Who's Ugly Now?

greenspun.com : LUSENET : Unk's Troll-free Private Saloon : One Thread

Who’s ugly now? Mark Steyn argues that Americans are more compassionate and law-abiding than violent and cynical Europeans

New Hampshire

On 12 September 2001, the New Yorker’s theatre critic, John Lahr, musing on the events of the day before, wrote, ‘I do smell destabilising violence in the wings. In fear, the nation, to my mind, has always proved mean-spirited and violent.’

Mr Lahr is American but lives in London. And, among both his European neighbours and members of America’s Lahrfable tendency back home, this view was widely held. Though Rana Kabbani, writing from Paris for the Guardian, piously offered the hope that ‘the painful lesson that Americans have had to learn is not drowned out by cowboy ravings about “getting the bastards”’, it was more or less assumed that the Yanks’ crude, xenophobic, redneck instincts would quickly reveal themselves. Members of the Muslim American community, if they weren’t all rounded up, would be forced into hiding. Some feminist groups began organising a network of safe houses for Muslim women, on the assumption that ‘women of cover’ (as President Bush calls them) would soon have to go into deep cover.

Well, sure enough, the crude, xenophobic rednecks did assert themselves. But not in America — in Europe. Muslims kill thousands of Americans in America, and there’s a big anti-Muslim backlash ...in France! Oh, and also Denmark, the Netherlands, Portugal and those other provinces of the land of sophistication where explicitly Islamophobic parties are now a significant part of the political calculus. What d’you reckon Le Pen’ll get this weekend? Just his 17 per cent base? Maybe 20? And how many voters will stay home? France’s domestic intelligence agency has apparently advised the government that Le Pen will pull at least 30 per cent. That seems rather high for a chap BBC announcers, demonstrating their famous impartiality, describe as ‘virulent’. There can’t, surely, be that many French electors willing to vote for M. Le Virulent, can there? I mean, this isn’t Mississippi, is it?

For the Europhiles in the US media, the events of recent weeks are bewildering. It’s barely two months since they were reporting approvingly every snotty crack by Chris Patten and Hubert Vedrine and regretting that Washington was so out of step with Europe. But then the synagogue attacks became too frequent to ignore, and M. Le Pen whupped Jospin’s sorry ass, and frankly, if you can pick only one place to be out of step with, Europe’s an excellent choice. Like the man almost said, I do smell destabilising violence in the wings. In fear, the Continent, to my mind, has always proved mean-spirited and violent. M. Le Pen is certainly ‘mean-spirited’; the synagogue burners and kosher-butcher shooter-uppers and Jewish schoolbus stoners are certainly violent. And somehow, when Messrs Patten and Vedrine were deploring American ‘simplisme’, it never occurred to us that their idea of sophistication was a culture in which the most interesting political question is which strain of anti-Semitism — anti-Jew or anti-Arab or anti-both — is more potent.

The rise of the anti-immigrant parties in France, Belgium, et al. is supposedly due to crime. It’s true there seems to be a lot of it over there. You’re six times more likely to be mugged in London than in New York. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea has a worse crime rate than Harlem. In the Los Angeles Times, Sebastian Rotella was perplexed: ‘As crime has dropped in the United States in recent years, it has worsened in much of Europe, despite generous welfare states designed to prevent US-style inequality and social conflict.’

‘Despite’? Try ‘because of’. In December in this space, I lent my support to Mickey Kaus, the thinking conservative’s thinking liberal, who advanced the theory that welfare causes terrorism. Among the examples I cited was Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called ‘20th hijacker’, who became an Islamofascist nutter while living on welfare in London. What else is there to do all day? Go down the pub? Lie on the floor listening to Capital FM? If you’re putting in a ten-hour grease-monkey shift at Fat Dave’s Auto Body, you’re too wiped out to wipe America out. But in the fetid public housing of London, Paris, Frankfurt and Rotterdam the government will pay you to sit around the flat all day plotting world domination.

