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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/4545/the-great-inspiration/

The Great Inspiration

January 10, 2006 by

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” the officer Marcellus claims in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Well, that goes for all of Europe. People in Europe like to complain about the “horrors” of the American way of life. It is, so they say, so coldly individualistic (interpreted as the very opposite of what’s good), and it is a danger to the environment, public health, and so on. This view of America as “evil” is today an essential part of political life in Europe. Anti-Americanism is a common conviction among intellectuals and a vote-winning opinion for progressive politicians.

But it goes further than simply detesting what’s American, it is hatred combined with the greed of the jealous. In 2004 a partly French election experts’ panel on CNN called for giving Europeans a right to vote in the American presidential election. The outcome of the American election would have great impact on Europe as well, they claimed, and therefore Europeans must have a right to influence.

“We want more,” is the socialist credo.

This Anti-Americanism of Europe is probably based in the identity crisis caused when great history collides with mediocre contemporary life. Europe is in many respects the cradle of western culture, and Europeans would really like to think they are still as influential philosophically and politically as they were in Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, during the colonization, and the Enlightenment. But they are not.

In fact, Europe has been mercilessly left behind in every way possible for the last 100 years, especially financially. Recently, Europe has been better than America only at building mammoth welfare states and in regulating the market. While Europe is stopping the world still seems to be progressing, and that surely has to be frustrating!

Even though the United States is closing the gap when it comes to welfare state engineering too, the comparative wealth of Americans is something Europeans would like to both destroy and have for themselves. As Europe progressed down the road of socialism, its comparative wealth rapidly dropped off. Or rather, the relative poverty of less free regions decreased.

As we know, socialist policies lead first to stagnation, then decline, followed by depression and poverty.

But America is rapidly closing in on Europe. The United States federal government used to adopt European policies well after their bad effects on society and the economy were clear, but not anymore. It is only a couple of years ago that state officials in Sweden hurried out to forcefully put a local farmer’s cows to death only because “they did not have the mandatory European Union ear marking.” Well, it seems America is truly catching up.

It seems Europe is once again the great inspiration it used to be. But this time it is nothing to be proud of.


Anuj Gupta January 10, 2006 at 6:15 am

And now Europe has to face the extra nightmare of being left behind by Asia too.

gis January 10, 2006 at 9:28 am

As a Swede you should keep in mind, that not every European country is (yet) a) a member of the European Union, and b) ruled by a socialist government… But, sadly enough, your analysis is concise.

Per Bylund January 10, 2006 at 9:35 am

To gis.

Yes, you are right. The great tumour called the European Union has not yet spread all over the continent. But the reasoning, I believe, is still valid. Europe and Europeans are suffering from an inferiority complex as a result of the former European colony America is way wealthier and much more free (still).

Even though all European countries are not yet thoroughly socialist, it is only a matter of time. The only pro-freedom and pro-capitalism countries in Europe today are in the former Eastern Europe. If Europe has a future, it has to be there–not in the social democracies of the former west.

cynik9 January 10, 2006 at 10:06 am

“The only pro-freedom and pro-capitalism countries in Europe today are in the former Eastern Europe”

Won’t last long. The EU expansion process spreads socialist thinking and models eastwards, rapidly corroding of what’s left from raw capitalist impulses of early 90-ies. Leverage from financial give-aways from Bruxelles helps to promote “integration”.

Roger M January 10, 2006 at 10:20 am

Check out Anthony de Jasay’s take on anti-Americanism in Europe at http://www.econlib.org/library/Columns/y2006/Jasayurbanriots.html.

Envy is at the root of anti-capitalism. Education will help, but it’s not sufficient. Emotion must be fought with emotion. Somehow, we must make capitalism emotionally appealing as it is intellectually.

SteamshipTime January 10, 2006 at 12:58 pm

“Emotion must be fought with emotion. Somehow, we must make capitalism emotionally appealing as it is intellectually.”

People will not fight for the freedom to compete over who can make the cheapest widgets, not even capitalists.

R.P. McCosker January 11, 2006 at 4:01 am

Per Bylund:

I don’t doubt the general truth of what you write.

But I wonder, too, if European anti-Americanism isn’t much exacerbated in bitterness over the fact that the US is the major imperial power on earth today.

