Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Europe versus America

One of the themes in the comments on this post is Europe versus America. This is becoming commonplace. Critics of Obama's economic plan say he is attempting to Europeanise America and Blair was often attacked for trying to Americanise Europe. In large parts of America, Europe represents quasi-communism and, in large parts of Europe, America represents mad dog capitalism. The vast sums of government money that are now being paid out to keep our economies afloat have, I suppose, sharpened the imagined contrast. It's imagined for two reasons. First, Europe is even more diverse than America so to speak of a European Way in politics and economics is even more meaningless than to speak of an American Way. Of course, there are phases in political leadership but it's foolish to take these as displaying some intrinsic aspect of national character. Second, historically, what would now be seen as the European Way has been the American Way and vice versa. Nevertheless, in the heat of this moment, the idea that Europe and America are in fundamental conflict has taken hold. I don't think we should go down this road.


  1. Not least because Britain is piggy in the middle. Are we supposed to be in the West, Europe or the Anglosphere - I can never remember.

    Surprising how much some Americans hate a particular kind of imagined froggish European-ness. The hate is visceral and irrational, as with anti-Americanism.

    Also lurking in a certain American psyche is this mad idea that everyone who lives in Europe must by definition be inferior because the best of every generation emigrates to the States as soon as possible. ie. the delusion that everyone on the planet yearns to be American.

    Even as a confirmed yank-lover, which I am, I find this idea laughable. For the most part, people like being exactly what they are.

  2. The view is exaggerated by the belief on this side of the pond that the US is basically a large Bluewater shopping mall - a belief held by those who despise the US as much as by those who think they love it but whose perception of it is solely formed by a trip to Orlando.

    On the other side of the pond there are a significant chunk of Americans who believe that all Europeans have the attitudes, job security, teenage Bolshyness and perks of a French schoolteacher.

    The truth, as you point out Bryan, is considerably more diverse.


  4. By the by Bryan, I think you better go and have a word with Elberry. I think he thinks that you might be the head of Murder Inc.

  5. I disagree As a Brit and a Catholic born agnostic, I think there are marked differences. And they stem from our religious heritage if we like it or not.

    Chirac summed it up best when he said speaking for Europe which he did often, "we don't have a tradition of liberalism"

    What he was on about was Catholic Collectivism, this is the main school of political thought on the continent and its current manifestation is Corporatism.

    Yes you find Corporatism all around the world including the USA, but its not at the centre of its political culture.

    The US constitution is a Liberal document born from the religious wars here in the UK. Its born of the protestant tradition of discovering God or the right path through personal conviction rather than top down direction.

    The EU is a good exemplar of all this, its how European politics works, and has more or less always done so.

    Why does this matter? go to Italy and turn the news on, night after night of ethnic hatred. American will use immigration as a tool to re-build itself, in Europe it will the the tool of its destruction.

    As pointed out in the Bolton post, these issues are clouding Europeans judgment to take serious strategic decision in this case its bargaining with Iran its opposition to invading Iraq, Israel/Palestine Ect.

    The rise of antisemitism in Europe, segregation in Paris, Bradford, Marseilles, Rome, Malmo, Rotterdam ect.
    Europe is a powder keg slowly going off, and if eastern Europe goes down the drain in the Crunch then the Western European banking system goes down with them, as they took the Asian wall of money and lent it to the them and 60-1 plus leverage.

    The conditions in Europe frighten me, America does not, becasue at the end of the day the Americans have the better political system something we gave them,and we too must not give up.
    as we have done with the Nulabour 12 years experiment in Corporatism.

  6. I'm with Danny the Dog on this one. My brother-in-law, with a first class degree in Avionics, disliked the working culture at British Aerospace and cleared off to the States as soon as he could (and is doing very well). The pressure is intense, but he quickly became scathing about Europeans and their relatively lax working practices (and extensive holidays). In short, he's gone native. Now that China and India have become workshops of the world, we may never have things so easy for some time. Europeans have overspent with their bloated pensions and public sector, Americans with their military industrial complex. Interesting difference, which possibly explains some of the USA's contempt.

    There are differences. But we have a shared culture and most of the original immigrants were European - hence the marked Italian, Irish, German, Polish and Jewish influences in the USA. However, the yanks have overcome these differences and generally believe in their country and its values - unlike many Europeans. How many dissident muslims are there in Michigan compared to Yorkshire? I think that speaks volumes.

  7. Oh the murder/Bryan thing was a mistake, it turns out it was the demons (again).

  8. I find it increasingly hard to buy into these sweeping analyses. I used to, but everything I believe always turns out to be oversimplified and, therefore, wrong.

