Thursday, January 05, 2006

Europe's 68ers

I've quoted before from articles by Bruce Bawer. He's a keen observer of modern Europe with the sensibility of an American who understands his own country for all that is good and bad in it. An observer of Europe has to know something about America, and be sure of how he feels about it, because so much of the elite of Europe is warped and twisted by its own reactions to America.

Here, reviewing a book by another keen observer (Paul Berman's "Power and the Idealists"), he gives us Europe without the glamour:

A few years back, after a prolonged immersion in American Protestant fundamentalism (I was writing a book), I moved from the U.S. to Western Europe, ready to bask in an open, secular, liberal culture. Instead I discovered that European social democracy, too, was a kind of fundamentalism, rigid and doctrinaire, yielding what Swedish writer Johan Norberg calls "one-idea states"—nations where an echo chamber of insular elites calls the shots, where monochrome media daily reiterate statist mantras and shut out contrarian views, and where teachers and professors systematically misrepresent the U.S. (millions of Europeans believe that free public schools, unemployment insurance, and pensions are unknown in America). The more I saw of the European elites' chronic distrust of the public, and the public's habitual deference to those elites, the fonder I grew of the nasty, ridiculous rough-and-tumble of American democracy, in which every voice is heard—even if, as a result, the U.S. gets capital punishment and Europe gets gay marriage.

How did Western Europe come to be ruled by monolithic ideologues? Short answer: the "'68ers," which is what Europeans call those who came of age in the radical movements of the 1960s, revering Mao and reviling the U.S. as Nazi Germany's successor. Remarkably, after the protests were over, an extraordinary number of '68ers—those who'd stood on the barricades denouncing the system—ascended into positions of political and cultural power, shaping a New Europe (and an EU) in which the anti-Americanism of the barricades became official dogma.

Yep. That's what you get when the hippies take over the university. Based on what I see around me at work, it would be no different here if the Stateside 68ers had enjoyed similar success. We're not so different from Europe, fundamentally. In experience, yes.

Speaking of Europe and America, Tony Judt's Postwar is on my to-do list. Recently, for some reason, I've been drawn again and again to studying 1945 as the hinge year of the modern world. Even the "Nation's" review of it can't help but praise the work, despite its scalding treatment of many of the "Nation's" old friends, since Judt's research led him to "applaud Eastern Europe's acting out in Budapest, Prague and finally in 1989, and to dismiss Parisian acting out in 1968. Judt's book is a retrospective battle with the forces of Stalinist despotism and its useful idiots on the left (Judt certainly has no truck with the murderous bullies on the right, but they were largely defeated in 1945 and really reappear only in the Balkans after 1989)."

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