Once significantly devoted to explaining, advancing and celebrating Western universal values, western media outlets today are now far more engaged in manufacturing hostility towards China.
How did the West first nurture and then sustain its extraordinary, extended power over global narrative setting at the expense of everyone else?
The White Man’s Media, as we know it today, was incubated during the turbulent Age of European Imperialism, when open warfare was common. This radical new scheme of global control was ultimately a product of the extraordinary rebirth of advanced European thinking fostered by the Renaissance. As the Imperial era advanced, the role of the Western media in promoting narratives which fostered socially-organized, understanding, support, hostility and denial became pivotal. This role remains entrenched.
According to a profile of the British Prime Minister in 2021, Boris Johnson thinks that the point of politics is to offer a story that people can believe in. “People live by narrative – Human beings are creatures of the imagination.”, he once observed. These quotes are repeated in a recent scathing review of Johnson, by John Harris, in the Guardian, where Harris observes that Johnson’s conduct confirms that story telling is often associated with lying. Johnson is surely still right, however, about the fundamental importance of widely circulating, embedded narratives.
Chandran Nair’s new book, Dismantling Global White Privilege: Equity for a Post-Western World, provides a lucid analysis of contemporary, continuing White privilege. It explains the nature and profound, global norm-setting impact of this Western power. It also clarifies how it developed and how it operates. Nair explores a pervasive range of examples, including, controlled geopolitical frameworks and institutions, the world of sport – and the media in all forms.
How, though, did the West, and especially the Anglo-West, foster and then sustain this extraordinary, extended power over narrative setting? One way to investigate this question is to consider European history using a Chinese perspective.
Prior to the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1912 AD) China had an Imperial History stretching back well over 2,000 years, to the Qin Dynasty (221 – 207 BC) and a civilizational history extending back well over 1,000 years earlier. Chinese best-known Dynasties typically lasted several hundred years. But there have been regular, violent intervening eras throughout the course of Chinese history, the most ill-famed of which was the Warring States Period from 475 – 221 BC.
Applying this metric, one can credibly describe the long era of Western European history following the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD until 1945, as, more often than not, a “Warring States” period. Before and after that fall, powerful tribes invaded by land from the North. Vikings later did likewise by sea. Within most of Feudal-Europe, which replaced the highly organized and centralized Roman Empire, numerous kingdoms were recurrently engaged in conflict with one another. Islamic invasion from the East had also begun by the 8th century leading to frequent confrontational responses, including the Crusades. Then came the Reformation in the 16th century. Christianity was split as never before. Still more savage levels of warfare followed.
Martin Luther, the man who did most to trigger the Reformation, was deeply hostile to the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. In due course he also became militantly anti-jewish. Here we encounter another severe Western religious divide – one which dates back over 2,000 years to the dawn of the birth of Christianity.
The 20th century, in Europe, brought us World War I, from 1914-1918; the War to End All Wars. That war did not secure this outcome. World War II, which kindled the creation of horrific nuclear weapons, followed from 1939 – 1945. The most infamous aspect of that war was the “Holocaust”, the name given to the demonic Nazi-German scheme where millions of Jews and other “undesirables” were exterminated in a series of Central European death camps.
Finally, with the creation of the European Union, which evolved from the 1957 Treaty of Rome, the primary aims of the Treaties of Westphalia (from 1648), to create a Europe of Nation-States that could live peacefully with one another, were better secured than at any time during the previous three centuries.
This era was not, of course, a period of European history filled with terrible conflict and little else. Immensely important and exceptionally impressive achievements in the arts, music, literature, science, medicine, and religious, political, social, economic and general human understanding were also forthcoming. The Renaissance, which witnessed a remarkable period of intellectual rediscovery and transition from the Middle Ages, is widely seen to have commenced by the 14th century. From this flowed the commencement of: the 16th century Reformation, the 17th century Enlightenment, and the 18th century Industrial Revolution – all leading to what we now call the modern age.
