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  • When the People of Europe Speak

    Posted by Shannon Love on December 3rd, 2004 (All posts by )

    Over on Belgravia Dispatch poster ZF made this observation:

    “It suddenly occurred to me the other day that the influence of the MSM on public opinion is much greater in European countries than in the US, while the current influence of blogs there is far less developed. This has to mean that the biggest impact of the blog phenomenon still to come will in due course be seen in Europe.

    Europe has the bigger ‘popular democracy deficit’, and is thus more exposed to this phenomenon even if it is going to take a while longer to mature, non?”

    I think ZF is really on to something here.

    I have long observed that Europe has a much more elitist and hierarchical culture than America. It keeps recapitulating its feudal past. For Europeans, the question isn’t whether some group of elites should rule but which group of elites. As a result, they end up with very homogeneous institutions, like major media, which reflect the world view of a self-selecting few. Ordinary Europeans have always had less of a voice than ordinary Americans.

    During the 20th century, technological realities exacerbated the European tendency towards elitism. Economies of scale dominated everything, even the production and distribution of information. Large systems, controlled by a few people at the very top of a deep hierarchy, decided what the vast majority would consume as news and education.

    The arrival of the mass Internet has changed the technological realities. Economies of scale no longer apply to the dissemination of information. Deep hierarchies are expensive, slow and exhibit poor error correction. America, with its more open and experimental economy and culture, has exploited this change first, but the rest of the world will not be far behind. Blogs and other Internet forums will begin to play a major role in European politics within the next few years, and will begin to erode the stranglehold of media elites there just as they have done in America.

    I think the change will come more slowly in Europe, mostly due to cultural issues. Europeans are far more deferential to authority than Americans. They will defer in debates to professors, politicians, scientist and journalist much more quickly. Eventually, however, they will learn that many emperors to whom they have bowed for generations are in fact stark naked. However, the awakening of the European masses to power will have a far greater impact on Europe than it will in America, because of what ZF termed the “popular democracy deficit.”

    This will be interesting to watch.

     

    11 Responses to “When the People of Europe Speak”

    1. Giles Says:

      Really?
      Quiz time
      1. American newspapers and braodcast media represent a “diverse” set of views? US universities are a pretty broad church aren’t they? a) yes b) no

      2. “Europe has a much more elitist and hierarchical culture than America”
      Part a)
      Who was the last American President not to have gone to University? Who was the last American President not to have gone to University? Who was the last Australian / British President not to have gone to University?
      Part b) Bush is typically attacked because he isn’t sophisticated enough true or false?

      3. “They will defer in debates to professors, politicians, scientist and journalist much more quickly”

      In my experience this is absolute rubbish – American students are far more deferential than any except perhaps Germans or Chinese.

      As for politicians – take a trip to watch congress and then contrast it with the behavior in say the British or Italian parliaments.

      Its probable that bogging hasn’t taken of in Europe is mainly due to demand, not supply factors.

    2. Shannon Love Says:

      Giles,

      I think you are mistaking politeness for deference to authority on the substance of arguments. There is a huge difference between not interrupting someone when they are talking and the passive acceptance of their arguments.

      In my experience, Europeans (making a sweeping generalization covering a spectrum of related cultures) are less liable to question the pronouncements of authorities figures than are Americans. Americans are often accused of anti-intellectualism because they don’t fall at the feet of the intellectually anointed.

    3. p Says:

      Excellent issue … europeans are just as mis-informed as Americans … they are also more ideological than Americans … that is, they are more apt to drink the politcial “cool-aid” than Americans … Blogging represents a way to connect facts with policies … europeans are more interested with connecting ideology with polictics … they quickly move to motives rather than speak to the facts or debate policies … blogging as a fact collecting and testing mechanism is as valued

    4. Giles Says:

      Sure there’s always a problem knowing the degree to which someone is politely disagreeing or accepting but I would disagree with the assertion that Europeans “are less liable to question the pronouncements of authorities figures than are Americans”.

      First of all what are “authorities figures” – if it’s the police or civil authorities, then its my impression that say southern Europeans tend to ignore them. If we’re talking about politicians, then again most northern European countries hold them in very low regard. There is a sort of democratic deficit in Europe which means that a lot of issues are debated in public politics, but this is not really the result of deference, but rather reflects institutional problems. And the rise of iconoclastic policitticaln like Le Pen , fortyn, vlam Bok and historical unrest show that Europeans are prepared to take on the authorities and the established policitcal system. Its then because of the democratic deficits that the challengers tend to the extreme whereas in the US he challengers tend to the deigning – perot, nadir etc.

      “Americans are often accused of anti-intellectualism because they don’t fall at the feet of the intellectually anointed”

      Again that observation true for “red America” but a lot of “blue America” is, in my experience as intellectual–a-phallic as, France or Italy.

    5. John Thacker Says:

      Giles– Harry S Truman did not go to college, and is the last president to not earn a college degree.

      John Major did not attend university.

