The European Dream

The European Dream
Edited From a 5 page article by Jeremy Rifkin, in the Sept/Oct 04 issue of UTNE READER,
which highlights his new book , THE EUROPEAN DREAM

What really separates America from all earlier political experiments is the unbounded hope and enthusiasm, the optimism that is so thick at times it can bowl you over. This is a land dedicated to possibilities, a place where constant improvement is the only meaningful compass and economic progress is regarded to be as certain as the rising sun. We are a people who threw off the yoke of tyranny and vowed never to be ruled by arbitrary elites of any kind. We eschew class distinctions and the hereditary transmission of status, embrace the democratic spirit, and believe everybody should be judged solely on merit. We think of America as a refuge for every human being who has ever dreamed of a better life and has been willing to risk his or her own to come here and start over.
That’s why it saddens me to say that America is no longer a great country. Yes, it is still the most powerful economy in the world, with a military presence unmatched in all of history. But to be a great country, it is necessary to be a good country. It is true that people everywhere enjoy American cultural forms and consumer goods. America is even envied, but it is no longer admired like it once was. The American dream, once so coveted, has increasingly become an object of derision. Our way of life no longer inspires, rather, it is now looked on as outmoded and, worse yet, as something to fear, or abhor.
Stripped to its bare essentials, the American dream offers everyone a fair shot at prosperity if they’re willing to work hard and cultivate self-reliance. But fulfillment of the dream is becoming more elusive. For Americans who have made every effort to succeed, only to be pulled down over and over again by a market economy and a society weighted against them, the dream can feel like a cruel hoax, a myth without substance. As the gap between rich and poor has widened, the sons and daughters of the wealthier Americans have come to feel entitled to happiness and are less willing to work hard and make something of themselves. One third of Americans say they no longer even believe in the American dream.
While the American spirit languishes in the past, a compelling new dream is coming of age, driven by the rise of the world’s other great superpower, the European Union (EU). 25 nations representing 455 million people have joined together to create a “United States” of Europe. Although still in its adolescence, the European Dream is the first transnational vision, one far better suited to the next stage of human evolution.
The difference is reflected in the American and European Dreams, which are about two diametrically opposed ideas about freedom and security. For Americans, freedom has long been associated with autonomy. An autonomous person is not dependent upon others or vulnerable to circumstance beyond his control. To be autonomous, one needs to be propertied. The more wealth one amasses, the more independent one is in the world. One is free by becoming self-reliant and an island unto oneself. With wealth comes exclusivity, and with exclusivity comes security.
he new European dream is based on different assumptions about what constitutes freedom and security. For Europeans, freedom is not found in autonomy but in imbeddedness. To be free is to have access to many interdependent relationships. The more community one has, the more options one has for a full and meaningful life. It is inclusivity that brings security—belonging, not belongings.
That isn’t to say that Europe has suddenly become a utopia. The point is not whether the Europeans are living up to their dream. We Americans have never fully lived up to ours. Rather, what is important is that Europe has articulated a new vision for the future that differs from our own in fundamental ways. These basic differences are crucial to understanding the dynamic that has begun to unfold between the early 21st century’s two great superpowers.
The European Union is novel in being the first mega governing institution to be born out of the ashes of defeat. Rather than commemorate a noble past, it sought to ensure that the past would never be repeated. After a thousand years of unremitting conflict, war and bloodshed, the nations emerged from two world wars with their population maimed and killed, their ancient monuments and cities lying in ruins, their worldly treasures depleted, and their way of life destroyed. Determined that they would never take up arms against each other, the nations search for a political mechanism that could move them beyond their ancient rivalries
In a series of treaties following WWII, Europe’s political elites began the painstaking process of creating a united Europe, all the while attempting to define the limits of power of the emerging European community. The federalists argued for ceding more power to the European central authority. The confederalists, by contrast, tried to keep power in the member states, viewing the new governing structure as a means to strengthening and coordinating their national objectives. Every compromise along the way reflected the tensions and strains between these two divergent visions.
Rather than becoming a super-state or a mechanism to represent the enlightened national self-interests, the European Union has now metamorphosed into a discursive forum whose function is to referee relationships and help coordinate activity among a age of players, of which the nation state is only one. The European Union’s primary role has become orchestral. Its role is just the opposite of what nation states do. Its political cachet is bound up in facilitating and regulation a competing flow of divergent activities and interest. It is less a place than a process. Its genius is in its indeterminacy.
Europeans are in the midst of a historical debate over whether to ratify a proposed constitution. Much of that 265-page document probably would not be acceptable to most Americans. Although many passages are cribbed from our own nation-forming documents, there are other ideas and notions that are so alien to the contemporary America psyche that they may be considered with suspicion or even thought of as bizarre.
To begin with, there is not even a single reference to God and only a veiled reference to Europe’s “religious inheritance”. There is only one reference to private property tucked deep inside the document, and barely a passing mention of free markets and trade.
Just as striking is what the constitution does emphasize. The EU objectives include a clear commitment to “sustainable development based on balanced economic growth.” A “social market economy”, and “protection and improvement of the quality of the environment.” The constitution would also “promote peace, combat social exclusion and discrimination, promote social justice and protection, equality between men and women, solidarity between generations, and protection of children’s rights.”
The constitution’s Charter of Fundamental Rights goes far beyond our own Bill of Rights and subsequent constitutional amendments. For example, it promises everyone preventive health care, daily and weekly rest periods, an annual period of paid leave, maternity and parental leave, social and housing assistance, and environmental protection.
The EU constitution is something new in human history. Though it is not as eloquent as the French and US constitutions, it is the first governing document of its kind to expand the human franchise to the level of global consciousness. The language throughout the draft constitution speaks of universalism, making it clear that the focus is not a people, a territory, to a nation, but rather, the human race and the planet we inhabit. The gist of the new constitution is a commitment to respect human diversity, champion human rights and the rights of nature, foster quality of life, pursue sustainable development, free the human spirit for deep play, build a perpetual peace, and nurture a global consciousness. Together, these values and goals represent the warp and woof of a fledgling European Dream.
This dream is already threatening to create a schism with the US. For example, the European Union forbids capital punishment. Even the person who commits the most heinous crimes against flow human beings, including terrorism and genocide, enjoys in the official words of the EU, “an inherent and inalienable dignity.” The Europeans see their position on the death penalty going to the very heart of their new dream, and they hope to convince the world of the righteousness of their cause.
Another way the divisiveness between the two dreams is manifested is their positions on genetically modified food. In the mid-90’s the US government gave the green light to GM foods and at the end of the decade over half of America’s crops were genetically modified. No new laws were enacted to govern the potential harmful effects. With its commitment to the precautionary principal and reining in high-risk scientific enterprise, in the name of environmental protection and sustainable development, Europe responded quite differently. Massive opposition to GM crops led to a de facto moratorium and tough new EU protections covering this technology.
Although it’s too early to tell exactly how successful the “United States” of Europe will ultimately prove to be, in an era when our identities(and problems) extend beyond borders, no nation will be able to go it alone 25 yeas from now. The European states are the first to understand and act upon the emerging realities of a globally interdependent world. Others will follow.

