Thursday, January 19, 2006

Christopher Caldwell on Raymond Aron and the End of Europe

I have been meaning for several months now to post the link to Christopher Caldwell's Bradley Lectures at AEI, April 4, 2005, Raymond Aron and the End of Europe. Christopher is the finest American journalist covering Europe, and this lecture shows why. Like Christopher, I am a reader of Aron (pictured) - as he says, a vast country, of which I know only certain slivers - I have recently finished Aron's splendid study of Clauswitz and have come away a great admirer. He is right up there in my canon of political moralistes with Albert Camus and Rene Char.

What have I learned from Aron? Well, I am fundamentally an idealist in political theory - I come out of the human rights movement, and having expanded that take in values of democracy that the neo-Platonism of the human rights movement does not accommodate very easily, I embrace constitutional democratic sovereignty as the preferred ideal political structure in international life. That contrasts with liberal internationalism's preferred global federalism. But either way, the position is an idealist one, driven by arguments from morals. Aron, more than anyone, has rehabilitated realism for me - a sort of moral realism (I use this term very differently from what it means in ethical theory) that exists in service of moral ideals, but which operates as a serious, consequentialist qualifier on principles that might obtain strictly between individuals and strictly as a matter of morality.

Christopher's lectures take up, however, the question of demography in Europe, one which Aron never really confronted. He says:

"But European voters do increasingly tell pollsters they feel a “European identity.” When you ask them what they mean by that, they generally mention one thing or another that illustrates differences from the United States: Europe’s oldness, perhaps, or welfare states, or its secularism. In other words, they mention Europe’s institutions. And this is the big problem. Because those institutions have proved hard to adapt to two phenomena that are characteristic of our global age: (1) open markets, and (2) broad demographic change, including large migrations. There is no prospect of managing that change unless the continent’s social institutions (starting with its welfare states) are reformed. Europeans are afraid that such reforms mean “Americanization.” As they see it, the experts and economists keep telling them that they must destroy their continent to save it. So Europe is now--defensively--asserting an identity without a particularly clear idea of what that identity is."

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