America is a project, Europe is a sorrow 0

From an article in City Journal on what Europe has become and how it differs from America, we select some passages as samples in the hope that they will tempt you to read it all. We think it’s true, and that it’s a splendid piece of writing for which both the author Pascal Bruckner, a French philosopher, and his translator Alexis Cornel, deserve praise.

It’s title is Europe’s Guilty Conscience, it’s introductory headline, Self-hatred is paralyzing the Continent.

Brooding over its past crimes (slavery, imperialism, fascism, communism), Europe sees its history as a series of murders and depredations that culminated in two global conflicts. … Those born after World War II are endowed with the certainty of belonging to the dregs of humanity, an execrable civilization that has dominated and pillaged most of the world for centuries in the name of the superiority of the white man.

In its “white man’s guilt” it includes America:

Since 9/11 … a majority of Europeans have felt, despite our sympathy for the victims, that the Americans got what they deserved. The same reasoning prevailed with respect to the terrorist attacks on Madrid in 2004 and on London in 2005, when many good souls, on both the right and the left, portrayed the attackers as unfortunate people protesting Europe’s insolent wealth, its aggression in Iraq or Afghanistan, or its way of life.

But take its greatness with its shame: –

Europe has surely engendered monsters. But it has, at the same time, engendered the ideas that made it possible to slay monsters. European history is a succession of paradoxes: arbitrary feudal power gave rise to democracy; ecclesiastical oppression, to freedom of conscience; national rivalries, to the dream of a supranational community

– that (in our italics) we think is another crime in the making, a new nightmare rather than a dream  –

… overseas conquests, to anticolonialism; and revolutionary ideologies, to the antitotalitarian movement. …

Wallowing in its remorse, Europe is misjudging itself and the world:

A civilization responsible for the worst atrocities as well as the most sublime accomplishments cannot understand itself solely in terms of guilt. … We now live on self-denunciation, as if permanently indebted to the poor, the destitute, to immigrants— as if our only duty were expiation, endless expiation, restoring without limit what we had taken from humanity from the beginning. This wave of repentance spreads through our latitudes and our governments like an epidemic. An active conscience is a fine and healthy thing, of course. But contrition must not be limited to certain parties while innocence is accorded to anyone who claims to be persecuted.

The United States, despite its own faults, retains the capacity to combine self-criticism with self-affirmation, demonstrating a pride that we lack.

America itself, yes, if not its present  leadership.

But Europe’s worst enemy is Europe itself, with its penitential view of its past, its corrosive guilt, and a scrupulousness taken to the point of paralysis. How can we expect to be respected if we do not respect ourselves … ? The truth is that Europeans do not like themselves, or at least do not like themselves enough to overcome their distaste and to show the kind of quasi-religious fervor for their culture that is so striking in Americans.

We too often forget that modern Europe was born not during a time of enthusiastic historical rebeginning, as was the United States, but from a weariness of slaughter. It took the total disaster of the twentieth century, embodied in Verdun and Auschwitz, for the Old World to happen upon virtue, like an aging trollop who moves directly from debauchery to fervent religious belief. …  We became wise, perhaps, but with the force-fed wisdom of a people brutalized by carnage and resigned to modest projects. The only ambition we have left is to escape the furies of our age and to confine ourselves to the administration of economic and social matters.

While America is a project, Europe is a sorrow. Before long, it will amount to little except the residue of abandoned dreams. … [T]here is a striking contrast between the stories that we Europeans tell ourselves about rights, tolerance, and multilateralism and the tragedies that we witness in the surrounding world — in autocratic Russia, aggressive Iran, arrogant China, a divided Middle East. We see them, too, in the heart of our great cities, in the double offensive of Islamist terrorism and fundamentalist groups aiming to colonize minds and hearts and Islamize Europe. …

History goes on without us, and everywhere emergent nations are recovering their dignity, their power, and their aggressiveness, Europe leaves it to the Americans to be in charge, while reserving the right to criticize them violently when they go astray. …

[Europe] has a history, whereas America is still making history, animated by an eschatological tension toward the future. If the latter sometimes makes major mistakes, the former makes none because it attempts nothing. For Europe, prudence no longer consists in the art, defended by the ancients, of finding one’s way within an uncertain story. We hate America because she makes a difference. We prefer Europe because she is not a threat. Our repulsion represents a kind of homage, and our sympathy a kind of contempt. …

But if Europe thinks it has earned its rest and can opt out of the world’s “uncertain story”, it is wrong:

Europe has developed a veritable fanaticism for modesty, but if it cannot preside over the destinies of the whole world, it must at least play a part, retain its special voice in favor of justice and law, and assume the political and military means to make itself heard. Penitence is finally a political choice; it is to choose an abdication that in no way immunizes us against mistakes. Fear of repeating yesterday’s errors makes us too indulgent of contemporary outrages.

By preferring injustice to disorder, the Old World risks being swept away by chaos, the victim of a renunciation mistaken for wisdom. …

Posted under America, Commentary, Europe, History, United States by Jillian Becker on Sunday, August 29, 2010

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