AskDefine | Define occident

Dictionary Definition



1 the countries of (originally) Europe and (now including) North and South America [syn: West]
2 the hemisphere that includes North and South America [syn: western hemisphere, New World]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. The part of the horizon where the sun last appears in the evening; that part of the earth towards the sunset; the west; – opposed to orient. Specifically, in former times, Europe as opposed to Asia; now, also, the Western hemisphere.




  • /ɔɑ̃/|lang=fr


  1. west (compass point)

Extensive Definition

The term Western world, the West or the Occident (Latin: occidens -sunset, -west, as distinct from the Orient) can have multiple meanings dependent on its context (e.g., the time period, or the regional social situation). Accordingly, the basic definition of what constitutes “the West” varies, expanding and contracting over time, in relation to various historical circumstances. Some historians believe the West originated in the northern and eastern Mediterranean with ancient Greece and ancient Rome. While other historians such as Carroll Quigley's Evolution of Civilizations contend that Western Civilization was born around 400 AD, after the total collapse of the Western Roman Empire, leaving a vacuum for new ideas to flourish that were impossible in Classical societies. Over time, their associated empires grew first to the east and south conquering many older civilizations, and later to the north and west to include Central and Western Europe. Between the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the Renaissance, the West experienced a period of relative decline, known as the Middle ages, which included the Dark ages and the Crusades. The knowledge of the ancient Western world was preserved and survived during this period due to the concurrent ascendency of the Islamic Golden Age to the east and south. The term "first world" was also used, but not commonly.
Since the Renaissance, the West evolved beyond the influence of the ancient Greeks and Romans due to the growth of Western European empires, and particularly the globe-spanning British Empire of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Since the Age of Discovery and Columbus, the notion of the West expanded to include the Americas, though much of the Americas have considerable pre-Western cultural influence. Australia, New Zealand, and, sometimes, South Africa are considered part of Western culture due to their former status as settler colonies of Western nations. In addition, Israel and Lebanon may be considered part of the West due to their geographic location and late European colonial origins in the early twentieth century. Generally speaking, the current consensus would locate the West, at the very least, in the cultures and peoples of Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand.
In a linguistic context, the languages of most nations of the West are members of the Indo-European language family. It should be noted, however, that the Indo-European languages are not exclusively, or even mainly Western; Persian, Pashto, Urdu and Sanskrit are Indo-European languages as well. There are several linguistic exceptions within the West, including Semitic languages, predominantly Arabic and Hebrew, which are members of the Afro-Asiatic language family, as well as Finnish and Hungarian, which belongs to the Uralic family and Basque, whose linguistic family is completely unknown.
In a religious context, some would define the Abrahamic religions of Judaism and Christianity as 'Western'.
In the current political or economic context the term the "West" often includes developed nations in the East, such as Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. However, these nations have different and distinctive cultures, religions (although Christianity is a major religion in South Korea), languages, customs, and worldviews that are products of their own indigenous development, rather than solely Western influences. Japan, in particular, is a founding member of the G8, a member of the OECD, an industrialized democracy, with a high standard of living, high level of human development and a major economic power. All of these are generally accepted political or economic characteristics of Western nations.
There is debate among some as to whether Eastern Europe is in a category of its own. Culturally Eastern Europe is usually more or less accepted into the 'West', mainly because of its geographic location in what is mostly Europe (and cultural ties). It, however, does not fill the traditional economic and living standard criteria which one associates with "The West".

Historical divisions

The origins of the word "West" in terms of geopolitical boundaries started in the 1900s. Prior to this most humans would have thoughts about different nations, languages, individuals, and geographical regions, but with no idea of Western nations as we know it today. Many world maps were so crude and inaccurate before the 1800s that geographical and political differences would be harder to measure. Few would have access to good maps and even fewer had access to accurate descriptions of who lived in far away lands. Western thought as we think of it today, is shaped by ideas of the 1900s and 1800s, originating mainly in Europe. What we think of as Western thought today is defined as Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian culture, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and colonialism. As a consequence the term "Western thought" is, at times, unhelpful and vague, since it can define separate, though related, sets of traditions and values:
  • The Christian moral tradition and respective set of religious values;
  • The humanist tradition and set of secular values, often with rationalist, anti-clerical beliefs;
Less acknowledged but equally as important was the influence of the Germanic cultures whose people overran estern Europe beginning in the fifth century AD and effectively became the rulers of Western Europe into the modern age, first in the form of the Goths and the Vandals and later in the form of the Franks who unified the West. In addition, many individuals throughout history do not easily fit into a false dichotomy of East or West.


