Wednesday, December 12, 2018
Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Wednesday, December 12, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
What happens in Europe doesn’t stay in Europe: Why Americans need to pay close attention to political unrest across the Atlantic
Americans give a great deal of attention to the changing nature of the American political landscape. Politics appears to be just about everything in this culture, and so politics seems to drive just about every headline, just about every event, just about every analysis. But Americans often fail to understand that the political landscape of the world is changing and it's changing in ways that America will ultimately not be able to escape.
As you think about the world today, most Americans have an instinctive understanding that the basic divide in the world is between the West and the rest. That is to say that in the history of traditions, the history of cultures, there is a commonality to the cultures that came out of Western Europe. This tradition includes the development of European nations out of the Holy Roman Empire. It points to the development of modern European civilization, the modern European centric world order that so reshaped so much of the globe during the 18th, but particularly the 19th and 20th centuries.
Then within that Western tradition, you understand the strange and unique commonality of what Winston Churchill called the English-Speaking world, the English-Speaking Peoples. You understand that not only do the English-Speaking Peoples share a common kind of civilizational root and language, but they share a great deal more as well. When Americans think about Europe, we tend to think about the fact that Europe is a very distant place. It is far away for us. It had something to do with our history, but doesn't have much to do with our present.
It was a place of tremendous and deep and costly American involvement during the 20th century, particularly with two absolutely horrific world wars, but it seems a far distance from us now. Events in Europe tend to be considered by most Americans something of very little interest and even less attention. But here's where we better remind ourselves that history doesn't stay on one side of an ocean or another. We need to remind ourselves that even as the United States is itself protected by an ocean to the east and an ocean to the west, even though Europe is geographically speaking a long way from us, unrest in Europe doesn't stay in Europe. Big cultural developments in Europe quickly jump over the Atlantic.
There has been a pattern throughout most of the 20th century into the 21st. What happens in Europe eventually happens in the United States. That's why we have better pause for a moment and recognize that what is happening in Europe right now is nothing less than political chaos. Furthermore, it's chaos and unrest where it was least expected. If you were to speak of the three great European nations, the three pillars of Western Europe, you would speak automatically of Germany and France and the United Kingdom. Many Americans simply say England. If you put together the English tradition, the German tradition and the French tradition, well, there you have the mainstays of Western Europe.
As you're looking at the end of World War II, those three nations became the most crucial partners in reshaping Europe and trying to achieve what they had hoped for and that is a long-term European peace based upon European stability. Well, that stability is beginning to break loose. The current government in Britain is at its riskiest position in recent years, and there is every reason now to believe that the English government will fall. The government of France is teetering on the edge of absolute civilizational crisis with riots and unrest on the streets of Paris in successive weekends that have led to the destabilization of what had been considered until very recently the impregnable presidency of France.
Then you have the fact that Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, considered by most to be the single most important political leader in Europe, her tenure is coming to an end. She has already been replaced as the head of her party, and she has already announced that she will not run again for the office of Germany's chancellor. We are looking at an unprecedented upheaval in Europe. What's going on there should have our attention not only because it is reshaping Europe, but because it has a great deal to tell us about what's going on in the United States as well.
At the moment, Germany is the most stable of the three mainstays of European stability, but Germany itself is undergoing this vast transformation. The idea of modern Germany after the second World War, but particularly after the end of the Soviet Union, was that Germany would become the great bulwark, the great political stabilizer of the entire European project. Now notice what's been going on. If you've been following the headlines, Angela Merkel, who for so many years has been the Chancellor of Germany, has been the one who has stood for the cosmopolitan unified common European understanding of how the world is to be ordered.
Germany has largely fueled financially that stability. It has often bought that stability by providing financial support for other nations. Germany is itself a vast social experiment. It is a form of a modern welfare state, but Germany has been so rich, its industries and finances provided so much money, that they had been able to fund that welfare state, but it's beginning to slow down and that's becoming more and more clear. Furthermore, Angela Merkel had also demonstrated that kind of cosmopolitan commitment to Europe by being the proponent even against many in her government and against the majority of her own citizens for what had been a radical openness to refugees and migrants coming into Germany.
But this is where we have to note something huge has happened. Going back to the modern idea of Germany, it was based upon the European idea of assimilation. People should be welcomed into the country. But once they are in the country, they should become Germans. They should assimilate. That's not happening. It is particularly not happening with immigrants and refugees who have come from Islamic lands. That is not happening and the German people now know it. Germany was also one of the nation's most insistent over the last several decades on the minimization of national identity and the maximization of European identity.
