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Good Reads, Politics

Trans-Atlantic Thinking

I will share a few paragraphs I found recently that help me understand some of the important ways in which European political thinking is different from American political thinking:

At the risk of overgeneralization, we might say that for Europeans (that is, for those Europeans not joined in the Axis cause), World War II, in which almost 60 million people perished, exemplified the horrors of nationalism. Specifically and significantly, it exemplified the horrors of popular nationalism. Nazism and fascism were manifestations, however perverse, of popular sovereignty. Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini rose to power initially through elections and democratic processes. Both claimed to speak for the people, not only before they assumed dictatorial powers but afterward, too, and both were broadly popular, as were their nationalism, militarism, repression, and, in Hitler’s case, genocidal objectives. From the postwar European point of view, the Allies’ victory was a victory against nationalism, against popular sovereignty, against democratic excess.

The American experience of victory could not have differed more starkly. For Americans, winning the war was a victory for nationalism — that is to say, for our nation and our kind of nationalism. It was a victory for popular sovereignty (our popular sovereignty) and, most fundamentally, a victory for democracy (our democracy). Yes, the war held a lesson for Americans about the dangers of democracy, but the lesson was that the nations of continental Europe had proven themselves incapable of handling democracy when left to their own devices. If Europe was to develop democratically, it would need American tutelage. If Europe was to overcome its nationalist pathologies, it might have to become a United States of Europe. Certain European countries might even need to have democratic institutions imposed upon them, although it would be best if they adopted those institutions themselves, or at least persuaded themselves that they had done so.

Jed Rubenfeld
“The Two World Orders”
_Wilson Quarterly_, Autumn 2003

So, let us look, once again, at Iraq, through this sort of lens. The American point of view is that many nations of the Arab and Muslim world are failures, and Iraq is the most spectacular failure in the pack. In this time of increased danger, it is necessary for America to impose its style of nationalist popular democracy on a region where it is most needed. This is where we find ourselves at the moment.

The European view is that there is one very powerful nation, a well-meaning, if short-sighted, somewhat ditzy hyperpower called America. America is strongly, even annoyingly nationalistic. America has a fearsome, awesome military. America has a strong nationalist leader in the President, who is democratically elected in accordance with popular whimsy.

The view from Europe and on the American Left is that America is currently led by a drooling idiot who can not pronounce the word “nuclear”, is tutored by powerful, self-serving oligarchs like Dick Cheney, and finds itself in an unanticipated situation where the amazingly complex puzzle of “why did 9/11 happen” is ignored for the puzzle of “on this pretext, how much of our wacko, right-wing, neo-Conservative agenda can we shove down the world’s throat?”

Damn, I just scared ourselves. What do we do? Well, we put our shoulder to the wheel. Let us hope, and if the opportunity presents itself, apply our talents toward these objectives:

  1. That we successfully remove George W. Bush from office in next year’s election. Hopefully we get someone clever in there, capable of independent, strategic thinking, who can work with Congress and the world on a more progressive nation in a more just world.
  2. That the occupation of Iraq leads to a democratic government that is able to serve its people. I hope that the next generation in Iraq will look upon this period as one of liberation from tyranny and the birth of a modern, just democracy, and that they may look on us with some gratitude, after the fact, for the meddling we engage in today.

On the one hand, you’ve got a powerful, cocky, reckless leader. On the other hand, you’ve got a capable world that lacks the vision and temerity to offer a better route. The sanctions were a terrible joke that strengthened Saddam’s hand, and the alternative to American Imperialism was something like European Appeasement, where we gradually forgot our hatred of Saddam, and returned to normalcy, as he nurtured his insane ambitions against whomever he could reach. Hussein had to go, and George Bush was an implement of this larger purpose. Now that we’ve removed the one we can free ourselves of the other. It’s a tough world, but once in a while someone has to lead it.

/danny

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Categories: Good Reads, Politics