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Works and Days

An Anatomy of European Nonsense

August 7th, 2011 - 9:32 pm

The West, C’est nous

There’s no deliverance in sight. One can no longer depend on politics in America. The reliance of Congress members on donations from the rich has become too great. Nor will there be any revolutionary storming of the Bastille in America. Popular anger may boil over, but the elites have succeeded in both controlling the masses and channeling their passions. Take the Tea Party, which has enjoyed godfather-like bankrolling from brothers and billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch and found a mouthpiece in Rupert Murdoch’s populist, hatred-stirring Fox News.

[I agree that money is a pollutant of politics. But in this regard it would be consistent of Mr. Augstein to deplore the electioneering conduct of Barack Obama; no one in the history of American presidential campaigns has raised more overall cash, or more from Wall Street financiers. More disturbing still, Mr. Obama was the first candidate since the establishment of public financing of presidential general elections to renounce such federal involvement —specifically to free himself to raise far more than his publicly financed opponent through special interest donations. I hope there will be no “storming of the Bastille” in the United States; over here the quite different courses of the French and American revolutions explain not only the greater prosperity of the American model, but the far greater degree of freedom, liberty, and opportunity traditionally found in America, and the usual absence of endemic envy and entrenched class warfare. The Tea Party is not the creation of either Fox News or the Koch brothers, but antedated both concerns, and is often at odds with both the conservative and Republican establishments. As is the case with Mr. Augstein’s selective angst, he is not worried about special interest influence per se, but only special interest influence from the conservative side — otherwise he would surely lament the hundreds of millions of dollars that a George Soros, for example, has given to train liberal journalists, set up political-action committees, and establish various websites and institutes to monitor his ideological adversaries. Should we have worried that the second richest man in the world, Warren Buffet, openly campaigned for Barack Obama, or that the president himself was the largest recipient of Goldman Sachs or British Petroleum donations, given the Wall Street meltdown and the Gulf oil spill?]

From a European perspective, it all looks very strange: it’s a different political culture. There are other rules at play, different standards. More and more we view America with the clear notion that we are different.

[I agree. Despite the best efforts of the Obama administration, we remain different. We do not understand the French aristocratic outrage over the arrest of Strauss-Kahn in relation to his seduction of an African immigrant maid in New York; or the French-British inspired preemptory attack on Libya, given their past protestation about oil-driven intervention, the obvious enticing oil wealth of a Gaddafi government, and previous European appeasement of his tyrannical regime; or the rise of conservative movements in Europe, which, unlike those in the U.S.that are geared toward limited government, seem to focus on matters of race and ethnicity — dangerous given that nexus was so prominent in Europe’s past. Indeed, if we were to emulate Augstein’s stereotyping, as Americans watch European bickering, financial insolvency, and elite efforts to stifle democracy, we should sigh, “Here they go again for a third time.”]

Still, America’s fate should serve as a warning: We must protect our political culture, our institutions and our state. The success of Thilo Sarrazin, with his anti-Muslim message, shows that even Germany isn’t free of the kind of cultural coldness that can eventually ossify the vital functions of the political system. Our society has already made significant and deplorable steps on the path towards growing inequality and de-democratization.

[We reach the point of caricature with the phrase “even Germany isn’t free”; most Americans might logically substitute “Germany especially isn’t free.” And given that Slobodan Milosevic butchered thousands in the heart of Europe, out of religious and ethnic hatred to the complete indifference of European governments until the United States air force intervened, lectures on European sensitivity toward race and class are again caricatures, not empirical observations.]

Nevertheless, at least one good opportunity springs from America’s fate: The further the United States distances itself from us, the more we will (have to) think for ourselves, as Europeans. The West? That’s us.

[As we say in America — “promises, promises…” Does that “distance” include rejection of U.S. military subsidies — as in the final departure of the remaining 52,000 American troops in Germany? Given the status of the EU, and what I read in the German papers about Italians and Greeks—and then again in the southern European papers about Germans -- Mr. Augstein should be thinking not of ridding America from the West, but whether the West will still include a united Europe, which is proving as undemocratic as it is unable to continue the basic premises of the welfare state. So the West indeed totters, but the general culprit — whether evidenced in the North-South divide in Europe, the rancor over borrowing an unsustainable $16 trillion in the U.S., or the dichotomy between the financial health of red- and blue-state America — is an unsustainable redistributive state.

The desire for “distance” unfortunately is not just confined to European elites like Mr. Augstein himself, but is voiced more often by a far greater numbers of Americans, who cannot quite fathom the premises of postmodern Europe, much less why in tough financial times we should be subsidizing the security of a system that won’t pay for what it thinks it requires for its own protection — is NATO still the old British formulation, as articulated by Lord Ismay, of keeping Russia out, America in, and Germany down? If the French and British military record in Libya or the German-Greek negotiations are a blueprint for a new definition of European singularity, then God help our trans-Atlantic cousins, since America will soon no longer be willing or able to.]

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