Heaven on Earth

by Victor Davis Hanson

Tribune Media Services

In Paris last week, the smoke of riot and fire arose from a West Bank-style intifada of angry Muslim youths. The ports of Spain were shut down by a fishermen’s blockade. Hostage ships were freed only after the irate blockaders won more government fuel subsidies.

While traveling the last three weeks from Turkey to Portugal, I was reminded again how different Europe has become from what some Americans idealize as a nirvana of benevolent socialism, universal and free medical care, and sophisticated high culture.

Gasoline ranges from $4 to more than $5 a gallon. Gridlock and smog in the major cities are about as bad as, or worse than, in the United States. Municipal parking is often impossible. Prices for almost everything from food to clothing are about 20 percent higher than what most Americans pay. Average homes and apartments are smaller but often scarcer and more expensive than in the United States. I don’t recall occasional trains in America that still have toilets emptying right onto the tracks.

For all the jokes about flabby Americans, Europeans on the street seem just as obese. The scanty clothes, tattoos and body rings of Europe’s youth are just as revealing and tasteless as found on American teens. For a continent so upset about the purity of the atmosphere, smoking is de rigueur in many hot and hazy restaurants, buses, offices and airports — without much concern for the welfare of others. Queuing remains haphazard; sharp elbows and deft cutting-in leapfrog you to the front of the ticket or hotel counter first in a Hobbesian survival of the rudest.

The papers and magazines are full of post-Katrina glee at past televised American chaos. Everywhere there is a scarcely hidden delight over the supposed “quagmire on the Euphrates.” One reads these feature stories about American pathologies in cafes where American T-shirts, American music, American logos and American ads overwhelm the senses.

The premises of an increasingly ossified and undemocratic European Union are as admirable in theory as they are ludicrous in reality. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the removal of thousands of Red Army soldiers from Eastern Europe, the new Europeans unilaterally have declared themselves a heaven on earth. By that I mean the continent’s citizens feel that they are now exempt from the harsh reality facing billions of mere mortals in America, China, India and Russia.

War is by fiat obsolete and relegated to more primitive others. While Europeans may grudgingly concede that the United States still provides them subsidized and reliable defense, the embarrassment is explained away by the belief that America is bellicose anyway — and so must enjoy chasing mostly imagined enemies around the globe.

Practically, such pacifism results in a weakening of NATO, with the expectation that the United States will continue to assume an ever-greater share of its costs and manpower. Few over here realize that they have finally lost American good will — and with it the public’s desire ever again to bail them out from another Milosevic or an ascendant Russia or nuclear Iran on the horizon.

Families of four or five are dismissed as something for the less educated, the parochial or the pious who have the time to waste changing diapers and nursing. In contrast, the new childless European citizen is otherwise too engaged in travel, fine food, global moralizing and intellectual pursuit.

Far more prolific Arabic and Turkish immigrants are welcome to collect the garbage and clean, but not properly intermarry, integrate or assimilate. Still, Europeans do not thereby feel illiberal. After all, they broadcast to the world that they are progressives on humanitarian issues of global poverty, world courts and the environment.

Before the current intifada in their suburbs, the French apparently thought that while Arab Muslims were fourth-class citizens at home, that embarrassment was more than compensated for abroad by tacit French support of Hamas and by the selling of almost anything to any Arab autocracy.

The utopian dream of a 35-hour work week, lifelong job tenure and cradle-to-grave benefits falls victim to a bothersome reality: More competitive Americans, Indians and Chinese have no such pretensions. While Europe gets its beauty rest, others work far harder and longer to produce cheaper things for an ever more price-conscious global consumer.

Behind these frequent strikes, urban riots and anger at the U.S. is the harsh reality of dismal economic growth and fewer jobs. So for all the undeniable achievement of the European Union, its central premise of government-mandated equality and security simply doesn’t work.

The European creed is that everyone inside a shrinking heaven — an E.U. citizen with a guaranteed state job — will be equal to every other. Meanwhile, all the growing number of others down on earth — the unemployed, Muslim immigrants, Third World farmers who suffer from European agricultural subsidies, and former American allies are pretty much forgotten or dismissed.

Because more than a half-million Americans have died in two European wars of the past century, we must hope that this government-mandated heaven works.

Meanwhile, here below on earth, we should concede that it really will not.

©2005 Victor Davis Hanson

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