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Free World

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The Free World is a propaganda term,[1][2] primarily used during the Cold War from 1945 to 1991, to refer to the Western Bloc and aligned countries.

The term refers more broadly to all liberal democracies collectively,[3] as opposed to authoritarian regimes such as socialist states.[4] It has traditionally primarily been used to refer to the countries allied and aligned with the United States, the European Union and NATO. The term "leader of the free world" has been used to imply a symbolic and moral leadership, and was mostly used during the Cold War in reference to the President of the United States.

History of the concept[edit]


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 anti-Soviet states as being "free", particularly democratically elected states with free speech, a free press, freedom of assembly and freedom of association.

During the Cold War, many neutral countries, either 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 grandiose and illegitimate.[5]

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, Fascist Italy and the Japanese Empire.

21st century usage[edit]

While "Free World" had its origins in the Cold War, the phrase is still used after the end of the Cold War and during the Global War on Terrorism.[6] Samuel P. Huntington said the term has been replaced by the concept of the international community, which, he argued, "has become the euphemistic collective noun (replacing "the Free World") to give global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."[7]

Leadership of the Free World[edit]

United States[edit]

George H. W. Bush, the President of the United States during the Fall of Communism, was widely described in American media as the "Leader of the Free World".[citation needed] After Bush's presidency the term largely fell out of use.

The "Leader of the Free World" was 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 suggested that the United States was the principal democratic superpower, and the US president was by extension the leader of the world's democratic states, i.e. the "Free World".

But remember, we have differences with our allies all over the world. They are family differences, and sometimes they are acute, but, by and large, the reason we call it "free world" is because each nation in it wants to remain independent under its own government and not under some dictatorial form of government.

Dwight D. Eisenhower (to the Associated Press, 1 October), The Los Angeles Times, 2 October 1958

The phrase has its origin in the 1940s during the Second World War, especially through the anti-fascist Free World magazine and the US propaganda film series Why We Fight. At this time, the term was criticized for including the Soviet Union (USSR), which critics saw as a totalitarian dictatorship. However, the term became more widely used against the USSR and its allies during the 1950s in the Cold War era (in the wake of Truman Doctrine), when the US depicted a foreign policy based on a struggle between "a democratic alliance and a communist realm set on world domination", according to The Atlantic.[8] The term here was criticised again for including right-wing dictatorships such as Francoist Spain, and Nikita Khrushchev said in the 21st Congress of the Soviet Communist Party that "the so-called free world constitutes the kingdom of the dollar".[8][9]

Although in decline after the mid-1970s,[8] the term was heavily referenced in US foreign policy up until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991. After the presidency of George H. W. Bush the term has largely fallen out of use, in part for its usage in rhetoric critical of US policy.[10]

Terms implying a leadership role in the "free world" later came to be used for other persons, places, or states.

European Union[edit]

On 6 May 2010, upon an address to the plenary chamber of the European Parliament, the then US Vice President Joe Biden, stated that Brussels had a "legitimate claim" to the title of "capital of the free world", normally a title reserved for Washington. He added that Brussels is a "great city which boasts 1,000 years of history and serves as capital of Belgium, the home of many of the institutions of the European Union and the headquarters of the NATO alliance."[11][12]


Angela Merkel

When Time declared the German Chancellor Angela Merkel Time Person of the Year for 2015, they referred to her as "Europe's most powerful leader", and the cover bore the title "Chancellor of the Free World".[13] Following the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency in November 2016, The New York Times called Merkel "the Liberal West's Last Defender",[14] and a number of commentators called her "the next leader of the free world".[15][16] Merkel herself rejected the description.[17] An article by James Rubin in Politico about a White House meeting between Merkel and Trump was ironically[18] titled "The Leader of the Free World Meets Donald Trump".[19]

German commentators agreed with Merkel's assessment,[18] and Friedrich Merz, a CDU politician, said that a German chancellor could never be "leader of the free world".[20] In April 2017, columnist James Kirchick stressed the importance of the German elections (on which "the future of the free world" depended) since America had "abdicated its traditional role as leader of the free world by electing Trump, the United Kingdom was turning inward after the referendum decision to leave the European Union, and France was also traditionally unilateralist and now had an inexperienced president"; he called Merkel "something less than leader of the free world ... but something greater than the leader of just another random country".[21] References to America's abdication of its role as leader of the free world continued or increased after Donald Trump questioned the unconditional defence of NATO partners and the Paris climate accord.[22][23]

Jagoda Marinić, writing for The New York Times, noted that "Barack Obama all but literally passed on the mantle of 'leader of the free world' to Ms. Merkel (and not Mr. Trump), and most Germans feel empowered by that new responsibility" and that Germany "is coming to understand its role in standing up for liberal democracy in a world turning more and more authoritarian."[24]

