For some of the leading members of the Democratic Party, the Europeans have it right, and we in America ought to learn a lesson or two from the Germans, French, Scandinavians, Dutch and the other West Europeans that make up the European Union.
In an interview with Brian Lamb on C-SPAN Booknotes program following the publication of Hilary Clinton’s book It Takes a Village Clinton stated: “I am a fan of a lot of the social policies you find in Europe, and I know that they, too, are going through a rethinking about how to afford some of their policies. But in my conversations with people like Chancellor Kohl or President Chirac, they are not talking about cutting back on their support for families…That’s because they see raising children as a social obligation, not just a parental obligation…”
Perhaps the best way to distinguish between the American and European systems is to take note of their different perceptions of the future. Americans by and large are optimistic about the future, and believe that their children and grandchildren will have a better future. The Europeans on the other hand have a fatalistic/hedonistic view of the future that might be summed up, as “Live for today because tomorrow we’ll all be dead.” When facing the Soviet threat during the Cold War, the Europeans cavalierly said “Better be Red than Dead.” Today it appears that many Europeans are resigning themselves to be, “Rather Green (Islamic) than Dead.” It is a self-fulfilling wish since the Europeans are not having enough children and grandchildren to insure their future replacement.
The origin of these attitudes can be traced to the social, economic and political developments on the Continent on one hand, and the legacy of the pilgrims, who came to America in search of freedom, individualism, and God, on the other hand. Europe began to lose its faith in Christianity and God following the French Revolution. The impetus for which was found in the writings of Voltaire, the French Enlightenment essayist, deist and philosopher.
Voltaire (1694-1778) rejected organized religion and believed in reason and the natural order. He distrusted democracy, which he considered as a way to propagate the “idiocy of the masses.” He believed instead that an enlightened monarch or an absolutist ruler, advised by philosophers like him, should rule over people.
Europe it seems, has bought into Voltaire’s reasoning, and although the Europeans have accepted democracy, they have replaced the notion of the Voltaire’s “absolutist ruler” with the rule of the (welfare) State, and substituted “fundamentalist secularism” for Christianity and God.
Today’s Europe is faced with a double-crisis. The welfare system is going broke, and its moral and legal order is falling apart. At the same time, the Continent is going through a terminal case of demographic decline. This decline is occurring while the influence of radical Islam is dramatically increasing due to massive Muslim immigration from North Africa and the Middle East, and their exceedingly high birthrates.
After almost a century of reign by the welfare state, Europeans have grown totally dependent on the state, and lost their ability to take their destiny in their own hands. The nation states of Europe are simultaneously being undermined by the European Union.
While individual conservative leaders including France’s Nicolas Sarkosy and Germany’s Angela Markel are seeking changes in the welfare system to boost employment and economic growth, the European public is still addicted to the existing system. Sarkosy and Merkel seek to reform the welfare state in order to save it, rather than eliminate it altogether.
Early American pilgrims from Europe, by way of contrast, sought to escape the stifling chains of European absolutism. They wanted to live according to their own conscience and beliefs and not by the dictate of an absolutist Monarch or church. The pilgrims understood the message of Saint Thomas Aquinas who believed that human beings have a natural capacity to know many things without divine intervention as opposed to the absolutist monarchs and the church that thought of themselves as being the repository of knowledge and truth. The pilgrims were also individualists who understood that in order to be virtuous and free of sin, they had to be free to choose, and choices included of course the sphere of economics, as well as religion.
Writers such as Thomas Paine who mistrusted government and the aristocracy were to have enormous influence on those living in the 13 colonies. The American Revolution of 1776 was a direct challenge to European absolutism. American individualism was grounded in freedom and the ability to forge ones own destiny. Although the American Revolution gave impetus to the French Revolution of 1789, in Europe these revolutions served to replace one set of absolutists with another.
The French Revolution ushered in the age of totalitarianism in Europe. Not content with controlling the political and economic lives of their subjects, the absolutist rulers sought to control their minds as well. The twentieth century saw the rise of Communism and Fascism (and Nazism) that culminated with the horrors of the Holocaust being committed on European soil by European absolutist totalitarians. F.A. Hayek, in his book “The Road to Serfdom,” pointed to the close ideological connection between Socialists and Fascists. He noted, they have more in common with each other than either have with classical liberalism, including the tendency to reduce the individual to an organic part of the state.
While Americans proclaimed, “In God We Trust,” the Europeans have gradually abandoned the belief in the Judeo-Christian God and the moral direction it provided. They largely agreed with German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) who wrote that, “God is Dead.” In Auschwitz, the Europeans did away with the Judeo-Christian God altogether. And since then they have increasingly relied on the state to direct their lives. The state has become the source of order, legitimacy, and authority. And the state has since 1957 evolved into a super-state known as the European Union.
The same secularist spirit that dominated Europe in the 20th Century and gave rise to Communism and Fascism, has given birth to a new ism - welfarism. Keynesian economics (named after British economist John Maynard Keynes) advocated state (government) intervention in economic policies. Keynes wrote the blueprint for Britain’s welfare system, and was pessimistic about the future. One of his more famous quips was “In the long run, we are all dead,” it perhaps best reflects European passivity, and lack of belief in a better future.
Fortunately for America, our demographics are still relatively healthy, albeit the growing phenomenon of late marriages, abortions, and childless families, should be a source of concern.
The Democrats are hoping to win the upcoming presidential elections and usher in a number of changes that would create greater government control in health and education policies similar to the European system. Should we adopt their (Europeans) system of public dependence on the state, or should we continue to preserve our system of personal initiative and limited government intervention in our lives?