This highly competitive, multi-century search for new ideas across the widest spectrum unfolded within the context of volatile geopolitics, which always remained intense and often spilled over into bloody conflict. Warfare regularly propels innovation. Unsurprisingly, European research and experimentation led to major improvements in all kinds of weapons, military tactics, sea-going vessels and navigation skills.
The Industrial Revolution and Capitalism developed in tandem amplifying the conspicuous importance of both. They collectively needed access to the widest range of natural and cultivated resources to flourish unhindered. The Age of Exploration, bolstered by the advances in naval science, rapidly evolved. Its success laid the foundations to secure abundant, distant resources not available locally. Many European powers created offshore Empires. The weaponry, in the hands of well-trained men, that they could swiftly apply meant that few could resist them. Colonial cultivation of needed resources required additional manpower. Slavery on a terrible scale never before seen in history was the favoured European answer to this labour shortage
Christian religions, regularly with uncommon passion, joined in this worldwide project. Evangelizing, especially after the Reformation, was a core component of their collective-soul. These exploring colonizers could now tell themselves and those they were colonizing, (and enslaving) that they were doing God’s work, as they took the workings of the modern European-world around the globe.
The invention of the European printing press by 1440 was of fundamental importance. It vastly enhanced the scope for mass communications. As Benedict Anderson explains in his book Imagined Communities, it also provided a primary means by which individuals could be persuaded to adhere fiercely to national identities across Europe and around the world – at the same time amplifying rivalries and conflict.
The first European (Venetian) newspapers, appeared in the mid-16th century. They were hand written and focussed on news related to trade and commerce. Printed papers soon followed. Then came leading newspapers, covering an expanding range of topics as the Age of Imperialism flourished. The Times was established in London by 1788. New printing technologies allowed much longer, low-cost print runs. The Times was the first paper to send war correspondents to report from the battle front – to the Crimean War in the mid-1850s. By this time newspapers were being widely produced across Europe, in the various Empires and in America. The New York Times was operating by 1851. By the mid-19th century, highly influential Press Agencies, such as Associated Press, based in New York, and Reuters, based in London, were hard at work.
The remarkable extent and durability of the British Empire laid the foundations for the English language media to build a paramount, global influencing role. This English language influence was cemented as British hegemonic supremacy gave way to American supremacy over 100 years ago.
Technological developments have since changed the media-mix greatly, beginning with radio and the cinema. Next came, television, prior to Web-based media outlets becoming indispensable. The pattern of highly consolidated, English-dominant, Western control has endured, however.
The White Man’s Media, as we know it today, was incubated during the turbulent Age of European Imperialism. This vast new scheme of global control was ultimately a product of the extraordinary rebirth of advanced European thinking fostered by the Renaissance. That radical, far-reaching political system developed within a context of intense, continuing multi-nation, political conflict, which regularly resulted in open warfare. In the 800 years after the Norman Conquest, in 1066, Britain and France went to war more than 20 times, for example. The more notable conflicts included: the 100 Years War, the Seven Years War, the American Revolutionary War and the Napoleonic Wars. As this Imperial era advanced, the print media moved ahead, rapidly, reporting, explaining, debating, rationalizing and justifying countless aspects of the Imperial experience. The role of the media in promoting narratives which fostered socially-organized, understanding, support, hostility and denial etc, steadily became pivotal.
The profound norm-setting power of (the now far more technologically advanced) Western media – led by the US – remains globally entrenched. The extraordinary rise of China has seen the US become increasingly resentful and truculently determined, somehow, to encircle and contain China. This deeply anxious project has permeated most of the US-led Western media. Once significantly devoted to explaining, advancing and celebrating Western universal values, these media outlets are now far more engaged in manufacturing hostility towards China and a range of other “unfriended” jurisdictions.
Are we witnessing a fundamental, ideological showdown? Yes and no. China is deeply interested in doing business and building a better China – and a better world with which to engage – as it does so. Throughout its extended history China has rarely been interested in ideological marketing: and it is not so interested today. The US and certain of its allies are ideologically obsessed, however. And that fixation is intensified by a stark fact that America has never before encountered: China today presents a conspicuously successful, alternative example of how to organize a huge political economy four times the size of the US.