Other commentators—in the United States and Europe—rejected the appellation "Leader of the Free World":[25][26] some argued that there is no single leader of the 'free world';[27][28] others queried whether Merkel remained the "leader of the free world" and the champion of liberal values.[29] Questioned about Merkel's standing following her performance in the German elections in September 2017, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton opined that Merkel was "the most important leader in the free world".[30] However, after Merkel's party suffered losses in the 2017 election and there were delays in forming a government, the claim that Merkel is the true leader of the free world was referred to as a "joke",[31] described as a media phenomenon,[32] and otherwise called into question.[33][34][35]

When Merkel retired as Chancellor, Hillary Clinton wrote that "she led Europe through difficult times with steadiness and bravery, and for four long years, she was the leader of the free world."[36][37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Haight, David J. (April 2008). "Propaganda, Information And Psychological Warfare: Cold War And Hot—A List of Holdings: Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library" (PDF). Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum and Boyhood Home. p. 3. Archived (PDF) from the original on 18 March 2021. Wide use of labels such as 'Free World,' is, itself, a form of propaganda intended to influence particular audiences.
  2. ^ Gardner-Bird, Samuel (6 May 2022). "The Myth of the "Free World"". Inkstick. The term "free world" is a propaganda term coined in the 1930s, initially as a slogan against the rise of fascism.
  3. ^ "THE FREE WORLD | English meaning - Cambridge Dictionary". Retrieved 14 April 2023.
  4. ^ "Free World". Dictionary by Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, Inc. Retrieved 18 January 2021.
  5. ^ Wills, Garry (March–April 1999). "Bully of the Free World". Foreign Affairs. 78 (2): 50–59. doi:10.2307/20049208. JSTOR 20049208.
  6. ^ "Left Alone by Its Owner, Reddit Soars". The New York Times. 2 September 2012. Retrieved 2 September 2012. If the leader of the free world stops by to answer questions from your users, you're probably doing O.K.
  7. ^ Huntington, Samuel P. "The Clash of Civilizations," 72 Foreign Aff. 22 (1992–1993)
  8. ^ a b c Tierney, Dominic (24 January 2017). "What Does It Mean That Trump Is 'Leader of the Free World'?". The Atlantic.
  9. ^ William Safire. Safire's Political Dictionary. Oxford University Press; 2008. ISBN 978-0-19-534334-2. p. 265.
  10. ^ John Fousek (2000). To Lead the Free World. UNC Press Books. p. 130. ISBN 0-8078-2525-5.
  11. ^ "Biden sweet-talks MEPs on anti-terrorism deal". Retrieved 19 May 2017.
  12. ^ "2010 News from Washington". sarajevo.usembassy.gov. Embassy of the United States Bosnia & Herzegovina. Archived from the original on 16 February 2013. Retrieved 19 May 2017.
  13. ^ Gibbs, Nancy (9 December 2015). "Why Angela Merkel is TIME's Person of the Year". Retrieved 29 November 2015.
  14. ^ Smale, Alison; Erlanger, Steven (12 November 2016). "As Obama Exits World Stage, Angela Merkel May Be the Liberal West's Last Defender". The New York Times.
  15. ^ "How Angela Merkel, a conservative, became the 'leader of the free world". The Washington Post. 21 November 2016. Retrieved 29 November 2017. Now, she is being hailed as the 'leader of the free world' on social media and by some commentators as the Obama era nears its end, Britain is beset by upheavals over plans to leave the European Union and France faces its own break-the-mold populist surge.
  16. ^ Richter, Konstantin (17 November 2016). "Angela Merkel's new job: global savior". Politico. The fear of a xenophobic populist in the White House has liberals everywhere looking to Berlin for moral guidance. They tout Angela Merkel as the new torchbearer for human rights. They call her the next leader of the free world.
  17. ^ Shuster, Simon (12 December 2016). "Why Angela Merkel Isn't Ready to Be the 'Leader of the Free World'". Time. Retrieved 29 November 2017. Many commentators even began referring to Merkel as the new leader of the free world, a title that she dismissed as 'grotesque' and 'absurd'.
  18. ^ a b Naß, Matthias (22 March 2017). "Nein, die Führerin der freien Welt ist Merkel nicht" [No, Merkel is not the leader of the free world]. Die Zeit. Retrieved 29 November 2017. Als 'absurd und grotesk' hat sie den Gedanken zurückgewiesen, die Führung des Westens könne vom amerikanischen Präsidenten auf den deutschen Regierungschef übergehen. Eigentlich eine pure Selbstverständlichkeit, aber vielleicht wären andere für die Schmeichelei empfänglich gewesen. ['Absurd and grotesque' is how she rejected the idea that leadership of the West could be transferred from the American president to the German head of government. Which goes without saying, really, but others might have been more receptive to such flattery.]
  19. ^ Rubin, James P. "The Leader of the Free World Meets Donald Trump". Politico. Retrieved 29 November 2017.
