The question posed by social scientist Charles Murray at the American Enterprise Institute's annual dinner this month could hardly have been simpler: Do Americans want the United States to be like Europe?
He asked as someone who likes and admirers Europe and Europeans. He asked also because it is becoming increasingly apparent that re-structuring the U.S. along the lines of the European social democratic model is the change many in the new administration -- perhaps including President Obama himself -- believe in. Such a re-direction surely deserves consideration.
Murray is convinced that Europeanizing America is a bad idea, and not only because the European model creates chronically "sclerotic economies." More significant, he says, is the fact that embracing the European model means discarding the Founders' revolutionary re-invention of government, and of the relationship between the state and the citizen. Murray argues this would inevitably "enfeeble" the habits and institutions that have been singularly responsible for making America "robust and vital" -- an "exceptional" nation.
The intent of the modern European welfare state, Murray says, is laudable: to take "some of the trouble" out of life. Dealing with troubles, he concedes, is not always easy or pleasant, but it can lead to satisfactions accessible through no other means. It is how people's lives "make a difference." By contrast, those relieved of important responsibilities, tend to while away their days "as pleasantly as possible."
If amusement becomes "the purpose of life, why have a child, when children are so much trouble -- and, after all, what good are they, really? If that's the purpose of life, why spend it worrying about neighbors? If that's the purpose of life, what could possibly be the attraction of a religion that says otherwise?" And so, in Europe, one sees a diminishing work ethic, catastrophically declining birth rates, a dwindling sense of nation and community, and empty churches.
I would add this: Such a society is no match for the challenge of radical Islam, a surpremacist and aggressive political/religious movement with ironclad convictions about every aspect of life, and adherents willing -- in many cases eager -- to kill and die in pursuit of their vision.