"I Dreamed A Dream"
Stefan Theil, writing in the FP, reminds readers that the ideas which clashed in the 20th century, are still in conflict today. Theil describes how different places sustain themselves with their particular civilizational myths.
Millions of children are being raised on prejudice and disinformation. Educated in schools that teach a skewed ideology, they are exposed to a dogma that runs counter to core beliefs shared by many other Western countries. They study from textbooks filled with a doctrine of dissent, which they learn to recite as they prepare to attend many of the better universities in the world. Extracting these children from the jaws of bias could mean the difference between world prosperity and menacing global rifts. And doing so will not be easy. But not because these children are found in the madrasas of Pakistan or the state-controlled schools of Saudi Arabia. They are not. Rather, they live in two of the world’s great democracies—France and Germany. ...
Just as schools teach a historical narrative, they also pass on “truths” about capitalism, the welfare state, and other economic principles that a society considers self-evident. In both France and Germany, for instance, schools have helped ingrain a serious aversion to capitalism. In one 2005 poll, just 36 percent of French citizens said they supported the free-enterprise system, the only one of 22 countries polled that showed minority support for this cornerstone of global commerce. In Germany, meanwhile, support for socialist ideals is running at all-time highs—47 percent in 2007 versus 36 percent in 1991.
It's possible for some societies to exist in a love-hate relationship with certain ideologies or classes of people. The term "bourgeoisie" for example, "has pejorative connotations suggesting either undeserved wealth, or lifestyles, tastes, and opinions that lack the sophistication of the rich or the authenticity of the intellectual or the poor. ... In the United States, where social class affiliation lacks some of the structure and rules of many other nations, 'bourgeoisie' is sometimes used to refer to those seen as being either upper class or upper middle class." A continent which historically regarded the upper middle class with intellectual contempt would naturally be expected to regard gross capitalism as evil and welfare, the modern day equivalent of the King's largesse, as good.
And while curious, Europe lived with this love-hate relationship for a long time. And perhaps the welfare state bureaucrats have settled into an uneasy truce with their private sectors in much the same way the aristocrats learned to live with the burghers. Europe simply developed mechanisms to keep these conflicts at a reasonable level and muddled along. The history of the 19th and 20th centuries illustrates how the truce between classes can collapse and precipitate a crisis. Maybe it will happen again in modern form; with the welfare state reprising the role of the ruling aristocrats and the Muslims playing the role assumed by different minorities in earlier times. Theil concludes:
Minimal reforms to the welfare state cost former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder his job in 2005. They have also paralyzed modern German politics. Former communists and disaffected Social Democrats, together with left-wing Greens, have flocked to Germany’s new leftist party, whose politics is a distasteful mix of anticapitalist demagoguery and right-wing xenophobia. Its platform, polls show, is finding support even among mainstream Germans. A left-leaning majority, within both the parliament and the public at large, makes the world’s third-largest economy vulnerable to destructive policies driven by anticapitalist resentment and fear of globalization. Similar situations are easily conceivable elsewhere and have already helped bring populists to power in Latin America. Then there is France, where President Nicolas Sarkozy promised to “rupture” with the failed economic policies of the past. He has taken on the country’s public servants and their famously lavish benefits, but many of his policies appear to be driven by what he calls “economic patriotism,” which smacks of old-fashioned industrial protectionism. That’s exactly what French schoolchildren have long learned is the way the world should work.
Both the French and German cases show the limits of trying to run against the grain of deeply held economic ideology. Yet, training the next generation of citizens to be prejudiced against being enterprising and productive is equally foolhardy. Fortunately, such widespread attitudes and the political outcomes they foster aren’t only determined by tradition and history. They are, to a great extent, the product of education. If countries like France and Germany hope to get their nations on a new economic track, they might start paying more attention to what their kids are learning in the classroom.
Maybe they're learning history.