With the French elections happening today, Adam Gopnik's "Vive La France" piece in the May 7 The New Yorker is timely reading.
Like so much else in the magazine, it's wonderfully written and soundly reasoned.
The piece touches on a question that baffles me: why conservatives/Republicans in our semi good-old USA have such a distaste for European social democracies. Those nations do a lot of things better than we do.
Like health care. Modern transportation. Making it possible to move up the economic ladder. Providing essential social services to all of their citizens.
At the end of his essay, Gopnik reminds us of sixty million other reasons for those of us on the other side of the Atlantic to offer up a rousing chant of European Union! European Union! European Union!
To the American right, anything that goes wrong in Europe does so because Europe is wrong, and not because of austerity, because austerity is right.
This anti-European bias is producing an indecent-seeming amount of schadenfreude—on the right but also on the left—about the prospect of the dissolution of the European Union. The potential Franco-German split, Germany’s own ambivalences, the Greek crisis, the fall of the Dutch government, the backslide of the British economy—the tone about all this is oddly punitive here, as though the E.U. had been the product of some Brussels bureaucrat’s utopian folly rather than a miracle of coexistence wrought by a handful of quiet visionaries after more than fifty years of catastrophe.
In thinking about Europe and its union, the number that one needs to keep in mind is not the rate of the euro exchange or the measure of the Greek deficit but a simpler one, of sixty million.
That is the approximate (and probably understated) number of Europeans killed in the thirty years between 1914 and 1945, victims of wars of competing nationalisms on a tragically divided continent. The truth needs re-stating: social democracy in Europe, embodied by its union, has been one of the greatest successes in history.
Like all successes, it can seem exasperatingly commonplace. There is something uninspiring about the compromises and the dailiness of a happy marriage, and something compelling about one that is coming apart: it looks more like the due fate of all things. Yet the truth ought to remain central.
A continent torn by the two most horrible wars in history achieved a remarkable half century of peace and prosperity, based on a marriage of liberalism properly so called (individual freedoms, including the entrepreneurial kind) and socialism rightly so ordered (as an equitable care for the common good).
Any pleasure taken in the failure of Europe to expunge all its demons threatens to become one more way of not having to examine our own. A mild-mannered, European-minded citizen king is, at least, better than a passionately convinced exceptionalist. France, and Europe, learned that lesson the hard way.