Home | Reviews | Blog | Daily | Glossary | Orrin's Stuff | Email

It is time to stop pretending that Europeans and Americans share a common view of the world, or even that they occupy the same world. On the all-important question of power - the efficacy of power, the morality of power, the desirability of power - American and European perspectives are diverging. Europe is turning away from power, or to put it a little differently, it is moving beyond power into a self-contained world of laws and rules and transnational negotiation and cooperation. It is entering a post-historical paradise of peace and relative prosperity, the realization of Kant's "Perpetual Peace." The United States, meanwhile, remains mired in history, exercising power in the anarchic Hobbesian world where international laws and rules are unreliable and where true security and the defense and promotion of a liberal order still depend on the possession and use of military might. That is why on major strategic and international questions today, Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus: They agree on little and understand one another less and less. And this state of affairs is not transitory - the product of one American election or one catastrophic event. The reasons for the transatlantic divide are deep, long in development, and likely to endure. When it comes to setting national priorities, determining threats, defining challenges, and fashioning and implementing foreign and defense policies, the United States and Europe have parted ways.
-Robert Kagan, Power and Weakness (Policy Review, June 2002)

This short book is an expansion--though, from looking it over in the bookstore, not all that much of one--of Mr. Kagan's influential essay of last year, Power and Weakness (Policy Review, June 2002). Therein, he argued that both a material power gap and an ideological gap had been developing for some time between Europe and America, that this divide is deep and deepening, and that it may not ever close. Put in its simplest form his case stated that Europe has become militarily weak and therefore pursues a strategy fit for the weak, one of endless negotiation, treaty making, etc., while America is become overwhelmingly powerful and therefore pursues policies that fit its strength, disregarding those weaker than itself, even traditional "allies" like those in Europe. His theses excited much comment on both sides of the Atlantic, but particularly in Europe, where EU Foreign Minister Javier Solana is reported to have handed copies around Brussels. Apparently for the first time the thought occurred to European leaders that the American dismissal of European concerns was not just some kind of function George W, Bush and cowboy diplomacy but of a recognition on our part that Europe is in a state of decline and doesn't much matter any more.

For my money, Mr. Kagan's analysis is a tad uneven. He is at his best when he makes the point that the Europeans have been able to develop a utopian world view, or at least one that does not require them to exercise power abroad, because America has been protecting them from the dangers of the real world for so long:
The United States, in short, solved the Kantian paradox for the Europeans. Kant had argued that the only solution to the immoral horrors of the Hobbesian world was the creation of a world government. But he also feared that the "state of universal peace" made possible by world government would be an even greater threat to human freedom than the Hobbesian international order, inasmuch as such a government, with its monopoly of power, would become "the most horrible despotism." How nations could achieve perpetual peace without destroying human freedom was a problem Kant could not solve. But for Europe the problem was solved by the United States. By providing security from outside, the United States has rendered it unnecessary for Europe's supranational government to provide it. Europeans did not need power to achieve peace and they do not need power to preserve it.

The current situation abounds in ironies. Europe's rejection of power politics, its devaluing of military force as a tool of international relations, have depended on the presence of American military forces on European soil. Europe's new Kantian order could flourish only under the umbrella of American power exercised according to the rules of the old Hobbesian order. American power made it possible for Europeans to believe that power was no longer important. And now, in the final irony, the fact that United States military power has solved the European problem, especially the "German problem," allows Europeans today to believe that American military power, and the "strategic culture" that has created and sustained it, are outmoded and dangerous.

Most Europeans do not see the great paradox: that their passage into post-history has depended on the United States not making the same passage. Because Europe has neither the will nor the ability to guard its own paradise and keep it from being overrun, spiritually as well as physically, by a world that has yet to accept the rule of "moral consciousness," it has become dependent on America's willingness to use its military might to deter or defeat those around the world who still believe in power politics.
This seems quite true. However, Mr. Kagan fails to follow through on this point. For what the umbrella of American protection has done is to create an internal political climate in Europe which allows for those monies that would otherwise be used on defense to be pumped into the already bloated social welfare systems. Europe is not just weak because it has been able to be weak, but is weak because a deliberate choice has been made to divert ever greater amounts of national wealth to entitlement programs. Nor is the decline in military strength the only problem that results from this decision to emphasize the self--in addition Europe has a rapidly declining population, decreased productivity, a need for massive immigration, etc., etc., etc., all problems that further weaken it. These structural problems do present real threats to the stability and eventually the endurance of European society, and yet they refuse to address them, so it can hardly be the case that an artificial and idyllic environment of America's making has led them astray. The reality on the ground in Europe is positively Hobbesian, but they are so much in the grip of their material desires and a dependence on the State that they refuse to reckon with that reality. Meanwhile, the implication of this for the future is that it will be impossible for them to address their military weakness and to reverse their retreat from engagement with the world, because their attention and their money will be tied down trying to fix what's wrong within Europe, never mind what's wrong outside.

