What went wrong with the West? (1)

In a series of 4-5 essays I will look at the reasons behind the decline in the power and prestige of the West. In this context the term West refers to countries having their cultural roots in Europe and includes US, Israel, Australia and NZ. My aim is to analyse what went wrong with the social structure of these countries after World War 2 and, particularly, starting from 1960s. In the process I will challenge some of the cornerstones of the Western way of life like democracy, human rights and social welfare, which should make for exciting reading.

Let’s first look at the World which emerged from WW2. The US were unchallenged as an industrial super-power and set new standards for the wealth and prosperity of their citizens. Europe, kick-started by the Marshall Plan, followed down a similar path, both socially and economically. Even the two WW2 enemies – Germany and Japan – joined the party. More importantly, US had a moral authority as a result of its uncompromised stance in fighting the enemies of freedom. They were viewed as a post-colonial power which first ditched the legacy of slavery and then exemplified hope, ambition and social progress in every possible sense. In the time of need US answered the call  for help in dealing with Europe’s demons, while also fighting its own determined, powerful, and  resourceful enemy – Japan. The US have emerged from WW2 victorious and were a cornerstone, leader and blueprint for the new World order.

The post-WW2 optimism was based on a popular feeling that the war-to-end-all-wars had left the World with a clear path of progress, charted by the US. Smiling, well dressed American women in the ads of washing machines and TV sets were the envy of all women. Fords and Cadillacs (even more powerful and comfortable than last year’s models) were what all men aspired to drive. But it is important to realise that the social model which produced such abundance of wealth relied on some conditions and conventions to make the American (and then – Western) dream possible.

In a nutshell, the Judeo-Christian value system, combined with the Protestant work ethics were quite efficient in producing a society which was dynamic and inventive yet retained some moderation and balance. The cornerstones of this social model were family, free enterprise, patriotism and religion. These values were present at homes, taught at schools and permeated the whole social environment of the time. Next essays in this series will look at how their eventual disintegration affected the Western societies.

What went wrong with the West? (2)


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