Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Monday, June 27, 2011

America isn’t even exceptionally miserable

Foreign correspondents can report on Americans by standing in the public square and channel surfing. In order to report on the state of mind of that other Western great power—Germany—the visitor must read and listen to professional people readers.

Unlike American activists, Germans don’t wave the flags their fathers fought under. And their politics aren’t as heavily influenced by media celebrities and sensationalism. Nevertheless, Doug Saunders reports that Germans are not happy either: 

“If previous German booms were marked with a national mood of confidence and optimism, this is a prosperity of angst and fear: According to one survey, 80 per cent of Germans now believe that the future will be worse than the present, that “everything is getting worse.” There is an entire consulting industry devoted to analyzing the “national angst.”

“What we're repeatedly finding is that, despite the very good economic data, there is a huge amount of unease and uncertainty,” says Stephan Grünewald, a Cologne-based psychologist who recently interviewed 7,000 citizens for his book Germany on the Couch. “There is a manifest crisis of trust. … The Germans have at the moment a mood, a feeling that things can go to pieces, a feeling of being in a situation in which one is completely incapable of action.”

“People no longer believe in this culture of accumulation, they no longer believe in growth. ... Nuclear power, speculation, Greece, these all strengthen their feeling that things cannot go on like this. There is a kind of vacuum of meaning. And that leads to a feeling of being in the rat race, of only being focused on next week or next month, but not having any overarching vision, let alone having any sense of optimism.”

Imagine worrying about nuclear accidents, speculators and the Greeks rather than your own job and national economy.

Catching up with Germany’s economic outcomes and social services would be worthwhile, a realistic American growth agenda.  Full employment, less crime, universal health and social services, and no hot wars for a while would help most Americans feel a little more secure and surer about their country.

However, is it possible for normally observant people in any of the great powers ever again to be captured by an over-arching vision—a vision sturdier and sunnier than the constantly changing facts on the ground?

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