July 13, 2005

Western vs. Southern Europe

In continuing his criticism of Fox News' phrase "homicide bombing" as a replacement for "suicide bombing" (a subject of less than mild interest to me personally) Eugene Volokh includes Madrid, Spain in Western Europe. While Spain is fair to include in "western Europe," I'd argue that it is a stretch to include it in "Western Europe." Leaving old-school racial and ethnological studies entirely to the side, let me be more specific for my reasons.

First, "western Europe" and "Western Europe" are as different as saying "West Virginia" instead of "west Virginia." "Western Europe" with a capital W is a specific place - a pronoun. Saying "western Europe" with a lower-case w is an adjective modifying Europe - a western portion of Europe. The Fox article used the pronoun "Western Europe."

"Western Europe" implies a cultural attachment to the Enlightenment and liberal democracy as embodied by England, the Netherlands and so forth. Spain's political culture is probably more similar closer to Greece's, especially since (along with Portugal) they both had two of the most recent dictatorships of the EU countries. Spain has had some philosophers who even question whether Spain belongs in the Western intellectual tradition at all. Don't get me wrong, I'd still say it's part of Western civilization (following, say, Huntington's divisions in The Clash) but I would not say it's a part of the subset of Western civilization known as Western Europe.

The distinction is probably academic minutiae to a law professor, but it's substantive if not relevant to the issue at hand.

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