[Marxism] Michael Lind on US-Europe relations

Marvin Gandall marvgandall at rogers.com
Tue Aug 24 09:20:12 MDT 2004

(Michael Lind’s piece (below) in yesterday’s Financial Times is a useful
antidote to the caricature of American society as hopelessly reactionary
compared to Europe - a perception reinforced by the advent of the Bush
administration. I tend to agree with Lind’s thesis that the two societies
are “becoming more alike” socially and economically, but his accompanying
view  - that “the geopolitical interests of the US and Europe are
diverging” - is more questionable. These foreign policy differences seem to
me to be mostly conjunctural and tactical, rather than permanent and
strategic, and derive mainly from the Bush administration’s reckless
invasion of Iraq and early ideological rhetoric about an “axis of evil”.

This “divergence” was nowhere on display during the Clinton administration,
and the Democrats are running on the promise of a return to the Atlantic
alliance. The foreign policy of the Bush administration has itself become
more cautious and pragmatic since Iraq, North Korea, and Iran all in their
own way forced it to confront the limits of raw US military power.

The discussion is relevant to the current US election, where those calling
for supporting the Democrats do so on the presumption its foreign policy
will be more restrained and “European”, while the pro-Nader forces to their
left suggest a Kerry administration would have been - and will be - as
militarily aggressive abroad as the early Bush administration.

In fact, whether the US relies on so-called soft or hard power depends on
the development of particular situations – but in either case I think
European and US interests will continue to coincide rather than diverge, at
least for so long as the US remains Europe’s largest market and guarantor of
its access to global resources.)

Marv Gandall
The Atlantic is becoming even wider
By Michael Lind
Financial Times
August 23 2004

Neo-conservatives claim that the US and Europe are diverging in their values
and interests. Atlanticists claim that on both counts, the US and Europe
remain closely aligned. Both schools are wrong.

In their values, the US and Europe are growing closer. At the same time,
their geopolitical interests are diverging. The attitudinal divide between
Americans and Europeans is easily exaggerated. The influence in the US
government of social conservatives in the southern and western states is
grossly inflated by the presidential electoral college, the malapportioned
US Senate and the rigging of congressional electoral districts by Republican
state legislatures. Conservatives may keep winning elections for a few more
years. But time is not on their side. White southern Protestants, the base
of today's Republican Party, are steadily shrinking as a percentage of the

On issues of sex and reproduction, Americans are steadily becoming more
“European” in outlook - even in the conservative heartland. Gay marriage is
still controversial, but acceptance of gay rights is increasing. The
controversy over stem-cell research is likely to accelerate the defeat of
the religious right's crusade against human biotechnology. As Alan Wolfe,
the sociologist, has noted, even evangelical Protestants are growing more
liberal. In the realm of the media, as well, the US is becoming more
European. For generations, what was banned in Boston could be bought in
Paris. Europe continues to break down barriers in censorship - not
necessarily for the better, as the European invention of reality television
proves. But the American media tend to follow European breakthroughs after a
few years. Thanks to cable television and, in time perhaps, internet
programming, the censorship efforts of US conservatives will be thwarted.

While the US remains far more religious than Europe, the long-term trend is
toward European-style secularism. Although still a minority, the number of
purely secular Americans has increased dramatically with each census - at
the expense of the liberal denominations of Protestantism, Catholicism and
Judaism. As a result, hardline traditionalists make up a growing sector of
America's shrinking religious population. This creates a misleading image of
a religious revival in the US, where in fact church attendance and religious
belief are in long-term decline.

While the US is moving towards European-style social liberalism and
secularism, Europe is becoming ever more American in terms of the economy
and constitutional politics. Since the 1980s, under the influence of
neo-liberalism, European governments on both left and right have been moving
away from statist social democracy towards more market-based economies with
less generous entitlements. American constitutional theories are conquering
Europe as well. Parliamentary democracy rather than US-style separation of
powers remains the European norm. But the American constitutional devices of
judicial review, written constitutions, bills of rights and federalism have
been adopted by many European countries whose political thinkers once
rejected them. Britain is an example.

Immigration, too, is “Americanising” Europe. Once a source of emigrants,
Europe, now greying and with low fertility, is increasingly the destination
of inward migration. As a result, Europeans must deal with challenges of
assimilation and ethnic politics with which Americans have long been

For better or for worse, the two sides of the Atlantic are converging on a
similar model of society: secular and liberal in the realm of values,
market-oriented in economics, focused on individual rights in the
constitutional realm and admitting large numbers of immigrants. But the
transatlantic convergence in values does not translate into foreign policy
harmony. Even as their societies become more alike, the geopolitical
interests of the US and Europe are diverging.

The disappearance of the Soviet threat has removed the chief reason for the
Nato alliance. With Russia experiencing a demographic nightmare of high
mortality and low fertility, Europe is more likely to be threatened by chaos
 to its east than by an aggressive great power.

As the dominant power in east Asia, the US worries about the military
implications of China's rise. This is not a major concern for Europe. Both
the US and Europe share a common interest in thwarting al-Qaeda and similar
jihadist movements. Nevertheless, the interests of the two differ in the
Middle East. Unlike Europe, Russia, China and India, the US neither borders
the Muslim world nor itself contains a substantial Muslim population. This
fact permits America to have a Middle East policy influenced by geopolitical
ambitions and domestic political factions, such as the Israel lobby and its
Christian Zionist supporters. America can afford this policy because it is
next to Mexico, not the Arab world. That the US is far less vulnerable than
Europe to al-Qaeda is suggested by the Madrid bombing along with the absence
of al-Qaeda attacks in the US since September 11 2001.

Europeans are more likely to pay the price for US misadventures in the
Middle East than the American people. When Europeans point this out, they
are accused of appeasement by American neo-conservatives. The truth is that
Europeans, for whom the Middle East is their “near abroad”, have far more at
stake than Americans, for whom engagement in the region is a matter of
choice rather than fate.

The US and Europe really are drifting apart. The divide is caused not by
different social values but by different geopolitical interests. In the
years ahead, Americans and Europeans are likely to become more and more
alike. But they are likely to agree on less and less.

The writer is the Whitehead senior fellow at the New America Foundation

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