"Free World" is a Cold War–era term often used by the U.S. and its allies to describe those countries that were not in the sphere of influence of, or allied with, communist states, particularly the Soviet Union or the People's Republic of China, but which showed a strong commitment to ideologies of liberalism and capitalism. It is often used interchangeably with "First World".
The term usually refers to countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, West Germany, Australia, and countries belonging to organizations such as the European Union and NATO. In addition, the "Free World" occasionally includes the Commonwealth realms, Japan, Israel, and India.
Authoritarian and dictatorial states were also included in the "Free World", provided that they were either capitalistic or anti-communist. Notable examples include Spain under Francisco Franco, apartheid-era South Africa, and Greece under the military junta of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
During World War II, the Allied powers viewed themselves as opposing the oppression and fascism of the Axis powers, thus making them "free". Following the end of World War II, the Cold War conception of the "Free World" included only capitalist and particularly anti-communist states as being "free".
In World War II, the term free world was used to refer to the nations fighting against the Axis Powers. Such use would have included the Soviet Union, contrary to the later, "Cold War" definition of the term.
Although the "Free World" had its origins in the Cold War, the phrase is still occasionally used after the end of the Cold War, as recently as the early 2010s. According to Samuel P. Huntington the term has been replaced by the concept of the World community which he argues "has become the euphemistic collective noun (replacing "the Free World") to give global legitimacy to actions reflecting the interests of the United States and other Western powers."
During the Cold War, many neutral countries, namely those in what is considered the Third World, or those having no formal alliance with either the United States or the Soviet Union, viewed the claim of "Free World" leadership by the United States as somewhat grandiose and illegitimate. The phrase has also been used in a negative manner, usually in an anti-American context, by those who do not approve of either United States foreign policy, or the United States as a whole.
One of the earliest uses of the term Free World as a politically significant term occurs in Frank Capra's World War II propaganda film series Why We Fight. In Prelude to War, the first film of that series, the "free world" is portrayed as a white planet, directly contrasted with the black planet called the "slave world". The film depicts the free world as the Western Hemisphere, led by the United States and Western Europe, and the slave world as the Eastern Hemisphere, dominated by Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire.
"Leader of the Free World"
The "Leader of the Free World" is a colloquialism, first used during the Cold War, to describe either the United States or, more commonly, the President of the United States. The term when used in this context suggests that the United States is the principal democratic superpower, and the U.S. President is by extension the leader of the world's democratic states, i.e. the "Free World". The phrase had its origin in the late 1940s, and has become more widely used since the early 1950s. It was heavily referenced in American foreign policy up until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991, and has since fallen out of use, in part due to its usage in anti-American rhetoric.
In popular culture
Canadian singer Neil Young referenced the term in his 1989 song "Rockin' in the Free World". In the song, he points out the irony of the many injustices in the "Free World", especially the United States.
British alternative rock band Elbow refer to the term in both their 2005 album name 'Leaders of the Free World' and their single of the same name. The song criticises Western foreign leaders in the early 21st century, in particular George W. Bush.
- Freedom in the World 2013
- Masur, Salim (29 May 2010). "Churchill's lessons for a modern world". Toronto Sun. Retrieved 2012-06-11.
- "Left Alone by Its Owner, Reddit Soars". The New York Times. 2012-09-02. Retrieved 2012-09-02. "If the leader of the free world stops by to answer questions from your users, you're probably doing O.K."
- Huntington, Samuel P. The Clash of Civilizations, 72 Foreign Aff. 22 (1992–1993)
- Wills, Garry (Mar-April 1999). "Bully of the Free World". Foreign Affairs 78 (2): 50–59.
- John Fousek (2000). To Lead the Free World. UNC Press Books. p. 130. ISBN 0-8078-2525-5.