It’s a scheme worthy of a Bond villain: flood high-unemployment Europe with unassimilated low-skilled young men, whom the state is obliged to put on welfare just to keep them from rioting, and hey presto, your enemies will be funding their own downfall — ON HER MAJESTY’S SOCIAL SERVICE. Say what you like about that so-called ‘American Taleban’, John Yoko Ashram Fonda Country Joe and the Fish Walker Lindh, but at least his loopy Marin County parents put him through terrorist training school on their own nickel and not at the taxpayers’ expense. At the moment, alongside the ranks of Europe’s terrorist welfare queens, Jihad Johnny has the distinction of being the West’s only private-sector Islamabaddy.

It’s gradually beginning to dawn on US Europhiles that the Continent has done everything the American Left has wanted for years and it doesn’t seem to be working out. Thanks to Erfurt and Nanterre, you’re currently outpacing the Yanks at high-scoring gun massacres. At the last attempted US massacre, at the Appalachian School of Law in West Virginia, there was a gun-totin’ student on hand to pin down the would-be mass murderer until the cops arrived. But in Europe — ‘a gun-control utopia’, as the Los Angeles Times sees it — there’s no one to stop the corpses piling up.

Americans have gun massacres because Americans have guns — masses of them, on every bedside table, in every glove pocket. Americans have guns because, philosophically, they believe that deterring crime is the citizen’s responsibility. If you’ve a yen to steal, say, Stephen Glover’s TV set in London, you’ll probably get away with it. If you try to steal mine in New Hampshire, I’ll blow your head off. So what in London is a 50-quid robbery would be a gun death over here. I say ‘would be’ because, while Stephen is highly likely to get his TV stolen, my end of the deal will remain strictly hypothetical: the chances of an occupied property being broken into in my part of northern New England are statistically insignificant. That’s the trade-off: a slightly increased risk of gun death in exchange for a dramatically reduced rate in everything else — hot burglaries, street crime, sexual assault, fatal stabbings. It takes some considerable skill to wind up, as Europe has, with every indicator going haywire: total gun control plus rapidly increasing gun violence plus stratospheric property crime.

Whose fault is all this? Hey, that’s easy! According to Charles Pasqua, a former French interior minister, ‘There is a general climate of violence that has developed over the years and an American-style evolution of French society.’ According to Vicente Verdu, writing in El Pais last Saturday, it’s the McDonaldisation of crime. The Big Mac was invented in America, but now it’s everywhere; likewise, the Big Massacre. This is a familiar argument. When I was TV critic at the Evening Standard, I sat through innumerable gabfests at which media grandees and Labour arts spokesmen would explain that, without the BBC licence fee, we’d wind up with nothing to watch but ‘lowest common denominator American-style quiz shows and soap operas’. At that time, there were no soaps or gameshows on US network primetime but there were a ton of them on UK telly. Almost every ‘American’ nightmare the elites warn against is, in fact, an already well-established European reality: downmarket TV, xenophobic electorates, Wild West lawlessness.

Of course, the BBC licence fee does fund upmarket fare such as ...Tom Paulin, obscure poet but prominent telly personality. Though his lively interview with Egypt’s Al-Ahram was characterised as anti-Jew, it also managed to be anti-American. While he evidently has little regard for Israelis in general, he reserves especial vehemence for those ‘Brooklyn-born’ settlers on the West Bank, who ‘should be shot dead ...They are Nazis ...I feel nothing but hatred for them’. Mr Paulin will be delighted to hear that Al-Ahram’s Palestinian readers have risen to his challenge. Last Saturday, Palestinian ‘activists’ murdered four settlers, among them five-year old Danielle Shefi, who was shot in her bed in an attack that left her mother and two brothers wounded. I don’t believe Danielle was ‘Brooklyn-born’, but maybe her parents were and that’s close enough. What matters is that the little Nazi moppet was ‘shot dead’, just as Mr Paulin wants, and, in another blow to vulgar American culture, her Mickey Mouse sheets were left soaked in blood. Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine both claimed responsibility for this glorious victory, so presumably one of them’s lying, perhaps just to impress Mr Paulin. Only four gone, Tom, but it’s a start. Maybe time to give another interview?

Here’s the thing. In the days immediately after 11 September, when American Muslim women were supposedly afraid to leave the house, their neighbours took to wearing headscarves in solidarity and standing guard outside mosques. The few anti-Islamic incidents never became a widespread epidemic because the common decency of Americans quickly asserted itself. Are there any BBC viewers so offended by Tom Paulin’s incitement to murder that they’re willing to withhold that portion of the licence fee that goes to pay him? Are there any co-panellists who’ll refuse to sit there kibitzing with him? Or will he get away with it?

