The Misappropriation of the term “Western World”

By Glauco Ortolano - 02 July 2024

Glauco Ortolan responds to Alfredo Toro Hardy's recent article to argue that Latin America is at the core of the new Western Civilization.

There is not a term that best fits the description of misappropriation than “Western World” used to define some nations with more developed economies but with a shadowy past of apartheid, extermination camps, pogroms among other despicable acts of aggression and even genocide. 

In his article “Latin America: Between the Western World and the Global South,” Alfredo Toro Hardy analyses where Latin America belongs to, as the title of the article indicates so clearly. My analysis of this topic differs greatly from his views in many ways. For the sake of argument, I will state that Latin America undoubtedly belongs to the so-called Western World. As a matter of fact, it is found today at the core of Western civilization, and I will attempt to prove my thesis here.

Geographically, Latin America’s western tradition could not be more obvious, since the entire region is an enormous part of the Western Hemisphere along with Anglo-America, which comprises The United States and Canada, and both are considered part of the west. Furthermore, the fact that so-called Latin America was colonized mostly by Iberian powers, namely Portugal and Spain, only reinforces its western vocation and countries’ permanent statuses as western nations. Some have argued just the opposite, which is nonsensical to me.

Perhaps, we should be reminded that Portugal was the first power in Europe to engage in the globalization process during its maritime exploration era. The Portuguese language was the lingua franca in Asia in the 15th and 16th Century, and Portugal was the first European nation to have one of its own circumnavigating the globe, sailing through regions not yet dreamed of by the rest of Europe. The Portuguese “discovered” west and east Africa and sailed all the way to Japan and beyond. Spain did not stay much behind and was responsible for the first permanent settlements in the western Hemisphere. Even North America owes a lot to Spain with states such as Florida, California, Montana, Nevada, all taking Spanish names for obvious reasons.

In his article, Alfredo Toro Hardy quotes Kenneth Clark in the book, Civilization, “…when one asks what Spain has done to enlarge the human mind and pull mankind a few steps up the hill, the answer is less clear.” Perhaps Clark should have looked at a world map before making such an outrageous statement so as to realize what Portugal and Spain have done to enlarge our perceptions of the world. After all, without their contributions, there would be no West.

Although some may argue that both Spain and Portugal suffered some influence from Muslim countries, these countries had a mission to spread Christianity around the globe. Demonstrating their loyalty to the Pope of Rome was one of their aims. The Jesuits set up missions across Latin America to teach catechism to the native peoples of South America, starting one century prior to the arrival of the Mayflower to North America carrying its first batch of Anglo-Christians.

The Judeo-Christian tradition of Latin America is indisputable and goes back centuries. The first Christian churches in the New World were built in Latin America, as well as the first synagogue built in Recife, Brazil. During the Catholic Inquisition in Europe, an entire population of so-called “New Christians” migrated to Brazil, making it one of the nations with the largest pool of Jewish descendants in the world.

Most people in Latin America speak a romance language, derived from one of the greatest empires of the Western World. Let us not forget that French, a language also spoken in Latin America, was responsible for enriching the lexicon of less developed languages spoken by the Anglo-Saxon populations. Latin America has produced great writers (Pablo Neruda, Machado de Assis, Gabriel Garcia Marques. Gabriela Minstrel, Luis Borges, Mario Varga Llosa, Carlos Fuentes etc.) as well as great, painters, musicians, sculptors and architects. The city of Brasilia speaks for itself boasting Brazilian Modernism at its best, making it one of the most unique capitals of the world within the western tradition of architecture. Bossa Nova, a genre of music that has left a mark in the world for its beauty with a blend of classical music, samba and jazz. When it comes to sport, Latin America has produced some of the greatest players and teams of football, which is considered the most western sport ever created. This is all part of the Western Civilization, not just microchips, computers and cell phones, otherwise countries like Taiwan must be included as being a part of the “West.”

The path of civilization that Latin America chose for itself includes miscegenation, which Alfredo Toro erroneously called an “acculturated society.” Miscegenation is not acculturation; it is the true mark of the Western Hemisphere. It is the blending of races and cultures to create a new one while preserving Judeo-Christian values, Greco-Roman democratic republics, and a philosophical pattern that supersedes that of old Europe, which imposed on its colonies a system of racial and cultural apartheid so prevalent in countries that some proudly call the West today.

Let us not mistake white supremacy or more advanced economies for Western Civilization. The south cone of Latin America also has received its fair share of European immigrants from outside the Iberian Peninsula, namely Germans, Italians, Slavs, etc. Brazil is no longer a purely Catholic country after the explosion of evangelical movements that have brought a strong voice to the Brazilian congress.

Excluding Latin America from the so-called West, particularly by these same nations that still suffer from the plagues of white supremacy and apartheid, is not only morally wrong and elitist, but a form of contemporary “apartheid of nations”. Latin America does not live on the fringe of the West, as Alfredo Toro Hardy suggested. Latin America is found at the core of the new Western Civilization.

Unfortunately, those that call themselves “the West” are working at high speed towards starting yet another world war. We should have already learned what white supremacy can lead to from our previous experience at the heart of Europe.

Perhaps our role as Latin Americans within the western world is to act as a voice of reason.





Glauco Ortolano is an Associate Professor at the Defense Critical Language and Culture Program of the University of Montana. He has taught Brazilian Language, Literature, and Brazilian Civilization at the Lauder Institute of the University of Pennsylvania, and more recently courses in Geopolitics to officers of the US Armed Forces.

This piece is the opinion of the author and not of any organisations they or Global Policy are affiliated with.

Photo by Pixabay

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