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Friday, November 28, 2003

American Exceptionalism: Several Differences Set Out In This, The 5th Article In The Series FINAL

Belatedly, nearly a good three weeks after we started this mini-series on US Exceptionalism --- no help for it, what with all the buzz in the interval of competing claimants on buggy time: the busy Thanksgiving holiday, some strung-out research matters, and as a clincher some ho-hum donkey-work tasks for a class -- the series, resuming right now, is ready to push briskly ahead again in a ranging, comparative manner. When it's finished, the series now looks like having 8 or 9 articles in all. The current one happens to be the 5th installment. It sets out the various stand-out ways that, taken together, and for good or bad, add up to American contrasts with other democratic countries.

What We're Up To Here

A few things to remember here, all dealt with earlier in the series:

(i.) The comparisons being unveiled in this article are with the current EU countries, 15 in number, all democratic like the US and most of them rich too: if you want exact figures, American per capita income is about $39,000 toward the end of 2003, the EU average is around 64% or about $25,000 . . . with Germany just about that level, France and Italy too, and Britain slightly higher. Note briefly a couple of points. All these figures for per capita income convert the dollar/euro exchange rate into purchasing power parity, and hence abstract away from the big fluctuations in that rate since the euro's introduction in 1999. More generally, in the next article, you'll find a table that sets out the relevant stats here: population, GDP, per capita income, and government spending --- itself broken down into a percentage of GDP, as well as the percentage of this spent on social programs, education, and defense.

(ii.) The value of comparisons --- economic, cultural, or political --- all hinge on the choice of countries. If we were comparing the US or the EU with, say, China or the Arab countries, almost all the differences that constitute American exceptionalism would tend to fade quickly and disappear into the murky reaches of the world --- mental constructs without much solidity; more precisely, measured against the Chinese or Arabs, Americans and West Europeans would turn out to share far more in common than this buggy series argues. So don't forget. Only by confining our concerns with the EU members --- and once in a while Canada and Australia --- does American exceptionalism emerge as something solid and important . . . for that matter, something behind the growing strains in Transatlantic relations these days, especially at a time when the European publics and the American people differ considerably in the ways we understanding the security threats we face and above all how to handle them.

(iii.) These strains that are driving the two sides of the Atlantic apart on the mass level can't be ignored, far from it: they've already influenced US-European cooperation in the war on terrorism in marked, high-coiled ways. As connossieurs will recall, several buggy articles about NATO and its prospects, now and in the future, have dealt with these domestic-generated strains. True --- something those earlier articles clearly argued --- the differences in public opinion and imagery of one another that prevail now on the two sides of the Atlantic aren't as vividly at work in the behavior of governments; on this level, Transatlantic cooperation is more intact --- France, no matter what parties hold power, essentially the odd-man-out. Think back to last spring. Not only Blair's Britain but also Berlusconi's Italy and Aznar's Spain --- plus tiny Denmark and Holland --- energetically supported the coalition of the willing in going to war against Saddamite Iraq last spring; the same was even more evident among the East European governments either in NATO now or joining next year: about 9 in all. Very little has changed here since then. Just today, the leaders of 17 countries in Central and East Europe --- including Italy and Austria in the EU --- explicitly reaffirmed their belief that firm ties with the US are critical to European security: now and in the future.

Still, governments are one thing, and public opinion another --- especially in democratic countries. Politicians can't ignore it for very long, particularly when the strife it whips up reaches the levels it did in the EU recently. Take Spain and Italy. Even though the two conservative governments in power there solidly backed Britain and the US in toppling Saddamite Iraq and their leaders are personal friends of Bush, the marked unpopularity of the war among the Italians and Spanish have noticeably limited their leaders' freedom of maneuver in going beyond diplomatic support: at the time of the war, and ever since. [Berlusconi, to his credit, did send 1000 Italian policemen to train the new Iraqi police.]

