Skip to main content

America's excesses

In a piece "Incurable American Excess" published in The New York Times, columnist Roger Cohen, compares what he describes as the excesses of Americans as compared to how Europeans view what their Governments should be doing for them.    

"A few years ago, Americans and Europeans were asked in a Pew Global Attitudes survey what was more important: “freedom to pursue life’s goals without state interference,” or “state guarantees that nobody is in need.” In the United States, 58 percent chose freedom and only 35 percent a state pledge to eradicate neediness. In Britain, the response was the opposite: 55 percent opted for state guarantees and just 38 percent for freedom. On the European Continent — in Germany, France and Spain — those considering state protection as more important than freedom from state interference rose to 62 percent.

This finding gets to the heart of trans-Atlantic differences. Americans, who dwell in a vast country, sparsely populated by European standards, are hardwired to the notion of individual self-reliance. Europeans, with two 20th-century experiences of cataclysmic societal fracture, are bound to the idea of social solidarity as prudent safeguard and guarantor of human decency. The French see the state as a noble idea and embodiment of citizens’ rights. Americans tend to see the state as a predator on those rights. The French ennoble the dutiful public servant. Americans ennoble the disruptive entrepreneur.

To return from Europe to the United States, as I did recently, is to be struck by the crumbling infrastructure, the paucity of public spaces, the conspicuous waste (of food and energy above all), the dirtiness of cities and the acuteness of their poverty. It is also to be overwhelmed by the volume and vital clamor of American life, the challenging interaction, the bracing intermingling of Americans of all stripes, the strident individualism. Europe is more organized, America more alive. Europe purrs; even its hardship seems somehow muted. America revs. The differences can feel violent."




Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Whatever democracy the Palestinians had is dying

Almost a desperate cry from a well-known, respected and sober moderate Palestinian.

Mustafa Barghouthi is secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative and a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. He was a candidate for the Palestinian presidency in 2005.

He writes in a piece "The Slow Death of Palestinian Democracy" on FP:

"Palestinian municipal elections were supposed to be held last week. Instead, they were canceled. A statement released by the Palestinian Authority claimed the cancellation was "in order to pave the way for a successful end to the siege on Gaza and for continued efforts at unity" between Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, and the government in the West Bank.

The cancellation of this election was an unjustified, unlawful, and unacceptable act. It damages democratic rights and makes a mockery of the interests of the Palestinian people.

But this is far more than an internal Palestinian issue. The only lasting peace between Isr…

Big Brother alive and well in the USA in 2007

The so-called "war on terror" has shown itself up in a multitude of manifestations. The most dangerous thing has been governments using the "excuse" of the war to restrict certain civil liberties, allowing government agencies to pursue a variety of things that they would otherwise would not - and should not - be allowed to do and gathering, and retaining, a variety of information on its citizens.

The Washington Post reports on the latest incursions into civil liberties of all Americans:

"The U.S. government is collecting electronic records on the travel habits of millions of Americans who fly, drive or take cruises abroad, retaining data on the persons with whom they travel or plan to stay, the personal items they carry during their journeys, and even the books that travelers have carried, according to documents obtained by a group of civil liberties advocates and statements by government officials.

The personal travel records are meant to be stored for as lo…