Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Center-Left in Europe and Here

The European Union doesn’t have many more ideologically reliable and intellectually agile supporters than Timothy Garton Ash. So it must mean something that he’s this dispirited about its present state and its likely future (my emphasis):

“Every single major project of the European Union is faltering. . . . Solidarity and social justice, central values of the post-1945 European project, are in retreat almost everywhere as a result of growing inequality and spending cuts to tackle public debt. . . . That will require Angela Merkel's leadership. If we are talking about the European economy and currency, Germany is the indispensable power. Only the combination of Germany and the European Central Bank, working in unison, has a chance of calming the mighty markets.”
You know that the European center-left is undergoing an ideological crisis when people like Garton Ash are unashamedly relying on a bunch of bankers and Angela Merkel to keep hope alive. But say this for him and his comrades on the European center-left: at least they're self-conscious enough to be experiencing an ideological crisis. You’re unlikely ever to climb out of an ideological bunker if you can't shake a bunker mentality.

Do you see much sign of comparable self-consciousness on the part of the American center-left? We all came of age politically comparing the American welfare state unfavorably to its western European counterparts. So shouldn’t we be experiencing shudders of ideological self-doubt when we observe the insolvency of, and the erosion of social equality and solidarity within, the European Union?

Try this admittedly unscientific experiment: pick a random sample of pieces on, say, the New York Times op-ed page, the New Republic and the American Prospect. When you do, if you're like me, you don't see a whole lot of ideological self-doubt.  I can think of only two plausible explanations for the ideological self-assurance of the American center-left that aren't mutually exclusive:  the American welfare state is obviously a lot more sustainable than its more ambitious European counterparts; and/or people on the American center-left are a lot less self-conscious ideologically than their European comrades.  If you ask me, the second alternative is the bigger part of the explanation.

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