For those of you interested in the general topic – how Europeans see us – I’d like to suggest two articles. The first is Bruce Bawer’s “Hating America” in Hudson Review. We follow his mood swings, beginning as an amiable American abroad, moving into a more defensive mode, and then concluding with a thorough summary of current works on the topic. His last paragraph points not only to a major difference between Americans and Europeans, but also perhaps the greatest indicator of a divide between red and blue values—religion. Of course, as he notes, this is a good deal more complex than either the blue states or Europeans realize.
That some of America recognizes “human nature” and some of America (and much of Europe) does not is a theme we return to again and again (and will again and again). Of course, it is not that arguments are merely between Europeans and Americans, nor among each. We start from broadly differing definitions of what it means to be human.
In one of my earlier posts a comment was made (perceptive because it cut to what I meant better than I had), the comment addressed Sowell’s distinction between “constrained” and “unconstrained” thinking. [Yes, I apologize -thanks for fact checkers like Dr. Weevil] It seems to me that we might also describe that as between people who recognize human nature, with its frailties, and the tragic nature of our life versus those who see man as pure, unfettered will. The former has problems with abortion; the latter detests limits, even being tied to biology – arguing that sexuality is itself culturally defined. The former is going to see checks and balances as necessary; it is less likely to trust institutions defined by man. The latter finds utopian schemes attractive. Of course, the latter is idealistic, but it is also foolish and in the twentieth century such thinking has led to more than fragmented psyches, but also death camps. Well, you might say, that is painting with a broad brush. Yes, it is. We’ll leave the arguments for another day. Instead, I’ll give you the last paragraph of Bawer’s essay.
Europeans mock American religiosity. But American religion, for all its attendant idiocies and cruelties, has never prevented Americans from acting pragmatically. Secular Western European intellectuals, however, have their own version of religion. It is a social-democratic religion that deifies international organizations such as the Red Cross, Amnesty International, and, above all, the U.N. Not NATO, which is about waging war, and which has for that reason been the target of much European criticism in recent years; no, the NGOs are about waging peace, love, brotherhood, and solidarity, and, as such, are, for the elites of Western Europe, beyond criticism, for they embody Western Europe’s most cherished idea of itself and of the way the world works, or should work. The elites’ enthusiasm for these institutions, whether or not they are genuinely effective or even admirable, is a matter of maintaining a certain self-image and illusion of the world that is intimately tied up with their identity as social democrats; America’s unforgivable offense, as Kagan notes, is that it challenges that image and that illusion; and the degree to which the reality of America is distorted in the Western European media is a measure of the desperate need among Western European elites to preserve that self-image and illusion. It sometimes seems to me a miracle, frankly, that America has any friends at all in some parts of Western Europe, given the news media’s relentless anti-Americanism. There is no question that the chief obstacle to improved understanding and harmony between the U.S. and Western Europe is the Western European media establishment. It is an obstacle that must somehow be overcome, for Western civilization is under siege, and America and Europe need each other, perhaps more than ever. More sane, sensible European books along the lines of Revel’s L’obsession anti-américaine and Bromark and Herbjřrnsrud’s Frykten for Amerika can help.
If you would like something written by Mimi Swartz, who is more an observer of society than a thinker, then “Them’s Fightin’ Words!” in the latest Texas Monthly might interest you. (If you are not a subscriber, this is a hassle to get–but you do get pictures of Kinky Friedman in drag.)
I would write a post about our parochialism but I have to go to the airport to pick up my husband, returning from two weeks teaching and conferencing in Europe.