America vs. Europe

Europe is a test bed for terrible ideas. All are variants of communism and fascism. Yes, they’ve been tried before. And no, they didn’t work. But you can just hear the great minds of Europe grinding away inside their medieval castles (moats swimming with champagne-washed crocodiles): Shall we try food shortages again? We tried them before, but what if this time we tell people they can eat bugs! Can we get them to eat bugs? Or: What if we pass laws making it illegal to get fuel oil—except from our enemies! And then we surprise people with a tenfold increase in the cost of electricity! It’ll be like the winter of 1942!

Europe’s elites casually toss around these big-brain ideas while enjoying personal comforts that are as perfect as any that existed in the royal courts of old: They enjoy the finest foods, well-guarded luxury homes, the most convenient travel (private jets all the way to the global warming conference). When French President Emmanuel Macron tells his people we have reached “an end of abundance,” he doesn’t mean an end of his abundance. It’s not as though the butler will come running upstairs one evening with an emergency message from the chef saying they’ve run out of truffle oil. The people who are doing this to Europe never run out of truffle oil. One can sympathize with the undercurrents of dissatisfaction that lead to an occasional monarchal decapitation. 

But Europe generally gets away with this because the Europeans expect and want to be ruled. As a German described it to pioneer correspondent William L. Shirer after the Nuremberg rallies, they are “geborene Untertanen”—born subjects. Though, as Shirer notes, “Untertan” also implies submissiveness. They expect to be bossed around, told what to do. It is a view I found nicely encapsulated in a video of a group of Irish YouTubers going to a gun range to try shooting for the first time: They observe it “seems crazy” that ordinary people could have something like that in their houses. Indeed. Such power, Europeans think, belongs only in the hands of our masters. 

This servant mentality has some advantages for the servant—many, in fact. A servant has no real agency in the world, and therefore is not responsible for his failures. He is a mere instrument of higher authority and higher will. He can’t enjoy smashing personal success, but he doesn’t need to worry about amounting to nothing—because “nothing” is the default. Most importantly, he makes no moral judgment about what he does for the authorities. If they tell him to build a bridge, he builds a bridge; if they tell him to build a concentration camp, he builds a concentration camp. (I heard this very example given not long ago by a European journalist being interviewed for a travel program.) 

In the worst-case scenario, when it all goes horribly wrong, the European can fall back on his favorite catch-all excuse: “I was just following orders.” That may seem like a simplistic attitude, but it has been used successfully to eliminate personal guilt from millions and millions of murders. 

For some people—for many—this is the desired mode of life: No responsibility. No success. No failure. Just—existence. As though to breathe were life (as Tennyson has Ulysees put it). 

But not in America: Americans are not interested in a life of guaranteed mediocrity. Americans are not interested in being told what to do in exchange for being able to say, “it wasn’t my fault.” Americans will succeed or fail on their own terms. They are not interested in working for the government—directly or indirectly. They are not subjects. That is why we left Europe behind. 

If only Europe would stay in Europe. When New York responds to the Supreme Court’s invalidation of their gun ban with a brand new ban, when California forbids the sale of gasoline cars and then tells drivers not to charge their electric cars, we can feel the walls of Europe closing in on America. We are, in this respect, victims of our own success: European-style subservience scents other peoples’ success and will show up wherever American daring has paved the way, sucking up the gleanings. Some people do actually wish to be slaves and want only to serve the wealthiest king. (That’s why they’re doing a decent amount of Chinese bootlicking as well these days. Thirty years ago, it was Japanese bootlicking.) 

The best preventative is to keep our own governments—on every level—small, poor, and weak. If people want strong government and the subservience that goes with it, they have every other country in the world to choose from.

About Dan Gelernter

Dan Gelernter is a columnist for American Greatness living in Florida.

Photo: iStock/GETTY IMAGES

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