Friday, October 29, 2010

A cry of liberation

I eagerly follow what is going on in the States from my Roman home place – the place, I mean, where is my home, but where I don't feel entirely at home. I side, in fact, with those people in the States who use the name Europe in a derogatory fashion, to mean a lost land. Luckily, beyond the Tiber river from where I stay, there is a man in white who gives me hope.

I follow, then, American things on internet, and on a little Italian opinion newspaper, Il Foglio, run by a man married to an Italian-American women, used to spend at least part of the year in New York. He had a very good correspondent there, capable of speaking of American things as from inside, but unfortunately he recently left, having received a better offer from another newspaper. His place has been taken from another guy whom I don't like: however well informed, he sounds like an external observer, in particular as an European observer, incapable as such of grasping what is peculiarly American.

I take as example an article published yesterday, by the title (I translate) "Clash of elites – the fake plain folks of Tea Party versus Obama the snob". Nothing wrong with it, save the general tone. Wherefrom did he get this image of the Tea Party folks as plain countrymen in flannel shirts over against the slick and haughty city men in Washington? Perhaps from an old movie with Gary Cooper, Cowboy and the lady?

It wasn't so that an American friend of mine spoke about them, describing them rather as "middle class, educated, concerned people". Things don't change if some of them are rich people, in the rank of hundreds of millions.

Does this make them an elite opposed to another elite? Even if it were so, it's not this that counts. What counts (I said it already, but repetita iuvant) is that we have here two ideas of America in competition. And, with them, two ideas of Europe.

One is that of the official Europe of today, utterly liberal, with no other notion of human relations than the one of which unsurpassed teacher remains Thomas Hobbes, who thought and taught that only the State, through the king as in his time, or through elected representatives as today, can restrain individual egoism, making norms for people to obey – to which we should add today its providing for the redistribution of riches. This Europe is no less hobbesian for its preoccupation of guaranteeing to all individuals the freest possible range for their whim (I don't say the greatest "freedom" or "liberty", which are too noble words). It's the Europe the present administration and Congress are trying to make the American people swallow.

There is though also the other Europe, that today seems to find its strongest representation in the America that refuses the europeanizing of the present administration. Hair of the Christian tradition, it knows that there is an inherent rule of justice in human relations, and it is therefore made of people who think to have no need for Government and Congress to teach them how to behave, people who actually see in them the responsibility for unleashing the egoism of human rights without duties that after they want to keep in check by correcting the economic evils of capitalism.

What the Italian observer does not notice is the appeal from the Tea Party folks to the Constitution, in which they see sanctioned their right to be left alone by Government and Congress. To pay less taxes, be free to enterprise and, why not, make money, is certainly a large part of their demand, but it is not the whole thing. To understand it, it is necessary to look at the name they gave themselves, taken from the first action of American rebellion to the British oppressor.

I might be wrong in my interpretation of what is now happening in America, but whatever the case be I see in it something archetypical: a cry of liberation for Europe.


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