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.
18 thoughts on “Acknowledging the E.U.”
“…a state that America reached in 1776.”
1865 is probably a better date.
An interesting take on the issue from Canadian David Frum:
Eutopia Is Dead. What Now?
WRT: “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.”
I think it is telling that with the exception of the the War of 1812 and the Spanish-American war, Americans have always entered a war reluctantly and with some reservation. We have been willing to use force when we feel we must, but, despite the left’s refrain of “rush to war,” have rarely, if ever, leapt to join the fray. We have generally been dragged kicking and screaming into. Now, when we do go to war, we tend to go completely to war and mobilize faster and stronger than any other modern country, but we still do so with the goal of doing it well, doing it fast and getting it over with “over there.”
Europeans on the other hand have historically been quite eager to engage their neighbors in a tussle, diplomacy be damned. In fact, if you were to ask a certain A. Hitler, diplomacy was a great way to get your enemy to look behind him while you stabbed him in the back. That being the case, it is indeed a grand accomplishment that they didn’t squabble amongst themselves after destroying half their continent in the last go-round and while they huddled under the American Defense Umbrella for the duration of the Cold War as Mother Russia was breathing down their collective necks.
Congrats to Europe for not getting us all killed for a while. On the other hand, sometimes doing nothing but talk can make your back a prime target for your “diplomatic partner’s” knife.
Lex, 1776 is probably a better date if you consider the Muslims as a major problem the Europeans invited upon themselves for economic reasons and will ultimatley have to be deal with in a fashion likely to be unpleasant in some respect.
The discussions about the EU on these pages (like a lot of other current discussions about the EU in the American blogosphere) are at too abstract a level. The most salient fact is that the EU/EC has for 30 years introduced an insane amount of regulation into Europe that has hindered business, entrenched corporatism, and even destroyed the livelihoods of many small businesses simply by pricing them out of the market for no good reason, while providing little of benefit and trying to sneak a superstate in by the backdoor.
That’s why we’re not particularly interested in whether the EU is like the US in 1776 or whatever. We’re just trying to stop the appalling European political class from forcing themselves and their stultifying bureaucracy on us. The sooner the American blogosphere wakes up and realizes what is happening and helps the better.
Put this way — how would you feel if all the State Department and Havard and Yale types got together and decided that America, Canada, Mexico, Cuba and half the countries in Central America were going to be gradually but forcibly merged into one giant superstate to be ruled over by them but without any meaningful elections and with a Constitution that made social justice, equality, environmentalism, etc. the law?
The discussions about the EU on these pages (like a lot of other current discussions about the EU in the American blogosphere) are at too abstract a level.
You must be missing my posts on the subject.
The sooner the American blogosphere wakes up and realizes what is happening and helps the better.
Let’s assume that we agree with your analysis, not only of the problem but also that the American blogosphere exerts enough influence to actually get something done. What would you have us do? Lobby the US government to invade Europe once again?
Remember all of that anti-American sentiment from Europe that fuels so many of our posts. The members of the EU are not about to listen to anything we have to say.
If you think that we should oppose the EU, we generally do already. Despite your claim that we are “too abstract”, we have very solid and practical reasons for doing so. Some of these reasons are even shared between us.
So you want us to be more realistic and practical. Good! Please explain in concrete terms what role a bunch of American bloggers can assume in opposing the formation of the EU when they can’t vote in any of the elections, have any say in the drafting of any legislation, and aren’t citizens of any country or government that is a part of it.
I think if we treat European nations as individuals then by simple relativity we undermine the EU. The converse is also obviously true.
When Poland doesn’t have to beg Brussels to sell us plumbing supplies we will have defeated the EU, for better or worse.
As to whether we’re already doing that or not, I keep reading conflicting reports, those on the right saying, “Bush is an idiot for going through the EU system instead of dealing with nations as individuals,” and on the left saying, “Bush is an idiot for antagonizing the EU by dealing with individual nations,” so I have no idea which is the case, just the vague notion that Bush has to put up with a lot of crap either way.
My own view is that a good EU would be great, whereas a lousy EU wouldn’t make things much worse than they already are. However, since the odds of a “good EU” seem about as long as the odds of a “good UN” I don’t much care either way.
