Americans Venus and Europeans Mars

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That the competent generation of English footballers was “golden”. That Linkin Park or Green Day CD should cost more than $ 20. That, with wise government, the vicissitudes of the business cycle were eradicated as rubella.

There was so much arrogance in the early years of the millennium that it seems rude to single out one such example for retroactive examination. Only, while the others rose in the later bonfire of vanity, this one was burnt at the edges before it more or less all fell out. He lives in books like The Strange Death of Europe per Douglas Murray. There is the attitude of the Anglo-American right Emmanuel Macron, and the plague of free trade, radical Islam and the cultural left, as a kind of mad globalist.

I’m talking about the idea that “Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus.” Writer Robert Kagan spoke of their propensity to use armed force abroad. To that extent, as the war in Iraq has shown, he was largely right. But his framing device took on a broader meaning. Europe was: unbound; eager to follow; lost in the post-Christian fog of relativism and self-doubt. The United States was: proudly western; stronger in defending one’s values; modern, not postmodern. Something called “moral clarity” was often attributed to the New World, but not to the Old World. It is difficult to explain to people under the age of 30 how ingrained these perceptions were.

It is difficult because they have experienced their complete inversion. Where would you now expect to find a freer spirit of rational research, on a German campus or on an American one? Where would you support Enlightenment individualism to oppose the march of group rights, France or the United States? Which country is more likely to tell its radicalized youth that, in fact, no, we will not reverse our entire understanding of national history, but thank you: Italy or the US? If you have frequent opportunities to cross the Atlantic, which side are you more likely to walk on an eggshell? In short, which place up to the point of chauvinism is committed to its culture, and which is more prone to a certain outrage?

Push this argument too far and it will age just as much as the one from 20 years ago that it was designed to expose. Europe is not immune to vokism (There are some that would, for example, stop the use of this gender-specific article in French). Some of the original philosophy is French. The United States could only be 10 years away on the uneven path to a common awake destiny.

But even that would confuse public intellectuals around 2003. For them, Europe was at the forefront of decadence and nihilism. America was, if not the guardian of the Western flame, then it was much slower to lose faith in it. Why did they get it so wrong?

The biggest mistake was defining the cultural threat as Muslim immigration, not domestic rot. It has never been evil to wonder how arrivals from the Maghreb or the Middle East could upset the balance of, say, German or Swedish life. It was harder to predict that seventh-generation Americans, going through pre-republican universities, would undo classic liberal norms in U.S. newsrooms, publishing houses, corporate C-suites, and other weather conditions. “You do it to yourself,” Radiohead sang, “and that’s what really hurts.”

How rudely the US and Europe have defied their stereotypes from the turn of the millennium. If there is a lesson here, it is for one country that could probably choose which of the two to focus on. Brexit, which is increasingly demanding a Benny Hill theme, has always been appealing to people who care about the cultural left. It’s a respectable thing to worry about. The riddle is how, for God’s sake, this coincides with pious Atlanticism. If wokery is such a threat, then turning away from the often unreconstructed Europe seems perverse. Accepting a U.S. where so much Western heritage is “problematized” is even stranger. The economic reason for a customer’s remorse for Brexit is well documented. Cultural could prove even more intimidating.

Email Janan to janan.ganesh@ft.com

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