Note of the Observatory Card. Van Thuân
In light of the war now underway in Ukraine, it is of great importance to clarify the notion of ‘the West’, because the correct idea of the West can be very useful in pursuing the cause of peace. With this Note, it is not the Observatory’s intention to address the current conflict in any detail, but to propose a horizon that strikes us as more suitable and appropriate than other ones prevailing today. Conceiving the current conflict as internal to the West, almost a “civil war in the West”, or conceiving it as the clash between the West and something else opposed to it, are two very different visions. We believe that the former – which we intend to support here – is the most correct and, therefore, also the most suitable for helping to placate tension insofar as indicating a common origin and matrix.
The West certainly cannot be understood in geographical terms alone , not only because, given the earth’s spherical form, no one is in the West without, in its turn, being Eastward of a West, but above all because what is considered West is not limited to geographical criteria: for example, Australia and New Zealand are considered West.
It could then be said that the West is nothing other than Magna Europa, in other words, Europe and its extra-European projections (the Americas, Oceania, the Philippines and Christian Africa). Europe, understood as the West, is a civilization and not a geographical ambit. Geographically speaking, part of Turkey, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Islamic Kosovo, Muslim Bosnia and Albania are certainly Europe; are they also Europa in the sense of European civilization? Just as there is a Europa understood as a civilization outside of geographical Europe, there are also civilizations or aspects of civilization within geographical Europe that do not conform to European civilization.
The West and Europe are thus a civilization. It is the civilization born of the providential synthesis of Divine Revelation, Greek philosophy, and Roman law, that is to say, Christian civilization. Christianity, Europe and the West are potentially overlapping concepts. The essential and non-geographical meaning of the West is the Christian civilization born from the encounter between Greco-Roman classicism and the Gospel. An encounter favored in an extraordinary way by monasticism, which brought the Gospel, latinitas and germanitas to a synthesis in a single peculiar historical reality. The civilization that arose from this synthesis transcends geographical boundaries, because its center is divine (Jesus Christ) and not geometric. The very distinction, within Christianity, between Eastern and Western monasticism is ephemeral and insubstantial: it is one and the same monasticism, different from expressions of non-Christian monasticism and embodied in many popular traditions. This makes the West (understood as Christianity) a civilization essentially different and other-than the Islamic world and the civilizations of India, China, Japan, etc.
Understood in this way, the West will certainly be Europe and its extra-European projections, but will also be understood as inseparable from those millenary Christianities external to the Greco-Roman ecumene such as, for example, the Ethiopian or Armenian ones. A West understood in this way will consider the Christian civilization as embodied in minorities in non-Christian countries to be indissolubly united to itself (e.g. the Copts of Egypt, the Syriacs and Maronites of Asia Minor, the Chaldeans of Mesopotamia, the Christians of St. Thomas in India, etc.), it will cultivate close relations with them, defend their rights, and support their causes.
One could also understand the West not as Christian civilization, Europe or Magna Europa in their entirety, but only in the western part to highlight the ancient division between the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire, the Latin world and the Greek world, Rome and Constantinople. Even in this case, however, there seems to be something amiss. In fact, the division Rome/Byzantium would expect to consider that Greece, Romania, Bulgaria … and Ukraine itself, are the East. If Orthodox Russians are schismatic, also schismatic are Ukrainians, most of whom are Orthodox too. Belonging to the Byzantine-Slavic universe are Orthodox Russia and also, to a very large majority, both Orthodox and Uniate Ukraine. If Russia is the East (and not the West) so is Ukraine, with the possible exception of the former Habsburg East Galicia. If Greece, Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine are the West, then it is evident that the border of the West is not the ancient border with the Byzantine world and that the criterion is not the schism of 1054.
Understanding the West and Europe in this way, it must be said that Russia is geographically Europe up to the Urals and part of European civilization. The spiritual and liturgical tradition, the sacred and profane figurative arts, the music, the theater, and the literature of Russia are lofty expressions of European civilization. John Paul II expressed this concept when he said that Europe should be considered “from the Atlantic to the Urals”. Russia is the West in an “essential” sense. Moreover, in its millennial history it has more than once consciously played the role of the guardian of Christians who were persecuted or subject to a non-Christian temporal power: at the time of the Tsars with the Armenians in relation to the Turkish empire, with regard to the Greeks and Serbs by promoting their national independence from the Ottoman sultan, recently in Syria by preventing the jihadist forces of the Caliphate from establishing an Islamist regime, in Lebanon, in Egypt, and in Artsakh to protect Armenian Christians from the violence of Islamic Azeris.
Coming to the surface when the West is understood as a Christian civilization could well be legitimate doubts about Lutheran Protestanism in light of its rupture with divine revelation (Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition entrusted by God to Holy Mother Church), its radical anti-metaphysical and anti-juridical option and, therefore, its irreconcilability with the classical Greco-Roman heritage. At the very root Protestantism rejects speculative reason, knowledge of being, gnoseological-metaphysical realism, the ethical-finalistic conception of politics, the classical and Christian natural law of Roman jurists, Cicero and St. Thomas, and classical anthropology. If the West is Christian civilization and Protestantism makes Christian civilization impossible, it will be necessary to conclude that Protestantism is not the West and, indeed, is anti-West.
Those who speak of the West today, however, are referring to countries that are Protestant for the most part, at least in their historical self-consciousness, even if they are now atheist as regards their own elites, their own systems of power and their own dominant culture.