The emergence of what is now called the European Union from the ruins of World War II was explicitly at the time an effort to try to create a European alternative to the United States of America. The idea was we can create the United States of Europe, but that didn't happen and that idea is crashing on reality. What's the reality? National identity. National identity, it turns out, is extremely important. It is very difficult to meld together all these different nations who share different histories, even though they have a common European rootage. They speak a different language, but furthermore, the also seek different kinds of social goods.
Just one little footnote here, you will remember that the Declaration of Independence went so far as to describe the emerging American ideal as the freedom described as the pursuit of happiness. It doesn't assure happiness, but it recognizes the different individuals are actually pursuing happiness in a different way. They want different things. They desire different lives. But even as that is true as the American experiment indicates for individuals, it is also true for collectives, for nations. The reality is the Polish people do not want as a people exactly what the German people want.
The Croatian people do not think in terms of Croatian identity exactly what the Irish think of Irish identity. There has been a very long understanding that there are cultural differences between the Mediterranean nations of Europe and the more northern nations of Europe, even when it comes to such issues as the work ethic and the formation of work and labor within the society. We're noticing that that European ideal of the United States of Europe really doesn't work because there's not enough unity in the Europe identity to overcome the national identity.
The progressive, cosmopolitan future Macron envisioned for France is confronted by reality in the streets of Paris
But here you might remember that just recently, Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, chastised Americans, particularly the President of the United States, for being too nationalistic. But that's a very strange historical argument to come from France because if France has represented anything over the last centuries, it is its own condescending form of nationalism. When Emmanuel Macron was elected the president of France, he was a very interesting figure, coming out of nowhere on the French political landscape. He represented a new party that won a very clear majority and he was elected the nation's president. The French Republic is based constitutionally on a very strong presidency.
This goes all the way back to the post war period and the legacy of the then French President Charles de Gaulle. But Emmanuel Macron is a technocrat. He was, at 39, the youngest man ever elected the president of France, and he came in on a way of techno optimism. The idea was he would bridge all the differences between the big political parties in France and create a new French order, but it hasn't quite turned out that way. Instead, it has turned to unrest in the streets that has led to outright rioting. It has led to violence and the calling of the French Army onto the streets of Paris.
Keep in mind, that there is a long historical traditional in France of presidents being toppled by riots in the streets. Just ask Charles de Gaulle, the most famous of postwar French presidents who was basically hounded from office by rioters in the streets. But what's going on in France should really have our attention. There's so many interesting angles to it. For one thing, sociologists have been pointing out that France is becoming a radically separated society. The French metropolitan areas, the French cities are becoming richer. They're becoming larger, more populated.
Evermore, the centers of culture, while rural and more suburban France is being left behind, especially so much of the territory of France that had played a large part in the nation's history in the past, but not in the present. It is no accident that the original rioters called the Yellow Vest on the streets of Paris in recent weekends have been those middle aged men in particular who came because of unrest in the French provinces far from the cities. What you are seeing in France is something, let's just remember, we see here in the United States. The cities are far more liberal. They are far more sophisticated in their minds.
The begin to amass political power at the expense of the rest of the country, and then they lured it over the rest of the country, but eventually the rest of the country rises up. Emmanuel Macron promised that if he was elected, he would return France to its greatness on the world stage. He's been pretty condescending, even towards the United States. Sometimes especially towards the American president Donald Trump. For example, when it comes to the climate change issue, President Trump spoke of a plan B after the Paris Accords. President Macron responded quite hotly, "There is no plan B." But as of now, President Macron is organizing his own plan B in France.
Plan A for President Macron was a new fuel tax to cut down on the carbon footprint of the French nation. But it turns out that those who would bear this tax primarily were going to be farmers and others in more rural France who, after all, do not have subways and would have to use automobiles and trucks in order to do their jobs and live their lives. President Macron just assumed that they would be willing to bear this burden and in so doing, more or less to lighten the load of those in the big French cities by increasing the load of those in the countryside, but the countryside rose up.
But then as so often happens in France, it wasn't just the original aggrieved who went to the streets. It was professional thugs and that's exactly what is now happening weekend by weekend in Paris. It is hard to tell who are the political protestors and who are now the political opportunists. But in the face of this massive political opposition, President Macron had to back down. The editors of the Wall Street Journal put it this way, "There is no plan B because there is no planet B," Emmanuel Macron lectured Donald Trump in English when the American president withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement last year."
