September 25, 2008


The modern Tory hero should be Jefferson: Daniel Hannan and Douglas Carswell unveil their plan for radical reform to decentralise power, make voting count and challenge apparats from Brussels to town halls (Daniel Hannan and Douglas Carswell, 24th September 2008, The Spectator)

In theory, Europeans find American elections vulgar and plutocratic. In practice, they find them utterly gripping. This is partly because the US is wealthy and powerful, but mainly because American campaigns, being more participatory than European ones, are more interesting.

All organisations grow according to the DNA encoded at the time of their conception. The US was founded in a revolt against a distant and autocratic regime. In consequence, its polity developed according to what we might call Jeffersonian principles: the idea that power should be diffused and that government officials, wherever possible, should be elected.

Most European constitutions, by contrast, were drawn up after the second world war. Their authors believed that democracy had led to fascism, and that the ballot box needed to be tempered by a class of sober functionaries who were invulnerable to public opinion.

The difference between the American and European approaches can be inferred from their foundational charters. The US Constitution, including all 27 amendments, is 7,600 words long, and is mainly preoccupied with the rights of the individual. The Lisbon Treaty contains 76,000 words and is chiefly concerned with the powers of the state. The American Constitution begins, ‘We, the people...’; the Treaty of Rome begins, ‘His Majesty the King of the Belgians...’

Americans pride themselves on having got away from titles and deference. Their rugged egalitarianism, they believe, is what makes New World politics more optimistic and less cynical than Old World politics. And they have a point. American political culture produced The West Wing, predicated on the idea that even the politicians you disagree with are patriots. Britain’s produced Yes, Minister and The Thick of It, predicated on the idea that all MPs are petty, jobbing crooks.

But a political culture is not some numinous entity that exists outside a nation’s institutions; rather, it emanates from those institutions. Congressmen would be every bit as stuck up as MEPs if they were protected by party lists. It’s just that party lists are unthinkable in a system where everyone from the sanitation officer to the DA is elected, where power is localised, and where politicians are selected through open primaries.

Imagine how open primaries would change the culture of Westminster.

Want to know what American Imperialism really consists of? It's the global obsession with our elections--made possible by the communications revolution--and the way it makes folks abroad frustrated that they don't have as much say in how they're governed.

Wall Street's Blow to US Prestige?: The surprising answer is no. Most business people still view the US as a beacon of free enterprise and praise its swift response to the crisis. (Jack Ewing, 9/25/08, Der Spiegel)

The boulevards of Paris are a pretty reliable place to troll for anti-American sentiment. And sure enough, self-described anarchist Bernard Barbry is happy to weigh in with his opinion of the U.S. financial system. "The banks have brought this on themselves, and they deserve what they get," says Barbry, out for a stroll on a busy street in southwestern Paris. Surprisingly, though, the retired journalist isn't predicting America's downfall. The U.S., he believes, will remain powerful, and the crisis on Wall Street won't affect Washington's influence on world affairs. "I like Americans," he says. [...]

As the world grapples with the fallout from Wall Street's shenanigans, there's no shortage of consternation, and even anger. But so far the international image of the U.S. economic model has shown amazing resilience. Lehman Brothers may be in the morgue and AIG on government-funded life support, but most businesspeople think the U.S. is more about Silicon Valley and Hollywood than the erstwhile dynamos of Wall Street. Even in China -- where broadcaster CCTV-2 has been running two hours of special programming every night about the financial crisis -- the U.S. is still a land to be emulated. "I see two Americas: One is wealth-creating, innovative, with people like Bill Gates, and the other is made up of speculators," says Wang Jianmao, an economics professor at China Europe International Business School in Shanghai. "China should learn more from wealth-creating America."

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 25, 2008 7:30 AM
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