Here’s another suggestion, this time for any Berlin readers. The police in the German capital recently advised Jews not to go out in public wearing skullcaps or other identifying marks of their faith. Given that their predecessors were keener to mandate identifying marks — yellow stars, arm tattoos, etc. — perhaps we should look on the Berlin constabulary’s recommendations as progress. But are there any Germans minded to mimic those American women who took up the hijab in solidarity with their Muslim sisters? Perhaps you’d like to protest this rising tide of anti-Semitism by, say, wearing skullcaps in solidarity with your Jewish brothers? Don’t all raise your hands at once.

For Goran Persson, the Prime Minister of Sweden, the point of the EU is that it can be a counterbalance, a ‘moderating’ influence on those wacky Americans. But, for a moderating influence, it’s remarkably immoderate. If you look at that first round of French presidential voting, between Le Pen, the guy who broke away from Le Pen, the Trot, the other Trot and the rest of the cranks, the zany fringe candidates drew about 45 per cent of the vote. No wonder that big Chirac landslide is looking wobblier by the hour. Suppose Pat Buchanan, never mind David Duke, got Jorg Haider’s 29 per cent, or Le Pen’s 17 per cent, or the Danish People’s party’s 12 per cent. Imagine the editorials you’d get from the Continent. You know what Pat got in the 2000 presidential election? 0.42 per cent. Yet the European assumption is always that every American politician is beholden to a vast herd of snarling, knuckle-dragging Calibans: thus, Guantanamo, as the Yorkshire Post saw it, ‘must be some sort of crude appeal to redneck, hillbilly America whose voters have to be kept on board’. So Olivier Duhamel, a socialist MEP, says the problem with French politics is that ‘we’ve gone back to a degenerate democracy of the kind you find in the United States, Austria or Italy.’ Au contraire, the very real ‘destabilising violence in the wings’ is distinctively European. By constraining ‘respectable’ politics to an ever narrower spectrum — the left-of-right-of-left-of-centre Jospin versus the right-of-left-of-right-of-left-of-centre Chirac — the Euro-elites freed up their electorates to frolic on wilder shores, like M. Le Pen’s National Front. In the land of the bland, the one-eyed man is king.

About a year ago, I wrote a column about the Euro-elite for the Wall Street Journal hailing the age of the ‘ugly European’. Back then, the ugliness was strictly rhetorical — the smugness of the Pattens and the Perssons. But in the course of 12 months the ugliness has gotten a lot uglier. Muslims killed thousands of Americans, but America doesn’t have anti-Muslim political parties — just a goofy President who hosts a month of Ramadan knees-ups at the White House and enjoins schoolkids to get an Islamic penpal. America has millions of Muslims, but they don’t firebomb synagogues and beat up Jews, and, if they did, the police wouldn’t turn a blind eye. Meanwhile, France has a presidential candidate who makes oven jokes, a foreign minister who believes in the international Jewish conspiracy, and a number-one bestseller which claims the plane that crashed into the Pentagon never existed. But look on the bright side: Europe may be ‘mean-spirited and violent’, but at least it’s not American.

-- Uncle Deedah (unkeeD@yahoo.com), May 03, 2002



-- Uncle Deedah (unkeeD@yahoo.com), May 03, 2002.

"but at least it's not American."

And never will be. If it wern't for the cathedrals and old books that bespoke of better than they are noone would ever know they'd been around.

-- Carlos (riffraff@cybertime.net), May 03, 2002.

"Steyn"? Isn't that an anglicized Jewboy name? Kill the fascist hymies!

-- (Steyn@kissing Dumbya's.dumb repug ass), May 05, 2002.


For alittle more of the "us vs. them' thinking here is an interesting read from Prospect magazine.

BTW - I do think Americans are a beautiful people!

Are Europe and America drifting apart?

May 2002


8th April 2002

Dear Tim

Britain is a European country with European values. Its home is in the European Union-the most successful political and economic institution in the world. The enormous concentrations of private power set in train by globalisation are triggering an accompanying imperative to create global public goods-from policing the environment to ensuring trustworthy accounting standards. For these tasks a multilateral institution like the EU is a precious asset.

