May 10, 2005

Fukuyama and Abe Simpson

I thought The End of History was one of the most fatuous things I'd ever read, and I'm not sure I'd use it to explain Europe today or anything else. On the other hand I recall seeing an episode of The Simpsons in which old Abe Simpson resolves to go out and paint the town, then opens his door and says, "I don't like the look of those teenagers," before going back inside. Now that might explain something.

Relative to the rest of the world, Europe is old. It is also prosperous, and has been for quite a long time. I don't know that we should expect any society of which those two things can be said to display much enthusiasm for new conquests or adventures. It looks to me as if what Europeans want more than anything else is a quiet life (in this at least, as I observed in an earlier post, the British are already thoroughly European), which might explain some of Tony Blair's problems as well as Jacques Chirac's. And George Bush's. And maybe Pope Benedict's also.

An aging, tired and contented people are not much more likely to be up for moral adventures than for physical ones. If they recoil from the idea of crusading against evil in the Middle East or sacrificing to create a new European superpower, they are at least equally repelled by the thought of changing their lifestyles to meet the demands of religion (or, for that matter, children). What they want is for things to stay the same; they want to live quietly and well, grow old, and die in bed.

Plenty of people in America want the same things (well, except for the growing old part). It's a natural desire, albeit not one that history accommodates all that often or for very long. To overcome it and stir contented people nervous about change to support great projects requires leadership inspiring an unusual level of trust, as well as the ability to effectively promote the idea that the things people value most are at risk if action is not taken. That's going to be a tall order for any President, Prime Minister or Pope.

Posted by at May 10, 2005 10:59 AM | TrackBack (20)
Comments

Ah, Abe Simpson. "I used to be 'with it', but then they changed what 'it' was. Now what I'm with isn't 'it', and what's 'it' seems weird and scary."

Well, somebody was going to say it (that somebody being me).

Posted by: fling93 at May 10, 2005 08:49 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Hey, Europe is not old "relative to the rest of the world." Ever hear of China, India, MesoAmerica or even the cradle of civilization- the Middle East? Europe is relatively new to the rest of the world moron...

Posted by: Loser at May 10, 2005 09:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Not sure what a "world moron" is or what it would mean to be new to it. However, here on the Internet we have what we call "links," one of which I included in the relevant section of this post. If you use what we call a "mouse" to move what we call a "cursor" over the link, and click on it, you will be directed to a resource that will help illustrate my point. Do you see how this works?

Posted by: JEB at May 10, 2005 09:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You could make the case that the US is actually older, in terms of continuous government and national identity, than many European states. Italy and Germany were unified relatively late in the 19th Century, France morphed into so many forms it's not even funny, only England resembles it's 18th Century origins, with the possible addition of Holland.

I would argue that the central difference between the US and everyone else is that the US accepts that we are in a huge fight to destroy those who hate us, and have no real interest in hearing why they hate us, or why we are all at fault. We seem determined for the most part to make them understand why it's a very bad idea to attack and kill lots of Americans when we are at peace, so that 9/11 never happens again.

My own thought was that if the 9/11 attacks had been smaller scale, the American reaction would have been more like the Spanish. Appeasement and buying off terrorists ala Clinton and Bush1 and Reagan and Carter and Ford and Nixon. Bin Laden miscalculated and instead enraged the US by a mass murder. I would expect a similar response from the Europeans if a mass murder there happens. If 4,000 Parisians are murdered, I'd expect the Chirac Government to fall, and someone like De Gaulle to lead a punitive military expedition to whoever was responsible, come what may.

I don't think we are that different, honestly.

Posted by: Jim Rockford at May 11, 2005 12:51 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

jim, interesting take. i largely agree with your paris hypo, btw. we probably, all told, aren't all that different, as you suggest--kagan et al. notwithstanding. i hope to look at all this in more depth in the coming months.

Posted by: greg at May 11, 2005 04:56 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Hey, Europe is not old "relative to the rest of the world." Ever hear of China, India, MesoAmerica ....

You could make the case that the US is actually older, in terms of continuous government and national identity...

proof that the ability to read for context is not a function of ideology.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at May 11, 2005 02:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

An aging, tired and contented people are not much more likely to be up for moral adventures than for physical ones. If they recoil from the idea of crusading against evil in the Middle East or sacrificing to create a new European superpower, they are at least equally repelled by the thought of changing their lifestyles to meet the demands of religion (or, for that matter, children). What they want is for things to stay the same; they want to live quietly and well, grow old, and die in bed.

the question is whether an older population is simply more complacent as such, or whether the appearance of complacence is actually a sign of maturity.

Most right wingers see the changes brought about in the "sixties" as bad things --- yet these changes were brought about by the willingness of the baby boomers/post-war generation who were coming of age to pursue "moral and physical adventures." They pursued "moral adventures" like the civil rights movement, opposition to the Vietnam War and "imperialism", feminism, and gay rights. They pursued "physical adventures" with drugs and sexual freedom. The older generations of that era wanted things to stay the same---and today's conservatives believe that the sixties were a mistake.

Yet these same conservatives now want nations to pursue a course that is based on the same youthful impetuousness that they believe was objectionable in the sixties.

What's up with that?

Posted by: p.lukasiak at May 11, 2005 02:41 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Maybe conservatives think 'adventures' where the biggest risk is death are somewhat different than 'adventures' where the biggest risk is herpes?

Posted by: rosignol at May 13, 2005 09:15 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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