Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Being More Like Europe

It's consistently interesting to read Ta-Nehisi Coates's posts about reading history because it's fascinating to watch someone actively encountering new ideas and being shaped by them. Right now he's reading Tony Judt's Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, a book that's sitting on my own to read shelf (waiting for the time when I'm not immersed in reading pre-war and war.)

In this post he writes about the point, an overlooked one, that European social democracy is to a great extent the result of Europe's wars. The post is worth reading, but I'll just quote the sum-up at the end, because it's the "make you think" piece:
When I was younger it was popular for my leftie friends to ask "Why can't we be like Western Europe?" We probably can. A good first step, it seems, would be fighting a genocidal war which results in massive relocations, more ethnic homogeneity, the near-extermination of one of our minorities (one guess at who that would be) and the reduction of our major cities to rubble.


Kate said...

What I (unsurprisingly) find interesting are the divergences between US and Canadian culture and political practice. There are historical reasons for these too, of course, but we shared the experience of post-war affluence in the twentieth century, that comes of having traded, manufactured, sold, fought, but not suffered the full cost of those world-class conflicts. Yet, in Canada, we largely walked in step with Europe's democracies in instituting universal health care, engaging in pan-national concerns (from having a leadership role in the League of Nations, to participating in UN operations), have a fairly broad safety net and system of public entitlements (my favorite: the conservatives countered a liberal drive to increase daycare funding by instituting instead cash payments directly to parents of young children), went through a flurry of nationalizing various utilities and services in the 70s and 80s (though we've had Crown Corporations farther back than that), and various other things that Americans consider 'European'.

Personally, I think that the real barrier to many of these things in the US is the political complexity, size, and population of the US. We have geographical size/challenges to contend with up here, but with a tenth of the population. You can fit all of our premiers (provincial heads of government) around a single table to talk things out...and we do. On a theoretical level we ought to have 'more government' than you all do...but in actual practice, we have a heck of a lot less, because government bureaucracy doesn't seem to increase proportional to the population, it seems, sometimes, that it increases exponentially with the population.

Darwin said...

That's an interesting question I'd be curious to read some thoughts on.

A few things occur:

- Canada did participate in the Great War in particular to a much greater extent than the US, and thus it had the same mandate for increased consideration for the ordinary man which swept in with the Labour government in Britain in 1918.

- There was a certain north plains, agrarian progressivism which was big in the US in the late 1800s and early 1900s, which I would imagine might have been a much more controlling force in Canada than in the US.

But overall I really don't know. In Europe the tie between the world wars and the increases in the social safety net was very explicit (working men sacrificed for the country, now they deserve stability from the country) but that doesn't mean there's no other way to get there.

bearing said...

It's consistently interesting to read Ta-Nehisi Coates's posts about reading history because it's fascinating to watch someone actively encountering new ideas and being shaped by them.

I find the posts about Paris and the French language (my own first second language) to be consistently interesting for the same reason.

Enbrethiliel said...


So now that Europe is becoming less ethnically homogenous, does that mean their welfare state is about to implode?