@ Lex: 1865, I was going to say the exact same thing, but you beat me to it. We fought a brutal war to define our moral, cultural, and national identity, and we would be a different people in a different nation had the Civil War never happened.
Reinforcing aside: I think this is from Jay Winik’s April 1865 (but am not sure). Before the Civil War: “The United States are”; after: “The United States is.” Still, there was an American character long before and assimilation is emphasized by Franklin & Paine.
Our solution to fratricide has been a very strong devotion to the constitution. I give two examples of the absence of constitutional rule, the the Pennamite and Civil Wars, the latter killing roughly 2% of the US population, certainly enough to give us as strong a devotion the our written constitution as Europeans are to secular rule.
In this post I was primarily concerned with the differences between the US and Canada, but I think that some of the same reasoning applies to this debate.
The United States in 1776 is more analogous to the current European Union than the U.S. after 1865. Like the EU, the United States thought of themselves as a federation of sovereign entities. Had they used modern nomenclature, they would have called the new country The United Nations of America instead. The Federal government existed only as a thin shell on top of the state governments and as Ginny pointed out above the phrase “United States” was a plural not a singular indicating it was a collection of entities. Not until after the civil war did people begin to think of the states as subunits of the Federal government instead of the Federal government as a epiphenomenon of the states.
Frankly, I think that Europe could profit by studying the challenges faced by the young America. The American experience of forming a new nation out of existing sovereign states is really the only historical analog to Europe’s current challenges.
James R. Rummel wrote:
>You must be missing my posts on the subject.
I haven’t read yours, James, no. If you have any you think I might want to read, let me know.
>Let’s assume that we agree with your analysis, not only of the problem but also that the American blogosphere exerts enough influence to actually get something done. What would you have us do?
Just draw attention to what is really going on, so that the support for the EU diminishes in America. It really doesn’t help to have visiting Ameicans like Condi taking it for granted that the EU is a good thing. (Of course, criticism from Americans isn’t necessarily going to have the desired effect — it might make Europeans more keen on the EU — but it’s that unquestioning acceptance that *of course* this is the right way to go that is so harmful).
>Remember all of that anti-American sentiment from Europe that fuels so many of our posts.
Yes, often from the same sort of people who want to use the EU to help knock America off its pedestal.
>If you think that we should oppose the EU, we generally do already.
Some of you do, yes, but a lot of you don’t. Even on these pages your colleague Ralf Goergens is pretty much a Europhile.
>So you want us to be more realistic and practical. Good! Please explain in concrete terms what role a bunch of American bloggers can assume in opposing the formation of the EU when they can’t vote in any of the elections, have any say in the drafting of any legislation, and aren’t citizens of any country or government that is a part of it.
All of a sudden the blogosphere gets all coy about its power? C’mon! Get the arguments and analysis out there. That helps.
Ralf understandably has a hard time seeing the Anglosphere perspective. The Continental states are going from a dirigiste economy at a national scale to a dirigiste economy at a continental scale. These economies have become somewhat more privatized and liberalized. This has naturally increased the economic efficiency of these economies to some degree, although not enough to make any serious improvements in their unemployment situation or obligations-to-assets ratios. Britain and Ireland, however, have seen the sum total of intervention substantially increase, usually in a perverse and pointless manner. Half of America’s economic stake in Europe is in these two countries, and any degredation of them by increased regulation is a direct detriment to us. Meanwhile Continental bureaucrats have continued to stonewall entry of British companies and products into European markets (and my wife used to be a marketing manager for a UK company and the ways in which French bureaucrats can prevent something they don’t like are truly astounding. Meanwhile most Europeans don’t realize that America has nothing like the “single market” product standards they have been told are needed for a single market — most American product standardization is done by voluntary adoption by industry groups, and much of that includes Canada as well, without any supernational mandatory standards process. Just as it has been NATO, not the EU, that has kept the continent peaceful, it has been the GATT/WTO processes that have lowered trade barriers worldwide. Had the EEC never been formed, but the GATT process gone on (as it would have, given that the US was its major engine) intra-European trade would have been almost as strong by now as with it — the EU advantage is only that last 3% tariff permitted under WTO. And outward-looking trading nations like the Netehralnds and the UK would have probably done better without the EU’s barriers against favorable free-trade deals they could have been cutting with outside trading partners. Certainly the Uk would have had a free-trade agreement with the US long ago had it not been for the EU.