Our obligation is to uphold and deepen the EU, to entrench European values at the same time as deploying the EU's power to underwrite a liberal global order. These goals are jeopardised by a US where the 30-year rise of conservatism has left it more philosophically, culturally and politically detached from the mainstream western tradition than ever. Indeed, until American liberalism reasserts itself, the EU will have to do what the US is no longer willing or capable of doing.

These are big claims, and profoundly controversial in Britain where even the pro-Europeans in New Labour are cautious about asserting our Europeanness. The fact that Blair is the most pro-European prime minister the British political system could throw up is a tribute to the British political class's suspicion of Europe-although, given the chance, I believe the British people would recognise they have more in common with their fellow Europeans than the consensus admits.

For a start, the British, like other Europeans, are profoundly committed to the idea of a social contract. The NHS, universal education, the treatment of the old and the provision of social housing are British expressions of a European set of values-the idea that society must sustain social institutions that underwrite individual risk and give every citizen an opportunity. These values have different manifestations around Europe but everywhere they seek broadly the same outcomes. Even Europe's attitude to prisoner rehabilitation is part of the same approach.

The American conservative tradition is wholly opposed to the entire social contract conception, which it characterises as threatening liberty, undermining self-reliance and leading to coercive taxation. It has successfully resisted attempts to build an American social contract and, over the last 30 years, has scaled back what little existed. Thus the US has incomplete health coverage, offers very little vocational training, has scant social housing, has virtually abandoned rehabilitation in its prison system and only offers highly conditional support for those on low incomes. As a result, its social performance is much worse than Europe. Exit rates from poverty are low; male life expectancy is lower; and social mobility is weak, despite extravagant claims to the contrary. Yet Europeans, lacking in self-confidence about their beliefs, have begun to accept the barrage of American conservative propaganda that their social contract should be dismantled and rebuilt around American lines.

The British-again like the rest of Europe-have a better-developed idea of the public domain than Americans. Whether in public service broadcasting or the commitment to ensuring that the results of scientific inquiry are publicly available, the European view- descended from the Enlightenment-is that a vigorous public realm is fundamental to the good society. And even though European democracies have their share of financial scandal and skulduggery, none of them are as subservient to money as America.

Equally, Britain shares the European view-influenced by the same experience of feudalism, the medieval church and the rise of socialism-that the propertied have obligations to society. The conservative American idea that property holders have a sacred right to hold their property autonomously, and that any claim on them is an infringement of liberty, finds no echo in Europe. Of course, Britain does not have the well-developed panoply of social partnership between workforce and business that exists in Europe, and has a dominant stock exchange along US lines-but it is still possible to discern the same attitudes. The British object to excessive executive pay, think companies should earn their right to trade by behaving ethically, impose planning restrictions on how they use their land and regulate them extensively. Two decades of propaganda for the American economic model has made surprisingly little progress at the level of core values. Moreover, the European approach to enterprise, in which organisations are seen as collective endeavours, has been devastatingly if quietly effective-European productivity has caught up sharply with the US in the past 30 years.

My contention is that much more connects Europe than divides it; that it is much more successful on key economic and social indicators than is widely recognised; and that Britain subscribes to the same set of values. So where does this leave the relationship between Europe and America? Is the gulf now unbridgeable? A lot depends upon whether liberal America can reassert itself: if it could, then the relationship would be incomparably healthier, and the future of global multilateral institutions more assured. Even without it these two most important building blocks of the west share much in common- they are committed to democracy, the rule of law and the market economy. But with conservatism remaining the dominant influence in the US, we have to accept our interests and values are likely to diverge more, not less, over the coming decades. Both sides need to prepare themselves for this and learn to live with it. It need not be a disaster. Indeed, for Europe it will be a liberation of a kind-a chance to affirm what it is, what it stands for and what its future global role should be.



11th April 2002

Dear Will

Britain is a European country and should be fully engaged in the EU, working to build a liberal order for the whole of Europe. You will not be surprised that I agree with you there. Let me proceed to where I disagree.

