the uses to which it has been put. Response to me that don't recognize
that separation are rather beside the point.


Here's the OED on relevant concepts.


  A. adj.

  1. Coming from the west. Of the wind, a gale, etc.: Blowing from the
west. Of a current of water: Flowing from the west.

  2. a. Dwelling in the west (of a country, esp. of England or
Scotland); spec. living or originating in the 'West country' or
south-western counties.

  b. Of things: Of or belonging to the south-western counties.

  3. a. Having a position relatively west; lying towards or in the west.
Western Approaches, the area of sea immediately to the west of Britain;
Western hemisphere: see HEMISPHERE 3; Western Islands = Western Isle
(a), (b); Western Isle,    (a) pl., the Hebrides; cf. west isles s.v.
WEST a. 1c;    (b) pl., the Azores;    (c) Ireland (rare1); Western
Ocean, the Atlantic.

  b. of the sky or the horizon, esp. as the place of the sun's setting;
also of the sun, or the evening star (cf. WEST a. 1).

  c. Of or belonging to the west; found or produced in the west.

  d. Western barge (boat, or wherry), a barge, etc., used on the Thames
westward of London. Hence Western bargee, pug, man, a navigator of a
Western barge or boat.

  e. in the specific names of animals or plants.

  f. Western Front, the front in Belgium and northern France in the wars
of 1914-18 and 1939-45.

  g. Western American: = general American s.v. GENERAL a. 2a.

  h. Western European Union, an association formed in 1955 from the
former Western Union, [clip]

  4. a. Of or pertaining to the Western or European countries or races
as distinguished from the Eastern or Oriental. In mod. use also spec.
(a) applied to the countries of western Europe that opposed Germany in
the wars of 1914-18 and 1939-45;    (b) of, pertaining to, or
designating the non-Communist states of Europe and America.

1600 FAIRFAX Tasso IV. xvi, These westren rebels, with your power
withstand, Plucke vp these weedes, before they ouergroe The gentle
garden of the Hebrewes land. 1601 R. JOHNSON Kingd. & Commw. (1603) 121
For such an other piece of not to be found againe in all our
western world. 1704 ATTERBURY Serm. (1726) I. 339 Those Conspiracies and
Rebellions, with which they have..disturb'd the Quiet of this Western
World. 1771 C. BURNEY Pres. St. Mus. France & Italy (1773) 272 note, As
yet there is no regular catalogue of the western MSS. in the Vatican
library. 1839 Penny Cycl. XIII. 307/1 The little intercourse that
subsisted between the inhabitants of India and the Western nations. 1847
MRS. A. KERR tr. Ranke's Hist. Servia 449 They who are desirous of
ascertaining..the reaction of Eastern on Western affairs, may examine
the Egyptian question. 1883 T. WATTS in 19th Cent. Mar. 413 The mystic
type of all Eastern, and yet the mother of all Western, beauty.

(a) 1914 Times 23 Nov. 9/2 The appearance of Turkey as the ally of
Germany and Austria against the Western Powers and Russia necessarily
put an end to negotiations between Sofia and Constantinople. 1917 I. F.
MARCOSSON Rebirth of Russia viii. 141 German imperialism, after having
defeated our Western Allies, will turn against us the whole power of its
arms. 1938 E. AMBLER Cause for Alarm viii. 132 The Nazis and the
Fascisti..agreed to present a united front to the Western powers. 1940
Economist 13 Jan. 51/2 The outbreak of open hostilities between the
U.S.S.R. and the Western Powers. 1974 Encycl. Brit. Macropædia XIX.
958/1 The Russian Revolution of March..1917 dismayed the western Allies
and delighted the Central Powers. Ibid. 1006/1 The western Allies'
'Operation Overlord'..took place on June 6, 1944.

(b) 1918 Times 4 June 5/2 The greatest question in the world to-day is
whether Russia is to be abandoned, or whether she is to be saved;
whether Western ideals are to prevail in the country whose potential
power will be the balance in history. 1947 Ann. Reg. 1946 218 A pointed
appeal to the Russian people to regard their two Western Allies [sc.
Great Britain and the United States] as the only blot on the Soviet
horizon. Ibid. 219 The need [of Russia] for an American loan and the
consequent recognition of the desirability of making some concessions to
the Western Powers. 1956 B.B.C. Handbk. 1957 60 The jamming..of certain
language transmissions of the BBC and other Western Bloc broadcasters.
1959 Daily Tel. 18 Dec. 1 Expectations of some progress in Western
politics rose in Paris to-night on the eve of the 'Western Summit'
meetings which will take place here this weekend. 1982 Ann. Reg. 1981 67
The fourth [proposal] called on the Soviet Union to accept Western plans
for reducing the risks of surprise attack.

