EUROPE AND THE WEST
Thomas Russell Wingate
September, October 2011
The term Europe has many meanings. Some are old, some are new, some are official, some are contrived, but all are in use side-by-side.
Writers have a duty not to bewilder or mislead their readers. Therefore, writers must themselves be clear of thought.
Don’t just sit there reading this. Get out an atlas. If you don’t have one, shame on you.
Thus do modern geographers delimit Europe:
Start where the Arctic Ocean meets the Ural Mountains (around 65º E). Proceed along the crest of the Ural Mountains roughly southward to the Ural River, which reaches the Caspian Sea. Draw your line southward through the Caspian Sea to the eastern end of the Caucasus Mountains, near Derbent. Go northwestward along the crest of the Caucasus to the Black Sea, near Sochi. (You will be passing Mount Elbrus in Russia, the highest mountain in Europe.) Proceed through the Black Sea to the Turkish Straits and into the Mediterranean. All Mediterranean islands except Cyprus are in Europe. Proceed westward out the Strait of Gibraltar into the Atlantic Ocean. Take your line westward past the Azores, then northward to include Iceland (but not Greenland). Then carry it northeastward to include Svalbard and Franz Josef Land and southeastward to include Novaya Zemlya. You will have returned to where we started. It is proper to call all of this Europe.
Ancient Greek geographers were at pains to distinguish Europe from Asia. Arnold J. Toynbee opines that their endeavors were more patriotic than helpful.
Here I shall underline Greek names and (parenthesize) modern names.
The line drawn by the Greeks starts somewhere in Ukraine. The Tanais (Don) River separates Asia (on its left bank) from Europe (on its right bank). The river sweetens a small sea called Lake Maeotis (the Sea of Azov). These waters are connected by the Cimmerian Bosporus (Kerch Strait) to the Euxine (Black) Sea. The line crosses the sea and passes through narrow waters to which centuries and languages have given different names.
Thracian Bosporus / Bosporus¹/ Strait of Istanbul
Propontis / Sea of Marmara, “Marble Sea”
Hellespont / Dardanelles / Strait of Çanakkale
(To Arab geographers, these waters are one: al-Khalij, “the Channel.” Why call them three? Why call Lake Huron and Lake Michigan two?)
The line has now reached the Aegean Sea. From there it skirts the coast of Turkey and vanishes somewhere near Cyprus, having served its purpose. Every mariner knew where Africa is. Europe is north of Africa. Why say more?
Toynbee called my attention to the fact that the Rhine-Danube frontier of the Roman Empire is the longest possible line that can be drawn across Europe. I verified this (decades ago) so you won’t have to.
In 395 the Empire on three continents was divided—roughly speaking, at the longitude (16º E) of Split in modern Croatia. In 476 Rome on the Tiber received its final axe through the skull; the New Rome on the Bosporus was sacked by Western Christians in 1204 and permanently conquered by the Turks in 1453. Moscow, never under any sort of Roman rule, came to call itself the Third Rome.
Now we must explain what is (usually) meant by “eastern” and “western.” Confusion makes great inroads here.
In 1054 the Christian churches in Europe² split. Since then it has made sense to speak of “Orthodox Christian Europe” based on imperial Constantinople and “Western Christian Europe” based on papal Rome and its homegrown Protestant enemies.
The Line of Schism can be traced today.
Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Croatia are west of the Line. Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, and Serbia are to the east of it.
No, it isn’t as neat as that. In modern Ukraine, L’viv is a Polish city (L’vov) called Lemberg as recently as a century ago. In Romania, the Line passes along the Carpathians; Transylvania (formerly in Hungary) is west of it. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Line wiggles all over. After Communism was suddenly ended in Europe, ethnic boundaries on all maps in 1912 were restored and redrawn in much blood. Yugoslavia burst and perished.
In the Balkan Peninsula both European Christendoms impede Islam and each other. Albania, Kosovo, and Turkish Thrace are solidly in the Islamic sphere. Bosnia-Herzegovina has more triple overlapping than any country can tolerate.
Somehow—geographers were not consulted—it became customary to replace the term “Western Christian Europe” with “Europe.” Even Russian literature buys into this error. Why do Russians speak of taking vacations in Europe? Russia is Europe’s largest country, is she not? And Ukraine is next in size, no? Europe’s largest river is the Volga; Europe’s largest lake is Lake Ladoga near Saint Petersburg.
