Aspects of Europe's Mind; Putin Wants to Be President of a Super-Power, but Russia's GDP Is Not Much Bigger Than the Economic Product of Los Angeles County

By Will, George F. | Newsweek, May 9, 2005 | Go to article overview

Aspects of Europe's Mind; Putin Wants to Be President of a Super-Power, but Russia's GDP Is Not Much Bigger Than the Economic Product of Los Angeles County


Will, George F., Newsweek


Byline: George F. Will

The greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.

--Russian President Vladimir Putin on the collapse of the Soviet Union

Ultra-liberalism is the new communism of our age.

--French President Jacques Chirac on proposals to move the European Union toward more reliance on free markets

The Lord God allowed nazism twelve years of existence... Divine Providence allowed that bestial fury to be unleashed for only those twelve years.

--From the chapter "The Limit Imposed Upon Evil in European History" in John Paul II 's last book, "Memory and Identity" (2005)

If you thought the mind of Europe had become bleached, bland and predictable, think again. The two presidents and the late pope provide dramatic evidence of the mix of sensibilities still at work in European history.

It was, you will recall, into the icy blue eyes of Putin, a product of the Soviet KGB culture, that President George W. Bush looked and saw a soul he rather liked. But Putin does not like what he sees where the Soviet Union once was. Former captive nations are no longer captive; he must struggle to suffocate the emergence of a civil society--of power centers beyond Kremlin control.

Putin wants to be president of a superpower, but Russia's GDP is not much bigger than the economic product of Los Angeles County. In 2006 he will be host of the leaders of the G8 countries, a group of developed democracies. Russia is neither developed nor democratic, and its leader has no plausible plan to make it the former and no apparent desire to allow it to be the latter.

Chirac, too, wants to lead a superpower--Europe, further consolidated by the proposed constitution written under the auspices of a former president of France, Valery Giscard d'Estaing. But polls indicate that on May 29 the French people will vote against the constitution, partly as a way of voting against Chirac to express domestic grievances.

Chirac's grievance is against "ultra-liberalism," a.k.a. "Anglo-Saxon liberalism." The Stalins of this "new communism" are people like Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and even Tony Blair--people who broadly favor free markets allocating wealth and opportunity. Chirac and likeminded Europeans believe this sacrifices the social softness of welfare states on the altar of individualism. So Thatcher's privatization of public housing, Reagan's tax cuts, plus free trade and globalization are somehow akin to communism. Minus, of course, the gulags, the KGB, etc.

In today's wired world, where global crowds gather for broadcast spectacles, there is the "What was that all about? …

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