At the end of this article, we'll return to the impact of US exceptionalism and some related concrete influences at work in Transatlantic relations . . . a task that should allow us to make some specific predictions about what the Atlantic Alliance will likley look like in the years to come.

(iv.) American exceptionalism isn't all for the good. We've said that before, and it's worth repeating once more.

There are some things about American life that might be better --- say, less blatant commercialism, or a less raucous mass culture in certain sectors of the media --- if we were, as the EU countries happen to be for reasons we will show and explain, more elitist (or less populist) and less mistrustful of government. Even if, as the buggy prof himself happens to believe, this mistrust is generally a boon, anyone living in Southern California couldn't but wish for a train system that the more elitist statist countries on the EU continent of built the last 30 years. Again, while American medicine stands out for its high quality and innovations --- as even international surveys show --- our health system is in something of a mess. The effort to cut or hold back costs by shifting power to HMO's and insurance companies as monitors restrained the rise in costs only briefly; the last three years, at at time of very low inflation, these medical costs have been rising at double-digit pace, and there is still about 10-15% of the US population that isn't covered by health insurance. At the same time, both small and large business firms are carrying a big burden of providing such insurance to their workers that, to an extent, disadvantages them in international competition, in the US home market or abroad.

(v.) Finally, recall, our ultimate aim in this series is not just to set out the differences --- the aim of the current article: rather, more ambitiously, to explain them historically and comparatively.

That, at it happens, requires a fair amount of knowledge about the different history of West Europe and of the US over the last two centuries or so: economic, political, and cultural . . . come to that, in international affairs too: for instance, the lack of powerful enemies on our borders, which enabled us (like the British alone in West Europe), to rely largely on sea power for defense and forgo the creation of a large standing army and conscription until WWI and then again in WWII and during the first three decades of the cold war. Had the US had common borders with threatening states --- as all the Continental countries did during the 19th and 20th centuries --- it's doubtful that the American federal government would have been as small at home as it has been in comparative terms: either in the scope of its power and influence or in taxation and expenditure or even, possibly, in matters of civil liberties. Such is the stuff of what the next articles in this series will set out to do: systematically, comparatively, ranging widely.

For the time being, important as it is, what follows here is slightly more modest and straightforward: a catalogue of our differences with other democratic countries, plus a fair amount of diverse indicators --- call them evidence --- that justify the choices that go into this catalogue.

 

PART II: SIX KINDS OF AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM, PLUS A SET OF COMMON EU MISCONCEPTIONS

Don't be put off by the schematic nature of what follows. The barebones outline isn't hard to follow, and each and every one of the items will be fleshed out with relevant statistics and other sorts of evidence in the articles to come . . . along with an explanatory argument, our chief concern, of how the US has ended up so different from the EU countries.

1. Mistrust Of Big Government

a. lower spending as a % of GDP, lower taxes too

b. federalism, checks and balances: how differs from the EU, even Germany or Canada or Australia

c. far less bureaucracy in our lives: only British, to an extent, like us here. Hence EU bureaucracy --- constant detailed directives, imposed by remote technocrats --- inconceivable here.

d. historically, again only like the British, no traditional conscription save briefly in WWI and then again in WWII and from 1945 until 1975

e. referenda, recall initiatives as in California recently, open primaries for selecting leaders


II. A Narrow Ideological Spectrum

a. by European standards, the US spectrum essentially left-wing and right-wing variants of European liberalism (quote H.G. Wells, Lipset, clarify)

b. a consensual system, lacking political extremes . . . or even Social Democracy on the left and Paternalistic Conservatism of the British Tory wing of the Conservative Party or Christian Democracy and Gaullism on the Continent.


III. A Limited Welfare State

a. spending social security much lower, even compared to Britain

b. US education: we spend more than the Europeans. Do we get a better return?

c. US preference for one kind of Welfare I (insurance schemes), not II (non-contributory).