What we have said concerns the “essential” West, but according to the current understanding of the term “West”, we can conclude that today it is considered the system of liberal-democracies placed under the political and cultural hegemony of the Anglo-sphere. This current definition of the West differs radically from the “essential” West understood in its historical-cultural identity as Christian civilization (in toto or as Latin Christian civilization). There are then two ideas of the West: the West as Christianity and the West as liberal-democracy, the West as classical-Christian civilization and the West as ideological modernity/post-modernity. These two ‘Wests’ are not only distinct and non-overlapping but, doctrinally speaking, are irreconcilable.
The West understood in the second sense can then include Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Islamic, Jewish, Buddhist and Shinto peoples and countries as long as they relativize their being such by subordinating it to the dogma of secular-liberal ideological modernity. The West will be secular-Masonic Kemalist Turkey, the State of Israel, South Korea, Japan, and Zelensky’s Ukraine.
Doctrine and history tell us that these two ways of being the West cannot be combined to form a single modus “because of the contradiction that does not allow it” (Inf. XXVII, 120), since Protestantism is incompatible with the very idea of Christian civilization, liberalism and democratism are ideologies condemned by the Magisterium as irreconcilable with the Truth, and Freemasonry had also been condemned by the Church. Not to mention the most recent developments in the field of the so-called “new rights” that increasingly reveal the anti-Christian face of the West understood as a liberal power system driven by global pretences.
To equivocally use the term “West” making people believe it is meant as Christian civilization in order to conversely signify the West as a system of liberal democracies, is an intellectually incorrect operation, a true ideological transfer, often to the detriment of Catholics, from Christianity to modernity and axiological post-modernity, achieved through the equivocal and enchanting use of the term “West”.
Throughout history there has been considerable evidence of the conflict between the two conceptions of the West. For example, the epochal clash between the Catholic Spain of Philip II and the Protestant England of Elizabeth I; the constant commitment of England as an anti-Catholic and anti-Papist power, including the role it played in the events that led to the end of the Papal States and the birth of the Italian Risorgimento; the interventionism of the United States in the Christian war in Mexico; the policy of the United States in Latin America when it mounted opposition against the rare and courageous attempts to establish political regimes responding to the idea of res publica christiana; the commitment of the “western” powers after the First World War to dismember the Austrian Empire, the last Christian Empire in Europe; the sad situation of Christians after the recent wars in Kosovo, Libya, Iraq and Syria.
Understood as Christian civilization, the West has undergone a lenghty process of secularization and decomposition within itself, and this has happened both in liberal-democracies and in Russia. An exemplary case is represented by communism. On the basis of the events that followed the Russian revolution of 1917, we are accustomed to set the liberal-democratic West and the Soviet communism of Russia against one another. But communism is a product of the West understood as a degeneration of Christian civilization. The Manifesto of the Communist Party was written by a German in London and Lenin was sent in an armored car from Switzerland to Russia. Marxism represents the ideological fulfillment of Western modernity, projecting a synthesis between the German gnosis (in the Lutheran root sense) of Hegel and nineteenth-century English thought (positivism, evolutionism, economism). The Cold War between liberal-democracy and social-communism was therefore not a clash between the West understood as Christian civilization and a Marxist anti-West. It was rather a civil war entirely internal to the West understood as ideological modernity. The great absentee in the Cold War was precisely the West as a Christian civilization reduced to geopolitical marginality and still alive only in the social Magisterium of Pius XII … and then, in some respects, in that of John Paul II.
Social-communism is so Western that today, far more than in the Soviet nostalgia of a minority of Russians and Belarusians, it has proved to be powerful and victorious in northern European social-democracy, in the social-capitalism of social control in the European Union, Canada, Australia and many “Western” countries, in the socialism that has also infiltrated politics in the USA (with a powerful thrust under the Obama presidency), in the Trotskyism and Gramscism so fashionable among the Anglo-Saxon academia and intelligentsia, in the cultural Marxism of the various racially or gender based Western movements, as well as in the so-called Cancel culture.
The West as a Christian civilization is languishing in both East and West, whether in the liberal democracies of nihilistic relativism or in Russia after the blanket secularizing effect of the decades of communism. These two realities are part of the same West, both because of their common origins in Christian civilization, and because of their common participation, naturally with due historical-cultural differences, in the degradation of that same Christian civilization. Also evident In both “worlds”, however, are new phenomena of intolerance for the ‘West of freedom’ bereft of criteria and an imposed and suffocating globalism, for the artificial society imposed by power brokers as something natural. In both fields these phenomena are often still ambiguous. In Russia, for example, the contradictions and ambiguities concern the Soviet past, the social fascination exercised by many secular-liberal elements of the 1990s, the reference to the Tsarist imperial model and the Slavic tradition, with particular attention to the religious-spiritual dimension represented by Orthodoxy. Russia does not express Latin Christianity, it is not a Catholic power. If anything, It wants to be a Slavic power, imperial Byzantine (Third Rome), and Orthodox. Therefore, it cannot respond to the need for a Catholic policy. Nonetheless, the phenomena of conscious reaction to the new globalism of the civilization-vacuum of the West as a direct result of the rejection of Christian civilization, are worthy of attention both when they occur in the West and when they occur in the East of the one and only “essential” West.
In this moment of crisis entirely internal to the West, and not between the West and something else opposed to it, it is important to recover the sense of the “essential” West which is other than the West that dominant thought imposes upon us. The aim is to renew the commitment to the true West, that is to say to Christian civilization based on the correct relationship between reason and faith, to resist and react against forms of active opposition, and to contribute to developing the germs of true freedom from the global pretenses of the West with an empty soul.