And, as part of that, that US has a strong military presence in many European countries (though not Sweden, of course) and routinely bullies and cajoles many European powers to support, or at least not criticize, US foreign and military policies around the world.

Whatever their motivations might be, my impression is that countless European voters seethe at what they rightly perceive as US governmental arrogance and overweening power. Naturally European politicians pick up on this to propel their careers.

What do you think?

Per Bylund January 11, 2006 at 4:19 am

In response to R.P. McCosker.

Yes, that is exactly what most people claim. America is playing “world police” and forces its will on others. That’s why they are against the US.

But what they say is not necessarily what they really believe. Super powers have always bullied other states, despite the Westphalian System. So did the Soviet Union during the Cold War and so does the People’s Republic of China towards the Republic of China (Taiwan). I never heard people expressing popular support for Taiwan or for Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation.

Anti-Americanism is distinctly different from anti-imperialism, even though people like to claim it is the same. But protesting against the US supporting Afghanistan against Soviet troops, while not protesting against the USSR, does not make sense if it is anti-imperialism.

The truth is: Europeans do not like America. Part of the reason is it has been extremely successful when Europe was not, part of it is (no doubt) its imperialism, and part of it is Europeans’ inferiority complex when their colony takes over as leading world power.

Another part of anti-Americanism is ideological. When America has always advocated freedom, individualism, and capitalism, Europe likes state interference, collectivism, and a planned economy.

I do not know the reason for this difference (though it is diminishing–but Americans are generally skeptical towards government and politics whereas Europeans are credulous and gullible), but part of it is sure history.

The people being fed up with the oppressive states and churches in Europe said “enough is enough,” and risked everything for a future west of the Atlantic. The people not being troubled with the state of things staid behind. In other words, the people populating the americas were the enterprising and energetic individuals (25% of the Swedish population emigrated–one out of four million back then), the easy-going and lazy staid on their native soil and set the moral and political standards for the future European states.

I’m sure there are other factors as well, but these should not be overlooked or thought of as not important. Perhaps I will cover this in another article here on mises.org.

ericd January 11, 2006 at 6:48 am

Fixed the link listed above. (donesn’t need the last period)

Check out Anthony de Jasay’s take on anti-Americanism in Europe at

SteamshipTime January 11, 2006 at 9:44 am

“The people being fed up with the oppressive states and churches in Europe said “enough is enough,” and risked everything for a future west of the Atlantic. The people not being troubled with the state of things staid behind. … (25% of the Swedish population emigrated–one out of four million back then)…”


I would like to hear more about this, since I think Europe may be in the middle of a quiet brain drain.

British expatriate engineers started the Renegades, Old Whites, and Atlanta Rugby Football clubs in the early 1960′s after England nationalized so much of its industry. A number of French families also moved to the Atlanta area around that time.

I met several German families when I lived in Tampa in the 1980′s, and they said the big factor in their emigration was that Europeans were increasingly hostile to children.

Yancey Ward January 11, 2006 at 11:10 am

Per Bylund suggests a topic I had never really considered before: the vast immigrations from Europe to North America over the centuries may have produced cultures that were enriched in risk takers and the other enriched in non-risk takers. Has anyone done a study on such a topic?

Paul Edwards January 11, 2006 at 11:59 am

One never knows for sure, but it sounds like over here we have boobus Americanus, and in Europe, another species of boobus.

I guess the boobus animal is flourishing.

R.P. McCosker January 11, 2006 at 1:13 pm

Per Byland:

That sounds correct.

Still, I wonder, other things being equal, how much less European anti-Americanism there would be if the US had just stayed out of Europe: Not intruded into World Wars I and II (at least in the European theatre), not set up military bases and nuclear-launching sites in Europe, not had anything to do with NATO, not intruded in the civil wars in Greece and the former Yugoslavia, not undertaken CIA-style covert political operations throughout most of Europe, not sponsored propaganda operations there (Voice of America etc.), and so forth.

Under such circumstances, would Europeans even give much thought — in political terms — to the US? There would still be the American cultural and economic (in the free market sense) influence on Europe: tourists, movies, music, television, etc. But would Europeans still tend to despise America? And, if so, would it still be enough to be a significant factor in European elections?

Yancey Ward January 11, 2006 at 1:57 pm


It is clear that the individualistic, risk taking species of Americans, if it really ever existed, and for whatever reason it existed, is slowly being overcome by the boobus species.

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