By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
We haven’t got a European dream yet. That’s what we’ve got to get! We’ve got to get a dream! A dream to build on!
America may be the world’s only superpower, but when it comes to projecting an alluring vision of the future, we are being left behind. So says author Jeremy Rifkin in The European Dream, a book that tries to articulate how and why the European Union (EU), and not the United States, is the humanist dream factory of tomorrow. The American dream, which was based on autonomy, private property and endless growth, is giving way to a vision of human interconnectedness in which we’ll all be able to enjoy a rewarding life that, because it’s economically and environmentally responsible, won’t simultaneously deprive some poor bastard of the same opportunity.
So expansive is the EU’s vision — its constitution runs for hundreds of pages — that even animals get a look-in, and are formally accorded a bundle of rights. Rifkin notes that a 300-pound gorilla called Koko has been taught sign language and recognizes over 2,000 words. “On human IQ tests, she scores between 70 and 95, putting her in the slow learner — but not retarded — category.” Which, one can imagine a European sourly remarking, makes Koko at least as smart as the average American.
As well as being a prolific author (The Age of Access, The Hydrogen Economy), Rifkin is the president of the Foundation on Economic Trends in Washington, D.C., and currently serves as an adviser to Romano Prodi, the president of the European Commission, the EU’s governing body. Rifkin’s book, which weighs in at just over 400 pages, spends a great deal of time expanding on what neocon thinker Robert Kagan suggested in a handful of glib words: “Americans are from Mars, Europeans are from Venus.” In “The Metrosexual Superpower,” an essay published in the journal Foreign Policy, Parag Khanna may have come even closer to the truth when he wrote, “Brand Europe is taking over.” By emphasizing diplomacy, international law, a more equal distribution of wealth and respect for the environment, the Europeans are making the Americans look bad. Never mind that European words often outstrip reality (the reek of car exhaust in Paris is astonishing to someone from L.A.); by saying all the right things, Europeans are attracting the kind of universal good will that Americans once enjoyed.
The EU’s vision, writes Rifkin, “emphasizes community relationships over individual autonomy, cultural diversity over assimilation, quality of life over the accumulation of wealth, sustainable developments over unlimited material growth, deep play over unrelenting toil, universal human rights and the rights of nature over property rights, and global cooperation over the unilateral exercise of power.”
Nonetheless, Rifkin concedes that the EU still faces plenty of obstacles. “It may be that the European dream is more suited for the global world, but there are problems there,” he says, speaking by phone from his home in Washington, D.C. He allows that Europe’s population may simply be too old, too skeptical, and its “dream” too top-down and bureaucratic to have any realistic chance of succeeding.
“Americans always believe tomorrow is going to be better than today, while Europeans are much more cynical. How can you have a dream without hope and enthusiasm? Can you have a dream for the future if you’re pessimistic? But the young kids, the middle-class college students, areguardedly optimistic, and the reason for that is that Europe has opened up. Americans have always had a huge continent that’s wide-open, but until recently Europe was bordered up. Now the kids have all of Europe at their beck and call, and it widens their horizons.”
The EU-versus-the-U.S. debate is a hot journalistic topic, and Rifkin is by no means the only thinker to tout the EU as an already formidable superpower, though he may be one of the few Americans to openly welcome the development. Ironically, Americans disenchanted with the bellicosity of the Bush administration are looking longingly toward Europe just as Europeans are flexing their economic muscles and thinking about acquiring some serious military ones as well. Out of both a sense of their own burgeoning strength and an antipathy for Bush, they are starting to talk the talk and walk the walk. Before long they may even start to swagger. (“In Brussels, eet eez called ‘walking.’”)
In a recent issue of the London Spectator, Stephen Haseler, author of Super-State: The New Europe and Its Challenge to America, argued that, in keeping with its newfound status, the EU should set about coordinating a coherent nuclear strategy to counterbalance Washington’s. He also called for a “militarily strong Germany” at the heart of Europe, which, coming from a British publication, suggests just how deep the martial currents flow beneath all the calls for the use of diplomacy rather than force. A psychologist might argue that European rants against American power simply mask a fervent desire to have some of it for themselves. Imagine if Jacques Chirac, not George Bush, were the most powerful man in the world. I suspect we’d all start to feel like a guest on a Gallic version of the Bill O’Reilly show. Tais-toi!