Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Americans believe success is in the hands of the individual; Europeans don't - George Will

Europe, post-religious and statist, is puzzled -- and alarmed -- by a nation where grace is said at half the family dinner tables. But religiosity, say Micklethwait and Wooldridge, "predisposes Americans to see the world in terms of individual virtue rather than in terms of the vast social forces that so preoccupy Europeans.'' And: "The percentage of Americans who believe that success is determined by forces outside their control has fallen from 41 percent in 1988 to 32 percent today; by contrast, the percentage of Germans who believe it has risen from 59 percent in 1991 to 68 percent today.'' In America, conservatives much more than liberals reject the presumption of individual vulnerability and incompetence that gives rise to liberal statism.

Conservatism rose in the aftermath of Johnson's Great Society, but skepticism about government is in the nation's genetic code. Micklethwait and Wooldridge note that in September 1935, during the Depression, Gallup polling found that twice as many Americans said FDR's administration was spending too much than said it was spending the right amount, and barely one person in 10 said it was spending too little.

After FDR's 1936 re-election, half of all Democrats polled said they wanted FDR's second term to be more conservative. Only 19 percent wanted it more liberal. In 1980, when Ronald Reagan won while excoriating "big government,'' America had lower taxes, a smaller deficit as a percentage of GDP and a less-enveloping welfare state than any other industrialized Western nation.

America, say Micklethwait and Wooldridge, is among the oldest countries in the sense that it has one of the oldest constitutional regimes. Yet it is ``the only developed country in the world never to have had a left-wing government.'' And given the country's broad and deep conservatism, it will not soon.

[Emphasis added.]
Whether the belief that your future depends on your current actions is true or not, this is for sure: I'd prefer living in a society where everyone believes that effort pays and that playing the victim or using your influence (wasta) has a low return. Wouldn't you?


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