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by Peter Moskos

February 27, 2012

I [heart] European Socialism

Over at the Montclair SocioBlog ("the best blog I bet you don't read"), Professor Jay Livingston comments on Charles Murray's new book (no, I haven't read it either) and Murray's problem of "The Europe Syndrome." A lot of Republican politicians have noticed this problem over the pond as well. As Murray says [I've added a few comments]:
There’s a lot to like about day-to-day life in the advanced welfare states of western Europe. [I'll say!]

They are great places to visit. [You got that right!]

But the view of life that has taken root in those same countries is problematic. [Oh, when I lived there I didn't realize they were all zombies, and many are kinda pale.]

It seems to go something like this: The purpose of life is to while away the time between birth and death as pleasantly as possible [Why while away time pleasantly when you could work two shit jobs for 70 hours/week?],

and the purpose of government is to make it as easy as possible to while away the time as pleasantly as possible – The Europe Syndrome. [Astute observation. Best we let the government do so only for the rich, as they have more financial means to rise above their own ennui. (Like how I just "happened" to throw in a French word there? Pretty swa-vay, no? Pretty effing European, if I do say so myself. Man, if I actually spoke French, I'd be dangerous.)]

Europe’s short workweeks and frequent vacations are one symptom of the syndrome. [Gosh, are there others? Has he even considered decent healthcare, education, and low-crime societies?]

The idea of work as a means of self-actualization has faded. [Such things happen if you have a dead-end job.]

The view of work as a necessary evil, interfering with the higher good of leisure, dominates. [Yup. Let me tell you, I've heard many actual real Europeans say, mind you this is in their well-spoken second (sometimes even third) language, so maybe I'm not getting it right, "I do not live to work; I work to live.]...

The decline of fertility to far below replacement is another symptom. [Greeks would be happy to know Murray considers them European, if they weren't so busy "self-actualizing" without the burdens of workweeks and vacations at all!]

Children are seen as a burden that the state must help shoulder, and even then they’re a lot of trouble that distract from things that are more fun. [Oh. My. God. Wait till I tell my European nephews. Can they handle the truth? The oldest is only 11?]

The secularization of Europe is yet another symptom. Europeans have broadly come to believe that humans are a collection of activated chemicals that, after a period of time, deactivate. [A bit clinical, but yeah, that's one way to put it.]

It that’s the case, saying that the purpose of life is to pass the time as pleasantly as possible is a reasonable position. Indeed, taking any other position is ultimately irrational.[Gosh. I never realized a shorter workweek and paid vacations were a threat to my "self-actualization" and even non-chemical eternal salvation.]

But Charles, what's the answer!? Thankfully, Murray provide that in the very next paragraph:
The alternative to the European Syndrome is to say that your life can have transcendent meaning if it is spent doing important things – raising a family, supporting yourself, being a good friend and good neighbor, learning what you can do well and then doing it as well as you possibly can. [I thought the Europeans did that, since they have more time to do so?]

Providing the best framework for doing those things is what the American project is all about.
Yeah, if only all those paid vacations and leisure time weren't getting in the way. Or, as the eminent Dr. Livingston puts it, I presume:
No wonder the Republicans constantly warn us against the temptations of “European-style socialism.” It’s not really necessary since most Americans don’t know about legally mandated vacation time or maternity and paternity leave, government support for all families with children, job protection, and other policies. Nevertheless, the conservative helmsmen stuff our ears with wax and lash themselves to the mast lest the siren song of European pleasure lead us off our American course.
I think the decline started with gay marriage. Or was it desegregation? Or maybe giving voting rights to women and non-property owners? Vive la différence!


W. Butler said...

During my visit to Paris, which I was told was a socialist country, I noticed that the city is much cleaner than the city in which I live and work. Save for the dog poo, which dog owners don't seem to pick up. And there seemed to be a much less violent crime. Now, I've never lived there, but the way some politicians bash France and the French, you'd think it was some kind of purgatory there. But I found it to be quite a pleasant place.

So I agree with you here.

PCM said...


It would take an American to be surprised that Paris is actually a nice city!

We're very isolated as a people. Most Americans have never been abroad. We don't realize the rest of the world is moving forward with (often) smarter policies and (sometimes) rational investment while we quibble about trans-vaginal ultrasound, gay marriage, and taxing the rich is somehow class conflict.

Anonymous said...

The conservative helmsmen stuff our ears with wax and lash themselves to the mast lest the siren song of European pleasure lead us off our American course.