Politics means something different in Europe than it does in America — something more heroic. Views of politics like Hannah Arendt’s, where politics is the site of courageous self-creation, are alien to America’s cultural DNA. They could only have arisen in Europe. Europe’s problem today is that its taste for heroic politics is going completely ungratified. In large part, this is because many Europeans are terrified of politics. They think it is impossible for politics to be heroic without being destructive. In fact, nothing could be more politically heroic in Europe than realizing that economic transnationalism of any kind will fail miserably without the prior triumph of a transformative political transnationalism.
Skepticism over the likelihood of such a leap is warranted — especially now, with the likes of François Hollande riding to victory in France on a platform of muddying the waters between nationalism and transnationalism. But by the time Hollande’s term is up, Europe will have discovered that austerity has failed right along with everything else. Tomorrow’s ringing condemnations of austerity will be much like today’s — blaming the car keys, so to speak, for failing to start a car with no gas.
At some point, Europeans will have to realize that their car needs gas. And liberals will have to realize that America and Europe run on different kinds of fuel. Barack Obama’s pledge to fundamentally transform America isn’t alarming because it’s ambitious. It’s alarming because it expresses a failure to realize that this kind of transformation isn’t possible. It is in Europe. And until it happens, the fight over austerity and growth on both sides of the Atlantic will be a Punch and Judy show.
James Poulos is a columnist at The Daily Caller, a contributor at Ricochet, and a commentator in print, online, and on television and radio. Recently he has been the host of The Bottom Line and Reform School on PJTV and a fellow of the Claremont Institute. His website is jamespoulos.com and his Twitter handle is @jamespoulos.