Line of the Day (Sneering at Europe Edition)

“In the parlance of the modern-day right, Europe means several things: weakness, socialism, un-Americanism. Europe is not so much a swear-word as it is a sneer-word”—Erik Kain.

This strikes me as an excellent description of how Europe is viewed by some within the US.  And the formulation “sneer-word” is pitch perfect.

While I can understand why a given person might have a philosophical gripe about specific policies in given European country, the contempt that the continent as whole is held by some members of the American right is, honestly, rather remarkable.  

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Europe, Quick Takes, US Politics, World Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Ben Wolf says:

    I think the attitude is largely a result of religious proclivities. There’s always been a presumption of moral and ethical superiority to Europe on the part of Americans, particularly as it pertains to the favor of god.

  2. I honestly think it’s also because to a large degree “Europe,” to the extent there is such a thing in anything other than geographic terms, has presented itself to the world as a civilization in decline for decades now

  3. @Doug Mataconis: I think does represent an American view, yes. I am not sure, however, that it is accurate.

  4. Tsar Nicholas says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Ask the Greeks, the Spaniards, the Italians, the Irish and the Portugese about Europe’s decline. They’ll tell you, especially the ones making runs on banks and rioting in the streets. Actually, better yet, ask the Germans about Europe’s decline, at least those who’ll talk off the record. They’re the ones who are going to be asked to pick up the tab for PIIGS. They’re not too happy about it. They’re pretty darn angry about it, in point of fact. It’s a good thing the ghosts of the past truly are buried. Otherwise, if you were France and Poland, at al., you’d be worried.

    In any event, regarding the political right’s view about Europe, it’s not so much “contempt” as it is disappointment and trying to make sure the U.S. doesn’t share the same fate. Slow to negative growth rates, high unemployment, net negative indigenous population growth rates, and plus-100% debt-to-GDP ratios, are not recipes for long-term prosperity. Perhaps that doesn’t matter in the cocoon of the academe. It does matter, however, a great deal on Main Street.

    The “un-Americanism” lament about Europe is a function of contempt. That I must concede.

    Then again, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck most often it’s a duck. Also, for the inflation-adjusted value of the Marshall Plan you would have thought we’d be held in a bit higher regard over there, wouldn’t you? Hell, even in nominal dollar terms when you factor in the Berlin Airlift with the Marshall Plan, not to mention, you know, not being a Nazi possession, or a Soviet possession, you would think the big thinkers over in Europe would pay a little more respect to the good old U.S.A.

    Perhaps simply “ingrates” is for them a more apropos moniker?

  5. @Tsar Nicholas: I suppose it depends on what “Europe” (or, for that matter, “decline”) means.

    Spain, Greece, and Ireland are in serious trouble, yes. I am not sure that that means that Europe is doomed in some general, existential sense.

  6. @Steven L. Taylor:

    Well, I think that the world’s future lies to America’s west, not to its east.

  7. @Doug Mataconis:

    Well, I think that the world’s future lies to America’s west, not to its east.

    But does that mean that Europe will become inconsequential? I think not. It really does all depend on what “decline” means.

  8. @Steven L. Taylor:

    No. I mean you can’t really divide the world in that way, and NATO is still the only international alliance that actually works and we aren’t going to abandon that any time soon.

    I think the real point of the comment, though, is that, politically, Europe has not really demonstrated itself as a model to be emulated in recent decades

  9. grumpy realist says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Except that in the long run, Europe probably has a better chance of developing further than the US does. We’ve let our religious crazies run riot and now we’re letting our supply-side tax idiots do the same. The less we support science and technology and the more we pander to whose who don’t believe in things like evolution, the less we’re going to have to work with in the future.

    The thought processes we inherited from the Enlightenment were tools we could have used to create a technology colossus beyond belief. Unfortunately, we’re lnow istening to the religious idiots who want to warp reality to be their own belief systems. I don’t care how much you believe in God–antibiotic-resistant TB is antibiotic-resistant TB and isn’t going to be cured by prayer.

  10. Fog says:

    Funny how those poor, poor Europeans wouldn’t change places with us for the world. You’d think they would be dying to get out, but they’re not. According to the satisfaction surveys, they’re pretty happy with their lot. But they don’t spend enough on defense to push anybody around. I guess that’s why we sneer at them.

  11. @Fog:

    all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

    A guy you may have heard of

  12. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Wow, you really can’t accept the possibility that people will disagree with you graciously at all, can you?

    I like watching a third grader.

  13. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker: “I” should be “It’s,” sorry.

  14. Davebo says:

    NATO is still the only international alliance that actually works

    Well Doug, it’s handy to craft an alliance that depends on one member to prevent the other members being overrun by tanks from the east.

    But is NATO still working once the threat it was formed on is mostly gone? And is it more effective than the OAS, or OPEC for that matter?

    Both of those alliances were based on the motivations of it’s members. The concept is obviously foreign to those that believe such alliances should be based purely on the motivations of the US.

  15. al-Ameda says:

    In the parlance of the modern-day right, Europe means several things: weakness, socialism, un-Americanism. Europe is not so much a swear-word as it is a sneer-word”

    I suppose that the day is coming when many Americans will see Canada in much the same way. I mean, they do have single payer health insurance …

  16. B. Objective says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker:

    It seems you are a victim of your own insult. This entire atmosphere is hostile to consenting opinions.

