Ethics & Public Policy Center

Liebe Europäer

Published in Wall Street Journal Europe on February 28, 2008


George Weigel

Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies


In a recent article in Die Zeit, former West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt confessed that he wants to “love America again.” He listed 10 conditions for a lovers’ reconciliation, each reflective of the political, environmental, economic, secularist and multicultural shibboleths of the contemporary European left. Herr Schmidt’s romantic yearnings may be requited in the event that Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama is the next president of the United States. Other Americans, however, think that the real issue is this: How can we respect Europe again?

Let me suggest the ways.

- Recover a sense of moral realism. Europeans could stop imagining the EU as a Kantian utopia of perpetual peace, absolved from the grubbiness of worldly strife. Europeans could also refrain from sneering at what they imagine to be American moral self-righteousness about a conflicted world, which is in fact moral realism. Such a change in European attitudes would likely have a salutary effect on policy: Every NATO member would, for example, actually fight in Afghanistan, rather than withdrawing from the action behind rules of engagement meant to appease ill-informed popular opinion and the European peace movement.

- Sacrifice for defense. Three percent of GDP is the stated goal for defense spending among NATO members. European states rarely reach it. Make the 3% goal real, and spend it in ways that develop real military capability. A Europe worth respecting wouldn’t depend on American airlift capability to do anything seriously militarily.

- Enlarge the community of European democracies. As the U.S. bound its own security to Europe’s during the Cold War, so Europe should extend a democratic welcome to Ukraine and Georgia by offering a NATO Membership Action Plan at the alliance’s April meeting in Bucharest. The newer European democracies and NATO members are the most enthusiastic about such a plan. Europe’s NATO elders should follow their lead, irrespective of the squawking that will ensue from Moscow.

- Restore cultural self-confidence. Europeans should admit that multiculturalism, ghettoization and tolerating enclaves of rule by Shariah provide no real answers to the challenges of large-scale immigration from the Arab Islamic world. A Europe worth respecting would stop appeasing Islamists and jihadists and affirm the moral, not merely pragmatic, superiority of Western notions of human rights and the legal and political equality of men and women. European intellectuals like Marcello Pera, Alain Finkielkraut, André Glucksmann and, yes, Pope Benedict XVI have all deplored the self-loathing embedded in contemporary European high culture; Schmidt and those for whom he speaks should listen to them. A Europe worth respecting would relearn its own historic worth. And having done that, it would stop kowtowing to Islamist blackmail, which is bad for moderate Muslims and lethal for Europe’s future.

- Jettison secularist mythology. Gratefully acknowledge the role that Christian ideas of human dignity, social pluralism and moral responsibility have played in setting the cultural foundations of 21st-century Europe’s commitments to democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Recognize that the civilization of the West was produced by the fruitful interaction of Jerusalem, Athens and Rome — biblical religion, Greek rationality and the Roman idea of a law-governed polity. Confront the intellectual and moral incapacities that Europe experiences in defending the truth of its commitments to freedom, justice and equality, many of which are the unhappy result of Europe’s decades-long frolic in the postmodern sandbox of skepticism and relativism.

- Declare energy independence from Putin’s Russia. A Europe worth respecting would acknowledge that its dependence on Russian energy creates a grave strategic vulnerability and would overcome national corporate interests in reversing that.

- Have the political courage to make necessary structural reforms. America is no model here, given our sorry failure to deal with either Social Security reform or immigration reform. Perhaps EU members like Germany, by implementing the economic changes that every person capable of reading a balance sheet knows are necessary, could set an example.

- Fix the EU democracy deficit. The new Lisbon Treaty, intended to guide the affairs of the enlarged EU, is not only written in obscure, even Orwellian language. It seems unlikely to be put to a popular referendum in most EU member states. This top-down imposition of what amounts to constitutional law is another example of the consolidation of political authority in Brussels-based EU institutions that lack democratic accountability. One can’t respect the EU as a democratic community when bureaucratic authoritarianism is its default decision-making mode.

- Tell the greens to stop hurting poor people. Anti-corporate, Green-fed European superstitions about genetically modified foods, and the European Union’s self-indulgent agricultural policy, are two significant factors in perpetuating hunger throughout the world. Enough is enough: Look at the data, not the propaganda of European environmentalists.

- Put America to shame culturally. Stop whining about the vulgarities of American popular culture and then buying it as fast as it’s produced. Make something better. Lead a Western renaissance in literature, film, theater and music. In doing so, Europeans will rediscover that they have something to offer the world besides guilt and guilt’s first-cousin, moral posturing. They can offer the riches of the world’s greatest cultural heritage, which is something worth both defending and advancing.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author, most recently, of Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism (Doubleday, 2007).

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