Then the editor said, "Well, apparently, there is a plan B after all." One of the cultural distinctions that becomes very clear when looking at France was made clear by the editorial page of The New York Times in which we are told, "The French favor change in the abstract, but abhor it in practice." That is a very good descriptor of France. They're all for change in the abstract, but not in the particular. The French seem to love grand historical themes, grand moral themes that they can affirm, but they do not want that to filter down to the policies that shape everyday life. One of the old sayings about the French is that they demand a change until it happens.
When it happens, they don't want it. Emmanuel Macron represented change, but as it turns out, it's not the kind of change that many millions in France had expected. It's also very, very interesting to note that even as the world is coming to an increased consensus, even between liberals and conservatives, that climate change is real, the response to climate change is becoming all the more divisive. That's not just true say between the United States and France. It's true inside France. It's true inside the United States.
The reality is that the people doing the actual voting, the people within the nations on both of sides of the Atlantic, express the fact that they are very concerned about climate change, but they are unwilling to follow some of the what are understood to be rather Draconian and radical solutions that are required by international agreements in order to resolve or even ameliorate the issue. Consider as a matter of interest that France is not itself going to meet its own goals for the Paris Accords and that's going to be true virtually country by country.
The only countries that are likely to meet those self-imposed limits, they're likely to be the countries that set the limit so low that they almost could not possibly miss them. Another one of the problems we see here, and it's true not only in Germany and France, but to a lesser degree in England, what we see here is the fact that people want from the government far more than the government can ever provide. In France, this sometimes gets down to something as intangible as happiness. It's simply is something government cannot supply under any circumstances, but particularly a government that in real spending power has less and less, not more and more.
All of these modern nations are now facing huge pension crisis. They have promised far more money than they're ever going to be able to payout. In the United States, that translates into an entitlement crisis. A crisis that means that we cannot possibly afford the currently obligations undertaken by the United States government, much less future obligations, but we continue to spend the money as if that's not even a concern, which means, of course, that we're giving our grandchildren the bill. At some point, taxation, higher taxes simply don't work. This is something that Europe has been facing for a matter of decades now.
Just recently, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, is known as the OECD, released its revenue statistics and France topped the charts in taxation already before these newly announced, but now withdrawn taxes. Total French taxation as a portion of the nation's economy is now 46.2%. That is to say that government at some level takes almost 50 cents of every dollar out of the economy, and that's before the new French taxes. Furthermore, you're looking at Denmark at 46%, Sweden at 44%, Germany at 37.5%. The OECD average is 34.2%. Now where in the world is the United States?
The United States is at 27.1%. Just imagine, if Americans were told that in order to pay what is demanded by many programs, those taxes would be effectively double, and then told, "By the way, that won't be enough."
British parliament considers Brexit options but one big question remains—will the British people get what they voted for?
In Britain, the big issue is Brexit, the decision made in 2016 by a national referendum that Britain would leave the European Union out of concern about all the concessions to national sovereignty. The European Union, headquartered in cities such as Brussels, was calling the shots about the prices of vegetables in towns within the United Kingdom. It's not only that.
The European Union required the surrender of a great deal of British sovereignty. Now for that matter, they surrendered the sovereignty of all the member nations. That was the price for what was considered to be the goal of a unified Europe, getting over all the historic borders and disputes and different systems of money and taxation that had so marked the European continent. But the price for that is the British came to understand was largely losing control of their system, of their own economy, even over much of their own system of law.
As James Dyson, the founder and CEO of the company now known for making advanced products such as vacuum cleaners, as he said in an interview over the weekend, he was a supporter of Brexit because it was increasingly difficult to do business in Britain because so many of the decisions weren't even made in Britain, but were being made instead in Brussels and that with the significant take of the economy as well. But as we bring this consideration of the unrest in Europe to a close, let's just understand a couple of really big lessons.
One is what we see in Brexit where the big question now is whether or not the British people are going to get what they actually voted for because we're looking at a British government that is teetering on collapse and we're looking at parliament that will not adopt the only kind of agreement for Brexit that the European Union will accept. That means that Britain is really facing two very hard choices. There are really only two alternatives. One of them is what's called a hard Brexit, that means withdrawing without any agreement with the European Union. That will not only be very difficult, it could be economically catastrophic.