Comb. 1880 L. WALLACE Ben-Hur 6 After years of residence with the
Bedawin, the Western-born..will stop and wait the passing of the stately

  b. Western Church, the Latin as distinguished from the Greek or
Eastern Church; also, one or other of the early Churches of Western

1628 BP. HALL Old Relig. viii. 72 The Westerne, or Romane Church. 1659
H. THORNDIKE Wks. (1846) II. 557 Those controversies about which a
settled division is once formed, as now in the western Church. 1838 W.
PALMER Ch. Christ I. 276 The Western churches..were in communion..with
the great apostolical church of Rome. 1850 NEALE Hist. Eastern Ch. I.
Introd. 9 The tendency of the Western Church..has been to embroil
herself with the kings and kingdoms of this world.

  c. Of or belonging to, connected with, characteristic of, the Western

1699 BURNET 39 Articles xxi. (1700) 201 All the First General Councils
were made up for most part of Eastern Bishops; there being a very
inconsiderable Number of the Western among any of them. 1755 T. AMORY
Mem. (1769) I. 83 note, The eastern christians, called in contempt
Arians by the western tritheists. 1790 PRIESTLEY Gen. Hist. Chr. Ch. II.
311 The Western bishops in general and Liberius himself at their head,
were the avowed advocates of the Nicene faith. 1850 NEALE Hist. Eastern
Ch. I. 317 The whole body of Eastern and Western Liturgies may be
divided into four branches. 1853 C. HARDWICK Chr. Ch., Mid. Age 265
Gregory VII., who seems to have expected that Crusades, while
strengthening his throne, would tend to reunite the Eastern and the
Western Christians. 1880 A. P. STANLEY in Fraser's Mag. May 600 The
Roman Church..remains the great trunk from which the other communions
have been divided in Western Christendom.

  d. Western Empire, the more westerly of the two parts into which the
Roman Empire was divided in 395 A.D. So Western emperor, etc.

  e. western man (also with either one or two initial capitals): man as
shaped by the culture and civilization of Western Europe and North

1909 CHESTERTON Orthodoxy i. 14 An active and imaginative life,..a life
such as western man at any rate always seems to have desired. 1927
WYNDHAM LEWIS (title) Time and western man. 1962 E. CLEAVER in A. Dundes
Mother Wit (1973) 10/2 The traditional judgments which Western Man has
made..are now..the cause of very serious maladjustments in our society
and..the world at large. 1970 C. C. O'BRIEN Camus I. 27 The role often
claimed for Camus, as an expression of the conscience of Western man.
1981 Times Lit. Suppl. 20 Mar. 321/2 Edward Bond's cloudy gropings
towards a view of Western man.

  5. a. With States: Constituting the more westerly of the United States
of America: cf. WEST n. 3b.
  b. Of or belonging to the Western States. western equine encephalitis
or [clip].


  c. western hemlock, a conifer, [clip] PONDEROSA.

  d. (Also with capital initial.) Applied to the films and novels called
(see sense B. 4 below). orig. U.S.

  6. Directed towards the west; facing westward.

  7. fig. Of a person's life or days: Declining.


  8. Hinder, posterior. Cf. WEST adv. 1b(c).  [clip]

  9. Comb. (chiefly in sense 4a), as western-educated, -European,
-style, -trained, -type adjs.

 1933 N. WALN House of Exile I. vi. 96 A Western educated woman doctor.
1974 M. FIDO R. Kipling 50/2 Kipling['s]..generation made 'Bengali'
almost a synonym for 'western-educated Indian', and always used the word
with a touch of contempt.

1949 M. MEAD Male & Female vi. 132 Almost any Balinese male placed in a
series of western-European males would look 'feminine'. 1969 'E. LATHEN'
When in Greece ii. 17 Greece..was an associate in the Common Market,
which would bring every Western European banker into the picture.

1895 Montgomery Ward Catal. Spring & Summer 330/1 Three-Horn Western
Style Side Saddle. 1953 Archit. Rev. CXIV. 255/2 Peking of course offers
a complete contrast to such cities as Shanghai where large areas have
been covered with western-style multi-storey buildings. 1977 P. JOHNSON
Enemies of Society xi. 160 The abolition of western-style academic
research, and the substitution of acupuncture for standard medical

1962 E. SNOW Other Side of River (1963) xlii. 309 Since 1958 all
Western-trained doctors have been required to devote at least six months
to the study of Chinese medicine. [clip]

  B. n.

  1. A member of a Western race; a native or inhabitant of the West, as
distinguished from an Oriental or Asiatic.

1708 OCKLEY Hist. Saracens (1848) 337 The folly of the Westerns in
despising the wisdom of the Eastern nations. 1863 Smith's Dict. Bible
II. 295/2 (Medicine) He [Hippocrates] extols the discernment of
Orientals above Westerns, and of Asiatics above Europeans, in medical
diagnosis. 1882 J. NEIL Palestine 44 The former figure 'wings of the
morning' to a Western is not a little obscure. 1884 Athenæum 12 Jan.
54/3 It may not be altogether superfluous to remind Westerns that Russia
is now celebrating the three hundredth anniversary of her first printer,
Ivan Fedorof. 1917 T. R. GLOVER From Pericles to Philip vii. 218 The
employment of the camel in war strikes the Western oddly.

