Simon Kuper, writing in the UK publication Financial Times, had an article a couple of months ago with the title “Why the US is becoming more European”…a rather smug article, in my view. He asserts that for decades, influential Americans looking at other countries used to ask “When will they become more like us?”…and argues that this has not happened, is not going to happen, and that, on the contrary, the US is becoming more like other countries…”Much of American society is Europeanizing”…and he seems to feel that this is pretty much an unalloyed good thing. The article reminded me, though, of a passage from an old science fiction story by Poul Anderson. Published in 1953, it is perhaps the first story to focus on the use of computer technology for surveillance of citizens. Here’s the passage that came to mind on reading Kuper’s article:
The intellectuals had been fretful about the Americanization of Europe, the crumbling of old culture before the mechanized barbarism of soft drinks, hard sells, enormous chrome-plated automobiles (dollar grins, the Danes had called them), chewing gum, plastics…None of them had protested the simultaneous Europeanization of America: bloated government, unlimited armament, official nosiness, censors, secret police, chauvinism…
(I reviewed and excerpted Anderson’s story, which is very interesting, several years ago: Prefiguring the Hacker…and the American Surveillance Society.) Simon Kuper, in his FT article, doesn’t raise any concerns about potential loss of American liberties..individual autonomy, freedom of expression…as a result of the projected Europeanization. Topics he does focus on are: falling population growth rates..more abandonment of religion..falling American tendency toward violence (both lower violent crime levels and less support for military actions)…moving less frequently…less interest/dependence on automobiles…and what he says is a generalized disillusion with American exceptionalism. “If you’re the only person driving down the motorway into oncoming traffic, you can either assume that you are exceptional and everyone else is wrong, or you can eventually conclude that you need to change.” (Can you see why I referred to Kuper’s article as smug?) He does admit that “some people argue that a more European US would be cease to be innovative” and admits that there may be something in that, but then goes on the assert that “the US in its previous social-democratic phase from about 1933 to 1980 remained innovative: it became the world’s first motorized society, built the atomic bomb, and landed men on the Moon”…and says “It’s doubtful whether more recent American innovations such as Facebook and Amazon increase the sum of human happiness.” America’s future, as he sees it, is to become a European-style ‘social democracy’.
The author thinks that American demographics imply that the Europeanization is rather inevitable…that “the Republican solution is to pass state laws aimed to disenfranchise Democratic voters. The US of the future can have a Trumpist Republican rule or it can have a democracy, but it probably can’t have both.” (He does not compare proposed Republican procedures for election management with those procedures in current use in Europe and other places, nor does he address the question of just how meaningful the word ‘democracy’ is when political communication and discussion is largely controlled by monopolistic and often-government-linked entities)
Kuper does make the valid point that the US has become more like Europe in some ways…and I’d also note the some influential American voices would also like us to become more like China. But there is plenty wrong with his analysis. Population growth, for example: while the US fertility rate is lower than it has been historically, it is still (IIRC) higher than any Western European country with the exception of France. And immigration has been limited more by admission constraints than by demand: Kuper might want to check out what’s been happening over the few months since his article appeared.
The silliest thing in the article is this: “If you’re the only person driving down the motorway into oncoming traffic, you can either assume that you are exceptional and everyone else is wrong, or you can eventually conclude that you need to change”…here we have the true voice of Groupthink. Traffic driving on the left or on the right is purely arbitrary and it really doesn’t matter as long as it’s consistent: evolution of national cultures, political structures, and economic strategies is something else entirely.
(An earlier version of this piece was posted at Ricochet about a week ago.)