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A new book

Posted by Helen Friday, August 27, 2004

News reaches us of a forthcoming publication by Polity Press: The European Dream: How Europe's Vision of the Future is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream. It is by Jeremy Rifkin, who describes himself as a best-selling author and, indeed, with a little hard thought I did remember his previous publications on the new business and new economy and new social structures. All of which is, like, so last century.

In the blurb to his book he explains the following:

The American Dream was based on economic growth, personal wealth and independence. It was synonymous with love of country and patriotism, frontier mentality and the unbridled exercise of power. Yet what were once considered prime virtues - cherished and idealised not only in America but throughout the world - are increasingly seen by many as drawbacks and even impediments. But while the American Dream tires and languishes in the past, a new European Dream is being born. Today we see a new set of values emerging which are focused on sustainable development, quality of life and multilateralism. More cosmopolitan and less concerned with the brute exercise of power, the European Dream is better positioned to accommodate the many forces that are propelling us into a more interconnected and interdependent world.
How quaint, thought I. Here is someone who still believes in the European Dream. I wonder who he might be. Well, the one thing he is not is a European. In fact, he is an American, who has, on his own account, advised many politicians and business leaders, and has exerted a great influence on the formation of American public policy. Not recently, presumably, since I cannot quite see Mr Rifkin hitting it off with Mr Rumsfeld or even Secretary of State Powell.

When it comes to particulars, the only leading politician, whom Mr Rifkin mentions as a recipient of his advice, is Romano Prodi, possibly the least successful President of the European Commission for a very long time.

Let us look carefully at what Mr Rifkin is saying. The most interesting thing is that while the American Dream is described in very precise practical terms: independence, economic growth, personal wealth, patriotism, even exercise of power, unbridled or not, the European Dream is soemwhat vague and frilly at the edges: sustainable development, quality of life, multilateralism. What on earth does any of that mean? How do you define quality of life that is not economic growth and discards personal wealth?

Who is actually buying into the European Dream? This week we heard of another leading chemist, a Nobel Prize winner, no less, abandoning Britain to go and work in the United States. The number of people who try to get into that country is colossal. The number of people around the world who try to emulate the American way of life is even greater, though, one must admit, many of those spend all their time running down America.

What of that sophistication that characterizes the European Dream? Well, it is the sophistication that has given us such policies as the persistent call for lifting the arms embargo on China, the "reunification" of the two Chinas in such a way as to extinguish the budding democracy of Taiwan, persistent support for Yasser Arafat to the detriment of the situation in the Middle East and the clear disadvantage of the Palestinian people, support for every tin-pot dictator all over the world, and especially Africa, and so on.

The most recent exercise of that sophistication has been the "dialogue" and engagement with the Mullahs of Iran, which resulted in a proudly proclaimed agreement signed with France, Germany and the UK. Last week Iran gleefully announced that it had broken the agreement and built nuclear reactors. Not a great success for sophisticated multilateral dialogue.

What does Mr Rifkin think of the sophisticated EU policy in the Balkans that has facilitated a ten-year long war? Was he shaping American public policy, when President Clinton finally sent in American troops at the head of NATO, in order to bring some kind of a peaceful settlement there?

Does Mr Rifkin think that it is European sophistication that has led so many players on the European scene to an involvement in the food-for-aid scandal and consequent support for Saddam Hussein?

One can go on asking questions like this for ever. No doubt, when the book comes out it will appeal to some would-be sophisticated media hacks, who will feel somewhat flattered to see their rather crude and unintellectual anti-Americanism praised in those terms.

The rest of us may look at his tired cliché about Britain having to make up its mind which side it is going to be on: the exhausted American one or the forward looking European one. Mr Rifkin’s arguments, despite his clarion call for the new political culture of the new millennium, are really old-fashioned:

But in order to exercise any real influence in world affairs, Britain must choose to be part of a larger political entity. In a globally connected world, no people can exist any longer as an island unto themselves. The only question for Britain is whether it will make its home with America or with Europe.
My goodness, I haven't heard anything so crude, silly and unsophisticated for years.