--- Welfare itself, when developed in the 1930s and expanded after, turned on the belief that someone in distress needed at most temporary help and had the internalized and family resources to then return quickly to productive economic life. All that changed in the 1970s and 1980s, and with mainly unfortunate consequences: whereas Lyndon Johnson's Great Society of the mid-1960s promised to uplift the discriminated-against minorities in US life, especially African-Americans and to an extent Hispanics and Native-Americans, and make them solid, middle-class citizens, there were --- as it turned out by the 1980s, and despite some noticeable successes --- far more now on long-term welfare, far more leading lives in broken families, far more illegitimcy, far more engaged in crime of various kinds, and far more who became habituated to what became known as an underclass life. The result: the welfare reforms of the Clinton era on a bipartisan basis.

d. Individualism, whose fault is it if life runs into trouble or doesn't work out?

e. Preference for charity: US spending about 10 times the EU average ($640 vs. $55 on a per capita basis.


IV. Economic Preference For Free markets, Commercialism,

a. put chart in with economic figures, demographic, government spending

b. Pew poll results

c. who does better in US life economically and in education; conceptions of equality, inequality, and why economic equality matters less to Americans than Europeans

d. American commercialism: indicators, good and bad side. Bad side evident.


V. Nationalism, Patriotism, Preference for Sovereignty, and Super-Power Activism a. to extent share with British, but would never accept something like EU

b. far difference history from the Europeans, again Britain, Scandinavia

c. poll data to be cited


VI. Cultural Values and Preferences That Are More Pronounced Here:

a. individualism, poll data etc

b. religious influence, especially Protestantism historically and more recently Evangelical varieties.

c. equality: opportunity vs. results; but also political equality or populism with no equivalents in the EU: referenda, recall initiatives, open primaries for selecting leaders etc.

d. optimism about change, the future

e. risk-taking, vitality of American life, failure not punished severely

f. populism again: suspicion of elites


VII. Misconceptions in Europe

a. elitism in democratic politics and bureaucracy vs. populism

b. violence, crime worse in the EU save for homicide

c. reasons for the death penalty: no EU country ever had a majority favoring its abolition when it was ended in the 1970s and 1980s. In the US, we elect district attorneys and all judges --- either directly or, in the case of federal judges, through Congressional approval.

d. income distribution: African-American two parent families earn the same as white two parent families. Demographic and family changes, especially in the African American and Hispanic communities. Again, whites, blacks, and Hispanics with the same IQ --- confirmed in tests --- earn the same (Thomas Sowell, source)


 

PART III: THE IMPLICATIONS OF THESE DOMESTIC DIFFERENCES FOR NATO SOLIDARITY

At the start of this article, recall, some comments were set out about how these rooted differences in the American life --- political, economic, and cultural --- have been aggravating the Transatlantic gap in US-EU relations that was always there, but that were muted, for all the acrimony on the mass level in the Reagan era of the 1980s, by a common security threat from the Soviet Union and its client states. Then the cold war ended. The upshot? Now that a noticeable disagreement about what the security threats are in the war on terrorism --- and no less important, how to deal with them --- American exceptionalism, especially in the Bush era, has had an increasingly graphic impact on US and West European relations: above all, on the level of mass public opinion.

Recall, too --- as those preliminary comments argued --- the US government and its counterparts in the EU may not be as directly affected by these differences as the mass publics are, but ultimately politicians can't continue to ignore mass moods and concrete public opinion forever. That's probably true even of Britain, our closest and most dependable military ally. Even in Italy and Spain, the Berlusconi and Aznar governments --- for all their solid and energetic diplomatic support of the US-UK coalition during the recent Iraqi war and since --- have been unable to do more than send token peacekeeping forces to Iraq precisely because public opinion in those countries remains so hostile to the policy.

 

A prediction follows for the future of NATO, hardly a bold one.

Tersely put, short of a renewed, widely shared sense of common security threats and agreement on how to deal with them in West Europe and here, these Transatlantic contrasts in public opinion --- magnified in part by one-sided EU media reports on the US, but also by the bold innovations in foreign policy undertaken by the Bush administration --- are likely to grow in the future, not diminish.

