The recent addition of ten nations to membership in the European Union is a good time to revisit the rift that exists between the U. S. and certain EU members, mainly of “Old Europe”. A number of political players and commentators, chiefly those who disapprove of the foreign policy of the Bush administration, would have us believe that the problems are almost entirely driven by our persistence in pursuing pre-emptive war in Iraq, together with disagreements over items such as the Kyoto Treaty, the death penalty, the International Court, as well as Bush’s “cowboy” demeanor. But I submit that it is deeper, much deeper, and will not improve in its essentials even after the resolution of the conflict in Iraq. In fact, as Tom Friedman has suggested, we may very well be witnessing the beginning of the end of “the West” as we have known it. He is possibly thinking in different terms, as with the post-World War II Cold War alliance, while I am suggesting something even deeper–simply that there is a wide and growing gulf between European and American worldviews and cultural values. Recent studies have shown, for example, that Americans value individual responsibility and individual freedom much higher than Europeans; that, by percentages of up to more than 70%, Europeans believe that the spread of American ideas is bad; and that 21% of Europeans say that religion is very important to them, compared to 58% of Americans. This prompts me to pause and ask, from where did our ideas originate, evolve, and reach maturity?, to which the obvious answer is, from the many generations that preceded us in our European heritage. And this is one major reason why it is important to understand that this is not a passing fancy, it is not borne out of political opposition to one particular American administration, but represents a major divergence of historical proportions with enormous implications. In a recent essay in First Things, George Weigel reminds us that history is driven by culture—by what men and women honor, cherish, and worship, by how society defines the good, by how these values are expressed, and by what individuals and societies are willing to stake their lives on. As I ponder this thought, it occurs to me that we come much closer to an affinity with the new, former Warsaw Pact EU members and with some of the newly democratic developing nations than with our Old European friends.
You are here: / / The US/EU Divide