In a post below, Ralf Goergens asks:
“The European Union is the biggest and wealthiest continous trade zone in the world…The EU is thereby spreading rule of law and democracy ever wider eastwards…why don’t I see anyone in the so-called ‘Anglosphere’ acknowledging this success story, instead of endlessly obsessing about its faults?”
I think the problem results from differing cultural perceptions as to what constitutes a significant success and what does not. The differences are especially severe between America and continental Europe.
Simplistically, Europeans believe that war is the default condition for different states or ethnic groups whereas Americans believe that the default condition is peaceful coexistence. Europeans believe that only heroic actions can stave off war. Americans believe that war represents an abnormal state triggered by a failure of some kind. Europeans are extremely proud that they have gone 60 years without a major war. Americans are wholly unimpressed by this. Most Americans are of European descent and various European-American groups don’t attack each other and we don’t understand why our cultural siblings in Europe do. American thinkers have long thought that Europe’s history of violence indicates a flaw within European culture that triggers the incessant wars.
For Americans, Europe’s peaceful period represents the same kind of accomplishment as does a 20-year-old mentally handicapped person who finally learns to tie his shoes (and no, I couldn’t think of a less insulting metaphor). Europeans speak of the last 60 years of peace as a if they had accomplished a great innovation unknown in all of human history. From the American perspective, Europe has merely finally grown up. The nascent E.U. represents a state that America reached in 1776. The best that Europe can expect for catching up is polite acknowledgment and perhaps a, “now let’s see you try it without the training wheels.”
Projecting our own cultural experiences on others is dangerous. We both need to remember that, while we share a common heritage, the experiences of America and Europe in many significant areas have diverged substantially. The relationship between ethnicity and the State is completely different in the respective continents. Europe is comprised of ethnic nation states where political and ethnic boundaries map nearly perfectly on one another. America is a post-national state where an individual’s identification with the State is dependent on ideology. Europe was saturated by militarism for hundreds of years whereas America had no significant military until WWII.
Europeans need to stop thinking of America as giant France or Germany and Americans need to stop thinking of Europe as a United States where Nevada inexplicably invades California once a generation. Americans need to acknowledge that, while we are products of largely European culture, our unique circumstances allowed us to escape the corrosive effects of ethnic conflict and runaway militarism, and that Europeans not killing each other does represent a significant accomplishment. Europeans need to remember that in many important ways they are playing catch-up to America, and that it might be more politic not to repeatedly claim to be wiser and more mature than everybody else.