In a period of two weeks during August, more than 11,000 elderly French men and women died of heat stroke. It is important to note that this is not nearly the scandal in France that it would be in America. In fact, upon hearing the news, French president Jacque Chirac decided to stay on vacation in Quebec.
Why has this happened? In large measure because, in the words of British historian Paul Johnson, the French, like most Europeans, and like most left-thinking people anywhere, love ideas more than people. The average educated European can intelligently discuss Hegel or Matisse almost as well as the average educated American – who probably never heard of Hegel or Matisse – can discuss real estate or sports.
Europe has given the world Marxism, Communism, Fascism, Nazism, racism, and socialism, all rotten ideas that have caused immeasurable human suffering. But for Europeans and their ideological twins on the American left and at universities, ideas are not judged by their ability to ameliorate huiman suffering or reduce evil, but by their complexity and apparent profundity. An idea is not good because it produces good – that’s unromantic American pragmatism – it is good because it sounds good.
Eleven thousand unnecessary deaths occurred in France largely because socialism inevitably breeds hedonism, selfishness, and callousness.
As ironic as it may seem, the fact is that socialism – i.e. cradle-to-grave state welfare – makes people worse.
First, the socialist mind loathes work. In France, the legal length of the work week is 35 hours. Working hard to make more money is an American value that is held in contempt by the Left. The New York Times recently featured an article describing the death of the Protestant work ethic in secular, socialist Europe and the thriving of that ethic in America – and that this explains the far greater productivity and affluence of America. The Judeo-Christian tradition values work; secularism doesn’t. And as we all know from watching our children, people with a lot of time on their hands have character problems.
Second, socialism values equality more than liberty. The Norwegian government recently passed a law that the boards of its largest corporations must be half female. The California left, the Democratic Party, just passed a law that no employer may fire a male employee who wears women’s clothing at work. Because the Left holds liberty (except sexual liberty) in lower esteem, Europe has raised a generation that does not value liberty nearly as much Americans do (though we’re getting there).
Third, socialism teaches you to avoid taking care of other people. The state will – why should you? If people in France and elsewhere in Europe take less care of their aging parents, it is because they are taught from childhood to allow others, i.e. the state, to take care of everybody. Just as we saw in America when the state stepped in to take care of women who had children without a husband, these women increasingly refused to marry and felt little compunction about having more babies out of wedlock. The bigger the government, the worse the people.
Fourth, as a result of this socialist mindset, people in socialist countries give little charity, while Americans give vast amounts (just as Americans in conservative states give more charity per capita than people in liberal ones).
Fifth, the larger the state, the more callous it becomes. Twentieth century evil was made possible in large measure by the bureaucratic mentality – the type of person who is merely a cog in huge governmental machine, collectively all-powerful but individually powerless to do anything except take and execute orders. The bigger the state, the colder its heart. (It is also true that the bigger the corporation, the more callous its heart. But unlike the state, corporations have competition and have no police powers.)
As I wrote in a previous column, the future of the world is either European secular socialism, Islamic totalitarianism, or the unique American combination of Judeo-Christian religiosity and political and economic liberty. Few Americans are attracted to the second possibility, but vast numbers look to Europe as a model. One hopes that the next time they do, they will note the 11,000 elderly dead in France. But don’t bet on it.