Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Toynbee's European dream

I missed it when it first came out, but Polly Toynbee of The Guardian had a missive last Friday about the current troubles in Euroland, and Britain’s place within Europe. Since the disintegration of European unity is an issue in which America plays no obvious part, naturally the US featured prominently in her analysis.

Essentially Toynbee urges Blair to make nice with his European detractors primarily because Europe is not America. She chastises Blair and Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown for irritating the European mainland by pretending to be too much like America.

The subtle differences that Brown, Blair and Chirac have frivolously over-emphasised are minuscule compared with the great difference with America. Blair and Brown have done Britain a deep disservice by spreading the false notion there is some magic neo-liberal formula Britain has embraced…

The New Deal was a vital ingredient in transforming the employment climate here, but it was never some American welfare-to-work slavery. Yet, with Blair and Brown hammering on about how the French and Germans must "liberalise" employment practices, that's the impression we give.

Americans, I’m sure, will be surprised to learn that “welfare-to-work slavery”, otherwise known to them simply as, er, self-reliance, is a uniquely American characteristic. They might also wonder, if this is what Europeans call “slavery”, what one might call it when the government not only doesn’t encourage you to work, it actually prevents you from working (via what is known in typically obscure Eurospeak as the “48-hour Working Time Directive”.) Toynbee provides the answer: “reasonable”.

Toynbee really takes off as she thinks about the future.
It will take visionary leadership to persuade people that Europe's great mission has been spreading democracy to fascist and communist dictatorships, not by invasion but by the soft power of embrace.
Indeed it will. Especially given how difficult it is to actually come up with a fascist or communist dictatorship that has, in fact, been won over to democracy by Europe’s warm embrace. To be sure, Europe has done well with the embracing part (think Castro, Arafat, even Saddam). But as for that democratic transformation…well, I’m at a loss.

Finally, she culminates with a grand delusion:
A recent Newsweek global survey found how profoundly anti-American the world has become in the Bush era, and that unites Europeans: 77% of Germans, 64% in Britain, saw his re-election as a threat to world peace. It showed the American dream dead outside America: most of the world looks instead to the European way and that is what the EU is for.
Is it true that the American dream is dead outside of America? Surely there is a better way of establishing the fact than asking a bunch of Germans how much they really, really hate Bush’s foreign policy. Like, for instance, looking at migration statistics perhaps? It has long been a joke that the only thing bigger than the anti-American protests outside a givenUS embassy is the line of people inside the embassy trying to get a visa. It turns out that, in the three years of available data since Bush has been president, the US has admitted 2.8 million legal immigrants into the US, including 450,349 from Europe itself…presumably people who are intimately familiar with the “European way”, whatever that means. And on top of that 2.8 million there is an additional 2.4 million temporary workers who come to the US to work without immigrant status. Let’s not even get started on the approximately 350,000 illegal immigrants who come to the US annually. And these figures are undoubtedly dampened by the tightened security and immigration policies adopted post-9/11.

For sure some of these people (like middle-eastern terrorists, perhaps) are entering the US in the hopes of getting it to adopt a more “European way”. But I suspect that most of them are, indeed, scrambling to get a piece of that American dream which is, no doubt much to Toynbee’s annoyance, alive and well throughout the world.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Mark said...

There is an "American dream" outside the U.S., it just doesn't get talked about much. I've heard repeatedly over the last few years how the populace of Iran is very pro-American. We don't see it on the news, but Americans who travel there always come back saying that they were welcomed with smiles by Iranian citizens. Their government is another story entirely.

I've also heard stories over the last several years of Americans travelling to China, and being approached by many Chinese, begging them to take them home with them, when they go back to the U.S. They don't want to be in China anymore. They want to defect! Perhaps European tourists have had the same experience. It wouldn't surprise me if some Chinese had an "Anywhere but here" mentality.

Toynbee seems quite optimistic that Europeans can be persuaded to allow more countries, including Turkey, to be admitted to the EU, over the course of time. From what I understand of some European attitudes, I'm doubtful this will work out unless some significant changes are made. First of all, they're going to need better economic systems. It appears this would take a great political struggle, since people in France, Germany, and Italy are resistant to the idea already, and their economies are flatlining (though there does seem to be hope with new leadership emerging in Germany soon). The reason I say this is that better economies encourage more openness. Times like these do not. People feel protective of what they have and are unwilling to advance opportunities for others.

Secondly, it's going to require greater cultural/religious tolerance. Right now, Muslim immigrants are cordoned off into their own ghettos (if that's the appropriate term) in France, isolated, rather than integrated into the French culture. With that kind of mentality, I can't imagine that the French are going to be receptive to admitting Turkey to the EU, with all the rights and privileges that come with it.

Plus, there are some prominent figures in Europe who want the EU to unify around a rigorous Socialist idea of society. Former East Bloc countries are not going to be too receptive to this. They just got done getting themselves out from under a repressive Socialist/Communist system.

From what I've read, there are apparently many European writers who see the EU as having a competing world vision to the U.S., and it seems that's all they see. They don't see the complications that are caused in their own system by trying to advance that view. The assumption is that Europe doesn't need to change. The rest of the world already accepts their world view, or can be won over, certainly more easily than the U.S. can do so. I think they have some learning to do. Trying to patch together a bunch of different cultures into a union is not as easy as it sounds. We had our own battle with that, with the South's secession from the union, and the Civil War that followed.

1:30 AM  
Anonymous tired & excitable said...

Unpretty Polly, alternately preening and moulting but always squawking, is one tired old tit. She's also entirely predictable.

It takes special skills to make Fisk look bright and balanced, but she's up to the challenge -- and a good working definition of beyond the pale. So let her hop on her crappy twig. The real world keeps on spinning regardless.

8:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All the world hates America; just like, I suppose, French and Dutch voters turned up in droves to approve the EU constitution. The problem with living in a dreamland is the annoying fact that reality keeps intruding, despite your best efforts to ignore it.

1:45 PM  
Anonymous tired & excitable said...

No, all the world doesn't.
No, the French and the Dutch didn't.

Are you struggling with Irony 101 there?
Even more tragic, are you suggesting that Polly is actually Wise Owl, our mentor, guide and friend? Oh blimey!

5:24 PM  
Blogger Richard John said...

Interesting and probably forgotten fact.

Polly Toynbee was the BBC1 social affairs (I think) news reporter during the mid-late 1980's when she was constantly attacking the Thatcher government. That's the unbiased BBC in case anyone was wondering.

10:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

With 'opposition' like Polly and the Euro 'elite' - American hegemony is assured!

5:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Im a Guardian reader but I just ignore Polly she's a loon. Part of the set that lives in the Bubble that is London. (US equivalent to "Beltway talk")

6:44 AM  

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