You argue that Europe, and Britain with it, should define itself against America. We should then "deploy the EU's power" to underwrite a liberal international order capable of delivering global public goods. It will be a very bad day for Europe, and particularly Britain, if we take our lead from the traditional French left and choose America as Europe's defining Other. I don't think such a definition of Europe against America bears scrutiny. I don't think it will wash with our own people, who have America in their heads and sometimes in their hearts. Anyway, the only realistic prospect for developing the liberal global order you and I both desire is if Europe and the US work together to build it-as Harvard's Joseph Nye argues in his new book, The Paradox of American Power. Even taking the most optimistic view of European developments, "the EU's power" will not be enough. Isn't it obvious that to build a liberal global order we need the power of the US as well?

Actually, both in your letter and in your new book you float around between two different views. The first is that US conservatives, who you suggest dominate American economic, social and political life, have departed the western mainstream for a wild western terrain of unbridled libertarian individualism, which makes Margaret Thatcher look like a mild-mannered social democrat. The second, is that there are two fundamentally different models of democratic capitalism, the European and the American; that the European is better; and that Britain, which has more in common with the European one anyway, should throw in its lot with the European model against the American.

But these are two different arguments. If American liberals coming back to power would redress the balance, as you suggest at the end of your letter, then your second argument must be wrong. A tank does not become a hydrofoil simply because the driver changes. I think there is a good deal of truth in your characterisation of the American right. Listening to Steve Forbes last year argue here at Stanford (where I am writing this letter) that essentially all taxes are bad, I did feel myself to be in a different world. However, I don't think the right is as dominant as you make out-after all, for eight years until 2001, America was presided over by Bill Clinton, who, however much he trimmed, surely still qualifies as a liberal. I also think you caricature some aspects of American conservatism. For example, you say they think the propertied have no social obligations, but America has much more private charitable giving than Europe does.

My real quarrel, though, is with your second argument. I think it is wrong to suggest that there are quite separate and distinct European and American models of democratic capitalism. If we think of a Venn diagram, you picture European and American circles that have only a small intersection. But the reality is two circles, of which the largest part is the intersection. To the right, there is a banana- shaped area of American exceptionalism. To the left, there is a banana-shaped area of what Europeans have in common with each other, but not with Americans. Most of it, however, is overlap.

I favour a stronger European identity. But one problem is that it is very difficult to identify a discrete set of distinctively European values, which are not shared by most Americans, Canadians, Australians and so on. (The separateness even of "western values" has been disputed by, among others, Amartya Sen.) Perhaps in your next letter you would like to send me a short list of what you consider to be the "European values" not shared by other liberal democracies of the English-speaking world?

Moreover, you understate the extraordinary diversity of models and customs within geographical Europe. Do you really think the life of, say, a lawyer in London has more in common with that of a lawyer in Minsk than it does with that of a lawyer in New York or Melbourne?

I agree that Britain has long suffered illusions about its political special relationship with the US, and risks doing so again with the Blair-Bush love-in. But it seems to me impossible to deny that Britain does have a cultural and historical special relationship with the US, as also with the English-speaking peoples of Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Oversimplifying, one could say that all four countries started life as new versions of England. What we have in common, from language, law and parliamentary tradition to education and culture, is very rich and still very much alive. Certainly many people in Britain feel this way. Britain is the Janus of Europe, with one face looking to the continent and the other across the seas. To ask the British to choose Europe against America is to ask Janus to cut off one face.

So, in this respect, Blair's instincts are right. To encourage Europe to define itself against America would be bad for Britain. It would be bad for Europe. And it would be bad for the world. The only realistic chance we have of building that liberal global order you and I both want is to bring the US and Europe as close as possible together to work towards it. What you call a "liberation" for Europe would be a curse, condemning that endeavour to certain failure.



13th April 2002

Dear Tim

You have not engaged with my central point and one of the great truths of the last 30 years-the rise in the US of a very particular conservatism. At least you agree-witness your Forbes anecdote-that the American right do belong in a different world. A conservatism that stresses individualism, the sanctity of property rights and the need unilaterally to assert American power and interests now dominates the US; liberalism is a much reduced creed. Clinton was a liberal, but his achievement was to slow the pace of American conservatism's advance rather than establish a liberal programme-he called himself an Eisenhower Republican. His early ambitions to extend healthcare and training opportunities to every American were eviscerated; his legislative successes-scaling back welfare, hardening criminal justice, scrapping banking regulation-were where he made common cause with the conservatives. As for foreign policy, Joseph Nye represents, I fear, a generation that is passing. Your Venn diagram depiction of the relationship between US and European values describes the way things were from the New Deal to the 1970s. But the world has changed and it has changed the dynamics of how we can sustain a liberal world order.