  2. A member of the Western or Latin Church.

  3. U.S. An inhabitant or native of the Western States.

  4. (Also with capital initial.) A film or novel belonging to a
distinct genre in [clip]

  C. adv. Equestrianism. In the manner of a cowboy; in a relaxed style
with a deep-seated saddle and almost straight legs.

Western Culture


A. adj. = MNEMONIC a.
[clip] 1992 S. ROSE Making of Memory 63 Within western culture there is
a clear history of this mnemotechnic tradition, running back to Greek

[clip] 1884 Fortn. Rev. Jan. 50 The Indian tribes..uninjured by and
uninjuring Western culture.

2. spec.    a. The western part of the world. Now commonly, Europe as
distinguished from Asia.

c1205 LAY. 1231 Bi-ende France i et west u scalt finden a wunsum lond.
1297 R. GLOUC. (Rolls) 2 Engelond his.. Iset in e on ende of e worlde as
al in e west. 1382 WYCLIF Matt. viii. 11 Manye shulen come fro the est
and west. c1420 Anturs of Arth. 703 Waynour gared wisely write in  e
west, To al e religious to rede and to singe. 1593 SHAKES. 2 Hen. VI, I.
i. 154 All the wealthy Kingdomes of the West. 1613 R. ZOUCHE Dove B4,
First Bacchus..set vp trophees in the conquer'd East: Oh would he had
gone on as he begunne, And neuer turned to subdue the West! 1761 GRAY
Desc. Odin 63 In the caverns of the west. 1784 COWPER Task VI. 811
Eastern Java there Kneels with the native of the farthest west. 1802
WORDSW. Extinction of Venetian Rep. 2 Once did She hold the gorgeous
east in fee; And was the safeguard of the west. 1864 TENNYSON Aylmer's
F. 348 He never yet had set his daughter forth Here in the woman-markets
of the west, Where our Caucasians let themselves be sold. 1892 KIPLING
Barrack-room Ballads etc. 188 The Lords of Their Hands assembled; from
the East and the West they drew. 1902 A. S. HURD Naval Efficiency 109 In
the West there seems to be an impression that the fleet of Japan is a
mere matter of show.

  b. The western portion of the Roman world after its division into two
empires in A.D. 395.

1577 HANMER Anc. Eccl. Hist., Socrates Schol. VI. i. 360 When ye
Emperour Theodosius had departed this life..his sonnes tooke in hand the
gouernment of the Romaine empire. Arcadius ruled the East and Honorius
the West. 1610 R. FIELD Fifth Bk. Ch. xxxv. 194 The Bishop of
Rome..called a Synode of al the Bishops of the West. 1781 GIBBON Decl. &
F. xxxiii. (1787) III. 327 Honorius, emperor of the West. 1790 PRIESTLEY
Gen. Hist. Chr. Ch. II. 332 Having seen what was doing in the East, let
us now turn our eyes towards the West, where Valentinian governed. 1840
MILMAN Hist. Chr. II. viii. II. 207 Of the persecution under Severus
there are few, if any, traces in the West. 1865 BRYCE Holy Rom. Emp.
iii. (1866) 27 Odoacer..resolved to..extinguish the title and office of
Emperor of the West.


  e. (With capital initial). The non-Communist states of Europe and

1946 H. NICOLSON Diary 22 Aug. (1967) 75 He is convinced that the
Russians wish to dominate the world... The only way in which the West
can counter this is to pool their philosophy of liberalism, put up a
united front. 1951, etc. [see EAST n. 2b]. 1957 Ann. Reg. 1956 228 Some
5,000 citizens a week continued to flee to the West. 1964 M. MCLUHAN
Understanding Media (1967) ii. 40 Competitive sports between Russia and
the West. 1979 T. BENN Arguments for Socialism i. 38 It is not only in
the West that Marxism is seen as one of the main sources of democratic
socialist philosophy.

  4. Ch. Hist. The Catholic Church in the Western Roman Empire and
countries adjacent to it; the Roman or Latin Church.

1586 [? J. CASE] Praise Mus. ix. 94 Look vpon the East and the West, the
Greeke and Latine Churches, and you shall finde this to be true. 1652 E.
SPARKE Scint. Altaris 4 Do not all the golden Fountains of the Fathers
(both of the East and West, the Greek and Latine Church) flow with the
same streams? 1790 PRIESTLEY Gen. Hist. Chr. Ch. II. 314 Though the
bishops of the West had been deceived at Ariminum, they had all abjured
the blasphemies of that council. 1850 NEALE Hist. Eastern Ch. I. Introd.
9, I shall constantly reckon among the Saints those whom the Eastern
Church, whether with or without the consent of the West, so accounts.
1877 J. D. CHAMBERS Div. Worship 233 According to the universal custom
of the West, this water should be cold.