Vice President Joe Biden, speaking in Brussels, tried to be a gracious guest and ended up reminding us how some see America: it’s exceptional only in that it thinks it’s exceptionally exceptional. He said:
As you probably know, some American politicians and American journalists refer to Washington, D.C., as the “capital of the free world.” But it seems to me that this great city, which boasts 1,000 years of history and which serves as the capital of Belgium, the home of the European Union, and the headquarters for NATO, this city has its own legitimate claim to that title.
You’re surprised he didn’t refer to Brussels in the plural, but obviously someone vetted the remarks.
Capital of the free world? That’s quite an assertion, but Joe backs it up. A thousand years of history, for example. A fine criteria. Often one finds one’s self at the border of a foreign county, wondering: how free is this place, anyway? The border guard explains: Mongolia is 4,000 years old. Well then! Must be four times more free than Brussels by the Biden Metric. It serves as the capital of Belgium. That’s something Washington can’t claim. Oh, they’d like to; every few blocks there’s a Belgian restaurant — Le Sprouterie, Henk’s Euro-Mush Shoppe — and you’ll find drugstores with signs that say BELGIAN SPOKEN HERE or those happy, unmistakably Belgian flags fluttering outside, as if a bit of that glamorous Brussels elan would rub off. But no one’s fooled. The HQ of NATO.
Try this: imagine NATO without the U.S. It would still have Great Britain, right? So it would still have the North Atlantic, and it would still be an organization with a treaty. But imagine NATO without an office building in Brussels. The mind just can’t grasp it. Oh, it would be NATO in name, but its deathless commitment to freedom would be a sham, a mockery, a travesty of a parody of a mockery of a sham. NATO without Brussels would be like a fish without a bicycle – totally unable to compete in the Tour de France.
But at least the fish could file a piscine-rights grievance with the European Union and claim that the deprivation of a bicycle violated a fundamental principle on which the EU was formed: everybody gets everything. Which brings us to criteria #4: the home of the European Union. The EU is the greatest guarantor of freedom the world has ever known, because they have grasped the essential truth of our times: only by constructing inorganic and bogglingly complex manifestations of statism, and imposing them on people who would otherwise cling to antiquarian notions like “countries” and “national cultures,” can bureaucrats be free to meddle in the lives of millions without fearing for their jobs. They have perfected stateless statism.
If you define “freedom” as something else, Brussels might disappoint. But if “freedom” means your ability to have a nice state job doing nothing, with a state-mandated Ibiza Intoxication Interlude once a year, knowing someone else will pay and someone else will defend you, Brussels is your capital, all right. But that’s a rather debased definition. In the end you have little but a paraphrased Janis Joplin song: freedom’s just another word for “city close to Bruges.”