June 6, 2005
Euro-Paradise LostBy Christopher Chantrill
In the wake of the French 'Non!' and Dutch 'Nee!' to the EU constitution, every scribbler is beside himself. It's the end of the European project, the end of the Euro, and the end of the 'social model.' It's the end of Europe itself!
It is certainly the end of something. Let us call it the End of the Garden of Social Eden.
It all started a century or more ago when the members of the European educated elite took a look at the emerging global economy, and they were shocked. Everywhere they looked they saw chaos, overcrowding, greed, and want. Something had to be done, wrote Britain's Fabians. Instead of the wasteful competition of the global capitalist economy, we needed rational planning, worked out by 'rational factual socialist argument.' Or failing that, offered the Germans, French, and Russians, who lacked the refinements of Anglo—Saxon self—government, Revolution! Everyone agreed we needed to empower disinterested experts to run the world.
To save the world the educated class would need political power—not for the sake of power, you understand, for these were disinterested experts—but for the altruistic purpose of ending the scandal of want in the midst of wealth. The new class would provide education, social insurance, and pensions out of the ill—gotten wealth of capitalist exploiters. They would protect the people from the law of the economic jungle.
Now, a century later, the Europeans are awash in expert—led social benefits and the French are voting down the EU constitution because they are afraid—of globalization! They suspect that their educated elite is about to toss them into the jungle of capitalisme sauvage and terminate the comforts of the European 'social model.' What went wrong?
Who would know better than the postmodernists? It is all about power, they tell us. The 'narrative' of every governing class is all about justifying its power. Deconstruct the 'narrative' of the educated class of its disinterested altruism, of the social model, of helping people, or of rational factual socialist argument and what you will have left is power.
Let us try another narrative.
And Satan took the educated class up unto an exceeding high mountain and showed it all the nations of the earth in an instant. 'You could be reformers,' he said, 'better than all the crude businessmen and crooked politicians of the world. You could clean up this mess. You could do good.'
It was the temptation of the educated class.
The educated class came down from the mountain, and the first thing it saw was the working class, then just getting the vote. 'Tell you what, lads,' said the educated class confidentially over beer and sandwiches, 'if you vote for us we could give you better wages, shorter hours, better working conditions, pensions, health care, and free education for your children—and no globalization. Just sign here.'
It was a tempting offer, although not quite what the working class had in mind. They already had their own labor unions to protect against exploiting employers, and they were really proud of the "friendly societies" and fraternal organizations in which, without the assistance of experts, they had built a social safety net with benefits that ranged from life insurance to sick pay and pre—paid health plans. They were already literate and sent their children to school, even most of the poor. But hey, who could argue with free?
But there was a catch. There always is. The working class would not get to run the bright new institutions built for their benefit. "Better let me drive," said the educated class, elbowing the workers out of the way.
Now, finally, the grandchildren of the old European working class have tired of the experts: the bossiness, the patronizing, the corruption and self—dealing that is epitomized by the unelected, unresponsive, unaccountable European Union and its centralizing bureaucracies.
But the Europeans have only themselves to blame. The sturdy working class of a thousand leftist hagiographies could have refused the offer of tax—paid help and kindly educated experts. They could have said, "No thanks, we'll keep our friendly societies and our labor unions, thank you very much, and we'll run them ourselves without government money and without meddling middle—class activists." But they didn't.
Pretty soon the Europeans are going to be pitched out of the social model's Garden of Eden into the cold cruel world after all, forced to compete head—to—head with billions of energetic Eastern Europeans, South Asians, and Chinese.
But cheer up Euro—Adam—and—Eve:
How satisfying can life be in the permanent adolescence of Euro—Eden? Get out and live a little!