    Economic decline of the leading eurozone countries, which are recording, in relation to their GDP, extremely weak, and sometimes even negative growth.Their unemployment levels are sky high and their production systems arebecoming less and less able to fend off the growing competition from eastern Asia. “The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), headquartered in Paris, released a report, “Going for Growth,” that details economic prospects in the industrial world. It is 160 pages long and written in bland, cautious, scholarly prose. But the conclusion is clear: Europe is in deep trouble. These days we all talk about the rise of Asia and the challenge to America, but it may well turn out that the most consequential trend of the next decade will be the economic decline of Europe.”- Zakaria

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/02/13/AR2006021301569.html

    Where is the argument to be made that “Europe” is in fact not in “decline?”

  17. B. Objective says:

    *Dissent, not consenting.

  18. grumpy realist says:

    @B. Objective: You’re quoting Zakaria and you want to be taken seriously? Fuhgettabahtit!

    Europe is going through problems, yes. But it’s got a damn good basis of common sense and people who believe in logic and science and technology. Once it figures out how to get the monetary and regulatory action up to date it can go very far very fast.

    The US, by contrast, is in the process of turning away from the belief system of the Enlightenment. After we continuing indulging the Christian fundies for a few more years, we’re going to have totally lost our ability to develop any further in science and technology. US companies are already moving R&D labs off to other countries like China, India, and Korea. After a while, we’re not going to have any non-military R&D in this country. So what will we end up as? A bunch of subsistence farmers, praying to God around the rusting hulks of military equipment, beating our chests and looking for enemies such as blacks, liberals, and the intellectuals to hang from the nearest tree.

    Let’s put it this way: I can much more easily imagine the re-enactment of Pot Pol being done here in the US than in Europe. There’s a reason why Sinclair Lewis wrote: “when fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross.

  19. anjin-san says:

    Considering that the economy of our own country nearly had a complete meltdown a few years back, that our infrastructure is crumbling, and that congress made us into something of an international laughing stock with a credit downgrade, it might be a good idea to dial back the arrogance and condescension.

  20. Is it really that astonishing? Large portions of Europe, particularly on the left, use “American” as a sneer word–crude, bloodthirsty, gluttonous people who wear loud college sweatshirts to cover up the hole where their hearts should be. How shocking is it to find that the world’s two richest economic blocs with cultural ties but a very different set of institutions and cultural priorities occasionally resort to using the other group as a caricature stand-in for everything they don’t hold dear?

    What I actually find kind of astonishing is the number of Americans who use Europe’s distorted disdain for us as proof that we must really be crap. You don’t find Europeans peddling this sort of contempt for their own country to each other, presumably because the ones who feel it move here.

  21. James says:

    @Megan McArdle: Those dastardly America-haters, saying mean things about other Americans whom I politically agree with.

  22. B. Objective says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Technically, I was quoting the OECD, second hand of course, would you garner my analysis with praise if the words had come from the likes of Krugman? (“By year 5 of the original Depression, output had recovered to 86 percent of its previous peak; right now, production is 91 percent of previous peak, and falling as Europe slides back into recession. So Europe is doing better this time, but not that much better — it’s sort of two-thirds of a Great Depression. “)

    I would agree that we are moving away form the “enlightened” ideals that helped found this nation. But I wouldn’t put the onus on the American “right” alone. The left is just as guilty of fear mongering and populist rhetoric as the right. The left is advocating a ‘big brother’ state (the same one they condemned Bush for perpetuating), which is by the very definition anti-enlightenment. The deterioration of States’ rights was not a product of the American right, the deterioration of the Republic has not been a product of the American ‘right’, no more than it has been one of the American left.

    If you have yet to realize that the fundamental differences between the “right and left” are few and far between, you have no stone to throw. In fact this is the essence of anti-enlightenment. We have two lies on which people are taking sides arguing about who is correct… This is anti-enlightenment. You can either think for yourself, or absorb the party lines ad nauseam, this is your choice- make it while you still have it.

  23. mantis says:

    @Megan McArdle:

    Large portions of Europe, particularly on the left, use “American” as a sneer word–crude, bloodthirsty, gluttonous people who wear loud college sweatshirts to cover up the hole where their hearts should be.

    They don’t even realize some of us bloodthirsty, gluttonous people with loud sweatshirts also have expensive kitchen gadgets to make bechamel!

    You don’t find Europeans peddling this sort of contempt for their own country to each other

    Europeans consulted to arrive at this conclusion: 0

  24. @Megan McArdle:

    What I actually find kind of astonishing is the number of Americans who use Europe’s distorted disdain for us as proof that we must really be crap

    There are Europhiles out there who do use the comparison in that fashion.

    However, speaking for myself, I would think it should be possible to be more objective in both evaluations of both Europe (which isn’t a single entity anyway) and the US.

  25. grumpy realist says:

    @B. Objective: I’m a scientist. I see which side has come down on being anti-scientific and have made my choice.

    Find excuses along political lines as much as you want–a country that doesn’t push accurate science and technology, panders to its know-nothings, and ignores reality will end up on the bottom on the economic scrap heap. Soviet Russia did it with Lysenkoism and a planned economy we’re starting to do it now with our pandering to the Intelligent Design idiots and Laffer-curve nitwits.

  26. M. Bouffant says:

    @Megan McArdle:

    You don’t find Europeans peddling this sort of contempt for their own country to each other
    Maybe they don’t have as many reasons to be contemptuous of their own countries as we do.