The West/Rest divide and the quest for destroying third world’s autonomy

There exists a divide between Western countries (the West), and the other countries of the World (the Rest). Also, there is a considerable skepticism in the Rest towards the Western discourse on human rights. It is based on conceptual justifications, on past and contemporary events, and on international norms that provide a framework for the functioning of international relations. These justifications suggest that the West claims to have a “moral superiority”. They also suggest that the West is systematically instrumentalizing this supposed “moral superiority” in order to secure internal gains, mainly electoral, as well as external ones, such as political and economic concessions.

The West/Rest divide

There exists an important level of diversity among Western countries. Yet, one could argue that they remain a widely unified entity at the level of discourse when contrasted with other countries of the World, that is to say with the “Rest”.

If one takes the scientific discourse in social sciences, one remarks this gap between the "Center", the West, and the "Periphery", the Rest. At the beginning of social sciences in the 19th century, the Center was studied by political science, economics and sociology. As to the Periphery, it was studied by anthropology and orientalism (1). Although this approach has much changed, the legacy as well as many ideas of this epoch still persist. And if one takes the political discourse, one observes the same gap, between the “free World” and the “non-free World”. The Cold War and the war on "terrorism" provide ample examples.

Moral superiority, “selflitis,” and the “Final Solution”

There seems to be a tendency when we are talking about human rights, that the talk is one-sided: from the West to the Rest. In other words, it is a lecture, not a dialogue. And it is not only a matter of arrogance and self-righteousness, but also a strategic position with more than four colonial centuries dragging behind.

As a strategic position, this tendency concerns World Order. Hedley and others have noted that the postwar international system is essentially the European states system made large (2). This essentially European international system suffers from what Julien de Sanctis calls "Ethno-centered universalism". According to him, the West tries to extend its value system to the World, in a way that does not take into consideration contextual, historical, and civilizational boundaries (3). Only a claim to a “moral superiority” could be used by the West to justify transcending those boundaries. Despite its origins in the Age of Enlightenment, this claim still persists.

Both, World system and the aforementioned universalism, have historical trajectories that left enduring traits, such as "colonial accumulations". These accumulations are visible in the retaining of zones of influence in previous colonies as part of the price they paid to colonizers to gain independence. Indeed, at a certain moment in history, a set of circumstances of strength helped the West secure a set of mechanisms that protect and advance Western privileges and interests—which were accumulated during the colonial period. A critique of this ethno-centered universalism, and having a two-sided talk, necessarily implies a critique of colonial accumulations, that is to say Western privileges and interests. It is here that lies the real motive behind the persistence of the claim to a “moral superiority” which justifies the one-sided talk from the West to the Rest. This one-sidedness is a defensive tool, among many others, of colonial accumulations.

It is very difficult to believe that the West attempts to advance the cause of freedom whenever it is possible, and when it is not possible, it sits in waiting for the first glimpse of an opportunity to do so. But there is every reason to think that the cause of freedom for the West is a flail intended to crush Third World’s autonomy and is a share in a cruel, capitalist stock market.

Dr. Mansour Almarzoqi

There seems to be in the West a deep entrenchment in this one-sidedness, a passionate unwillingness to consider a different perspective, something that I could call “the virus of selflitis”. This inflammation of the self makes it difficult for the West to listen, to consider, to understand. And in the midst of this difficulty, the West strikes with « judgmentalism ».

The rise of populist and extreme right movements across the West is neither accidental nor a passing phenomenon. Rather, it is a product of many complicated factors, one of which is selflitis. The greatest fear is that selflitis would one day lead to some form of the “Final Solution”. The West has done it several times before - such as in the concentration camps of indigenous peoples in the Americas, the massacres in the Congo, and the atrocities of Auschwitz. There is absolutely no assurance that the West would not do it again.

Extortion, destroying the Rest’s autonomy, and hypocrisy

Claiming “moral superiority” was the spearhead of colonialism in the past, and the persistence of the same claim now is the spearhead of capitalism. During the negotiations of a free trade agreement between the Arab Gulf states and the EU, the latter used the card of promoting human rights and democracy in a pragmatic way so as to extort economic concessions from the GCC, particularly in the aluminium and petrochemical industries, as Ahmad Qasim Hussein remarks (4).

