top of the season
By Diogenes (articles ) | Nov 27, 2008
Re-heated for Thanksgiving, some pro patria perspective from the "misfit unassimilated foreigner" Mark Steyn:
Americans aren't novelty junkies on the important things. "The New World" is one of the oldest settled constitutional democracies on earth, to a degree "the Old World" can barely comprehend. Where it counts, Americans are traditionalists. We know Eastern Europe was a totalitarian prison until the Nineties, but we forget that Mediterranean Europe (Greece, Spain, Portugal) has democratic roots going all the way back until, oh, the mid-Seventies; France and Germany's constitutions date back barely half a century, Italy's only to the 1940s, and Belgium's goes back about 20 minutes, and currently it's not clear whether even that latest rewrite remains operative. The US Constitution is not only older than France's, Germany's, Italy's or Spain's constitution, it's older than all of them put together. Americans think of Europe as Goethe and Mozart and 12th century castles and 6th century churches, but the Continent's governing mechanisms are no more ancient than the Partridge Family. Aside from the Anglophone democracies, most of the west's nation states have been conspicuous failures at sustaining peaceful political evolution from one generation to the next, which is why they're so susceptible to the siren song of Big Ideas -- Communism, Fascism, European Union. If you're going to be novelty-crazed, better the zebra-mussel cappuccino than the Third Reich.
Even in a supposedly 50/50 nation, you're struck by the assumed stability underpinning even fundamental disputes. If you go into a bookstore, the display shelves offer a smorgasbord of leftist anti-Bush tracts claiming that he and Cheney have trashed, mangled, gutted, raped and tortured, sliced'n'diced the Constitution, put it in a cement overcoat and lowered it into the East River. Yet even this argument presupposes a shared veneration for tradition unknown to most western political cultures: When Tony Blair wanted to abolish in effect the upper house of the national legislature, he just got on and did it. I don't believe the US Constitution includes a right to abortion or gay marriage or a zillion other things the left claims to detect emanating from the penumbra, but I find it sweetly touching that in America even political radicalism has to be framed as an appeal to constitutional tradition from the powdered-wig era. In Europe, by contrast, one reason why there's no politically significant pro-life movement is because, in a world where constitutions have the life expectancy of an Oldsmobile, great questions are just seen as part of the general tide, the way things are going, no sense trying to fight it. And, by the time you realize you have to, the tide's usually up to your neck.
As we've suggested before, perhaps the biggest contrast between American and European democracy has to do with the diffusion of coercive power, i..e, the right to bear arms. Remember how they used to picture the Pilgrims carrying muskets?
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