Sunday, January 31, 2010

John Quiggin on European Exceptionalism

Over at Crooked Timber, John Quiggin provides food for thought about American and, especially, European Exceptionalism:

the US is different in lots of ways: an outlier in terms of nationalism, military power, religiosity, working hours and inequality of outcomes and (in the opposite direction) in terms of government intervention, health outcomes and other measures typically associated with welfare states. Among these the outstanding differences arise from the fact that the US aspires, with some success, to be globally hegemonic in military terms and (with rather less success) in economic terms as well.

But, when you think about it, there is nothing exceptional here.

Almost every state of any significance in history has aspired to dominate its known world....

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The real exception to ... this is Europe. The largest economic aggregate in world history, it has enough military power to repel any invader, but is deeply uninterested in using this power to any more glorious end. It grows by a process of reluctant accretion, controlled by ever more onerous admission requirements. In all of history, it would be hard to find anything comparable in terms of pacifism, godlessness, equality, leisure for the masses or public provision of services. It’s for this reason that American views of Europe resemble de Tocqueville in reverse. Something so unprecedented, and against the laws of nature, they think, cannot possibly survive, let alone prosper. And yet it does.

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