PARIS — Let's begin by clarifying what we mean by "West." The Western world is an intellectual, economic and military ensemble gathering Western and Central Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand and Israel. And, now, Japan.
The proportion of Western population in the world is decreasing, it's true. But that's also the case for China and Russia. India, where areas of low fertility rates are spreading, will likely follow suit.
On the demographic level, the West is not, therefore, being replaced by Asia. Both instead are being pushed by Africa. That said, Africa isn't an economic, military or cultural rival for the West, so its demographic growth in no way represents a decline of the West.
Economy and Military
Is the West declining economically? After its concern late last century regarding the rise of Japan and other Asian Tigers, it's now worried about Chinese expansion. And yet, China's very real catch-up is coming to an end, and the next step will be a slow and difficult one. Its authoritarian regime will inevitably restrict innovations to the benefit of insider interests.
With 22% of the world population, it's only natural that China recovers a certain rank in the global economy. But that doesn't make it a cause of economic decline for the West.
Let's not forget that all developing countries systematically copy the West. And they do so by reproducing — if not stealing — its technical formulas as well as its legal, managerial, and educational organizations. This is anything but a sign of decline.
What about India? It's a country that's deeply paralyzed ethnically, religiously, socially and bureaucratically. Cows there get a better pension than farmers; fiscal barriers between states hinder trade; roads and electricity are lacking ... Sure, things are finally getting better in India, and it will probably become a very important client; but it's far from being a new China. As for Africa, the future demographic giant is extremely weak economically, despite showing a few encouraging signs.
The West remains, in comparison to its competitors, very creative and economically attractive for investors and entrepreneurs the world over. Its standard of living is still the highest in the world — by a huge margin. The United States military budget is four times bigger than China's and 10 times bigger than Russia's, even though mistakes in economic management or military strategy sometimes make us forget that.
Western culture provides a decisive advantage, including on the economic level, through the individual, political and religious freedom it allows. The resulting intellectual energy created, fueled by permanent reflection and self-criticism, is an unmatchable strength.
Checking in — Photo: Luca Sartoni
And this isn't just about the media or the entertainment industry. Of course, these are important, especially for the U.S. and its champions (Hollywood, Facebook, Amazon, etc.), as it gives them an undeniable influence. It's about much more than that: The West is a unique and complex product.
As French philosopher Philippe Nemo rightly put it in his book What is the West?, it's a combination of Ancient Greece and Roman legalism, of a vision of the world shaped first by early Christianity, then later by the Gregorian Reform, the Renaissance, Protestantism and the Enlightenment, all leading to our liberal democracy, a framework that allows for a free and innovative intellectual life.
The West wouldn't have needed colonialism to establish itself. Whenever they're in contact with the West, populations invariably choose it. For the same reasons, it is despised by dictators or traditionalists, especially now Islamists, and their accusations of imperialism and decadence are convenient tools to help them contain that influence.
Japan has become part of the Western world because it's a liberal democracy where individuals, and not only practices, have westernized. In China, an authoritarian regime, leaders do their utmost to prevent this from happening — blocking the Internet and throwing those who have been "contaminated" in jail.
Languages, finally, play their part in the process. English, French, Spanish, Portuguese are all spoken in vast parts of the world, whereas Mandarin Chinese and Hindi, despite their great number of speakers, remain regional languages.
And as for Africa, let's not forget that despite its growing demographic importance, its cultural capital cities are actually Paris, London or New York. This isn't neocolonialism; it's about the opportunities we bring to that continent.
The West isn't declining. On the contrary, the rest of the world is westernizing.