The Hellenic division between the barbarians and the Greeks contrasted in many societies the Greek-speaking culture of the Greek settlements around the Mediterranean to the surrounding non-Greek cultures. Herodotus considered the Persian Wars of the early 5th century BC a conflict of Europe versus Asia (which he considered to be all land West and East of the Sea of Marmara, respectively). The terms "West" and "East" were not used by any Greek author to describe that conflict. The anachronistic application of those terms to that division entails a stark logical contradiction, given that, when the term West appeared, it was used in opposition to the Greeks and Greek-speaking culture.
Western society is sometimes claimed to trace its cultural origins to both Greek thought and Christian religion, thus following an evolution that began in ancient Greece, continued through the Roman Empire and, with the coming of Christianity (which has its origins in the Middle East), spread throughout Europe.
However, the conquest of the western parts of the Roman Empire by Germanic peoples and the subsequent advent of despotism in the form of dominance by the Western Christian Papacy (which held combined political and spiritual authority, a state of affairs absent from Greek civilization in all its stages), resulted into a rupture of the previously existing ties between the Latin West and Greek thought, including Christian Greek thought. The Great Schism and the Fourth Crusade confirmed this deviation. Hence, the Medieval West is limited to Western Christendom only, as the Greeks and other European peoples not under the authority of the Papacy are not included in it. The clearly Greek-influenced form of Christianity, Orthodoxy, is more linked to Eastern than Western Europe. On the other hand, the Modern West, emerging after the Renaissance as a new civilization, has been influenced by (its own interpretation of) Greek thought, which was preserved in the Roman (Byzantine) Empire during the Medieval West's Dark Ages and transmitted therefrom by emigration of scholars and courtly marriages. The Renaissance in the West emerged partly from currents within the Roman (Byzantine) Empire. Moreover, European peoples not included in Western Christendom such as the Greeks have redefined their relationship to this new, secular, variant of Western civilization, and have increasingly participated in it since then.
Thus the idea of Western society being influenced from (but not being the single evolution of) ancient Greek thought makes sense only for the post-Renaissance period of Western history.