The other significant shortcoming of Mr. Kagan's treatment basically grows out of this neglect of Europe's current and pending internal crises. He shortchanges the discussion of the ideological, in particular the religious, differences that divide America and Europe. It is well-documented that America retains, almost alone in the West, an extraordinarily high level of religious belief, while even in Britain--the closest European nation ideologically to the U.S.--a leading cleric has described the nation as "post-Christian". This matters on issues ranging from the maintenance of churches as institutions to counter-balance the State to abortion, with its obvious effects on population growth. As regards Mr. Kagan's topic, it also matters in terms of Americans believing in universal ideas, applicable to all men. Just as a faith in God undergirds American freedom at home:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...
so too do we carry this faith overseas, as witness President Bush's last State of the Union:
America is a strong nation, and honorable in the use of our strength. We exercise power without conquest, and we sacrifice for the liberty of strangers.

Americans are a free people, who know that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation. The liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world, it is God's gift to humanity.
In a Europe devoid of such faith, it's little wonder that power has become so concentrated in the State, at the cost of freedom, and that folk are unwilling to venture abroad to vindicate the freedom of others. This religious/moral/ideological divide warrants much greater consideration in any examination of the divergence between Europe and America.

One would hope that Mr. Kagan might return to this entire subject at some later date and further expand on the many excellent points he does make. The topic is nowhere near exhausted because it would appear probable that the Transatlantic divide will continue to grow, especially because the ideological changes in Europe, which make it in some sense not just post-Christian but post-Western, are certain to be enormously difficult to reverse and Europe will, therefore, continue to decline apace.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Robert Kagan Links:

    -Robert Kagan (Project for the New American Century)
    -Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: Robert Kagan, Senior Associate
    -PBS: Think Tank: Biography: Robert Kagan
    -COLUMN ARCHIVES: Robert Kagan (Washington Post)
    -COLUMN ARCHIVES: Robert Kagan (The Globalist)
    BOOKNOTES: Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order by Robert Kagan (C-SPAN, Sunday, February 16, 2003)
    -ESSAY: A Superpower, Like It or Not (Robert Kagan, Feb. 18th, 2021, Foreign Affaiors)
    -ESSAY: Power and Weakness (Robert Kagan, June 2002, Policy Review)
    -ESSAY: Merci, M. de Villepin: Why we owe a debt to our friends the French. (William Kristol & Robert Kagan, 02/03/2003, Weekly Standard)
    -ESSAY: The U.N. Trap?: What does the Iraq resolution really mean? (William Kristol and Robert Kagan, 11/18/2002, , Weekly Standard)
    -ESSAY: France's Dream World (Robert Kagan, November 3, 2002, Washington Post)
    -ESSAY: Europe's Miracle: The German Lion and the French Lamb (Robert Kagan, August 21, 2002, The Globalist)
    -ESSAY: The Cowboy and the Saloon Keeper (Robert Kagan, August 14, 2002, The Globalist)
    -ESSAY: Iraq: The Day After (Robert Kagan, July 21, 2002, Washington Post)
    -ESSAY: Still Time for an Investigation: An independent commission is in the president's interest. (William Kristol and Rober Kagan, 05/31/2002 , Weekly Standard)
    -ESSAY: Going Wobbly?: Is the president backing away from regime change in Iraq? (William Kristol & Robert Kagan, 05/24/2002 , Weekly Standard)
    -ESSAY: Time for an Investigation: It's time for Republicans and Democrats to seriously look at the warning signs (William Kristol and Robert Kagan, 05/17/2002, Weekly Standard)
    -ESSAY: Back on Track? (Robert Kagan & William Kristol, 04/29/2002,, Weekly Standard)
    -ESSAY: "Senior White House Aides:" Speak Up!: The leak-proof White House is telling reporters--on background--that the administration is souring on Ariel Sharon. Who are these rogues? (William Kristol & Robert Kagan, 04/11/2002 , Weekly Standard)
    -ESSAY: Powell's Disastrous Trip, cont.: It's dangerous waters ahead for the war on terrorism. (William Kristol & Robert Kagan, 04/10/2002 , Weekly Standard)
    -ESSAY: The Detour (Robert Kagan & William Kristol, 04/08/2002, Weekly Standard)
    -ESSAY: Remember the Bush Doctrine: Colin Powell's trip to the Middle East could be either helpful, or a disaster. (William Kristol & Robert Kagan, 04/05/2002 , Weekly Standard)
    -ESSAY: Cheney Trips Up: The vice president's Middle East expedition didn't help the war on terror. (Robert Kagan & William Kristol, 04/01/2002, Weekly Standard)
    -ESSAY: The Bush Era: In his State of the Union address, President Bush fundamentally changed our foreign policy. (William Kristol and Robert Kagan, 02/01/2002 , Weekly Standard)
    -REVIEW: of The Coming Anarchy: Shattering the Dreams of the Post-Cold War by Robert D. Kaplan (Robert Kagan, New Republic)
    -REVIEW: of A World Transformed by George Bush and Brent Scowcroft (Robert Kagan, Commentary Magazine)
    -REVIEW: of The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History by Don Oberdorfer (Robert Kagan, New Republic)
    -REVIEW: of War in a Time of Peace by David Halberstam (Robert Kagan, New Republic)
    -REVIEW: of A Life in the Twentieth Century: Innocent Beginnings, 1917-1950 by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (Robert Kagan, Commentary Magazine)
    -REVIEW: of Deliver Us From Evil: Peacekeepers, Warlords, and a World of Endless Conflict by William Shawcross (Robert Kagan, Commentary Magazine)
    -REVIEW: of THUNDER FROM THE EAST: Portrait of a Rising Asia. By Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (Robert Kagan, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad by Fareed Zakaria (Robert Kagan, The New Republic)
    -INTERVIEW: Americans are from Mars ... Europeans are from Venus: US political analyst Robert Kagan tells Alan Taylor how divisions over the Iraq issue reflect fundamental change (Sunday Herald, 3/09/03)
    -QUESTIONS FOR ROBERT KAGAN: Europeans Are Sissies (Interview by DEBORAH SOLOMON, February 16, 2003, NY Times Magazine)
    -INTERVIEW: America Is From Mars, Europe Is From Venus (The Big Story with John Gibson, February 07, 2003, FOX News)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: America vs. Europe (The Leonard Lopate Show, February 03 2003, WNYC)
    -INTERVIEW: Interview: Robert Kagan and Charles Kupchan Discuss the Relationship Between the U.S. and Europe (Weekend Edition Sunday: February 9, 2003, NPR)
    -INTERVIEW: Robert Kagan (ADM's Glenn Baker, Center for Defense Information)
    -INTERVIEW: Interview: Robert Kagan and Joseph Nye Weigh the Option of a Military Campaign Against Iraq (Weekend Edition Saturday: September 21, 2002 , NPR)
    -DIALOGUE: Should NATO Send in Ground Troops? (Robert Kagan, March 31, 1999, Slate)
    -ESSAY: Robert Kagan Sticks to His Guns (ANDREW J. BACEVICH, 2/23/2021, American Conservative)
    -ARCHIVES: "robert kagan" (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW: of Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order by Robert Kagan (Serge Schmemann, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Of Paradise and Power (James Rubin, NY Observer)
    -REVIEW: of Of Paradise and Power (Lorraine Adams, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of Review of Of Paradise and Power (Patrick J. Garrity,
    -REVIEW: of Of Paradise and Power (Terry Eastland, Jewish World Review)
    -REVIEW: of Of Paradise and Power (J. PEDER ZANE, KnoxNews)
    -REVIEW: of Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order By Robert Kagan (Stephen Holmes, American Prospect)
    -REVIEW: of Of Paradise and Power (PM Nilsson, Expressen (liberal))
    -REVIEW: of A TWILIGHT STRUGGLE American Power and Nicaragua, 1977-1990. By Robert Kagan (Sam Dillon, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Rebellion: How Antiliberalism Is Tearing America Apart — Again By Robert Kagan (Jennifer Bort Yacovissi, Washington Independent Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Rebellion (Gabriel Schoenfeld, American Purpose)

