Ed Driscoll

'Where It Counts, Americans are Traditionalists'

Mark Steyn on Thanksgiving, reprinted from 2007:

Speaking as a misfit unassimilated foreigner, I think of Thanksgiving as the most American of holidays. Christmas is celebrated elsewhere, even if there are significant local variations: in Continental Europe, naughty children get left rods to be flayed with and lumps of coal; in Britain, Christmas lasts from December 22nd to mid-January and celebrates the ancient cultural traditions of massive alcohol intake and watching the telly till you pass out in a pool of your own vomit. All part of the rich diversity of our world. But Thanksgiving (excepting the premature and somewhat undernourished Canadian version) is unique to America. “What’s it about?” an Irish visitor asked me a couple of years back. “Everyone sits around giving thanks all day? Thanks for what? George bloody Bush?”

Well, Americans have a lot to be thankful for. Europeans think of this country as “the New World” in part because it has an eternal newness which is noisy and distracting. Who would ever have thought you could have ready-to-eat pizza faxed directly to your iPod? And just when you think you’re on top of the general trend of novelty, it veers off in an entirely different direction: Continentals who grew up on Hollywood movies where the guy slides over a nickel and tells the waitress “Gimme a cuppa joe” return to New York a year or two later and find the coffee now costs $5.75, takes 25 minutes and requires an agonizing choice between the cinnamon-gingerbread-persimmon latte with coxcomb sprinkles and the decaf venti pepperoni-Eurasian-milfoil macchiato. Who would have foreseen that the nation that inflicted fast food and drive-thru restaurants on the planet would then take the fastest menu item of all and turn it into a kabuki-paced performance art? What mad genius!

But Americans aren’t novelty junkies on the important things. “The New World” is one of the oldest settled constitutional democracies on earth, to a degree “the Old World” can barely comprehend. Where it counts, Americans are traditionalists. We know Eastern Europe was a totalitarian prison until the Nineties, but we forget that Mediterranean Europe (Greece, Spain, Portugal) has democratic roots going all the way back until, oh, the mid-Seventies; France and Germany’s constitutions date back barely half a century, Italy’s only to the 1940s, and Belgium’s goes back about 20 minutes, and currently it’s not clear whether even that latest rewrite remains operative. The US Constitution is not only older than France’s, Germany’s, Italy’s or Spain’s constitution, it’s older than all of them put together. Americans think of Europe as Goethe and Mozart and 12th century castles and 6th century churches, but the Continent’s governing mechanisms are no more ancient than the Partridge Family. Aside from the Anglophone democracies, most of “the west”‘s nation states have been conspicuous failures at sustaining peaceful political evolution from one generation to the next, which is why they’re so susceptible to the siren song of Big Ideas – Communism, Fascism, European Union. If you’re going to be novelty-crazed, better the zebra-mussel cappuccino than the Third Reich.

Which dovetails nicely into this item I’ve been meaning to post all week:

The Celestial Junk blog sums up the topic as “Blitzkrieg Without the Panzers;” Allahpundit at Hot Air explores the surrealism of the moment:

Via the Corner, it’s Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party catching Hannan-esque viral video lightning in a bottle by telling off the EUrocracy to its face. Your companion reading for this clip is Niall Ferguson’s op-ed in the Journal over the weekend imagining the “United States of Europe” circa 2021, after Britain has quit the Union and Germany has all but purchased the southern half of the continent. How sustainable is that scenario, though? As German hegemony over its satellites states deepens, so will resentment within those states at the loss of democratic sovereignty. What happens when, after years of backstopping the PIIGS economically and receiving nothing but resentment in return, Germany suffers a fiscal or economic crisis of its own and Germans’ resentment at having to bankroll Europe finally explodes? Greek or Italian hypernationalism is bad; German hypernationalism is a problem for the Pentagon.

As to Allahpundit’s question on German resentment at bailing out the rest of Europe, that’s a topic that Theodore Dalrymple discussed here a PJM in May of last year. For the “dek” of the article, I summed things up like this: “If for some inexplicable reason you wanted to reawaken German nationalism, how would you go about it? Theodore Dalrymple suggests a three-part strategy. And good news: current events have already set the ball rolling…”

Related: “Euro on ‘Death Watch’ After Investors Spurn German Bonds.” But then, Germany’s been an expert at euthanasia since the Weimar era.