Monday, June 28, 2004

Know When to Hold

A truly great essay from Ginny of Chicagoboyz. It's too long and, yes, too nuanced to easily condense.

Here's one piece:
"Europeans have a different history from ours; their beliefs are different as well. They have given us much—western culture, the rule of law--and in the last century we began to repay that debt. (A fact they grudgingly acknowledge – looking at Bosnia, at the beaches of Normandy.) They have more faith in institutions than we do – in that way, perhaps, we are still the revolutionaries that we were at the beginning--first in terms of beliefs and then in terms of politics. We are thoroughly true to our beliefs - our sense that the fallible nature of man is likely to mold fallible institutions; we worry that openness and transparency are lost in bureaucracies. The United Nations does little to disabuse us of that notion. We value the unencumbered will more than perhaps we should – we think the Europeans value the cushions of the safety net too much (we see retreat and apathy; they see aggressive noise). They see the inequality of annual income and think of permanent penury; we see the flow between medians of income and see potential.

They seem less willing to accept the tragic nature of human life that comes from our religious tradition nor do they have confidence in the commonsensical, sturdy pragmatism we rely on. We accept we have feet of clay and move on. They are more likely to posit an abstraction. We tend to view that idealism as ideology; they dream of utopias, of perfectly managed economies, of heroic and romantic heroes. Sometimes we seem like a Thelma Ritter character (remember her glance in All About Eve, in Rear Window; let's cut through the bull and see what's real, let's doubt those stories). Our leaders are term limited, our economy is open. We may assume innocence until guilt is proven - but that is a matter as much of our limits on our institutions as our confidence in human nature. And because we acknowledge the imperfection in the temporal, we can retain our respect for the eternal.

I suspect in some ways we are even farther apart than we realize. I like our system; they like theirs. In a thousand years, historians will probably observe that there were virtues in their world – and in ours. "


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