Popular culture may praise the use of the subway and train. But about every minute or two, some government grandee in a motorized entourage rushes through traffic as an escort of horn-blaring police forces traffic off to the side. A European technocratic class in limousines that runs government bureaus and international organizations -- for example, disgraced former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn -- lives like 18th-century aristocrats at Versailles as they mouth socialist platitudes.
Throughout Western Europe, a subordinate class of unassimilated North African, sub-Saharan African and Pakistani immigrants hawk wares and do menial labor -- and are increasingly despised by Europeans as times get rougher. A growing number of the working classes here are getting fed up that the welfare state means sky-high fuel and food costs for the masses, small and expensive apartments, limited disposable income -- and lots of aristocratic perks for the technocrats who oversee the redistributive mess. The notion of a large and esteemed class of self-made, independent-thinking business people and empowered upper-middle-class entrepreneurs is a concept that seems foreign, if not subversive.
An acknowledged despair now seems to permeate Western Europe. A glorious past is equated with tourist dollars, not appreciation of the European Renaissance or the Enlightenment. Majestic churches are more moneymaking museums or tourist stops than honored hallmarks of past culture and current faith. European Christendom often helped to preserve humanity through horrific crises, but you would never learn that from the average cynical European, who appears either indifferent to or apologetic about both his religion and the hallowed European origins of Western Civilization, responsible for much of what is good in the world today.
All this European turmoil raises a paradox. If dispirited Europeans are conceding that something is terribly wrong with their half-century-long experiment with socialism, unassimilated immigrants, cultural apologies, defense cuts and post-nationalism, why in the world is the Obama administration intent on adopting what Europeans are rejecting?
(Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of "The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern" You can reach him by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.)