There are aggravating twists of a different sort too.

* For a start, the vigor and economic dynamism of an increasingly young US compared to an ever older West Europe --- a projected average age of 32 for America by mid-century and 52 for an aging EU --- will almost certainly play a role in generating even more envy and resentment across the Atlantic. At present, the average standard of living in the EU compared to the US's is back where it was in the mid-1960s in percentage terms, the US level equaling 100; most likely, in the decades to come --- save for two or three of the smaller Scandinavian countries, Ireland, possibly Holland, and probably Britain --- the current EU countries will find themselves falling further and further behind them here. In the upshot, as they age, they will likely become increasingly averse to change and fear it; shy away even more than now from risk-taking and start-up businesses; and find themselves progressively stuck with teeth-clenching problems of how to fund more and more retirees living ever longer on state-financed pensions even as the working population shrinks in size.

* Some efforts in the EU to reform the welfare state and make labor markets more flexible will probably succeed over time. Even so, any systematic political reforms here that approach what the British and Irish have done since the early 1980s --- or, in the Pacific, New Zealand and Australia --- will in all probability provoke major backlashes and raw rippling social tensions and conflicts . . . particularly in Italy, France, Belgium, and Greece, but also, it seems with a slightly lower probability, in some other countries: Portugal, Spain, Austria, and Germany. Some of these backlashes will no doubt be violent --- eruptive strikes, confrontations with the police, beatings, and the like --- and in some countries, they very likely entail, as has already been the case in Italy two years ago, political assassination. For that matter, the kidnappings and murder of businessmen that flared in Germany and Italy during the 1970s and into the 1980s will probably erupt again too --- and not just there.

The likely suspects?

Obviously, for a start, native Europeans in those countries, especially those on the far left and far right. In the spring of 2002 in France, recall, the two extremes gathered almost a third of the vote in the first round of the presidential elections. No less worrying --- and maybe more so --- the violent backlashes will also probably attract more and more members of the Muslim minority communities, increasingly alienated, and full of resentment and crackling anger. Right now, their percentage of the national communities is about 5.0 - 6.0%; in the next two decades, that figure will easily double and possibly swell beyond that. The predictable upshot? The more the Muslim populations grow in size, the more likely there will be swelling numbers of teen-agers and young adults full of raw anger, and prone for over a decade now to radical fundamentalism and crime: some petty, much of it violent. The more, too, given the swing toward radical fundamentalism, they will tap extreme Islamist teachings and rationalize their hostilities, resentments, and violence directed at the larger secular and Christian populations around them . . . already seen as racist and discriminatory. For the time being, the preferred target has been the tiny Jewish minorities in West Europe. That will likely change soon enough.

Already, to avoid provoking backlashes, the EU organizations have tried to squelch studies that show how most of the outrageous violence and other forms of anti-Semitism directed at the Jewish minorities was caused by young Muslims. See, for only the latest article on this --- plus other links --- the London Telegraph. Come to that, it took practically two years for the French government --- France the country where the worst anti-Jewish attacks took place --- to admit that it was young Muslims behind most of them.


* Then, too, in the decades to come, the lopsided, highly intrusive impact American culture in European life will probably intensify; worse, from a European viewpoint, it has no counterpart of EU influence here.

* Add in finally certain other jolting, high-coiled influences currently at work in Transatlantic relations --- all of which are interacting with the more rooted differences set out in this and the next few buggy articles and to which we will return in a moment or two --- and what do you have?

 

What NATO Is Likely To Look Like Soon

Well, likely this: much as the Atlantic Alliance will no doubt survive as an alliance and even boast a small US military presence still in Europe, the ability of West European governments to cooperate intensely in military matters with the US will likely be, if anything, far more hemmed in than even at present.

