Thursday, September 02, 2004

Another small note on wet dreams

Jeremy Rifkin had a piece in the Guardian yesterday. He seems to be fond of Europe, so fond of Europe that he actually wrote a book about Europe and how good the Europeans are. He called it The European Dream: How Europe's Vision of the Future is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream.

Good to know that there is a “European Dream”, that was news to me. Apparently, the dream is even written down, in the constitution:

“[A] new European dream is beginning to capture the world's imagination. That dream has now been codified in the form of a draft constitution and Europeans are currently debating whether or not to ratify its contents and accept its underlying values as the core of a new Europe.

Twenty-five nations, representing 455 million people, have joined together to create a "United States" of Europe. Like the United States of America, this vast political entity has its own empowering myth. Although still in its adolescence, the European dream is the first transnational vision, one far better suited to the next stage in the human journey. Europeans are beginning to adopt a new global consciousness that extends beyond, and below, the borders of their nation-states, deeply embedding them in an increasingly interconnected world.”


This is strange, for a number of reasons. He claims that the American dream “no longer serves as the rallying point for everyone in America” which is fair enough. Rifkin bases his opinion on a survey which showed that one-third of the Americans no longer believe in the dream.

But he seems to have no problem to find the European dream. In a constitution that is not yet ratified. In a constitution that in some countries will go under a referendum and in other decided by the politician if it will be enacted. In a constitution that is not necessarily a constitution at all but a treaty, an important distinction you’ll have to remember and especially if you want to talk about political entities.

One can ask if one-third of the Europeans vote against the constitution does that mean Rifkin’s view of the European dream goes down the drain? That it never becomes a rallying point for everyone at all. The answer is both yes and no.

Obviously yes, since the very same, at least, measure served for Rifkin regarding the American dream. No, and I’m not sure it helps Rifkin’s case, because the individuals don’t vote on a certain dream but on a constitution (or a treaty, decide for yourself). This of course means that the dream itself can be found valid while constitution/treaty isn’t.

The problem, though, is that the dream itself is imposed on the Europeans by Rifkin. And when the Europeans don’t comply with the dream, blame the Europeans.

Rifkin writes:

“Nowhere is the contrast between the European dream and the American dream sharper than when it comes to the definition of personal freedom. For Americans, freedom has long been associated with autonomy; the more wealth one amasses, the more independent one is in the world. One is free by becoming self-reliant and an island unto oneself. With wealth comes exclusivity and with exclusivity comes security. For Europeans, freedom is not found in autonomy but in community. It's about belonging, not belongings.”

Jeremy Rifkin really likes to impose his views on others. To be sure, some Americans might very well have that definition of freedom. And some Europeans might have the definition of freedom that Rifkin claims is the European. But not every American and not every European shares his view, far from it I would say. Rifkin’s thinking is based on ugly collectivism.

He defines the American dream as “the idea that anyone, regardless of the circumstances to which they're born, can make of their lives as they choose, by dint of diligence, determination, and hard work.” Surely, it sounds individualistic. But individualism doesn’t mean what Rifkin seems to think it means, both the atomism and materialism that he reads into freedom, American-style, is totally unfounded.

“Americans are more willing to employ military force to protect perceived vital self-interests. Europeans favour diplomacy, economic aid and peacekeeping operations to maintain order. The American dream is deeply personal and little concerned with the rest of humanity. The European dream is more systemic, bound to the welfare of the planet.“

Yes, that’s why two World Wars have started in Europe. That’s why a number of European countries deployed military forces in Iraq alongside with the US. Because we favour diplomacy. It is also because Americans are more willing to employ military force that millions of Americans opposed the war in Iraq. And it is because we Europeans are concerned with the rest of humanity that, as Rifkin himself writes, “Europeans have become increasingly hostile towards asylum seekers. Anti-Semitism is on the rise, as is discrimination against Muslims and other religious minorities.” And what about Schengen, the European Fortress?

But he acknowledges that we, the Europeans, don’t live up to this dream. “The point, however, is not whether the Europeans are living up to their dream. We Americans have never fully lived up to our own dream. What's important is that a new generation of Europeans is creating a radical new vision for the future.” First of all, it is not our dream. It is the dream that Jeremy Rifkin impose on us, the dream he wants us to have. Secondly, if Rifkin tries to find this dream in the constitution, then it is not a “new generation of Europeans” who creates it, it is, by definition, already there, created by politicians in Brussels. Oddly enough, the same politicians that “[are] aloof from the citizens it supposedly serves.” Thirdly, the only thing that is even remotely radical in the new constitution/treaty seems to be… well, nothing at all. If the constitution is really a constitution and not a treaty, then the EU will receive competence on its own and not from the member states. Either way, it’s business as usual (which, by the way, is dreadful as it is).

The important thing about all this is to note that the American dream, even as defined by Rifkin, is open-ended, while Rifkin’s European dream is closed, belonging is belonging and nothing else. The collective is the focal point and don’t you dare contest it.

“[T]he American dream - the idea that anyone, regardless of the circumstances to which they're born, can make of their lives as they choose, by dint of diligence, determination, and hard work.”

As you notice, the definition says nothing about what you should choose. If you want to show solidarity with others, you’re free to do so. And in my opinion, that’s real solidarity, as opposed to being forced into it.

More readings:

Friend or Foe? What Americans should know about the European Union.
EU versus USA

Update: Tim Worstall deals with Rifkin and GDP-comparisons.