Just for the sake of argument I would compare the current EU situation with the US situation of 1787 – trying to put together a workable union.
In US terms we’ve been at something similar to what they wish to achieve since mid-1788 when 11 of 13 (nine was the requirement for union) states had ratified the constitution.
The difficulties between declaring independence in 1776 and the union of 1788 merely demonstrates the difficulties inherent in any such project. This is still what the Euros are going through. Interestingly, the proposed EU constitution is far more a treaty than a document defining the structure by which the union will be governed. In that sense it is much closer to the US Articles of Confederation than to our current constitution. It doesn’t say much for either the intelligence and abilities of the EUrocrats that they needed such an enourmous document (get to the freakin’ point already, willya!). If the current treaty were ever ratified I would expect it to ultimately fail and need to be replaced. Times and situations change and, therefore, treaties are necessarily temporary things.
The bloody unpleasantness of the Civil War period demonstrates how difficult it is to keep any union together (see Union, Soviet Socialist Republic of). The fact that the US union is, in many ways, fundamentally different than the pre-war union is an artifact of the union itself (and difficulties inherent therein) rather than any birth date for anything.
Even on these pages your colleague Ralf Goergens is pretty much a Europhile.
I notice that the rest of the Boyz (including myself) disagree with Ralf on just about every point.
Besides, if you want a uniform set of opinions where dissent isn’t tolerated, then you shouldn’t be looking for it here.
All of a sudden the blogosphere gets all coy about its power?
If I’m so powerful then why isn’t someone paying me for doing this?
It is very valuable to have Ralf’s insight here. The people on this blog disagree on any number of things. We all agree, I think, on the critical importance of freedom as a primary political and personal value. How we interpret that and what we think needs to be done politically or otherwise to achieve it is another matter.
As to being a Europhile, I am happy to be a Europhile. I don’t much like Chirac, or the Brussels government, or Villepin, or Schroeder. But Europe is much, much more than that. If Europe lived up to what is best in its heritage the world would be a much better place. And I hope that will happen. As I said in this post, I want Europe to wake up. It may yet do so. The NON and the NEE may have been the first stirrings.
Shannon, I was stunned at the crudity of tone:
“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.””
These European retards: are we referring to rank and file citizens, their democratically elected governments, or nation states as abstract entities?
We can characterize these retards as untermenschen–no?
I just can’t understand why other people might view Americans as arrogant.
I didn’t call Europeans retarded I wrote that the Americans response to the Europeans pride in not killing each other recently was analogous to that of someone applauding a mentally challenged individual accomplishment of a what is a trivial task for a normal person.
Americans consider it normal and trivial for various European ethnic groups to live peaceably with one another. The fact that Europeans have accomplished the same thing in recent decades is praiseworthy but it is also a little sad and pathetic.
It seems sad and pathetic because Americans believe ourselves much more culturally similar to Europeans in this regard than we really are. The relationship between ethnicity and the state is completely different in Europe. The degree of historical militarism is much greater in Europe. Until recently, Europe saw very little immigration, etc. Once we stop and think about it, we realize that something that comes easy to Americans is actually very hard for Europeans because their history and culture are in fact substantially different.
Europeans make a similar mistake in believing that their experience represent human universals when in fact they are largely unique to Europe itself. The nation state i.e. a political entity whose people are all of one ethnic group is the exception, not the rule in human affairs. American is not a nation state and neither are the vast majority of other countries in the world. Most countries in the world have no concept of “blood and soil” and individual countries are relative abstractions compared to the European concept of nationhood. The ethnic passions that led to so much bloodshed in Europe really don’t affect the rest of the world,especially America, yet Europeans constantly argue as if they do.
The entire gist of my post was that neither Americans nor Europeans give the other sufficient credit for what they have accomplished.
That’s much clearer to me now.
I wonder how much of our internal peace is the result of the gift of our nation’s physical vastness. Race and religion may catch up with us yet. And there is that idea of a long wall on our southern border …
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