The Roman Empire

Ancient Rome (510 BC-AD 476) was a civilization that grew from a city-state founded on the Italian Peninsula circa the 9th century BC to a massive empire straddling the Mediterranean Sea. In its twelve-century existence, Roman civilization shifted from a monarchy, to a republic, to an autocratic empire. It came to dominate Western Europe, the Balkans and the entire area surrounding the Mediterranean Sea through conquest using the Roman legions and then through cultural assimilation by giving Roman privileges and eventually citizenship to the whole empire. Nonetheless, despite its great legacy, a number of factors led to the eventual decline of the Roman Empire.
The Western Roman Empire eventually broke into several kingdoms in the 5th century due to civil wars, corruption, and devastating Germanic Invasions from such tribes as the Goths, the Franks and the Vandals; the Eastern Roman Empire, governed from Constantinople, is usually referred to as the Byzantine Empire after 476, the traditional date for the "fall of the Western Roman Empire" and for the subsequent onset of the Early Middle Ages. The Eastern Roman Empire survived the fall of the West, and protected Roman legal and cultural traditions combining them with Greek and Christian elements, for another thousand years.
The Roman Empire succeeded the about 500 year-old Roman Republic (510 BC - 1st century BC), which had been weakened by the conflict between Gaius Marius and Sulla and the civil war of Julius Caesar against Pompey and Marcus Brutus. During these struggles hundreds of senators were killed, and the Roman Senate had been refilled with loyalists of the First Triumvirate and later those of the Second Triumvirate.
Several dates are commonly proposed to mark the transition from Republic to Empire, including the date of Julius Caesar's appointment as perpetual roman dictator (44 BC), the victory of Caesar's heir Octavian at the Battle of Actium (September 2, 31 BC), and the Roman Senate's granting to Octavian the honorific Augustus. (January 16, 27 BC). Octavian/Augustus officially proclaimed that he had saved the Roman Republic and carefully disguised his power under republican forms; consuls continued to be elected, tribunes of the plebeians continued to offer legislation, and senators still debated in the Roman Curia. However, it was Octavian who influenced everything and controlled the final decisions, and in final analysis, had the legions to back him up, if it ever became necessary.
Roman expansion began long before the state was changed into an Empire and reached its zenith under emperor Trajan with the conquest of Dacia in AD 106. During this territorial peak the Roman Empire controlled approximately 5 900 000 km² (2,300,000 sq.mi.) of land surface. From the time of Caesar to the Fall of the Western Empire, Rome dominated Western Eurasia and the Mediterranean, comprising the majority of its population. Ancient Rome has contributed greatly to the development of law, war, art, literature, architecture, technology and language in the Western world, and its history continues to have a major influence on the world today.
The Roman Empire is where the idea of the "West" began to emerge. Due to Rome's central location at the heart of the Empire, "West" and "East" were terms used to denote provinces west and east of the capital itself. Therefore, Iberia (Spain), Gaul (France), Africa (Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco) and Brittania were all part of the "West", while Greece, Anatolia, Syria, and Egypt were part of the "East." Italy itself was considered central up until the reforms of Diocletian, when the idea of formally dividing the Empire into true Eastern and Western halves was introduced. In 395, the Roman Empire formally split into a Western Roman Empire and an Eastern one, each with their own emperors, capitals, and governments, although ostensibly they still belonged to one formal Empire. The dissolution of the Western half (nominally in 476, but in truth a long process that ended by 500) left only the Eastern Empire alive, and for centuries the East continued to call themselves Eastern Romans, while the West began to think in terms of Latins (those living in the old Western Empire) and Greeks (those inside the Roman remnant to the east).

Christian schism

In the early 4th century, the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great established the city of Constantinople as the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. The Eastern Empire included lands east of the Adriatic Sea and bordering on the Eastern Mediterranean and parts of the Black Sea. These two divisions of the Eastern and Western Empires were reflected in the administration of the Christian Church, with Rome and Constantinople debating and arguing over whether either city was the capital of Christianity. As the eastern and western churches spread their influence, the line between "East" and "West" can be described as moving, but generally followed a cultural divide that was defined by the existence of the Byzantine empire and the fluctuating power and influence of the church in Rome. Some, including Huntington, theorized that this cultural division still existed during the Cold War as the approximate western boundary of those countries that were allied with the Soviet Union; others have criticized these views on the basis that they confuse the Eastern Roman Empire with Russia, especially considering the fact that the country that had the most historical roots in Byzantium, Greece, was allied with the West during the Cold War.
Under Charlemagne, the Franks established an empire that was recognized as the Holy Roman Empire by the Christian Patriarch of Rome, offending the Roman Emperor in Constantinople. The crowning of the Emperor by the Pope led to the assumption that the highest power was the papal hierarchy, establishing, until the Protestant Reformation, the civilization of Western Christendom. The Latin Rite Christian Church of western and central Europe headed by the Patriarch of Rome split with the eastern, Greek-speaking Patriarchates during the Great Schism. Meanwhile, the extent of each expanded, as Scandinavia, Germany, Britain, and the other non-Christian lands of the northwest were converted by the Western Church, while Russia and much of Eastern Europe were converted by the Eastern Church.
In this context, the Protestant reformation may be viewed as a schism within the Latin Church. Martin Luther, in the wake of precursors, broke with the Pope and with the Emperor, backed by many of the German princes. These changes were adopted by the Scandinavian kings. Later, the commoner Jean Cauvin (John Calvin) assumed the religio-political leadership in Geneva, a former ecclesiastical city whose prior ruler had been the Bishop. The English King later improvised on the Lutheran model, but subsequently many Calvinist doctrines were adopted by popular dissenters, leading to the English Civil War. Both royalists and dissenters colonized North America, eventually resulting in an independent United States of America.

