Third Party & Independents Archives

The European Constitution

Well, to paraphrase Mark Twain, the rumors of the birth of the “United States of Europe” have been greatly exaggerated.

As if the French rejection of the European Constitution wasn’t bad enough, its overwhelming rejection by the Dutch seems to have sealed its doom.

The negative majorities in Europe last week affirmed a hoary American political principle: pandering paranoia pays political dividends. From the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 to the repressive slave laws of the ante-bellum South to the Espionage and Sedition Acts of 1917 and 1918 to the internment of Japanese Americans in 1942 to the McCarran Act of 1954 to Cointelpro in the 1960's to the USA Patriot Act of 2001, the history of the United States abounds with examples of demagogic fearmongering.

Today, a majority of Western European voters appears to be afraid of social, political and economic change and would prefer to dip their nations in aspic than confront the future dynamically. Moreover, the proposed constitution gave the demagogues plenty of ammunition. They could whip up the masses with a plethora of terrors: increased immigration, fewer social welfare benefits, cultural amalgamation, the political tyranny of a centralized bureaucracy and the economic tyranny of unbridled corporate power to name but a few. In short, the citizens of France and the Netherlands voted to affirm the status quo.

Contemporary Americans cannot engage in any sanctimonious criticisms of the craven Europeans, however, because nations that live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. Examples of status quo worship abound here, as well. Afraid of economic competition? Lobby Congress to extend patent protections or grant your company sweetheart tax breaks, tariffs and subsidies. Afraid of privatizing Social Security? Simply ignore the actuaries and eschew offering any constructive alternatives. Afraid of "big government" controlling the administration of healthcare? Pass a bill that prevents the federal government from negotiating lower prices for pharmaceutical drugs. Afraid of having to earn your own money? Rescind estate taxes. Afraid that internationalism will inhibit American vigilantism? Support the nomination of a dogmatic unilateralist to become the Ambassodor to the United Nations. Afraid of religious terorrism? Support a massive increase in the defense budget, discretionary wars and boondoggle weapons programs such as Star Wars.

Both Americans and Europeans must find leaders that are able to convince their respective electorates that hope must transcend fear for cultural progress to occur. Change may discomfit the comfortable, but cultures must either advance or perish. Stagnation yields entropy inexorably. When risk-adverse nations face the future with more fear than hope, they ensure the realization of a self-fulfilling prophesy: the quality of life they provide to their citizens is certain to deteriorate.

Equitable opportunity, the opportunity to succeed as well as fail, must reign supreme on both sides of the Atlantic if the industrialized nations of the world hope to maintain or expand their cultural hegemonies. Americans must take the initiative in this regard and remember that only when ownership is a by-product of opportunity does it have any societal significance. The acts of achieving and acquiring are sacrosanct natural rights, but the achievements and acquisitions they yield are not. After all, it is our Declaration of Independence that stipulates that the ultimate rationale for the existence of government is to safeguard mankind's three most fundamental rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, not the possession of it.

We must show the demagogues, both at home and abroad, that equitable opportunity within fair markets and a free society is the possession we prize most highly and that complacency, not change, is our greatest fear. As Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America:

"The prospect really does frighten me that they [the Americans] may finally become so engrossed in a cowardly love of immediate pleasures that their interest in their own future and in that of their descendants may vanish, and that they will prefer tamely to follow the course of their destiny rather than make a sudden energetic effort necessary to set things right."

The primary lesson of the failure of the European Constitution is clear: America does not have a monopoly on myopia.

Posted by Chuck Hanrahan at June 3, 2005 10:27 AM