You talk about a London lawyer having more in common with peers in Melbourne and New York than Minsk (why not Munich or Marseilles?). But in areas of employment or administrative law, say, European lawyers do share values and legal conventions (a number of London- based law firms are built on this reality) and an interesting fusion of European codes and English common law is under way (as an article by David Robertson in the February Prospect argued).

Think more broadly. I would claim the same shared European distinctiveness for, say, trade union officials, public service broadcasters, church leaders, prison governors and many, many more. I would also argue that the countries that you describe as versions of England-Canada, New Zealand and Australia-are closer to us Europeans than to where American conservatism has carried the US centre of gravity.

I am not asking the British to give up their affection for America- any more than I expect the French, German and Italians to, for America looms nearly as large in their countries. However, globalisation combined with US conservative propaganda is laying siege to important European values and institutions which underpin the varieties of our distinctive model. I want to be more clearheaded about its advantages-and as clearheaded as any American conservative that power has to be exercised in its protection.

I set out what I believed Europe held in common and distinct from conservative America in my first letter-a belief in the social contract, just capitalism, the public realm, equity and qualified property rights (more in Chapter 2 of my book The World We're In). American charitable giving does not spring from the same values that underpin the social contract; one is an individualistic act of conscience which is believed not to corrupt the receiver into sustained dependence, the other is a social compact in which a degree of individual autonomy is surrendered to achieve a greater social good.

How do we proceed politically? The EU must now assert common European values, and act to underpin a liberal global order-proceeding without America in areas as disparate as the International Criminal Court or the Kyoto climate accords, instances which are likely to multiply in future. This requires an important rebalancing of Britain's foreign policy. Britain's capacity to side with two increasingly incompatible blocs simultaneously is becoming untenable-not just over Bush's steel tariffs, the conservative US attitude to Iraq and Israel, but over issues like the role of international law and the damaging effect of US-style capital markets. Joseph Nye's tradition may one day have real influence again in the US, but until then we must look to the EU, for all its frailties, as the political grouping with the global clout to uphold the values and institutions in which we both believe.

All the best


14th April 2002

Dear Will

I read your reply flying back from San Francisco overnight, surrounded by Europeans and Americans united by the discomfort of World Traveller class. The experience strengthened my conviction that we have more in common than you maintain! “There are,” you write of the US and Europe in the introduction to your book, “two enormous power blocs with different visions of how the market economy and society should be run and with different conceptions of how the great global public goods—peace, trade, aid, health, the environment and security—can be achieved.”

This is too simple. The truth is that neither of these two (unequal) power blocs has a single, coherent vision, either at home or abroad. Rather, there is an extended family of western liberal democracies, embracing the US and most of Europe, but also countries like Canada and Australia, each of which is involved in an ongoing debate. The US is, as it were, a big, fat uncle with his own very special ways, but still recognisably part of the same family. Within this extended family there is a closer family called Europe, but one of its hallmarks is its diversity. Britain is obviously part of the European family, but does have a culturally and historically special relationship with the US. There are also interesting cousins, whose lifestyle is somewhere in between—Canada, Australia and New Zealand. And there are more distant, but still important cousins, in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

You make one of my points for me when you say that Canada, New Zealand and Australia “are more fundamentally European” than America as it is now. Exactly—there’s a continuum. You make another when you query my mention of Minsk. Exactly—your “Europe” is only western Europe. Even within the EU, the range of social and economic models, and values, is large—contrast, say, Britain and Greece. In an EU of 25 member states, it will be even larger. Belarus is in Europe. But New Zealand is probably more “European” in your definition than Belarus.

