Europe – an American future?

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By BOAVENTURA DE SOUSA SANTOS*

The growing integration of Europe into the US ideological universe has many other dimensions at the cultural and political level.

The US has the highest GDP in the world: 23 trillion dollars. Of the top 10 financial capital companies, 3 are based in the US. There, in Silicon Valley, came the technology that transformed our lives. The global entertainment and media industry is predominantly American. The scientific production of this country has brought extraordinary advances in multiple domains, namely in the area of ​​health.

In contrast to all this, the level of social inequalities in the US exceeds that of any developed European country; life expectancy (77 years) is lower than in Portugal (81 years); 11.4% of the population, ie 37 million people, live below the poverty level; 6 million children live in food insecure households; students accumulate unpayable debts (1.7 trillion dollars); the US does not have high-speed trains or universal health care; it was the country with one of the most mediocre performances in protecting health and life during the pandemic crisis; its infrastructures are extremely poor, in need of urgent repair; several cities in the Midwest they are experiencing rotating power outages typical of cities in less developed countries; the general level of wages has been practically stagnant for four decades; about 100.000 people die annually from drug overdoses; the country has the highest rate of incarceration/institutionalization in the world: almost 2 billion people, with the incarceration rate of young black people being five times higher than that of young white people; In the first six months of 2022 alone, 277 people have died in shootings with weapons of war.

The US is trapped in an uncontrollable spiral of military spending. To the extent that Europe identifies with North American designs, it is likely that something similar will happen in Europe. Since budgets are finite, what is spent on weapons is not spent on schools and hospitals. In addition to the socioeconomic dimension, Europe's growing integration into the US ideological universe has many other cultural and political dimensions that must be taken into account. I focus on ideologies, well aware that the practice of countries that profess them is often very different.

 

The metamorphoses of civil society

In social-democratic Europe, a strong civil society is the precondition of a strong welfare state, while in the US, a strong civil society is considered incompatible with a strong welfare state. The difference lies in the fact that, while in Europe civil society is conceived as a vast spectrum of social organizations (the so-called third sector), in the USA, especially since the 1980s, the interests of civil society have metamorphosed into interests of the market, that is, of the private economy. The global rise of the extreme right has contributed to the advancement of this metamorphosis in Europe. How far it can go is anyone's guess.

 

From liberalism to neoconservatism

The 1960s was the heyday of liberalism in the US. Here are some characteristics of his ideas: human nature is not fixed and has the potential to build a fairer society; human beings are essentially rational; obstacles to progress are ignorance and faulty institutions; there are no essential hierarchies among human beings; negotiation and compromise must prevail over conflict and war; the state must be secular and based on democratic government and social reformism. These ideas, which seem like common sense to any European, are now in the minority in the US.

From the 1980s, conservative thought launched a radical attack on liberalism and gradually inculcated symmetrically opposed ideas. With the arrival of the second generation of conservatives at the end of the 1990s, the neoconservatives emerged who, on the one hand, radicalized conservative ideas, on the other hand, modified them in an essential theme: while conservatives were isolationists, neocons are imperialists.

The white supremacy of conservatives at home has become US supremacy over all other countries, and whatever is necessary to maintain it is legitimate. Neocons have dominated US foreign policy since the days of President Bill Clinton. The arrogance with which Brussels talks today about the need to continue the war, destroy Russia and neutralize China is consistent with the neocon agenda and sounds like imperial nostalgia.

 

Democratic or pro-Western allies?

During the short tenure of liberalism, it was generally assumed that democratic governments were natural allies of the US. The self-determination of peoples was defended with some credibility. With the conservative turn, the US's natural allies became those who defended Western Judeo-Christian values ​​and US geostrategic interests, whatever their political regime. For conservatives in the 1960s, Francisco Franco in Spain and António Salazar in Portugal were allies because they were pro-Western and European colonialism should be defended as the struggle of Western civilization against barbarism.

