qatsi (qatsi) wrote,

Dream On

Book Review: The European Dream, by Jeremy Rifkin
The subtitle of this book is How Europe's Vision of the Future is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream, and it's clearly a book written by an American principally for Americans. In the first few chapters one is bowled over by statistics about Europe, presented in a continuous stream as though to brainwash the reader into submission. It has to be said that Rifkin's purist presentation of the American Dream is tempting - freedom and self-determination, with appropriate reward for hard effort - though when fused with religion the consequence is frightening, as he describes the way Americans regard themselves as a "chosen" people. However he acknowledges the breakdown of the reality of the dream, essentially since the Pacific coast was settled and there was no longer unbounded land 'beyond' the frontier.

In attempting to describe the divergence between Europe and America, several chapters are devoted to the historical evolution from mediaeval times through to the Enlightenment, of developments in travel, time measurement, private property and ownership, and the nation state. Bringing the story up to date, he considers various features of the European Union, describing the nature of this transnational entity that is not a state, yet shares policy decisions across nations.

He comments on Europe's difficulty in handling immigration - there's a particularly prescient section on the French constitutional position of denial of the existence of ethnic minorities - though it's not as if the US hasn't restricted immigration in recent years. He is frank about Europe's stated foreign and military aims - and acknowledges the American hypocrisy of complaint about defending Europe, yet at the same time insisting that any common European defensive force must operate strictly within NATO parameters. The discussion on environmental matters, and human rights, highlights America's attitude to the supremacy of the nation state (and indeed, one nation state in particular). But where the book has breadth, it makes up for it in its lack of depth, and there is evidence of omission or bad research. There's no mention of the African Union, which is supposed to be modelled to some extent on the EU, and there's a particular howler when he refers to "upstart company Linux" (my italics) in the tech sector as a competitor to Microsoft, particularly ironic given that in a previous chapter he looked at cooperative rather than competitive ways of doing business. Although there are references to anti-American sentiment pervading Europe, there is little stated analysis of why that might be, or what Americans might consider doing about it.

It's an interesting read and, while some sections may attempt to stir Americans, there is enough doubt expressed in the European "experiment" for them to remain in comfort. The problems I've highlighted above do give rise for concern about the overall credibility of the book, making me wonder whether most of the book seems well argued by chance. I wasn't in any doubt beforehand, but I am now reinforced in my belief that I am a European.
Tags: books
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