Book-related and General Links:
    ESSAY: Battlefield Europe: Fight for EU's future is on, with U.S.-German relations at the middle (Walter Russell Mead, March 30, 2003, LA Times)
    -ESSAY: Au Revoir, Petite France: In one blow, Chirac shattered the U.N., NATO and the EU. (PAUL JOHNSON, March 22, 2003, Wall Street Journal)
    -ESSAY: Europeans Fail to See Changes in American Hearts and Minds (John Zvesper, April 2003, Ashbrook)
    -ESSAY: Bridging the Atlantic Divide (Philip H. Gordon, January/February 2003, Foreign Affairs)
    -ESSAY: Resolves: What Lincoln Knew About War (Paul Berman, 02.21.03, The New Republic)
    -ESSAY: Americans see us as subordinates: anti-European feeling is running high in America--among the left as well as the right (John Lloyd, August 05 2002, New Statesman)
    -ESSAY: American Imperialism Is Not in the U.S. Interest. (Donald J. Devine, David A. Keene, December 25 2000, Insight on the News)
    -ESSAY: Weakness By Design: Europe is in conflict with America largely because it has consciously decided to become weak. (Terry Eastland, 02/12/2003 , Weekly Standard)
    -ESSAY: CHERRY-PICKING: THE US AND EUROPE'S FUTURE: European weakness combined with Gaullist arrogance present the US with a clear
    -ESSAY: TRANSATLANTIC MELTDOWN: IS FRANCE VILLAIN OR HERO?: French leadership in Europe and consistency at the UN over Iraq deserve credit not blame (KIRSTY HUGHES, Open Democracy)
    -REVIEW: of The Struggle for Europe: The Turbulent History of a Divided Continent' by William I. Hitchcock (William Drozdiak, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of France on the Brink By Jonathan Fenby ( Laurent Cartayrade, Washington Post)