This is a very old story. The founders of modern liberalism, led by Woodrow Wilson and the two Roosevelts, were quite open about their effort to adopt a more European approach to political economy. The progressive leader William Allen White said in 1911: “We were parts, one of another, in the United States and Europe. Something was welding us into one social and economic whole with local political variations. It was Stubbs in Kansas, Jaures in Paris, the Social Democrats in Germany, the Socialists in Belgium, and I should say the whole people in Holland, fighting a common cause.”
But it was FDR’s New Deal that truly aimed to “assimilate the American into the ‘European’ political experience,” according to historian Daniel Boorstin.
But suddenly, when the most unapologetically liberal president ever actually starts to make good on this long-term liberal agenda — including, perhaps, a “new New Deal” — Obama’s new New Dealers guffaw at the parochial paranoia of it all. David Brooks is surely right that the American “commercial republic” is admirably resilient to statism, but resilience isn’t immunity — as public-opinion data and Obama’s 2008 victory demonstrate.
Obama’s defenders are right that American culture is different than Europe’s. But what they seem to forget is Patrick Moynihan’s famous observation: “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.” The political aim of liberalism for a century has been to move us in a European direction.
It’s hardly crazy that conservatives would complain about Obama’s great leap “forward.”
Friday, March 20, 2009
Culture Determines Success
Jonah Goldberg today at NRO: