An Overview of Eastern & Western Philosophy

An Overview of Eastern & Western Philosophy

The Philosophic Continuum of Democracy & Communism

Although there are many variations of democratic and communist ideals, most of these ideologies tend to fall within a continuum somewhere between eastern and western thinking. It would be gross overgeneralization to lump all countries into either eastern or western ideology and for this reason, most nations tend to fall somewhere along this continuum between purely democratic and communist philosophies.

It is important to understand the relation between democracy and communism and western and eastern thinking respectively. Western philosophy has developed democracy in a manner which shares many similar concepts of freedom, politics, and economics. Likewise, eastern thinking defines these same concepts in a manner which is unique to eastern cultures and nations. There are a variety of reasons for this difference in philosophies such as culture, geography, religion, etc. While there are many reasons, the differences stand and this creates a both opportunities and challenges to both philosophies.

Western Philosophy

Western philosophy is characterized by its views of democracy and freedom. Most of this thinking is founded in the writing of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Edmund Burke. While there are many political philosophers who have expanded and elaborated western thinking, these individuals are among the first who defined democratic philosophy in a manner which could be utilized in a practical manner. Both Hobbes and Locke discussed social contract theory which is considered the basis of most Western political philosophy and helped shape the American Revolution. Social contract theory posits that societies members have given their agreement either explicitly or tacitly to obey the rules of society in order to gain its protection(Ball & Dagger, 1991). This theory lends itself to democratic rule.

Edmond Burke would argue that government has the authority over constituents and that this authority was not revocable by the individual. Burke saw government as less of a social contract and more as an evolution in tradition and thought. Burke thought that government was founded in spiritual and religious conventions and as such should not be altered. As such Burke viewed human nature as a larger part of a spiritual entity that ultimately was benefited more by tradition and religion (Ball & Dagger, 1991). While Burke’s views were in many ways counter to Locke and Hobbs, Burke would define a conservative form of democratic thinking. It was the thinking of these philosophers which would ultimately become the cornerstone of the United States and would set the standard for western thinking (Ball & Dagger, 1991).

With the rise of the US, western thinking would be given a standard by which all democratic nations would model. As such, the US is often considered the leading nation in the free world. While many countries subscribe to different interpretations of democracy, those which model the US are considered western in nature.

Eastern Philosophy

Eastern philosophy is mainly defined by its belief in communism. Most eastern countries have developed forms of communism which are based on the philosophy of Karl Marx (Ball & Dagger, 1991). The Marxist theory of history is known as historical materialism. Historical materialism is the theory that history can only be viewed through the lens of material conditions in which a society produces and reproduces and how this production relates with society (Ball & Dagger, 1991). Marxists believe that society is conceived and organized through these means. From Marxism is derived communism and socialism.

Socialists view human nature in the context of what is known as species-being. Species-being is not an individual view of human nature but is a view of human nature as a shared experience that is designated by specific social and historical formation. Human nature is only limitedly determined by biology or genetics (Ball & Dagger, 1991). Within socialism the state is a living being which is formed by individuals such as cells in a body. These different forms of communism have manifested themselves overtime into different nations. The one defining characteristic of eastern philosophy is its view of the state taking priority over individual freedom. The standard for communism was at one time Russia or the USSR. While Russia has converted to a more capitalist based system of economics, it still maintains many communist rules and limits on personal freedom (Ball & Dagger, 1991). Though arguable, China may be the new standard for communist ideology.

The eastern world is much more complicated along political ideologies. While many countries in these areas conform to some form of communist or socialist standards, this is not always an easily seen factor. For example, the communist state of China is still more closely associated with the Russian Federation despite it being more democratic than in the past. As well, Middle Eastern nations are more often aligned with Russia and China despite these nations not being communist in nature (Ball & Dagger, 1991). The bulk of countries in the Middle East are theocracies and they align with western or eastern powers depending on what is gained in these relations.


The most glaring of differences between eastern and western thinking is the differences in how human rights are defined and upheld. In most eastern countries human rights are not given the same consideration as they are in western countries. This can be seen in the fact that countries such as Russia and the nations of the Middle East do not view freedom and equality in the same manner as western countries. For example, in the Middle East most theocracies are underpinned by fundamentalist beliefs in which human rights, freedom, and individualism are not important. This is tremendous problem in these states which has led to terrorism and wars. To understand this problem one must understand the nature of fundamentalist thinking. The goal of fundamentalists is to create an Islamic Order.

Fundamentalism is a Weltanschauung , or worldview, that seeks to establish its own order, and thus to separate the peoples of Islamic civilization from the rest of humanity while claiming for their worldview a universal standing. The decoupling thus envisaged and the concurrently espoused universalist claims are only seemingly in contradiction, for they are in fact seen by the fundamentalists as two successive steps in the same process. Islamic fundamentalists challenge and undermine the secular order of the body politic and aim to replace it by a divine order, the so-called hakimiyyat Allah . The order they envisage is not simply a domestic one, but the foundation for the new world order they expect to mount in place of the existing one (Tibi, 1998).

This political ideology arises out of what Bassam claims is a revolt against western ideology and philosophy which is viewed by fundamentalist as a threat to Islam. Again, fundamentalism is much more than extremism or terrorism; it is rather a powerful challenge to the existing order of the international system of secular nation-states. Given that this institution is Western in origin, the revolt against it is also a “revolt against the West” (Tibi, 1998).

The western threat stems from what is seen as the European and United States imposing a secular political and philosophic order on Islamic states. Bassam sees this challenge to democratic government as a dangerous situation which rather than uniting Islamic factions it instead serves to create chaos and turmoil. The fundamentalists in this way serve a more destructive role within Islamic states because they create internal turmoil and damage the strides made to democratize Islamic states. As a result of US and other democratic nations efforts, and the perceived threat of the west, states such as Russia and China often support the countries of the Middle East which resist western thinking, even when these countries are known to support terrorism.

It is difficult for many western society members to understand how people in eastern nations do not value things such as freedom or human rights. This presents a tremendous barrier for relations between the west and east. Ideological differences concerning freedom, human rights, and politics often serve as drivers for conflict.


Globalization serves as a bridge in many ways between eastern and western thinking. With increased speed of communications and more businesses operating in a global market, the need to find common ground between countries benefits all nations desiring to prosper and take advantage of emerging markets. This bridge has already taken place between the US and China as China continues to be the largest manufacturer for the US in goods (Ball & Dagger, 1991). The US has equally provided large business opportunities within China in the form of outsourcing companies. China and the US may have ideological differences but both countries have managed to create strong relationships economically through globalization.


The differences between the east and west are fundamentally differences in how each group views freedom and human rights. These differences are often a source of conflict and war between nations. As globalization continues its expansion, many countries have opted to alter their politics and beliefs in order to take advantage of the opportunities globalization presents. For example, many former eastern bloc countries such as the Ukraine continue to grow economically despite a large political divide caused by the pull between western and eastern thinking (Ball & Dagger, 1991). The Ukraine has expanded its economy and continues to grow while its political state remains influx (Ball & Dagger, 1991). Ultimately, the ability of eastern and western nations to find common ground may rest in their ability to remain neutral and respectful of other nation’s culture and politics. This goal is not easily achieved as many cultural, religious, a political ideologies are often conflicting and oppositional in nature. It may be that some countries are not capable of remaining neutral in this manner and as a result conflict may just be a reality.


Ball, T., & Dagger, R. (1991). Political ideologies and the democratic ideal. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Tibi, Bassam. The Challenge of Fundamentalism: Political Islam and the New World Disorder. Berkeley, Calif London: University of California Press, c1998 1998. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft7k4007q6/

Photo by Gabriella Clare Marino on Unsplash


Triola Vincent. Thu, Apr 01, 2021. An Overview of Eastern & Western Philosophy Retrieved from https://vincenttriola.com/blogs/ten-years-of-academic-writing/an-overview-of-eastern-western-philosophy

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