Dr. Bruce S. Thornton is a professor of Classics and humanities at California State University in Fresno. He is also a well-known conservative commentator and the author of the recently released Decline and Fall: Europe’s Slow-Motion Suicide. His essays and articles have appeared at numerous venues over the years including Frontpagemag.com, Intercollegiate Review, National Review Online, The San Francisco Examiner, California Republic, Religious Studies Review, The Washington Times, Los Angeles Times, and the American Journal of Philology. Dr. Thornton published several works before Decline and Fall such as Plagues of the Mind: The New Epidemic of False Knowledge, Greek Ways: How the Greeks Created Western Civilization, Searching for Joaquin: Myth and History in California, and A Student's Guide to Classics.
BC: Dr. Thornton, congratulations on Decline and Fall: Europe’s Slow-Motion Suicide. First off, let me ask why the term “EUtopia” has become an antonym for the word “utopia”?
Dr. Bruce Thornton: Thanks. Remember that “utopia” can have two meanings in Greek: “good place” and “no place.” So utopias traditionally have promised paradise and ended up going nowhere. So too with the EU: it promises to solve the perennial tragedies of human life and provide peace and prosperity, yet its radical simplification of human life means that this promise is doomed to fail.
BC: Given the historical record of socialism along with the present day stagnation of the E.U. economies why do Europeans persist in ignoring the benefits inherent to the free market?
Thornton: That is the main question I try to address. The issue is not so much what people do, but why they do what they do, based on what ideals or goods. In the West, particularly in Europe, socialism is a political religion that promises heaven on earth, especially economic equality and social justice. These articles of faith are passionately clung to, even in the face of their manifest failures.
BC: You mention some pretty bewildering statistics here. Europeans receive 80 percent of their former wages when unemployed, and, in some of their countries, total government spending is more than 50 percent of their Gross Domestic Product. These facts showcase the likelihood of European economic disintegration. But given the popularity of their welfare states does it even matter? Is there enough political will (or acknowledgement of reality) with which to right the ship?
Thornton: Again, these social welfare policies reflect a pseudo-religious good like income equality, an ideal rather than an empirical possibility. Moreover, people benefit in the short-term from them. So self-interest and idealism reinforce one another, at least in the short term. So no, the political will is not there, for the simple reason that any politician who seriously tries to change things will be kicked out of office.
BC: Is European anti-Americanism so irrational that there is no reason to even worry about it? A poll you cited suggests this as “…in the E.U. countries, 53 percent saw the United States as a threat to world peace equal to Iran and North Korea; in Germany, 48 percent believe the U.S. is a greater threat than an Iran ruled by medieval fundamentalists who are actively seeking nuclear weapons.” Given these absurdities what is the point of addressing their flawed cognitions?
Thornton: None whatsoever. Bigotry by definition is irrational, so why should we think that empirical evidence will correct it? And don’t forget, anti-Americanism is politically useful for the European elite, who can play the “anti-American card” to distract people from their own failures, as Gerhard Schroeder did in 2002.
BC: You describe the Eloi, a tribe of “hedonistic narcissists” from H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine, who spend their days frolicking, sleeping, and enjoying life but are preyed upon at night by the Morlocks. They have no defense as they’ve become too docile to fight back. Are the Eloi reflective of today’s Europeans? To a lesser extent are they reflective of Americans as well?
Thornton: Europe’s fate represents a very strong possibility for America. Right now, blue-state America shares many of the same assumptions about politics, the economy, social welfare, secularization, etc, that has reduced many Europeans to Eloi. But there is still red-state America––patriotic, church-going, upholders of traditional morality. Which color represents the future? Given that popular culture, the schools, and the media promote the “blue-state” mentality, the outlook is grim. Yet America is unique in its diversity and national character, particularly its prizing of individual freedom and its economic dynamism, and that should give us some hope.
BC: November may bring the election of a president dedicated to nationalizing the health care industry. Will not the socialism intrinsic to this confiscation of the people’s earnings advance us to the same precipice upon which Europe now sits? It seems as if we are on the brink especially due to Moody’s Investors Service recently reporting that they may drop our bond ratings as a result of America’s “soaring healthcare and social security spending.”
Thornton: Don’t give up on the Republicans just yet! But yes, health care and other social welfare spending represent a huge problem for this country, and socialization would only worsen things. A solution of these problems that involves the market and individual choice is much more likely in America, and we can hope for that result. Remember, democracies are notoriously sluggish when it comes to solving problems that require sacrifice.
BC: In lieu of the serious decline in the dollar, would you alter any of your conclusions regarding the superiority of America’s purchasing power (in comparison to Europe’s)? Has the plummeting dollar proved a leveling force between our country and the E.U.?
Thornton: Transitory economic fluctuations do not alter the long-term problems inherent in the European economy. Comparisons need to be made over decades. From that perspective, a more open and dynamic American economy is much more likely to deliver long-range economic improvement, particularly in a global economy with aggressive players like China and India.
BC: With leftism being religious in nature—
Thornton: That’s pretty much the central argument of the book.
BC: Yes, and does this eventuality cause its adherents to channel religious impulses in a non-traditional and covert manner?
Thornton: Leftism pretends to be scientific and empirical, yet is based on metaphysical assumptions about human nature and our power over human life and choice. It is that disconnect between leftism’s claims and realities that makes it so tenacious and impervious to fact.
BC: Lastly, can you explain why an anti-Israeli outlook connotes anti-Semitism? This stance has never been one I found convincing; however, you offer some powerful argumentation in support of such a conclusion. One of your justifications concerned the U.N. Human Rights Council. It has issued eight condemnations its history and all of them were levied against Israel (somehow Sudan was above their consideration).
Thornton: Something has to explain the obsession with Israel for the last 60 years. If it were just on principle––e.g., occupying someone else’s land is wrong––then on that principle there are many other nations more guilty and supposedly murderous than Israel has been. Yet those numerous other offenders are not given a fraction of the condemnation Israel suffers––and Israel has been attacked three times! Survey all the presumed reasons for hating Israel, and you can come up with 20 other countries that have been infinitely worse, most without Israel’s legitimate motive of self-defense, and all without the global hatred directed against Israel. Eliminate rational reasons and you’re left with irrational––anti-Semitism.