Everyone knows that the Third World could use a little help, and that the First World is probably where they should turn for that help, but what about those guys in the middle? Is there such a thing as a Second World?
Much to the relief of the anal retentive, the answer to that is “yes”. The Second World as we know it consists mainly of Communist or formerly Communist nations.
Our current functional definitions of First and Third World nations are a far cry from their original purpose: while we today use the terms to distinguish prosperity and development, the terms actually originated in the Cold War to describe various alliances.
It can all be traced back to NATO and the Warsaw Pact. NATO was a US-centered alliance of Western nations that stood against the Communist-led alliance of Eastern nations formed by the Warsaw Pact. These two major forces effectively divided the globe in two, each section with their own specific politics, economic policies, and development. It was all a part of the Cold War, when the U.S. went head-to-head with the U.S.S.R, without ever actually shedding any blood. The Iron Curtain is the metaphorical term for the political boundaries that divided the communists from the capitalists.
The original definition of Third World, created by a Frenchman named Alfred Sauvy in 1952, referred to any nation that wasn’t considered a part of either alliance and took no sides during the conflict. The Second World was the Communist bloc, and the First World was the Western capitalists. Later on, the term Fourth World came about to describe cultures and societies so far removed from globalization that they were beyond Third World; Fourth World describes any nation, or culture within a nation, that is utterly removed from modern civilization and can include nomadic tribes, pan-national religious or ethnic populations, and sovereign-less nations.
Once the Cold War came to an end, the terms First and Third World had become so handy that it seemed a waste to let them fall by the wayside. They became catchall terms for the economic positions of countries, as well as their levels of industrialization, education, health, and other signs of prosperity. The Second World is not often discussed, but it still represents the communist bloc and former states of the communist bloc.