Cross-cultural differences:The American Way of Life vs the European model of Society

Discussion in 'Politics' started by Matt Black, May 11, 2006.

  1. Matt Black

    Matt Black
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    Here's a rather lengthy quote (sorry!) from something I wrote about 6 years ago:

    Citations for the above:
    Campolo, “The Success Fantasy”, pp.143-144
    See Max Weber , “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”
    Campolo, op. cit, p.144
    John Adair, “Puritans”, p.134
    Ibid, p.266

    I'd like to suggest from the above that the US has a fundamentally different social model to that in Western Europe, based largely on two very different versions (at least from a sociological POV) of Christianity. Whereas Western Europe was exclusively Catholic until 1517 and is still largely Catholic (or post-Catholic) today, with that Church's (and its Magisterial Reformation successors') strong communitarian emphasis and the concept of 'Christendom' (ie: the 'marriage' of Church and State/society), North America outside of the Francophone territories such as Quebec has been largely Protestant, which Church and State very much separated. Thus the US has evolved into a nation of 'rugged individualism' where, in the words of Margaret Thatcher, "There is no such thing as society, just individuals in families"; conversely in Europe, the idea of society and community is paramount. Thus further, many Americans are aghast at the thought of any kind of 'socialism' (whether that be 'socialised medicine' or other forms of welfare) whereas in Europe some form of socialism is largely seen as desirable and the norm, if viewed as somewhat inefficient and unaffordable economically, by both Left and Right (Margaret Thatcher famously, for all her right-wing rhetoric, did not at any stage publicly talk about abolishing the UK's National Health Service).

    Thoughts?
     
  2. Eric B

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    That's an interesting assessment of the mindset of this country, and its relation to Calvinism. I myself realize more and more how this theology has shaped modern Christianity, even among those who claim to be staunchly Arminian. I compare the popular "abundant life Gospel" teaching (http://members.aol.com/etb700/abundant.html) where they tell you "trials and tests" (meaning bad circumstances) are good for you, because God does it for your good, with Calvinism, because they both appeal to "God's sovereignty", and "divine providence", especially when it comes to the Christian leaders writing and teaching this stuff making millions off of telling you how to be "content" with less. Their riches attributed to God's will, either through "grace", or "their own efforts" or both. (many of the scriptures used are taken out of context). And this leads to coldness in Christian counseling. They basically feed you this stuff, and they fly off to their next "important" function, or whatever, and you are left to struggle, and anyone who does not try to fight their fear or anger (which many of them call "sin") they begin judging. Both doctrines also try to shut people's minds up and put down all reason, and tell you to "just accept by faith" the "hard teachings of scripture". This is how the Church had become totally anti-intellectual in the past, and swayed the massed to believe almost anything it wanted them to. And it also led to the backlash of rebellion and individualism, with people vowing to never be manipulated and controlled by "religion" like that again.

    This I have always felt, was from the "spirit of rugged individualism". It's like "I got mine (because God gave it to me), and if you don;t have; too bad; it's just not God's will; so you'd better be content and thankful anyway". So vastly different from the community we see in scripture. And then of course, how all the racism, slavery and colonialism played into "providence" as well. And so many today look back on that brand of Christianity as pure and blameless, and judge the modern world and Church by it. I've had one person here on this board tell me that Africans had abdicated their land when the colonizers came. So all of that stuff back then was OK, it's only modern society's "rebellion", sex, drugs, rock&roll, etc, that is bad, and in keeping with the mindset, bringing God's "curse" on this country, through tragedies like 9-11 and Katrina. All compared to the "good" Christian founders of the nation. This has completely undergirded the entire "conservative Christian" message for as long as one can remember.

    Also a lot of the influence comes from Spurgeon and Edwards, both Calvinist, and both having that fiery preaching that appeals to fundamentalists, Calvinist and Arminian alike. So preaching hell at the Church and scaring people out of their wits is what is seen as having held society's moral fabric together. When people softend down on that, that led to all the sin of the modern generation.

    Augustine is perhaps the worse thing to have ever happened to the Church!

    Still, there must be balance between communitarianism and individualism. The battle we have been having here between the two Church forms parallels the battle between communism and capitalism/democracy. Both sides have ignored the fact of human fallenness, and put trust in sinful man one way or the other. One way was to trust King or Pope. That led to ruthless dictatorship and persecution. People then rebel and went into individualism. But that led to lawlessness, and increasing schism. This then naturally leads to restoring absolute control, to curb the lawlessness. And it just swings back and forth like a pendulum. There must be a middle ground, and once again, simply pointing at the problem of the other side does not prove that the opposite is completely true.
     
