All of us who can recall our childhood and have had to deal with children ourselves know the scenario. Child whines because everybody has something or other, does something or other, is going somewhere or other. Eventually, the parent, irritated beyond rationality says: “And if all those others told you to jump out of the window would you do it?”. Or words to that effect.
I thought of that again when I read Lex’s links to Megan McArdle and her extremely sensible comment about not wanting the state acquiring a bigger role in healthcare. “Nay, not even if all the other countries . . . well, all the cool countries, anyway . . . are doing it.” Clearly, I cannot intervene in the heated debate about American healthcare and the changes proposed by what seems to be known more and more widely as Obamacare. I do not live in the United States and, therefore, my knowledge is second hand, therefore, inadequate. (Though, I notice that a similar handicap with regards to Britain does not stop various people from commenting with … ahem … varying degrees of accuracy.)
However, I do know something about that argument of all the other countries … well, all the cool countries having something and, therefore, we must as well. In Britain we have had to put up with that inane argument over and over again as step by step we surrendered all that made the British legal, political and constitutional system not only different (not unique because other Anglospheric countries have developed along very similar lines) but much better.
Adversarial parliamentary democracy where debates are out in the open and subjects are, indeed, kicked about? No, no, no, must not turn health/education/name-your-subject into a political football. Look how they do it on the Continent. Well, how they do it is to make decisions behind closed doors and call it a consensus.
Adversarial legal system? Not what they have in other countries. Well, not in the cool other countries where we like going on holidays. We should have a procuratorial system, too. Don’t want to be left out of the game.
And so on, and so on. Yet the answer is so simple: our system is different from those other cool countries’ because it has grown differently over many centuries; it also happens to be considerably better. That’s it.
4 thoughts on “If the other children told you to jump out of the window …”
Continental Europe (CE), more so as distance from the ocean increases, has only a passing familiarity with freedom as the Anglosphere defines it. Europeans seem to define “freedom” in terms of “freedom from” instead of “the freedom to”. This is especially true in the case of “freedom from want”. Continental Europeans seem genuinely puzzled that those in the Anglosphere, especially Americans, would rather forego material benefits in order to preserve their freedom of choice and action.
I presume this is because most of CE has never existed in an authority vacuum and has always existed in a condition of top-down governance. The political culture of CE assumes top-down rule by an elite. All the CE political debates of the last 400 years have revolved around deciding which group of elites should rule, not whether elitist rule is itself a good thing.
Yes. Roman law was one source of this — central authority is built into it. Another was the military competition in land wars that, after ~1600, started to require large standing armies with expensive infrastructure, high taxes and large bureaucracies to collect them, and military bureaucracies to manage conscription. Countries that did this, like France and Prussia, survived and grew powerful. Countries that didn’t, and had no natural barriers to invasion, like Poland, disappeared from the map. Invasion and conquest was such a miserable experience (see Thirty Years War, etc.) that the average subject would prefer obedience to a strong state to exposure to invasion in a weak state. The smarter elites realized that the common people needed to have a certain amount of health, education, and prosperity in order to pay taxes and pass conscription physical exams. Thus, the state took a directive role in such matters. Many of the socialist and welfarist institutions and practices actually were instituted by continental “conservatives” (American conservatives, even self-described traditionalists, are liberals by continental definitions) in order to improve the military efficiency of their states. Railroads were built under state supervision or built directly by the state in order to assure their military utility. Health systems were set up after too many urban conscripts started failing their physicals. Pension systems were set up to insure the loyalty of workers to the state. The privileges of the rich and powerful were never endangered by such measures; rather they were more firmly entrenched.
England started to see some of these institutions established during Cromwell’s Protectorate, especially the New Model (i.e., Continental-style) Army. They didn’t like what they saw, and after the Restoration deliberately abolished such systems. The aversion to standing armies in the US Constitution (see the bit about well-regulated militias and free states in a certain Amendment) is another. It was only in the Twentieth Century that these things have started to creep into everyday life in the Anglosphere. The results are not uniformly impressive.
One has to wonder why Europe has ‘cool countries.’ A quick review of the last 100 years (it’s what makes them cool, isn’t it) (all dates approximate):
1914 War begins over the divine right of kings (Sweden remains neutral.)
1922 USSR opens labor camps-slavery returns to Europe
1922 Fascism in Italy
1922- EU intellectuals praise Mussolini (G.B.Shaw, H.G. Wells), Stalin (Sartre, Wells), Hitler (Heidegger)
1920s Fascist dictatorships in Hungary, Romania.
1932 USSR murders millions in Ukraine; opens death camps in Arctic and Siberia.
1933 Nazism rules Germany
Mass murder by show trials and purges in USSR
Nazi-Fascist dictatorships in Poland, Austria.
USSR conquers Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia.
Nazi Germany conquers Austria, Czechoslovakia
Nazi Germany opens labor camps-more slavery
Nazi Germany opens death camps, kills millions.
1939 USSR and Nazi Germany partition Poland; USSR murders Poles at Katyn.
1939 War begins over which variety of socialism will rule Europe, Germany’s national socialism or Russia’s international socialism; ten of millions killed. (Sweden remains neutral.)
1945 USSR conquers Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, east Germany. More labor camps, more death camps. Communists rule Yugoslavia.
1945- Vast numbers of western European voters vote for Communist parties in elections; European intellectual praise Communism and condemn the “Coca-colaization of Europe.” (Sweden joins with communists in blaming America for all the world’s ills.)
1950s – EU, replacement for both Nazism and Communism founded
1953 Last (formerly) Nazi German labor camp closes in east Germany
1950- EU intellectuals blather about socialism with a human face, denounce America, praise communism.
1989 Berlin Walls falls.
1991 USSR disintegrates; slavery abolished in Europe (at last, something good).
Europe should be cool and won’t be cool until its people can go 100 years without endorsing and murdering millions based on crazed and crackpot theories of economics and biology.
I am not sure I agree with a few of your points, Tehag. 1914 – war over divine right of kings? You what? How do you work that out?
Without wishing to defend European countries I need to point out that Russia and USSR are not precisely European. Especially not the USSR.
Horthy’s regime in Hungary was authoritarian and nationalistic but not fascist in any real sense of the word.
Much as I dislike the EU (and boy, am I on record disliking the EU), I do not think it is in any way like Nazism or Communism or a substitute for either.
That, I may add, still does not make them “cool” countries. The original comment was, as I understand it, ironic and my use of it also.
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