  9. When I think of what I don't like about Europe, Chirac is the first thing that comes to mind. He is probably responsible through his selfishness for many deaths in the M.E. and by terrorist acts elsewhere, after his insistence on giving hope to the violent opposition and prejudices against America. Not everything, and not just anything should be politicized and polarized for the sake of politicizing it, and not every point of view is equal to every other.

    But I have him pretty much isolated in France, pretty much voted in and supported by some irrationality that grows out of their history and culture, whatever that could be. And I don't mean to put France down, as all countries could be susceptible to some force that ultimately expresses a peoples' neuroses instead of their cultural health. I don't think all Europeans are like him. But, there seems to be a European bent that wants to listen to him anyway, as if he could have something to say, or maybe it's to simply give respect to the psychosocial forces of a sister country.


  10. Danny the Dog says this:

    The conditions in Europe frighten me, America does not, becasue at the end of the day the Americans have the better political system something we gave them,and we too must not give up.

    This is true to a large degree, but it is also true to a large degree that the American political system came from the American Indians, or the aboriginals, the First Nation people that were here when Europeans were first arriving, the Iroquois and many others. They were in power.

    Those aboriginal seeds ultimately lead to the success of suffrage movements. The mechanisms for caucus, consensus and inclusion, come from the First Nations here. The Capital building used to be engraved with tributes to the native Americans, and has been overlaid with tributes to Greece, as if we wanted to forget all this. But the liberation from European powers had a lot to do with living a different way, and that had at least as much to do with living under a different political system, as it did with the psychological and physical distance from across the pond.

    But, this goes back to an essential misunderstanding about what Colin Powell wanted to accomplish with getting the United Nations involved with the toppling of Hussein in Iraq. There was an attempt at inclusion, caucus, and consensus. But there had to be a "case" that the UN could hear, in order to trigger a unified world in the liberation of the Iraqi people from the Husseins. This never happened, and in a sense because, not only was Powell wrong that the UN would step into a new era of growth for itself and how it could (hypothetically) serve the world, but he was wrong that the legal case he developed was going to stick, vis a vis the weapons of mass detruction.


  11. I never heard the notion you raise, Brit, about Americans thinking Euros inferior because "the best immigrated" to the U.S. Au contraire, everyone learns in American history that the folks who came here (our ancestors) were the poor and disenfranchised of every nation. Politically, religiously oppressed, or just starving (my Irish potato-famine forbears). We got the dregs of every nation, but dregs who felt they had a chance and could make it given that chance -- freedom and hard work. That's where the American Dream was born.

    Sadly, it doesn't seem to be true for everyone anymore, but people still think it is, which is no doubt why we are, in general, a very hopeful people. With a very young attitude about life -- with all its ignorance, belligerence, and so forth (which is what you see of us Over There).

    We do have a crazy work ethic here, though, which I hate. I am much more in the Euro mode on that. I think enjoying life is more important than work. I am a very sucky capitalist.

  12. 'Dregs' is the counter-argument, Susan.

    The argument to which it is counter is that the emigrants are by definiton the ones with the necessary imagination, get-up-and-go and courage. (I have literally seen Americans describe their country as "the world's first eugenics experiment".)

    Both views are of course right, because whatever you try to say about America, the opposite is also true.

  13. One of the themes in the comments on this post is Europe versus America. This is becoming commonplace.

    It has been commonplace for decades if not two centuries.

    I don't think we should go down this road.

    Perhaps not, but we will.

    Sadly, it doesn't seem to be true for everyone anymore

    It never was, I think.

  14. Yes Brit its a generalisation, But when the shit hits the fan you find out what you are made off and what you can bring to deal with the problem.

    And this matters right now, a top down "we know best" solution will not bring Europe's new people grafted peaceably onto a 2000 year old culture.

    And the underlying cultural traits will emerge for good or ill.

    National Socialism, and communism did not come out of Asia, or the middle east or even American, the two criminal ideologies of the 20th century came out of Europe, Coincidence?

  15. Both the National-sozialistiche Deutsche Arbeiter-Partei and the Communist party grew out of a set of extreme social conditions that it is very unlikely will occur again, Although anti-Semitism is in the news again it is improbable that there has been a significant increase, it's always been there, just beneath the surface. Racial tensions exist, the fault of mindless immigration policy, they are not significant enough to unseat Europe.
    I find your use of the term fear, Danny the dog just, well, facile scaremongering really, of the type that in itself breeds social tensions.