The other is to reject the will of the British people and for the British government actually not even to do what the people voted for in 2016, but not to leave the European Union at all. Given the structures of parliamentary democracy in the United Kingdom, the government doesn't actually have to follow the will of the people, even represented in a national referendum. The big lesson there for the United States and for all of us is one deeply rooted in a biblical worldview, in the principle that the greatest unit of the conservation of meaning is local, the smallest unit. This is the principle of subsidiarity.
The moment you begin to assign to bigger and bigger units more and more responsibility, the more human flourishing is denied and minimized rather than maximized. This is especially true when you try to go to an international level where you want to declare a new world order and a new United States of Europe. Once a nation surrenders its sovereignty, here's the hard part, it is very clearly extremely difficult, perhaps even impossible to get it back. But there's another big lesson here, at least you would think there would be a big lesson for the United States.
When you look at these countries taking on so much debt, so much of the economy within their taxation and government spending, when you begin the welfare state expand as it has in Europe over the decades, you begin to quickly understand that these countries are not going to be able to pay for the welfare systems they have put together. It's simply mathematically impossible. In a recent editorial, Joseph Sternberg, writing for the Wall Street Journal, points out that there should be a warning in President Macron's crisis for the now ascendant political left in the United States, particularly as you look a the future of the Democratic Party.
You may look around yourselves in you're highly populated, highly liberal cities and think you know what is politically plausible. But in the United States, as President Macron is learning in France, what's politically plausible has to take into account the whole population. That means that people in Ohio count too, as well as people in Los Angeles. There can be no doubt that in the United States, we are looking at vast political changes. We're looking at vast moral and cultural changes. Christians understand that the one cannot happen without the other. We are looking at a reshaping of both political parties in the United States.
By the time we get to the end of this decade, it will be clear both of America's political parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, those two largest parties, will have been rebranded. They will be reidentified. The big question for the Republican Party is the extent to which the disruption of President Donald Trump will reshape the party ongoingly into the future There's a certain amount of chaos right now in America's political order, even as you're looking at the question of what exactly is going to happen with the American presidency. Meanwhile in the Democratic side, we've often talked about the march to the left and the further left, the Democratic Party is going to have to rebrand itself.
It's going to have to redefine itself given the fact that all the political energy in that party is now headed in a direction that is exactly what President Macron thought was the wave of the future in France, very liberal in their social political, very metropolitan in their address, highly educated, very academic, very technocrat, and for that matter, relatively young votes. He saw those voters as the future. But as it turns out, you've got to lead an entire country, not just those who are rich and young and well-educated in the cities.
One interesting worldview angle on all of this is the extent to which the American political and cultural left for the better part of the last several decades has defined itself as more and more European in its outlook. It has looked to Europe as the pace setter in moral change, for that matter, even immorality, for legal precedence and for everything from design to matters of taste. The inhabitants of so many of the great cities of the world now teeming with multiple millions, they often feel, especially given the cities in Europe and in the United States, they see themselves as having more in common with each other than with the people who don't live in the cities within their own countries.
President Macron has learned the hard way, the very hard way, in recent weeks that the divide in France between the cities and the countryside is very, very volatile politically. It could even endanger his government. The same thing is true in a different sense under a different constitution in the United States of America. One of the bracing realities of our times is that the division in the United States on a political map is not just ideological, it is increasingly geographical.
Voyager 2, launched in 1977, reaches interstellar space. But completion of the mission will take 30,000 more years.
But finally, as we look at an even bigger picture, we understand the headline that the probe known as Voyager 2, the spacecraft, is now in interstellar space. We are told that after being launched in 1977, it has traveled 11 billion miles from earth. It is currently traveling at 34,000 miles an hour. It has taken from 1977 to the present for Voyager to reach the space that is defined as the boundary dividing the Solar System from the rest of the Milky Way, but it has a bit further to go before it is going to escape our Solar System all together. How much further? Well, you actually have to get to the end of The New York Times article by Kenneth Chang to understand that it's going to take another 300 years before Voyager at this speed is going to reach what is known as the Oort Cloud, a distant reservoir of comets orbiting the sun. Then it will take a little bit longer for Voyager actually to officially leave our Solar System.
How much longer? Well, it's estimated about 30,000 years longer. We're looking at the fact that we are an amazing society that can launch such a spacecraft and stay in contact with it after 11 billion miles, having been launched in 1977. That's the year I graduated from high school. It seems like a very, very long time ago. Well, we're the kind of society that can launch this kind of spacecraft and stay in contact with it even now. The problem is, we can't keep ourselves alive long enough to see it accomplish its mission. We're going to miss that by more or less 30,000 years.