Britain, it's safe to predict, will probably continue to be an exception --- a close US military ally. So too might some of the new EU countries next year in East Europe --- far more sensitive to their security problems, what with their conquest by first Nazi Germany, then the Soviet Union. The outcome here probably depends on how far they integrate into the EU or not. And, remember, a prediction of this sort could be turned topsy-turvy in the war on terrorism. In particular, should the EU countries be shaken by a series of jarring terrorist attacks caused by Islamo-extremist networks active there already, public opinion in those countries might stiffen and draw closer to the US public and leaders . . . at any rate, when it comes to defining security threats and choosing an energetic, pre-emptive manner of dealing with them.

Short of that, optimism about NATO as a firm military alliance seems hard to come by here. US military cooperation of a solid sort might still engage Britain and some of the East European member-countries --- but in bilateral ways, outside the NATO structure. That's what happened in both Gulf Wars, the 1991 no less than in 2003. It also happened in Bosnia. Only over Kosovo, where the EU governments and publics alike saw their security interests directly jeopardized by the turmoil in the Balkans that had been raging for years, did NATO actually act as a unified military alliance. And when you get down to it, that's the pattern of cooperation that has to be expected: limited peacekeeping with some of the Continental West European countries as in Afghanistan right now, otherwise joint energetic military action only with a handful of NATO countries, all depending on the circumstances, plus Australia and --- who knows? --- Canada too if the Liberal Party's hold on power ever collapses.

 

Other Divisive Forces At Work

Note an italicized set of terms a few paragraphs back: certain other jolting, high-coiled influences, it was said, are currently at play in driving the two sides of the Atlantic apart. What specifically are those? At present, a good four of these stand out:

*For one thing, there's a far different mind-set in Washington about the threats to the West and the US from Islamic radicalism and terrorism;

*For another thing, the US will be increasingly young compared to a rapidly aging West Europe . . . itself undergoing very painful economic reconstruction, for decades into the future, to become more competitive, amid all the social strains this will cause --- not least as the welfare state invariably shrinks more and more;

*For a third thing, as we noted before --- and it's worth noting again for comparative purposes with the US --- the impact on these economically generated social conflicts will very likely hook-up and be aggravated by the rapidly growing size of the increasingly alienated Islamic populations in West Europe --- a trend that already shows up in the statistics and in the growing frustrations of the citizenry caused by the soaring rate of violent crime and hate-crime there. By contrast, the US has no real equivalent. American Muslims are a far smaller percentage of American life: roughly, 2-3 million in number and about 1% of the overall population. In the EU, the Muslim minorities are about 5.0 to 6.0%, and will likely double in a decade or two; for that matter, the Muslim population is already around 10% of the total French population. Nor is that all. American Muslims, most of them recent immigrants, are found in surveys to be generally better educated than the average American and to earn more. The opposite is the case in the EU. And Arab-Americans, for what it's worth, are largely Christian and have been here for decades, assimilated effectively in US life.

*As a final thing, there's the growing influence of the new conservatism in American politics and much of the media --- which has already noticeably shifted political power away from the traditionally European-oriented East-Coast WASP elites since the late 1960s, but especially in the Reagan era and since the end of the cold war, toward the South, the Southwest, and the West. Nowhere in the EU, not even in Britain, is there any equivalent of this conservatism. Possibly, too, along with security and economic-laden influences, the growing Hispanic and Asian minorities in this country will further reorient American interests and preoccupations away from Europe towards Asia and Latin America.


 

One Reminder

Once the nature and sources of American exceptionalism are set out and explained in the articles to come --- three or four more at a minimum --- we'll return to its likely impact on Transatlantic relations, along with these more specific, divisive influences at work. Remember, the predictions set out here and especially the chief one --- NATO will survive, but be less and less effective as a military alliance --- are all hedged by what might happen in the security arena. In clear, down-to-earth terms, a series of radical Islamist terrorist attacks on EU countries could conceivably change abruptly the ways in which the EU publics and their media and left-wing political elites define their own security and how to protect it . . . above all, in ways much closer to the current American approach.

In the meantime, the next article will treat the first and the second sources of American exceptionalism, the two going hand-in-hand: mistrust of big government and the narrow ideological spectrum