The Colonial "West"

The Reformation and consequent dissolution of Western Christendom as even a theoretical unitary political body, resulted in the Thirty Years War, ending in the Peace of Westphalia, which enshrined the concept of the nation-state and the principle of absolute national sovereignty in international law. These concepts of a world of nation-states, coupled with the ideologies of the Enlightenment, the coming of modernity, and the Industrial Revolution, produced powerful political and economic institutions that have come to influence (or been imposed upon) most nations of the world today.
This process of influence (and imposition) began with the voyages of discovery, colonization, conquest, and exploitation of Spain and Portugal; it continued with the rise of the Dutch East India Company, and the creation and expansion of the British and French colonial empires. Due to the reach of these empires, Western institutions expanded throughout the world. Even after demands for self-determination from subject peoples within Western empires were met with decolonization, these institutions persisted; one specific example was the requirement that post-colonial societies were made to form nation-states (in the Western tradition), which often created arbitrary boundaries and borders that did not necessarily represent a whole nation, people, or culture, and are often the cause of international conflicts and friction even to this day. Though the overt colonial era has passed, Western nations, as comparatively rich, well-armed, and culturally powerful states, still wield a large degree of influence throughout the world.
Palestinian-American literary critic Edward Said uses the term occident in his discussion of orientalism. According to his binary, the West, or Occident, created a romanticized vision of the East, or Orient, in order to justify colonial and imperialist intentions. This Occident-Orient binary is focused on the Western vision of the East instead of any truths about the East. His theories are rooted in Hegel's Master-Slave dialectic; the Occident would not exist without the Orient and vice versa. Further, Western writers created this irrational, feminine, weak "Other" to contrast with the rational, masculine, strong West because of a need to create a difference between the two that would justify imperialist ambitions. Said influenced Indian-American theorist Homi K. Bhabha.

The Cold War

During the Cold War, a new definition emerged. The Earth was divided into three "worlds". The First World, analogous in this context to what was called the West, was composed of NATO members and other countries aligned with the United States. The Second World was the Eastern bloc in the Soviet sphere of influence, including the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries. The Third World consisted of countries unaligned with either, and important members included India and Yugoslavia; some include the People's Republic of China, though this is disputed, as the People's Republic of China was communist, had friendly relations--at certain times--with the Soviet bloc, and had a significant degree of importance in global geopolitics.
There were a number of countries which did not fit comfortably into this neat definition of partition, including Switzerland, Sweden, and the Republic of Ireland, which chose to be neutral. Finland was under the Soviet Union's military sphere of influence (see FCMA treaty) but remained neutral, was not communist, nor was it a member of the Warsaw Pact or Comecon but a member of the EFTA since 1986, and was west of the Iron Curtain. In 1955, when Austria again became a fully independent republic, it did so under the condition that it remained neutral, but as a country to the west of the Iron Curtain, it was in the United States sphere of influence. Turkey was a member of NATO but was not usually regarded as either part of the First or Western worlds. Spain did not join NATO until 1982, towards the endz of the Cold War and after the death of the authoritarian Franco.

Modern definitions

The exact scope of the Western world is somewhat subjective in nature, depending on whether cultural, economic or political criteria are used. In general however these definitions always include the following countries: the countries of Western Europe(UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain etc), the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. These are Western European or Western European-derived nations which enjoy relatively strong economies and stable governments, have chosen democracy as a form of governance, favor capitalism and free international trade, and have some form of political and military alliance or cooperation.
Many anthropologists, sociologists and historians oppose "the West and the Rest" in a categorical manner. The same has been done by Malthusian demographers with a sharp distinction between European and non-European family systems. Among anthropologists, this includes Durkheim, Dumont and Lévi-Strauss. These are generally countries that share similar history, religions, languages, values and traditions. Culturally, many Latin Americans, particularly Argentines, Uruguayans, Chileans, Colombians, Cubans and Brazilians, firmly consider themselves Westerners, especially the ruling classes.
Some countries like Israel, Lebanon, the Philippines and Turkey may be considered Western because of the blend of Western and non-Western culture.
In the 20th century, Christianity declined in influence in many western countries, in Western Europe and elsewhere. Secularism (separating religion from politics and science) increased. However, while church attendance is in decline, most Westerners nominally identify themselves as Christians (e.g. 70% in the UK) and occasionally attend church on major occasions. In the United States, Christianity continues to play an important societal role, thus helping to maintain Christianity's important role in Western culture. The official religion of the United Kingdom and some Nordic countries is Christianity, even though the majority of European countries have no official religion. Despite this, Christianity, in its different forms, remains the largest faith in most Western countries.