  3. NiteShift

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    Not being a scholar, it would be difficult for me to debate the OP here. It appears to be well-researched and well-written. But I'll point out that the US was not settled exclusively, or even predominantly, by Puritans. They were only the best known group to migrate here. So any comparison of American/European attitudes (based on the Puritans) towards commerce, social relations, personal & community resposibility etc, only give one part of the picture.

    In general, North America was settled by Puritans in the New England area....Quakers in the Pennsylvania, Delaware region.... Anglicans (the Cavaliers) in Virginia, Maryland, Carolinas.... and the so called Scotch-Irish throughout the Allegehenies, and ultimately across the southeast US generally.

    The Quakers had very strong sense of community obligations, for themselves and for strangers who settled among them.

    The Anglicans (now Episcipalians), descended from the Cavaliers of southern England, differed from both the Puritans and the Quakers. And of course their main allegience was to the extended family.

    To the Scotch-Irish Protestants, the clan was everything, and it was accepted that there was no real obligation to worry about the welfare of outsiders.

    So I think that among all these groups there was responsibilty for cooperation and 'the greater good'. It was just a matter of who was included!

    I don't know where the term 'rugged individualism' originated, but I don't really think it was much of a factor in our early years.
     
  4. Matt Black

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    But it seems that the individualistic Protestant model has become dominant in the US over the years, particularly at the Republican end of the spectrum.

    Contrast that with the British Right when, until Thatcher came along, the Conservative Party was run by patrician gentlemen who believed it was their moral obligation to help the less fortunate; whilst far from being socialists, then, they still had a strong sense of the need for all of society to benefit from economic progress. This kind of paternalism Toryism originated largely with Peel and Disraeli in the 19th century and approximates with what we would today call compassionate conservatism.

    Thatcher changed that: from the lower middle classes herself she rose to the top, as she saw it, through her own efforts without help from anyone else and she assumed that the rest of us could and should do the same. The pendulum has now swung back again with Cameron the current Con leader positioning himself much more in the centre ground, talking a lot about social justice and green issues (whether that rhetoric would translate into action if he wins power is another matter of course ;) )So it seems that Thatcherism was a bit of an anomaly, and that things are now returning to 'normal'.
     
  5. NiteShift

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    Well you would know more about what is 'normal' in the UK than I would. I guess the patrician/gentleman tradition of governance didn't have much of a chance here, especially after U.S. Grant and General Sherman sort of nipped it in the bud. That leaves an awful lot of Thatcher-style Americans.
     
  6. Matt Black

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    Would you say then that the Civil War represented the triumph of the individualistic North against the more patrician, aristocratic South in some ways?
     
  7. NiteShift

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    It definately put an end to the aristocracy and it's ways of doing things.(The old cliche was that the officers in the southern armies were Gentlemen, and that the common soldiers were Scotch-Irish, and that was pretty much true). What remained were were sink-or-swim types, both north and south.
     
  8. poncho

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    I'd say the northern industrialists had no use for southern independence in any shape or form. Face it most of the world is run by bankers and lawyers fellers and very soon the whole world will be their oyster then they'll show their true fuedalistic nature if any of us survive their wars of consolidation that is.

    The left and right debate is just part of the floor show to keep us "barbarians" from colluding and throwing the Malthusian elite control freaks in the slammer or decorating our trees with them like the French did. ;)
     
  9. Matt Black

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    Back to the OP: the European social model is based upon the idea of progressive taxation, primarily to fund services for all which are free or at least heavily subsidised at the point of delivery rather than expressly for redistribution (although it often has that effect)...and most Europeans don't have a problem with that; many of us don't object to paying taxes for the alleviation of poverty and, in contradistinction to the views of most Americans (if this board is typical) see poverty as more of a social ill resulting from systemic structural inequality rather than the result of individual moral failings.

    Another difference in attitude is the work/life balance: Europeans have on average 300 hours more in paid vacations per annum than Americans; it's as if we've traded economic wealth for quality of life, including healthier lives; that last point is interesting because healthcare actually tends to cost less to the economy here than it does in the States. Take Sweden for example: there the government funds just under 90% of the healthcare costs but at the cost of only 8% of its GDP; in the US, the Federal Government funds only 45% but healthcare absorbs approximately 14% of US GDP, most of the rest of the cost being borne by employers.
     
