I was puzzled by Chilton Williamson, Jr.’s “Who Cares Who’s Number One?” (What’s Wrong with the World, May). No reasonable person can disagree with his contempt for our country’s endemic America Number One philosophy, especially when we routinely fall so short. But given the decadent reality of life in most of Europe these days, it’s clear that there’s less and less left on the other side of what he terms “the things that really matter to civilized life.” What remains is increasingly superficial, if not outrightly duplicative of life in the United States and threatening to Europe’s future.
I completely share Taki Theodoracopulos’s oft-expressed admiration for the Swiss. But even in that country so worthy of emulation, and notwithstanding the growing strength of the Swiss People’s Party, there are far too many center-left voters in Switzerland eager to dirty their own nest. How else can one explain why so many Swiss are still pushing to enter the European Union despite that organization’s disastrous evolution? And is there really any hope for the future when, in response to the present influx of economic refugees from the Maghreb with Italian visas, the Swiss government has proposed handing out 4,000 Swiss francs to any refugee who promises to go home, presumably for the purpose of encouraging his relatives to join the gravy train provided by Swiss taxpayers?
Mr. Williamson Replies:
Europe is certainly in decline—which means, in part, convergence with North America, the United States especially. But these things are relative. Europe had further to fall culturally, having climbed higher than the United States, and so more of polite civilization remains there than here. It is a matter of amassed civilizational capital. Granted, Europe is to a large degree the source of the West’s moral decadence today. But the United States, as the export capital of mass popular culture and seat of an inherently superficial view of the world, is chiefly responsible for Europe’s aesthetic and intellectual vulgarization.
Mr. Oberdorfer questions whether there is any hope for Europe’s future. Very possibly not. But that is beside the point I was trying to make. A more relevant criticism of my article would have been that all the greatest nations of Europe, and some of the less-great ones, too, at one point or another in their history were very keen on becoming Number One—so keen that they were willing to go to war for it, time and again. The difference between the results of their ambitions and the Americans’ is that, owing to Europe’s aristocratic culture, the Europeans have, more often than not, until recently succeeded in keeping politics and civilization separate. Despite the ideological idiocies of the European Union, the cultural smog so noxiously present here is far less palpable, at least to a visitor from the States. This is why Great Britain, France, and Italy (to mention only three examples), which are essentially socialist societies, still have far more character, humanity, and charm than the slightly less socialist United States. In politics, socialism rules. In everyday life, one only notices when one picks up the newspaper.
Perhaps this is, after all, only a personal impression. Still, it is a real one. I feel far more at home these days in any one of aforementioned countries than I do in my native one. I don’t think that’s all there is to it. But I’m willing to admit it could be.