Countries of the Western world are generally considered to share certain fundamental political ideologies, including those of liberal democracy, the rule of law, human rights and a high degree of gender equality. Additionally countries with strong political and military ties to Western Europe, NATO or the United States, such as Japan, Israel and South Korea can be said to be Western in a political sense at least. As such, this definition of the term "Western" is not necessarily tied to the geographic sense of the word. A geographically Western nation such as Cuba is sometimes not considered politically Western due to its general rejection of liberal democracy, freedom of the press, and personal liberty. Conversely, some Eastern nations, for example, Japan, India, Israel, Taiwan, South Africa, and South Korea, could be considered politically Western, due to their adoption of indigenous liberal democratic political institutions similar in structure to those of the traditionally Western nations.


Though the Cold War has ended, and some members of the former Eastern Bloc are making a general movement towards liberal democracy and other values held in common by the traditionally Western states, some former Soviet republics are not considered Western because of the small presence of social and political reform, as well as their obvious cultural, economic and political differences to what is known today as described by the term "the West" (Western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand). These include the three Transcaucasian republics (Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia), as well as Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.
Although it is inaccurate to do so, the term "Western world" is often interchangeable with the term First World stressing the difference between First World and the Third World or developing countries. The term "The North" has in some contexts replaced earlier usage of the term "the West", particularly in the critical sense, as a more robust demarcation than the terms "West" and "East". The North provides some absolute geographical indicators for the location of wealthy countries, most of which are physically situated in the Northern Hemisphere, although, as most countries are located in the northern hemisphere in general, some have considered this distinction to be equally unhelpful. The thirty countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which include: the EU (except Romania and Bulgaria), Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan, generally include what used to be called the "first world" or the "developed world", although the OECD includes a few countries, namely Mexico and Turkey, that are not yet fully industrial countries, but newly industrialized countries. The existence of "The North" implies the existence of "The South", and the socio-economic divide between North and South. Although Israel, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong are not members of the OECD, they might also be regarded as "western" or "northern" countries or regions, because their high living standards and their social, economical and political structure are quite similar to those of the OECD member countries.

Other Views

A series of scholars of civilization, including Arnold J. Toynbee, Alfred Kroeber and Carroll Quigley have identified and analyzed "Western civilization" as one of the civilizations that have historically existed and still exist today. Toynbee entered into quite an expansive mode, including as candidates those countries or cultures who became so heavily influenced by the West as to adopt these borrowings into their very self-identity; carried to its limit, this would in practice include almost everyone within the West, in one way or another. In particular, Toynbee refers to the intelligentsia formed among the educated elite of countries impacted by the European expansion of centuries past. While often pointedly nationalist, these cultural and political leaders interacted within the West to such an extent as to change both themselves and the West.


occident in Arabic: عالم غربي
occident in Catalan: Occident
occident in Czech: Západní kultura
occident in Welsh: Y Gorllewin
occident in Danish: Vesten
occident in German: Westliche Welt
occident in Modern Greek (1453-): Δυτικός Κόσμος
occident in Spanish: Occidente
occident in Esperanto: Okcidenta civilizo
occident in French: Civilisation occidentale
occident in Italian: Occidente (civiltà)
occident in Lithuanian: Vakarų pasaulis
occident in Hebrew: העולם המערבי
occident in Dutch: Westerse wereld
occident in Japanese: 西洋
occident in Norwegian: Oksidenten
occident in Norwegian Nynorsk: Vesten
occident in Polish: Cywilizacja zachodnia
occident in Portuguese: Mundo Ocidental
occident in Romanian: Lumea occidentală
occident in Russian: Запад (политика)
occident in Simple English: Western world
occident in Slovenian: Zahodni svet
occident in Finnish: Länsimaat
occident in Swedish: Västvärlden
occident in Chinese: 西方世界

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Africa, America, Antipodes, Asia, Asia Major, Asia Minor, Australasia, East, Eastern Hemisphere, Eurasia, Europe, Far East, Levant, Middle East, Near East, New World, Oceania, Old World, Orient, West, Western Hemisphere, continent, down under, eastland, landmass, the old country
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