  10. NiteShift

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    Probably most of us don't mind giving a leg up to people who are in a bad way. I know I don't, and besides, I may need a hand someday myself.

    We pay plenty of taxes here for the 'alleviation of poverty'. I think what most of us object to is that in the end, it doesn't really accomplish the goal, in that generations of lower income people learned to depend on the govt handouts. Locally, I have read about summer jobs being offered to young people in poor areas, with few takers. Some of the comments about why they didn't want them were along the lines of "it's beneath my dignity to take a job like that. I'm better than that".

    On the other hand, we may be all wet. Heck, let's just consult the soccer yobbos over there. I'm sure they'd have us straightened out in a hurry!
     
  11. NiteShift

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    Well I've seen several Swedish doctors here. Maybe that explains why!
     
  12. Matt Black

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    The dependency culture is always going to be a problem. But the redistributive nature of the fiscal system here has had an effect in that the number of people below the poverty line has fallen on mainland Europe (conversely it has increased in the UK due to, initially, Conservative tax cuts and, more latterly, taxpayers' money being wasted within the public sector rather than targetted at the most needy cases).
     
  13. NiteShift

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    Here are a few items related to the average poor household in the US:

    "The following are facts about persons defined as poor by the Census Bureau, taken from various government reports:

    Forty-six percent of all poor households actually own their own homes. The average home owned by persons classified as poor by the Census Bureau is a three-bedroom house with one-and-a-half baths, a garage, and a porch or patio.

    Seventy-six percent of poor households have air conditioning. By contrast, 30 years ago, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.

    Only 6 percent of poor households are overcrowded. More than two-thirds have more than two rooms per person.

    The average poor American has more living space than the average individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens, and other cities throughout Europe.

    Nearly three-quarters of poor households own a car; 30 percent own two or more cars.

    Ninety-seven percent of poor households have a color television; over half own two or more color televisions.

    Seventy-eight percent have a VCR or DVD player; 62 percent have cable or satellite TV reception.
    Seventy-three percent own microwave ovens, more than half have a stereo, and a third have an automatic dishwasher."

    Link

    By all means, European governments and their citizens should do whatever works for them. But in at least some ways, America's poor families (and I have been there myself) are better off than the average non-poor
    European.
     
  14. billwald

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    If one measures success and progress by technical stuff and physical comfort then Protestants are more successful. If artistic accompishments are the canon, then the Catholics.
     
  15. Revmitchell

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    There are many issues that the us is split pretty evenly on. But when it comes to being taxed to releive the poor that is not a popular idea. We do have a large segment of comunists who would agree with that but its a minority. Not all poverty situations are a result of personal failings. But the majority of those who are in poverty are there as a result of poor choices.

    Americans always have a desire to help those in need regardless of bad choices. What most Americans do not want is to have our hard earned money funneled through the government as if we cannot take care of it ourselves. The government run programs are so much more expensive than they need to be that very little of our hard earned money actually gets to those in need. And government employees that work and handle these programs often have the union mentality that leads them to be more concerned about themselves than the poor. So the majority of our hard earned money that gets redistributed against our will goes to government employee benefits and government waste.
     
  16. Daisy

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    That's true - if more people would simply choose to be born to rich and middle-class sane and caring parents, we would have far more rich and middle-class citizens.
     
  17. Matt Black

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    That is, it would appear, the major difference between the US attitude to poverty and that of Europe: as I have said, most Europeans regard poverty as a social ill to be corrected whereas many Americans seem to regard it as the result of individual choice, if Revmitchell's opinion is typical.
     
  18. Bro. James

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    This is still a worldwide battle between the givers and the takers struggling in the wages of sin. Most of us cannot deal with material prosperity--we know not whence it came. We all wind up in the same grave--then what?

    Selah,

    Bro. James
     
  19. billwald

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    In the USofA from the end of WW2 to 1990 or so the working class had the best working conditions and chances for advancement of any time and place in the world. This was not true for the rest of the world but in the USofA there was very little excuse for remaining in poverty.
     
  20. saturneptune

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    bill,
    what happened in 1990 to change that, do you think?
     

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