  20. ^ Krauel, Torsten (12 June 2017). "Ein Bundeskanzler kann nie 'Führer der freien Welt' sein" [A German chancellor can never be 'leader of the free world]. Die Welt. WeltN24. Retrieved 29 November 2017. 'Ein deutscher Bundeskanzlerkann nie "der Führer der freien Welt" sein' ...
  21. ^ Kirchick, James (6 April 2017). "Op-Ed: Germans need to recognize that the future of the free world depends on their election". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 29 November 2017.
  22. ^ "Matthew Fisher: Merkel's moment to lead? Trump's exit from Paris accord further riles Europe". National Post. Retrieved 29 November 2017.
  23. ^ Vennochi, Joan (31 May 2017). "Merkel, not Trump, rules on the world stage". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 29 November 2017.
  24. ^ Marinic, Jagoda (25 June 2018). "Opinion - Trump Is Saving Germany's Liberals". The New York Times.
  25. ^ "The Merkel doctrine: Germany is not the new leader of the free world". The Economist. 8 July 2017. Retrieved 29 November 2017. Once Mr Kohl's protégée, the chancellor of his reunified Germany is sometimes dubbed the "leader of the free world" in the Anglo-Saxon media. Yet such epithets get things wrong.
  26. ^ Hoffmann, Christiane; Müller, Peter; Traufetter, Gerald (9 July 2017). "Isolating Trump: Merkel's G-20 Climate Alliance Is Crumbling". Der Spiegel. Retrieved 29 November 2017. The German chancellor may have become the hero of liberals and democrats around the globe, but she is unable to fulfill the expectations placed on her as the putative "leader of the free world," at least not when it comes to power politics. Even Merkel's psychological deftness in dealing with the posturing potentates of the world isn't enough to make up for the fact that Germany is not a global power when it comes to foreign and security policy. America, it seems, will remain the world's power broker for the time being.
  27. ^ Slaughter, Anne-Marie (17 July 2017). "Discard old ideas of a leader of the free world: Never mind Trump or Merkel, global problems demand a collective approach". Financial Times. Archived from the original on 10 December 2022. The idea of one 'leader of the free world" will soon come to seem very quaint indeed.'
  28. ^ "Who is the leader of the free world?". 10 July 2017. Retrieved 29 November 2017. The G20 underscored more emphatically than ever before that there is no one leader of the free world anymore.
  29. ^ Shepp, Jonah (25 September 2017). "Angela Merkel Won Reelection, But Is She Still the Leader of the Free World?". Retrieved 29 November 2017.
  30. ^ Ali, Yashar (24 September 2017). "Clinton Says Angela Merkel Is The Most Important Leader in the Free World". Retrieved 29 November 2017.
  31. ^ Porter, Henry (20 November 2017). "Angela's Ashes: Will the Collapse of Merkel's Germany Leave Europe on the Brink?". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 29 November 2017. With the election of Donald Trump, the joke has been that Merkel, not the sitting U.S. president, is the leader of the free world ...
  32. ^ Hucal, Sarah (21 November 2017). "Germany's political coalition crisis stokes fears the far right could rise". ABC News. Retrieved 29 November 2017. Months after being hailed by media as the new leader of the free world, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is facing the greatest political crisis of her 12 years in office.
  33. ^ Nougayrède, Natalie (21 November 2017). "Germany's crisis means uncertainty for Europe. But it won't be fatal". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 November 2017. If Merkel was supposed to be the leader of the free world in the era of Trump and Brexit then what might the future look like without her?
  34. ^ Rogan, Tom (5 December 2017). "Is Germany the new leader of the free world? Not a chance". The Washington Examiner. Opinion. Retrieved 26 December 2017. ... the idea that Germany is somehow going to rise to displace the U.S. in global leadership is utterly ludicrous. It lacks the means, intent, and credibility to do so.
  35. ^ Bershidsky, Leonid (19 December 2017). "Maybe the Free World Doesn't Need a Leader". Bloomberg. Opinion. Retrieved 26 December 2017. Merkel, however, probably doesn't fit the bill. Weakened by the last election, she has found herself embroiled in the longest coalition talks in Germany's post-World War II history. Even if she's back on top by Easter, global leadership will be pretty far from her mind as she settles into what's likely to be her last term in power. She doesn't even have an obvious successor in her party. Besides, she has always shown much more interest in shaping the European Union to Germany's benefit than in leading the world, free or otherwise.
  36. ^ "Hillary Clinton appears to mock Donald Trump in her tribute to Angela Merkel". MSN.
  37. ^ Creitz, Charles (8 December 2021). "Hillary Clinton jabs Donald Trump on Angela Merkel's last day: 'Leader of the free world for 4 years'". Fox News.