From EUROPEAN DREAM, Utne reader article, by Jeremy Rifkin
Americans are so used to thinking of our country as the most successful on earth, they might be surprised to learn that, by many standards, this is no longer the case.( note: here Rifkin includes a long list of comparisons. Here are some of them.) The Gross national product of the EU (10.5 trillion dollars) tops that of the U.S., making it the world’s largest economy. The EU is the world’s leading exporter and largest trading market. It claims a greater share of Fortune 500 companies( 61 in EU, while 40 in US.
The comparisons of quality of life are even more revealing. In the EU there are 322 physicians per 100,000, while the US has 279. The average life span in most develop EU countries is now 78.01 years compared to 76.9 years in the US. When it comes to wealth distribution- a crucial measure of a country’s ability to deliver on the promise of prosperity, the US ranks 24 among industrial nations. All 18 of Europe’s most developed have less income inequality between rich and poor. There are now more poor people living in American than in the 16 nations for which data is available. America is also the most dangerous place to live, with its homicide rate (4X), child homicide rate, suicides, and fire-arm related deaths outstripping those of the other wealthiest nations. Although the US is only 4 percent of the world’s population, it now holds a quarter of the world’s prison population.
Europeans often remark that Americans “live to work” while Europeans “work to live.” The average paid vacation time in Europe is 6 weeks a year. On average Americans receive only 2 weeks. Most Americans would be shocked to learn that the average commute to work in Europe is less than 19 minutes. When one considers what makes a people great and constitutes a better life, Europe is beginning to surpass America.

A Different Approach In Finland’s Prisons, No Gates or Armed Guards
Look in on Finland’s penal institutions, whether those the system categorizes as “open” as “closed,” and it is hard to tell when you’ve entered the world of custody. “This is a closed prison,” Esko Aaltonen, warden of the Hameenlinna penitentiary, said in welcoming a visitor. “ But you may have noticed you just drove in, and there was no gate blocking you.”
Walls and fences have been removed in favor of unobtrusive camera surveillance and electronic alert networks. Instead of clanging iron, meal passageways and grim cells, there are linoleum-
floored hallways lined with living spaces for inmates that resemble dormitory rooms more than lockups in a slammer.
Guards are unarmed and wear either civilian clothes or uniforms free of emblems like chevrons and epaulettes. “there are 10 guns in this prison, and they are all in my safe,” Mr Aaltonen said.”I only take them out in transfer of prisoners.”
Prison officials can give up to 20 days solitary confinement to inmates as punishment for infractions like fighting or possessing drugs, though the usual term is more like three to five days. Mr Altonen said he tried to avoid even that by first talking the problem over with the offending inmate.

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