Both in his re-election campaign and as the core principle of his presidency, Barack Obama asks America to cast off many of its traditions in favor of the European model of governance and society. This he does, astonishingly, at the very moment of that model's long-predictable crisis, collapse, bankruptcy, and devolution.
With his trademark absolute certainty, he proposes—indeed, at times commands—that we follow him over the Niagara to which his back is turned. Henry James, whose understanding was somewhat deeper, cautioned that, "It's a complex fate, being an American, & one of the responsibilities it entails is fighting against a superstitious valuation of Europe." Promiscuous endorsement of things European, inveterate in the president's academic coterie, has long been characteristic of American snobs. But is Europe worthy of imitation? As a museum of culture, it has few competitors. Europeans make better movies; their cuisine is better (except in Eastern Europe, Central Europe, Scandinavia, England, Ireland, the Low Countries, Germany, and Switzerland); and they do a better job of suppressing modern architecture, for which they are to be commended.
But in suppressing and over-engineering their economies they court national bankruptcies. Just as reckless are their efforts to ameliorate economic stagnation via the all-guzzling welfare state. Shall we create more jobs by aping Europe, which since 1990 has averaged 9.16% unemployment while ours was 5.95%? European structural unemployment is supposedly tolerable in the context of less income inequality and greater social analgesia, but although income equality may be the socialist ideal, isn't the more civilized object to provide as abundantly as possible rather than to annihilate the potential for envy? Incomes are perfectly level in the gulag, whereas in Boston and Singapore they are not.
More to the point, giant social welfare systems cannot but strangle economies the progressive failure of which they are intended to relieve. Differences within Europe itself illustrate the route out of its troubles that it may yet take just as American progressives jump into the hole it is trying to exit. France has in proportion to its working population 44% more public employees than Germany, and devotes 52.3% rather than Germany's 43.7% of GDP to public expenditure. Do the French, not to mention the Greeks, wonder by what magic Germany achieves its solvency? Remarkably like the bankrupt states of Europe, President Obama believes that the key to prosperity is to regulate, engineer, and direct the economy; to raise taxes; to augment the powers of government; to substitute collective largesse for family cohesion; to spend money that does not exist; and, to paraphrase Macbeth, to borrow, to borrow, and to borrow.
Though in America we have a problem with political polarization, in supposedly enlightened Europe this finds expression in fascism and Communism, as illustrated by the French elections of 2002, when, before the economic crisis, parties of the extreme Right and Left took just short of one vote in five. Should we emulate this, or the devolution of the United Kingdom, Spain, and Belgium? The wars in Northern Ireland and the Balkans? The burning cities of France and Greece? Lacking the balance of our federal system, the E.U. brutally overrides local preferences, and should Europe unite it will be so dirigiste and brittle a concoction it will disintegrate as surely as any empire. Shall we emulate that?
If our elites think Europe's low birth rates, family disruption, and nihilism are hip, fine, and dandy, they should read Thomas Mann's "Disorder and Early Sorrow" and contemplate the Weimar Republic. Having abandoned the Constitution, American universities now make determinations by race and sex, and embrace speech codes as in much of Europe, where, for example, Holocaust denial is a crime. Though it is a crime against the truth, it should not be a crime against the law, which could as easily prohibit acknowledgement as denial of the Holocaust. Should this be our model?
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Even with indispensable American aid, Europe took seven months to topple a lunatic at not quite the head of the small, corrupt, inexperienced Libyan army equipped with outdated weapons. Britain now has no fixed-wing aircraft carriers, only 25 principal surface combatants (half those of South Korea), and fewer than 200 tanks and 200 combat aircraft with which barely to defend itself. That it once morally despaired of self-defense was understandable in light of the pointless carnage of the Great War. But now in light of what? Fluctuating supplies of ganja? Occasional ebbs of upper-class self-flagellation?
Save those of Russia, Germany has the most powerful land forces in Europe, but only one-sixth the tanks and artillery of Iran; and no European air force except Russia's is superior to Saudi Arabia's. Such weakness, almost unimaginable only a short time ago, should not be our aspiration, although it has become so. Europe's disarmament renders it virtually unable to contribute to stability abroad (once, the power of Britain alone kept the lid on the Middle East), or to deter war even on its own ground, such as recently in the Balkans. Having cast off and failed to rebuild its powers, it is now more vulnerable than during the Cold War, and its vulnerability will only increase, stimulating the appetites of a Russia that wants above all to rebound. If this seems far-fetched, so at one time did the world-shuddering awakenings of the Wehrmacht, the Red Army, and the forces of Imperial Japan. By abdicating its role in a stable military equilibrium, Europe is not for the first time in its long and bloody history careless of tragedy and fate, and in our own disarmament we are already following suit.
In short, the president and his progressives are chasing after a specter. Characteristically repelled by the principles of the American Founding, lacking an alternative other than the European model, and with nothing else in his quiver, the president is driven by the dread of a future absent his omnipresent intervention. For if he were no longer able to direct an endlessly augmented list of actions, to suffocate fortune and chance in the infinitely growing pillow of regulation and thus settle everything into silence, to sand down every bump, straighten every drawer, comfort every cry, iron every shirt, and protect every frog, what would America come to? We would be even less like Europe, and as anyone can see, in Europe they do everything right.