Your list of values shared by Europe but not America runs “a belief in the social contract, just capitalism, the public realm, equity and qualified property rights.” So Americans believe in unjust capitalism? And not in “equity”? Says Britain, with its monarchy, House of Lords and established church, to the country whose declaration of independence proclaimed “that all men are created equal”? A promise often honoured in the breach, to be sure, yet I notice the son of poor immigrants from Jamaica now travelling round the middle east as US secretary of state. And no one in Europe has articulated a broad liberal definition of rights better than American philosophers such as Rawls, Dworkin and Walzer. Against your rather short list of distinctively European values, let me suggest a longer one, by no means exhaustive, of values we share: liberty, tolerance, human rights, human dignity, pluralism, limited government, free but regulated markets, democracy, the rule of law, civil society and at least some notions of civic and social responsibility.

There are, you rightly argue, many good things most strongly developed in Europe and many bad things about contemporary America (money distorting the political process, the death sentence, gun laws, terrible prisons, inner city ghettos). But there are also some the other way round. For example, Britain shares with America a civic definition of nationality much more rarely found on the continent of Europe. The idea of black or Asian Americans or Britons causes no one to stumble, but try “black German” or “Asian German” and watch the double-take.

What worries me most about your argument is its pessimism, even fatalism, about the prospects for American liberalism and multilateralism. You see Joseph Nye as the ghost of America past, and Irwin Stelzer as the ghost of America to come. But perhaps it’s the other way round? Yes, the Bush administration started with a tendency to hair-raising unilateralism. But it became less so after 11th September.

Yes, there was a ghastly moment this March when the US seemed about to attack Iraq, while backing Sharon’s war against Arafat. But now Powell is shuttling around like any old multilateralist of the Harvard school.

We need, in our own vital interest, to engage fully with the US to encourage every step in this direction, rather than revelling in the illusory “liberation” of widening difference. It is dangerous for America to be left alone as the world’s only hyperpower. So we need to strengthen Europe fast, as a counterweight and credible partner— here we agree. I made that argument in the New York Times recently. And guess what? Lots of Americans, even some of those conservatives, agreed.

We certainly shouldn’t overestimate our influence, but British writers, like British diplomats and politicians, do have some special opportunities—and special reasons—for working to ensure that a stronger Europe does not mean a more anti-American Europe and a more anti-European America. Yes, Europe can and should be the world pace- setter in areas such as free trade, development, environmental protection and the International Criminal Court. But at every stage we must want to bring the US on board, because—I repeat the obvious— no liberal global order can be built without it.



15th April 2002

Dear Tim

As you say, we need to strengthen Europe fast, both as a counterweight and credible partner to the US. You have also agreed that the American right belongs in another world, even as you insist that we are all part of the same happy continuum of liberal values. But I see more discontinuity than you do between American conservatism and the mainstream of western values: I believe this conservatism is powerfully in the ascendant in the US-and very entrenched. Of course Rawls is a great liberal thinker-but he has made little impact in his own country. And don't get too starry-eyed over the US constitution's commitment to equality; it conspicuously omitted blacks.

In any case my position should not be characterised as pitching Europe against America. We will make no progress in building the world we both want without the US. But I believe that we should engage from a European base with an articulate view of our own values and goals. You, on the other hand, are so busy identifying trees- complexities, continuums and mosaics-that you lose sight of the wood.



16th April 2002

Dear Will

I may have felt, listening to Steve Forbes decrying all taxes, that I was in a different world, but I don't agree with you that American conservatism is something right outside the mainstream of western values. That mainstream is very broad, and don't forget that the European right has some pretty far-out parts too.

There is a vital difference between a nuanced analysis and a hazy one. Far from failing to see the wood for the trees, I am pointing out the true shape of the wood. You argue that there are two separate and distinct value woods-Europe and America. I don't think that case is sustainable. And I don't think I need to believe that in order to argue for what we both believe in: a stronger Europe.

My big concern is this. The identities of political communities are most often defined against some Other: Britain against France in the 18th and 19th centuries, Poland against Russia and Germany, and so on. Europe historically defined itself against the Arab-Islamic world and against Asia; then, after 1945, against its own disastrous past and against the Soviet threat. Now the old Others have gone or faded, and the biggest temptation for Europe is to define itself against America. I think that would be disastrous, for the reasons that I've spelled out. And I fear that your current argument will contribute to the temptation, even if you don't succumb to it yourself. I want a Europe that defines itself not by who it is against but by what it is for.



-- Debra (Thisis@it.com), May 05, 2002.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