Friday, May 25, 2012

Cultural Protestantism

Behold, the President of Estonia expresses a certain sort of frustration increasingly common in the more fiscally responsible climes of Europe:
The bankrolling of Southern Europe has already and ever-increasingly threatened the fiscally responsible countries, the ones who have shown solidarity and voted to commit to bailing out those better off than we. Moreover, while much has been made of the change of governments in countries that broke the rules, far too little attention has been paid to what to my mind is a far more significant reverberation: the fall of a responsible, poor, new member state government coalition (in Slovakia) that made the hard choice and voted to support a country richer than it is, all for the sake of European solidarity.

That I submit is a problem, a serious problem and a threat to Europe we have only begun to realize. When we still talk about new and old members, we still talk nonsense about “populism” in all the wrong ways. Indeed I believe that the “populism” and the “specter of the 30s” that all kinds of pundits unknowledgeably appeal to has nothing to do with the populism we see in Northern Europe. That is not a populism of the dispossessed, the unemployed. It is a populism more akin to what Calvin and Luther appealed to than what the fascists of the 1930s appealed to. It is, like most populism, based on resentment, and resentment at unfairness. But the unfairness is, as it was in the 16th Century, a resentment of those who flaunt their flouting the rules by which others abide. Resentment on the part of those who take commitments seriously regarding those who do not: Is that the “specter of the 30s”?

I cannot and will not accept any labels applied to Northern Europeans for being “populists” when they have been doing exactly what has been asked of them. The price of following the rules for a “poor” country like Estonia has been harsh.

(Incidentally, the man is to be applauded for his essay's title, "I'll Gladly Pay You Tuesday", which suggests that American culture — Popeye, as it so happens — was far more pervasive in Estonia than I ever imagined.)

It is worth noting that all of the EU's worst offenders, fiscally speaking, are historically Roman Catholic or Orthodox, and nearly all of its most responsible nations have historically had a Protestant majority. (One is obliged to speak in terms of history when discussing European religion, for there ain't much of it left, of course.) Is this merely a coïncidence? Or is it, perhaps, indicative of a larger pattern? Inasmuch as one can speak of "Protestant virtues" or "Roman Catholic virtues" (or "Greek Orthodox virtues"), I submit that they are indeed different. Protestantism encourages industry, thrift, personal conscience; Protestant societies, if one can speak of such a thing, are more egalitarian. Roman Catholicism... well, what are Roman Catholic virtues? For all my of my two years in the heart of American Papistry, I still cannot claim to understand well the Roman Catholic psyche. (Perhaps you'd be foolhardy enough to hazard a guess, Aaron?) In any case, one does not associate the virtues of Protestant societies with Roman Catholic nations. Observe, even, the great differences between those nations colonized by Protestants and the nations colonized by Roman Catholics.

It would be, perhaps, altogether too neat and tidy to say that nature's Protestants (to crib Hilary Mantel's phrase) are predisposed towards fiscal responsibility and better governance, but one certainly can't rule out the idea.

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