Draw a line from Iceland to Ciscaucasia. Draw another from Novaya Zemlya to Portugal. The diagonals intersect in Poland. This, Poles will tell you, proves that Poland is in “central” Europe, not “eastern” Europe.
Cold War thinking persistently fused “the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.” Thanks to events, this must now be unlearned.
When Poland has been under Russian rule, Poland has been separated from Western Europe to which she rightly belongs. Poland is now in NATO and has troops in Afghanistan.
Geographers in the nineteenth century wrote of Russia-in-Europe and Russia-in-Asia. The latter extended southeastward to the borders of Iran and Afghanistan and eastward as far as the Bering Strait. (Alaska was Russian America until 1867.)
Many maps published since the fall of Communism improperly show Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan as parts of Europe.
The same geographers wrote of Turkey-in-Europe and Turkey-in-Asia. The First World War ended the Ottoman Empire and reduced Turkey’s territory.
Europe’s largest city quite naturally sprawls into Asia. Two suspension bridges (1973, 1988), now the seventeenth and fifteenth longest in the world, are vital to Istanbul. Both bicontinental bridges are shorter than the Golden Gate Bridge (1937).
Ships have been colliding in the Bosporus since antiquity. Turkey plans to build an Istanbul Canal through Thrace from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara.
The distinctive peoples of the British archipelago have been accustomed for centuries to speak of “Europe” and “the Continent” in a way that excludes their islands.
Is this arrogance, impudence, or ignorance? Or is it entrenched eccentricity?
Since World War II we have seen “Europe” employed to mean various economic arrangements and political schemes. There is even a flag with a circle of stars that pays Betsy Ross a compliment perhaps not understood in “Europe.”
We shall see what we shall see. The idiom “not worth a continental” has never been forgotten or improved by Americans.
In The Jewish Mystique (1968) Ernest van den Haag wrote: “Churches have been more willing to understand sex psychologically than they have been to understand money economically.”
Governments are coming increasingly to replace churches in the abiding emotions of the populace and the propagated narratives of the passively educated.
The common ideas are that money is bad in your hands but good in their hands and that multiplying wealth is less admirable than dividing it.
The results are predictable—and unbearable.
We read about “the Western world” or, most simply, “the West” (or “the Occident”).
So, what does that mean, nowadays?
The contrived term Euro-American civilization is most accurate and is instantly understood, but it is not put to use often enough.
Europe east of the Line of Schism expanded overland as firmly as it could into Islamic and Chinese territories, meeting much resistance. As late as 1683, Muslim armies besieged Vienna. In 1988 the Soviet Union withdrew its forces from Afghanistan.
In Toynbee’s words, Europeans west of the Line of Schism “were caught between the Devil and the Deep Sea. They chose the Deep Sea.”
More than half the globe and its waters were easily and permanently incorporated into the West. The Antipodes—Australia, New Zealand, Polynesia—were added to the New World.
(Claims by European and nearby Western countries to unsettled Antarctica, first explored by the West, have been placed in abeyance by treaty.)
Events and decisions have ended the open rule of Western powers over large lands and populations in Asia and Africa. Regrets and migrations have been becoming increasingly profound and prolonged.
Globalization did not originate uniformly, nor is it likely to be blissfully distributed.
There are also other globes to consider.
The ethos of the West has placed symbols, machines, and well-suited men on the lunar nearside and retrieved 382 kilograms of its rocks for study and sentimental display. Rovers directed by signals from Earth are exploring the surface of Mars.
Photographs of these triumphs are certain to spur enduring settlement. One can no longer be confident who shall be doing the settling.
Study of the West: hesperology.
Love of the West: hesperophilia.
Fear of the West: hesperophobia.
Hatred of the West: misohesperism.
Derivatives: hesperologist, hesperophile, hesperophobe, misohesperist.
Modernization and its discontents will continue to be hesperogenic (of Western origin) or hesperomimetic (imitative of the West) for as far ahead as anyone can speculate or foretell.
Osama bin Laden, a misohesperist admired by millions, watched television in his final hours.
1 In French, Bosphore and phosphore rhyme perfectly. In English, the
names of the strait and the element rhyme aslant. You will often see
“the Bosphorus” in print, but this is incorrect. Write, and pronounce,
the lone p. The Greeks had a bosporus (“ox ford”) at each end of the
Euxine (Black) Sea.
2 Nestorian, Coptic, Assyrian, Ethiopian, etc., not included. We must not
forget that New Testament Christianity radiated to places far from Europe.
3 See Freedom and Ability 3 on website.