French writer and philosopher Pascal Bruckner has written a fascinating essay at City Journal. His topic is the modern - and dysfunctional - European mindset. It is a mindset that sees its own historic sins as unforgivable while forgiving the sins of (almost) all others. It is a mindset that refuses to acknowledge historical realities and indulges in dangerous fantasy. To give you a snippet from his essay:
. . . There is nothing more insidious than a collective guilt passed down from generation to generation, dyeing a people with a kind of permanent stain. Contrition cannot define a political order. As there is no hereditary transmission of victim status, so there is no transmission of oppressor status. The duty of remembering implies neither the automatic purity nor the automatic corruption of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. History is not divided between sinner nations and angelic ones but between democracies, which recognize their faults, and dictatorships, which drape themselves in the robes of martyrs. We have learned over the last half-century that every state is founded on crime and coercion, including those that have recently appeared on history’s stage. But there are states capable of recognizing this and of looking barbarism in the eye, and there are others that excuse their present misdeeds by citing yesterday’s oppression.
Remember this simple fact: Europe has vanquished its most horrible monsters. Slavery was abolished, colonialism abandoned, fascism defeated, and communism brought to its knees. What other continent can claim more? In the end, the good prevailed over the abominable. Europe is the Holocaust, but it is also the destruction of Nazism; it is the Gulag, but also the fall of the Wall; imperialism, but also decolonization; slavery, but also abolition. In each case, there is a form of violence that is not only left behind but delegitimized, a twofold progress in civilization and in law. At the end of the day, freedom prevailed over oppression, which is why life is better in Europe than on many other continents and why people from the rest of the world are knocking on Europe’s door while Europe wallows in guilt.
Europe no longer believes in evil but only in misunderstandings to be resolved by discussion and dialogue. She no longer has enemies but only partners. If she is nice to extremists, she thinks, they will be nice to her, and she will be able to disarm their aggressiveness and soften them up. Europe no longer likes History, for History is a nightmare, a minefield from which she escaped at great cost, first in 1945 and then again in 1989. And since History goes on without us, and everywhere emergent nations are recovering their dignity, their power, and their aggressiveness, Europe leaves it to the Americans to be in charge, while reserving the right to criticize them violently when they go astray. It is notable that Europe is the only region in the world where military budgets go down every year; we have no armies that would be able to defend our frontiers if we were so unlucky as to be attacked; after the Haitian crisis, Brussels could not dispatch even a few thousand men to help disaster victims. We are well equipped to calibrate the size of bananas or the composition of cheeses, but not to create a military force worthy of the name. . . .
Mssr. Buckner draws numerous contrasts with America, such as, for example:
[Europe] has a history, whereas America is still making history, animated by an eschatological tension toward the future. If the latter sometimes makes major mistakes, the former makes none because it attempts nothing. For Europe, prudence no longer consists in the art, defended by the ancients, of finding one’s way within an uncertain story. We hate America because she makes a difference. We prefer Europe because she is not a threat. Our repulsion represents a kind of homage, and our sympathy a kind of contempt.
I would add two thoughts to Mssr. Bruckner's essay. One, though he never mentions the word "multiculturalism," that is precisely what he is describing. It is deeply dysfunctional philosophy that will prove suicidal to Europe if allowed to follow its logical course.
Two, Mssr. Bruckner ignores the contribution of Karl Marx's philosophy to the development of the European mindset. Marx posited that all events should be viewed through the lens of oppressor and oppressed. It is a deeply distorting philophy that is at the heart of the European mindset. I explain this in more detail when writing on virtually the same topic in the essay, "Thoughts on Britain, Colonialism and Multiculturalism." I think it an important point to make as, if this scourge is ever to be vanquished from the national psyche of Europe, then one must understand the origins of the disease.
It is also of note that the dysfunctional mindset described by Mr. Bruckner precisely describes the mindset of the left wing intelligentsia in the U.S., a point made by Victor Davis Hanson in his latest offering at PJM:
. . . This is the most tolerant society in the world, the most multiracial and richest in religious diversity — and the most critical of its exceptional tolerance and the most lax in pointing out the intolerance of the least diverse and liberal.
It is market capitalism, unfettered meritocracy, and individual initiative within a free society that create the wealth for Al Gore to live in Montecito (indeed to create a Montecito in the first place), or for Michelle to jet to Marbella, or for John Kerry to buy a $7 million yacht. We know that, but our failure to occasionally express such a truth, coupled with a constant race/class/gender critique of American society, results in an insidious demoralization among the educated and bewilderment among the half- and uneducated.
In short, the great enigma of our postmodern age is how American society grew so wealthy and free to create so many residents that became so angry at the conditions that have made them so privileged — and how so many millions abroad fled the intolerance and poverty of their home country, and yet on arrival almost magically romanticize the very conditions in the abstract that they would never live under again in the concrete.
A final thought: given what we know of collectivism now and in the past, government in places like Mexico or Syria, multiculturalism in nations as diverse as the Balkans and central Africa, and the role of religion in most locales of the Middle East, how exactly could critics of the U.S. gain the security to protest, the capital to travel, and the freedom to criticize should the system that they find so lacking erode or even disappear?
Indeed, it would seem that the paradigm of the left is to push America towards Europe in all respects, including philosophical. All of the West can be thankful that, as of yet, our left has not been wholly successful in this endeavor.