April 25, 2002


French Twist : Le Pen terrifies Europe by violating its political taboos (Anne Applebaum, April 23, 2002, Slate)
Although Chirac will certainly win in the final round, the story may not end here. The unthinkable has now happened twice: The supposedly marginal far-right has scored damaging blows on the mainstream politicians of both Austria and France. Others should draw lessons. ...[A] number of European countries have avoided a similar calamity through the rejuvenation of center-right parties (most recently Denmark, Italy, and Portugal), which advocate liberal economic reforms, on the American model, more restricted immigration, and a more vigorous debate about the European Union. The rejuvenation of the left--on the somewhat idiosyncratic model of the British Labor Party--might work just as well. The alternative is bleak. If politicians refuse to address their voters' concerns--however dark and unacceptable those concerns may be--sooner or later, the voters will make them pay for it.

Ms Applebaum's essay touches upon a couple of the underestimated stories about globalization, its impact on the developed world and its fundamentally conservative influence.

If we look at Western Europe we can discern several great trends : the decline (even disappearance) of religious belief; growing dependence on government services; a tendency toward greater centralization of government, as in the creation of a European Union; declining fertility rates; and rising immigration. Not only do these trends conflict with one another, it is not clear that any of them can be maintained without eventually destroying Europe, at least as we know it.

The most obvious problem is that you can not maintain massive government services at the same time as you're experiencing population decline. It requires little economic training or imagination to understand that a shrinking taxpayer base is incompatible with the rising cost of government services. The potential responses to this demographic bind are all unpleasant, at least to Europeans : they could boost their own fertility; they could give up entitlements; or they can import workers from the Third World. They've chosen option three, but now--having combined that burgeoning population of unassimilated foreigners with the general drift away from traditional culture and values and the loss of sovereignty to the EU--are confronted with the specter of losing their sense of national identity. Will a Britain where Christianity has ceased to exist, government is run from Brussels, and the bulk of the working age population is Indian/Pakistani/Jamaican/etc., still be England? One needn't be a racist or a xenophobe to appreciate why this question would concern people.

Of even greater concern than the problem of culture; it would be one thing if a country could compete in the world economy even as its culture was transformed, but history suggests that the maintenance of a massive social welfare state, and the taxation levels required to fund it; the maintenance of a scheme of regulations as extensive as societies with no moral systems require; and the instability that results in societies where large segments of the population are unassimilated, are all incompatible with the simultaneous maintenance of the kind of economy that can compete effectively in the global economy. Europe seems to not only be on a collision course with itself but with globalization.

Fortunately though, it appears that the solutions to the internal problems of European nations are also effective in treating the external problems; that is, correcting what is unhealthy within a culture, not surprisingly, makes the nation a fitter competitor in the global economy. So, for instance, removing some of the expensive props of the welfare state tends to throw people in need back on the tender mercies of their family, thereby restoring the importance of family and specifically of marriage and children. Likewise, there is a symbiotic relationship between reducing government regulation and reinvigorating religious morality--the latter making the former possible. And, the need to fully assimilate immigrants into a culture makes people realize the importance of that culture themselves. Finally, all of these tend to have a decentralizing effect, moving society away from top-down bureaucratic governance and toward smaller, private, social arrangements. As family, church, and neighborhood are recognized as more flexible and responsive ways of dealing with social challenges, so Europe might realize that locking into a mammoth and sclerotic EU is a bad idea.

America itself must move further along this road, but to a significant degree, this process of becoming more competitive in the global economy requires countries to become more like us, and not the us of 1929-1994, but the us of 1776-1928 and 1994-now, the America of smaller government and lower taxes, of community and church, of the melting pot rather than the multiculture. The future of those nations that succeed may well be American-style conservatism. No wonder intellectual elites hate globalism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 25, 2002 1:22 PM
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