      However, it’s also worth nothing that a much smaller percentage of people in the UK have traditionally attended college than the US until recently. The US has led the way in the percentage of citizens attending and graduating college for a long time, though other nations have caught up recently to the percentage that the US has long had.

      Eisenhower of course went to West Point and Carter to the Navel Academy. LBJ worked his way through Southwest Texas State Teachers College. Reagan had merely a bachelor’s from Eureka College, hardly an elite bastion. None would have been that likely to have attended University in the UK, given their family conditions.

    6. Ginny Says:

      And has anyone heard of Whittier, etc. Thanks, Thacker, because this seems to me a wonderful thing and one I like to imply (if not preach) to my junior college students. Another place to look for confirmation of your point is in the places that CEOs went to school

    7. Michael O Says:

      You say:
      “I have long observed that Europe has a much more elitist and hierarchical culture than America. It keeps recapitulating its feudal past. For Europeans, the question isn’t whether some group of elites should rule but which group of elite.’
      I am an Australian, of conservative disposition, but this is not my experience [visited Europe 76, 81 and 95; visited USA 1981]. What needs more discussion – I am also an atheist – is why so many Americans believe in Satan [a fact easily verified from polls] and so few in Germany, France. UK, Italy ..
      Cheers now, M.

    8. Jonathan Says:

      Americans tend to be more religious than Europeans, so there’s no mystery why Americans might be more likely to believe in the existence of Satan. Not sure why this fact is significant, unless by “believe in” you mean Americans tend to worship Satan, which they don’t. Or are you merely asking why Americans are more religious? Perhaps you can clarify.

    9. Shannon Love Says:

      Michael O,

      ” What needs more discussion – I am also an atheist – is why so many Americans believe in Satan…”

      I would argue that the answer is the same: religion in Europe is hierarchal and top-down while in America it is distributed and bottom-up. In Europe, being religious means placing ones self under the authority of a large, elitist hierarchy. In America, you can easily start your own church if you want to.

      Even in America, European style churches like the Catholic Church, the Episcopalian Church (the American version of the C of E), the Lutherans etc. have been rapidly losing adherents while the evangelic protestant churches, which are organized into loose “conventions” of individual, self-managing churches, are gaining adherents.

      What really happened in Europe and to a lesser extent in the rest of Anglo-Sphere is that the older faith-based Christian elite was replaced by a new faith-based atheistic elite. Its a duel between two religious elites. The atheist simply shoved the Christians aside by controlling the government and then used their top-down power to indoctrinate the masses.

    10. Anonymous Says:

      Well, is the important thing whether people believe in Satan or whether they believe that evil happens? Of course, if there is no evil, then there is no reason to defend ourselves from it. I suspect that those who believe in Satan see him as a tempter of man. Our tradition is not to blame him but to blame the person seduced by his attractive wiles. In other words, Americans may believe in Satan but that doesn’t mean an abdication of a responsibility that they hold both themselves and others to. When someone tells us that “Satan made me do it” we immediately start thinking of a plea of insanity or cynically, if that is our tendency.

      I can’t say that I’ve reached much commitment to either the reality of Satan or a sense that evil seldom comes only from the will but also from the situation. I can’t see why anyone would care about such musings – but I also don’t see how surveys of such complexities and ambiguities are very useful.

      Right after 9/11 I was reading a creative writing exercise that took Orwell as a hero, arguing he would have been appalled by the way Americans think of bin Laden; the piece argued that he was treated with the kind of hatred aroused in the daily “hate sessiions” in 1984. I’m sure the writer of that exercise was thinking this was characteristic of the non-Blue types, a hatred swellilng up in red America. But, I haven’t seen it.

      Instead, when I read of the therapy sessions that begin with venting of hatred toward Bush, when I see cartoons of a naked Bush eating a baby, when I hear idle chatter that sees Bush as both idiot and Hitler, I try to remember if I heard of, knew of venting sessions about hatred for bin Laden. Indeed, other than Toby Keith’s admittedly vitriolic song, I can’t remember a whole lot of staged hatred that moved us into Afghanistan. Instead, I remember bookstores sold out of Muslim histories and the in-demand words of scholars. (It is true that Bernard Lewis was more in demand than apologists – but it is also true that his love for the culture is an important factor in his scholarship.)

      I don’t think it is a big deal if a society believes in Satan or not; I do think it is a big deal if their representative “peace” body actually makes possible, even easy, the slaughter at Srbenecia; I think it is a big deal if they tell their representative soldiers to turn away in Rwanda; I think it is a big deal if they take bribes of money theoretically aimed at children’s medicine and children’s food. You don’t have to call these the work of Satan; I don’t. But I suspect those same Americans who believe there is a Satan would see him at work in those choices. And it seems to me that they are not the ones who are crazy nor irrational. And the word we use to describe these motivations (prompted by Satan or some rational, secular word) needs to find these wrong (or evil, if those are the words you choose).

      By the way, what you get when you have an “open market place” of religions is what you get in America.

    11. Ginny Says:

      As usual, the ridiculously long-winded reply is mine. I keep thinking it’s “remembered personal info.”