The same was said of pro-Western dictators, although it was recognized that some were particularly cruel, as was the case of Fulgêncio Batista in Cuba. On the other hand, unlike the liberals, who defended peaceful coexistence with communism, the conservatives defended that it was the obligation of the USA to free the peoples from the “communist yoke” and to make the Soviet bloc retreat. They criticized, therefore, the inaction of the USA during the Hungarian uprising of 1956 and even thought that, in the Suez Canal crisis of that year, the USA had betrayed its western allies, England and France, opening the doors to expansion of communism. The neoconservative agenda now dominates US foreign policy and, if it comes to dominate in Europe, there will be a paradigm shift. For example, Viktor Orbán will not be criticized for being authoritarian, but for being pro-Russian, that is, anti-Western. And Belarus or Georgia will be countries to destabilize in order to free them from the Russian yoke.

 

Anticommunism without communism

Fear of the communist danger, which had emerged in the 1920s and 1930s, transformed after World War II into an ideology that cut across the entire spectrum of American politics. With McCarthyism in the 1950s, the hunt for communist philosophies reached unprecedented levels. The best writers, academics, journalists or filmmakers were accused of philo-communism with sometimes tragic consequences for their lives and careers. This ideology was shared by liberals and conservatives, albeit with the differences I mentioned above. But whereas in the 1960s liberals considered the danger of internal communism to be neutralized, conservatives continued to see manifestations of communism in any social reform agenda, however moderate - including policies for racial equality or women's reproductive rights. women.

For conservatives, communism has become an empty signifier and works today as a throwing weapon to demonize political opponents, justify its cancellation on social networks and promote hate speech. The European tradition of communist parties (despite the crisis they are going through and the fact that many have ceased to exist) can be a brake against this avalanche that in Europe arises via the extreme right. For how long? For now, anti-Russian hatred subliminally contains the intensity of anti-communist hatred, even knowing that the communist party is a very minority in Russia and that Putin is a right-wing politician, a friend of the European extreme right.

 

Nazism is less of a threat than communism

Nazism has a long tradition in the US with roots in the American Nazi Party founded in 1960, and is now widespread in the country through many extremist organizations, all of them adept at white supremacy and prepared for “race war”, sometimes involving military training. . Violence and terrorism are the privileged means of “white power accelerationism”. His presence at the Capitol assault on January 6, 2021 was notorious. Perhaps more important than registering this dark movement is to bear in mind that Nazism was always more tolerated in the US than communism.

Even after the Second World War, the US adopted a policy of pragmatic cooperation with some sectors of defeated Nazism. One of the most significant cases was the protection and reception in the country of Nazi German scientists. It was “Operation Clip” described by Annie Jacobsen in Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program That Brought Nazi Scientists to America (Little Brown, 2014). The book is disturbing in showing the extent to which public policy can be hidden from the public in the name of national security. After Germany's surrender, 1600 German scientists and technicians came to the US and quickly became US citizens. These were the scientists who helped Hitler produce weapons (missiles, chemical and biological weapons, space medicine to increase pilot performance, etc.) that killed the soldiers and populations of the Allied countries. The book focuses on 21 scientists who were at Hitler's service, most of them with prizes awarded by the Leader, the best known being Wernher von Braun, and being among them the surgeon general of the Third Reich.

Some were even tried at the Nuremberg Tribunal, but were shortly afterwards hired by the US government. A section was created in the Pentagon – the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency – specifically dedicated to recruiting and hiring Nazi scientists. A year before Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Pentagon was discussing the need for the US to prepare for a “total war” against the communists, an atomic, chemical and biological war, and all the means to make it possible were legitimate. The extreme pragmatism of this policy meant that, although many of these scientists could be considered war criminals, their usefulness made them forget their crimes, when it did not reward them. Operation Paperclip is the symptom of something more general: the aversion to Nazism was always much less intense than the aversion to communism. After all, the Nazis only radicalized some of the dominant conservative ideas and have always been staunch supporters of capitalism.

This conservative ideological complex does not advance without resistance even within the USA, as demonstrated by the movement “Our Revolution”, animated by the democratic socialist senator Bernie Sanders, which for some time excited the young North Americans, as years before they had been involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement on behalf of the 99%. It is good, however, that European democrats are taking care of what will be at stake if Europe loses what distinguishes it from the US and uncritically welcomes what it has in common with them.

*Boaventura de Sousa Santos is full professor at the Faculty of Economics at the University of Coimbra. Author, among other books, of The end of the cognitive empire (authentic).

 

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