  16. I just found George Szirtes blog yesterday, and here he blogs today on racism on both side of the pond:

    Pot shock


  17. "Yes Brit its a generalisation, But when the shit hits the fan you find out what you are made off and what you can bring to deal with the problem.

    And this matters right now, a top down "we know best" solution will not bring Europe's new people grafted peaceably onto a 2000 year old culture.

    And the underlying cultural traits will emerge for good or ill."

    Europeans aren't all the same though. France and Spain, though neighbours, are culturally so different they could be light years apart.
    Europe is massively diverse- I find Europe harder to fathom than America. And remember America is still historically very young- they haven't been fully humiliated and humbled the way most countries the world over have been.

  18. Malty, I hope you are right I will give it a 1 in 3 chance, because behind all the economic issues is a very simple thing, there are not enough resources to go round, unless of course we can come up with the goods energy wise,and even if we do its likely to be the middle of the century before anything comes on stream.

    I am fearful Malty, hands up, guilty as charged. I suspect we are heading towards a new dark ages. Sorry I am not prepared to shut up about it, my granddad was one of the first troops to reach Belsen and I grew up listening to his night terrors, and all I see from continental Europe is a sleepwalk to the past. Its only 14 years and less than 1000 miles away that such events took place in the Balkans.

    I also have 4 half Chinese children, and I notice how they and my wife are treated around the world, other than to say we dont travel through Europe too much.

    Maybe its experience that makes my language "facile"

  19. Here's one of my reasons for admiring Americans, the blokes cup is half full. Incidentally, although a pro photographer he shares his experiences on his website and is the best source of photography how to out there.

    I admire Germany more than America, the Danes, Dutch, Norwegians, and Luxembourgers. I also have a lot of time for, the Italians I drool over, I like Spaniards, bloody good parents, the Swedes are a bunch of tossers. and the French, well, the Savoyard's are soul-mates, the rest, f..ck them. I admire my own country less by the day.
    There now, them's my personal preferences based upon actual non holiday contact over many years, not some fancy theory.

    Belgians ? leave off.

    You do see the problem, don't you.

  20. Yeah but Europeans love to hate Americans so not going down this road - for rational reasons - might be asking a bit much

  21. Malty, as an engineer I love Germany and Germans, I even have a 190 Cosworth in the garage that I worship, I love working there, I even like Sauerkraut. I dont think personality comes into it at all, there is plenty of American baffons to match the rest of the world. I just not find Europe as cultural sophisticated as it claims.

    Its not the point, I was at a chamber of commerce meeting a few years ago and an old neighbour of my cousin was there, he apparently was home secretary but anyway, he talked a bit about the old days when me and my cousin used to throw stones at his window and we got onto the usual "house prices", I told him we are heading for another big boom with a bigger bang to come, he said Gorgon is brilliant, this is a new world order blah blah, and if you worry about the debt we are all building up then it will become a self fulfilling prophecy, and people are easy and educated about debt these days anyway. (sort of thing)

    I had just bought plot of land and told him I had just been to the bank to see what was on offer mortgage wise and was stuck dumb by the bounty on offer, he told me to fill my boots.

    I have the same knot in my stomach about Europe (not the people) its political culture, you see they went and got a lot of folks from other places to wipe their grannies bums, went on a big bender forgot to have kids, now they will have to go and get more people to wipe their bums, and they say worked well in America and will work here. I am not convinced.

  22. We are complex and nuanced. You are simple and homogeneous.

    The beauty is that it works for any value of "we" and "you."

    One big difference in the last 10 years is that America is much less Euro-centric than it was and Europe is, if anything, more Amero-centric than ever.

  23. Wow, you Europeans...generalize much? The only sensible comments on this thread were made by "Danny the Dog" and "Michael."

    @Brit (Comment 1): Spoken like a person who has never spent any real time in the U.S. Lemme guess....everything you know about the U.S. you've picked up from watching reruns of FRIENDS and "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air," right?

    Gawd, you make it sound as though the U.S. is on the brink of war with Europe. The "visceral" hatred that you talk about is more on the part of Europe for U.S. foreign policy. I can assure you that the average American has zero animosity and hatred, (which is a very strong word), towards Europe and its peoples. In fact there is a great deal of affection and admiration for Europe in the U.S.

    Just because some cute gal from America's heartland broke your heart doesn't mean the entire United States is harboring a "visceral hatred" toward you and your countrymen. Go down to the pub and have a pint. Time heals all wounds.