European Identity: A Work in Progress

I would like to associate myself with the perspective on multiculturalism offered by Professor Smith. I think he presents a sensible and reasoned definition of the term and how it works in practice.

I would also warn against primordial conceptions of Europe’s traditional nation-states—those holding that Europeans have a far less malleable and open notion of national identity than do Americans, due to the nature of America’s foundational principles. It is worth keeping in mind that Europe’s contemporary nation-states are social and political constructions, products of the state-building efforts that began in the 18th century. They are still works in progress, changing in step with demographic shifts on the ground—as made clear by recent changes in German laws on naturalization.

It is also inappropriate to presume that the United States had an integrative, multicultural notion of identity from the outset. Until at least the late 19th century, the citizens of the US demonstrated much stronger loyalties to their separate states than to the union. African-Americans were welcomed into the social mainstream only during the second half of the twentieth century. American multiculturalism was fueled by the industrial revolution, which created an ethnic mixing bowl. America’s open, multicultural approach to national identity is a twentieth century development.

Globalization is now doing the same for Europe—pressing it in the direction of becoming demographic mixing bowls. Traditional notions of nationhood are under threat and their adherents are digging in their heels. But changes in identity do not come easily—as the U.S. Civil War made amply clear.

Also from this issue

Lead Essay

  • Old Europe may not be doomed, though it is “sleepwalking to further relative decline,” says Theodore Dalrymple. “The principle motor of Europe’s current decline is,” he argues, “its obsession with social security.” If Europe is to have a fighting chance, it must overcome a politics in which “personal and sectional interest has become all-powerful” and “the goal of everyone is to parasitize everyone else.”

Response Essays

  • According to historian Timothy Smith, author of France in Crisis, the main problem of Old Europe is that overregulated labor markets, alleged to “humanize” capitalism and promote “solidarity,” instead work to consolidate economic privileges for tenured labor unionists and state employees, and exclude broad swathes of the population, especially immigrants, from the work force. Smith is careful to distinguish the relative stagnation of France, Germany, and Italy from their more successful Scandanavian counterparts, and argues against Dalrymple that the U.K. is really in pretty good shape.

  • Disagreeing sharply with Theodore Dalrymple’s grim diagnosis, Georgetown University international affairs professor and Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Charles Kupchan maintains that “it is simply not the case that the continent is populated primarily by sclerotic, dysfunctional economies on their last gasp.” However, Kupchan argues that Dalrymple’s essay “considerably underestimates … the challenge of integrating Muslim immigrants into European society.” The Paris riots and the Danish cartoon imbroglio demonstrate that Europe has “embraced multiculturalism in fact, but not yet in spirit.”

  • In her reply to Dalyrmple’s lead essay, the Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum lists “three factors which could, over the next decade, help reverse Europe’s course.” Market-friendly leaders, “an acknowledgment of the possibilities presented by the new members of the European Union,” and ditching “their increasingly bizarre obsession with the evil United States,” would, Applebaum argues, go a long way to “help Europe escape its current economic and psychological slump.”