As Europe becomes the Middle East, it is perhaps time to reconsider the United States’ rush toward becoming Europe. Of course, those who are insisting we become more like Europe also are telling us that it is a racist scare-tactic to talk about Europe becoming the Middle East. Then again, one rarely hears Americans talking about how nice it would be to become more like the Middle East. It is, after all, a matter of culture, not race, that we are dealing with, which is precisely why Americans should stop and consider the trends in the grip of which we find ourselves, so that we might reconsider the policies we have been supporting for the last several decades.
The problem is not one of immigration only. As has often been observed, America is a land of immigrants and so our culture should be able to withstand greater amounts of immigration than other cultures (such as, for example, the historically homogeneous Europeans). There remains, of course, the question of how many people from how different a set of cultures can be assimilated in the United States, especially when our educational system has been turned into a machine for producing ethnic resentment, governmental dependency, and an entitlement mentality. But the Europeanization of America has at least as much to do with economic and administrative policies literally closer to home.
I am reminded of a series of internet postings I have seen of late explaining the differences between European and American social mores, including parenting, family arrangements, and even the decibel level of our “outside” voices. The latter issue was explained in terms of population density. Americans being accustomed to living in single-family homes, it was said, have a private zone to enjoy and so have no need to take it outside with us. Thus, whether watching children in the park, or sitting at a table in a café, Americans are likely to be friendly, outgoing, and, especially to the European ear, loud and obnoxious. From my limited experience, it is true that Americans are louder and more open than Europeans from many nations, and it makes sense that Europeans, crowded into apartments and cottages within densely packed cities, counties, and countries, should attempt to find peace and quiet where and when they can. Then again, Europeans are far more likely to spend their time in these public places, eating, drinking, and finding entertainment in public spaces for the simple reason that their private spaces are much smaller, less well appointed, and noisier than ours.
Perhaps all this helps explain why I felt noticeably less “foreign” during my summer in Iceland than I have on a typical visit to New York City, which is far more densely packed and stratified than that small group of Nordic people up north. Population density is not the only factor, here, as Icelanders simply like out-of-towners and appreciate the tourist dollars more than their New York counterparts. Then again, the similarities between even Icelanders and our most urban American brethren are striking, and set both apart from those of us who reside in “fly-over country.” For New York City and Iceland (or London, or Berlin) share an economic structure and social outlook markedly different from that of middle America.
The same can be said for the West Coast as well—from which my wife and I both hail, and which we miss even when we visit, its character having changed fundamentally from the days of our youths when it was less populated and populated by fewer rootless technophiles. The difference in the West is that much of the hinterland, including Eastern Washington and the agricultural portions of California, remain American in the old sense. What is this old sense? One of faith, family, and freedom. In most non-urban parts of America (I would leave out most of New England, including that part of New Hampshire now populated by Massachusetts ex-patriots who have brought their politics and way of life with them), people retain the character and values from earlier eras that supposedly are far gone. The days of community picnics, of church bazaars and festivals, and of kids who go off to school a few hours away, then look for work relatively close to home where they marry and settle down, is not past. Welfare, drugs, and predatory trade policies have made this life harder, and the cultural rot spilling from our various screens has produced masses of broken homes, but the norms of faith, family, and freedom, remain norms—standards people recognize and try to live up to.
Iceland is worth mentioning again because it is often cited as a post-familial success story. Two-thirds of children there are born out of wedlock, and many within our chattering classes present this as a sign of good things to come. There is, after all, no rank poverty in Iceland, so the prospect of children being brought up in government daycare must be a bright one, no?
No. What leftist Americans fail to notice (or choose to ignore) about social democracy in Europe is that it was instituted within already-urbanized populations, where the state is accepted as the nanny of all. Europeans are so angry right now at their elites in part because they have trusted them for decades to run everything in the interests (very broadly conceived) of the populace in their apartment blocks and cafes who keep them in power. The experience of having tens of thousands of mostly young, male outsiders who speak a different language, belong to a different, fervent religion, and show contempt for local customs and laws being forcibly settled in their neighborhoods and villages has rather broken the trust of many Europeans for their governors. The anger is all the deeper because the trust was so deep and unthinking. Americans historically have governed themselves. Even in the northeast there simply is not the universal willingness to hand over the kids (along with the vast bulk of the paycheck) to the state. It still happens, of course, for a variety of bad and unfortunate reasons. But the result is chaos because while most Americans make decent citizens, we make bad subjects.
It clearly is the case that many Americans have decided that they want to be European—to live in small spaces surrounded by others of their like, with few or no children about, with family life as a part-time or serial affair, with a life regulated and taxed by “our” government and with most of life lived in public, though definitely not in church. But this is not yet the bulk of America. The United States remains, in most of this vast land, a nation that aspires to ownership of actual homes, rather than condominium apartments, that retains a felt duty to worship God, taking comfort from the conviction that this worship is good and true, and that sees family, church, and local association as the primary locus of life, of trust, and of fellowship. As we continue to move, as a nation, toward a vision of secularized social democracy, we should keep in mind what goes along with this: not just urbanization, but a particular kind of urbanization that sacrifices the space for self, family, and local self-government to the needs of collectives which will be governed, not by new George Washingtons, but by hectoring Bill de Blasios, angry and corrupt Rahm Emmanuels, and faceless committees of the smug as in San Francisco. It is a future from which we all should shrink, and against which we should fight.
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