Over at Aardvarcheology, Martin complains about US politics. This is bog standard European oh-you-benighted-Americans stuff, with a convenient one-sentence summary:
From a European perspective, US politics are an ongoing battle between the extreme Right and the middle Right.
This gets up my nose a bit, because as I commented over there, it would be perfectly equivalent to say “From a US perspective, European politics are an ongoing battle between the extreme Left and the middle Left.” It wouldn’t let Europeans feel all smug, though, so you don’t see it as often.
I don’t disagree with the basic statement in the least– American politics are conducted significantly to the right of European politics. I’d be much happier if we could shift the whole American political spectrum leftward a few steps (probably not as far as most Europeans would want it to go, but a bit left of where it is now).
What bugs me, though, is the “oh, you poor ignorant Americans” tone affected by most Europeans writing this sort of thing. And not a few Americans who echo the sentiment.
Yes, the American political spectrum is well to the right of the European center. This came about as the result of a series of historical accidents and contingent social processes that I’m sure you could mine for a couple of Ph.D. theses were you so inclined.
But the European political spectrum is the result of exactly the same sort of historical accidents as the American system. It’s not the result of any especially enlightened or rigorously scientific process, and there’s certainly no reason to think it’s morally superior to the American version of things. Other than, of course, the fact that Martin happened to grow up in the European system, and as a result it’s a better fit for his personal political biases.
What irritates me about this is not just the fact that the reverse comment– “you Europeans need to become more conservative”– would be (and is) met with high dudgeon by the same people who will happily tell Americans how to re-shape our political system. It’s that the whole thing is completely pointless.
Noting that American politics takes place in a compressed range of ideology relative to the European system is about as productive as noting that European geography takes place in a compressed range of latitudes relative to the United States. It’s a fact of the landscape, and you work with it as best you can.