Moreover, there is what Amitav Acharya calls “subsidiary norms,” whereby state-actors from the Third World would create their own norms, judged to be regional responses to regional problems. According to him, subsidiarity led to two effects. The first is resistance and challenge to Western bias. Second, regional state-actors support only the norms of the “international community” which are judged to be helpful in preserving Third World states’ autonomy, otherwise known as “rules of all, by all, for all”. Such rules include sovereignty, equality of states, and nonintervention (5).

These norms are subject to power relations between states. As many experts have pointed out, the United Nations charter has a problem of reconciling principals such as sovereignty on the one hand with the protection of human rights on the other (6). As a consequence, reconciliation of the two principles then becomes a matter of continuous negotiations (7). And of course, power relations are the only framework in which these negotiations can take place. Under the pretext of protecting human rights, more powerful states infringe upon the sovereignty of the less powerful states and intervene in their domestic affairs.

These infringements upon sovereignty are sometimes viewed as systematic attacks on the few important norms in international relations that help the less powerful states protect their autonomy. Destroying the autonomy of those states renders them more vulnerable to big powers, and hence more likely to cede economic and political concessions, as was intended in the free trade negotiations between the EU and the GCC. Moreover, by systematically attacking these norms, the West hopes to disperse and undermine any potential movement of revolt against, and liberation from, the capitalist Western hegemony of the World.

One must always remember that such an infringement upon sovereignty never happened to the U.S. in the “black lives matter,” Guantanamo, Abu Guraib prison, invasion of Iraq or the on-going American drones campaign in the World. Somehow these U.S. violations of human rights, as well as of international law, are invisible to the West, including Canada, Germany, France, and the UK. Israeli Apartheid, colonialism, testing of chemical weapons on Palestinians, open-prison of Gaza are equally invisible to the « free World ». This is seen by the Rest as a gruesome hypocrisy. There is a selectiveness in the West when it comes to promoting human rights, as is evident in Canada‘s thundering silence towards human rights violations in China and Iran.

It is very difficult to believe that the West attempts to advance the cause of freedom whenever it is possible, and when it is not possible, it sits in waiting for the first glimpse of an opportunity to do so. But there is every reason to think that the cause of freedom for the West is a flail intended to crush Third World’s autonomy and is a share in a cruel, capitalist stock market.



1- Wallerstein, Immanuel, “Les sciences sociales battent de l'aile. Quel phénix en renaîtra ? Perspectives théoriques”, Cahiers de recherche sociologique, No. 24, 1995, pp. 209-222.

2- Bull, Hedley, and Adam Watson, Eds., The Expansion of International Society, 1984, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

3- Conversations with Dr. Julien de Sanctis, in Lyon, July 10, 2018. He is a researcher at the IRSEM in Paris and is an expert of the philosophy of French military strategy in Africa.

4- Hussein, Ahmad Qasim, “The European Union and the Gulf Crisis: Context and Attitudes”, Siyasat Arabia, No. 30, 2018, pp. 63-79.

5- Acharya, Amitav, “Norm Subsidiarity and Regional Orders: Sovereignty, Regionalism, and Rule-Making in the Third World”, International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 55, No. 1, 2011, pp. 95-123.

6- Volsky, Alexander, “Reconciling Human Rights and State Sovereignty, Justice and the Law in Humanitarian Interventions”, International Public Policy Review, Vol. 3, No. 1, 2007, pp. 40-47; Saporita, Christopher, “Reconciling Human Rights and Sovereignty: A Framework for Global Property Law”, Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, Vol. 10, No. 2, 2003, pp. 255-281; Massa, Anne-Sophie, “Does Humanitarian Intervention Serve Human Rights? The Case of Kosovo”, Amsterdam Law Forum, Vol. 1, No. 2, 2009, pp. 49-60. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 16 aug. 2018.

7- Scheipers, Sibylle, Negotiating Sovereignty and Human Rights: International society and the International Criminal Court, 2009, Manchester: Manchester University Press.


Dr. Mansour Almarzoqi is Assistant Professor of Political Science and Director of the Center for Strategic Studies at the Prince Saud al-Faisal Institute for Diplomatic Studies. He tweets @Dr_Almarzoqi

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:51 - GMT 06:51
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