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FREE WORLD by Timothy Garton Ash


America, Europe, and the Surprising Future of the West

by Timothy Garton Ash

Pub Date: Nov. 9th, 2004
ISBN: 1-4000-6219-5
Publisher: Random House

Americans are from Mars, Europeans from Venus, so goes the current right-wing formulation. But, warns British journalist/historian Ash, beware the attendant bigotry: “If we hear a voice generalizing angrily about ‘the Americans’ or ‘the Europeans,’ the disease is close.”

Mars, of course, is the god of war, and one of the great sources of division between the eastern and western branches of the old Atlantic Alliance these days is war: whereas the Bush gang seems to view the world as Hobbesian, the likes of Chirac and Schroeder appear to hope that it’s a Kantian place, amenable to peace and reason. In the middle stands England, that once-stolid insularity that was never quite as removed from the world as it thought, and that, Ash writes, has one day to choose between America and Europe: “A man standing astride two oil tankers that are moving apart, trying to hold them together with just the strength in his legs, is not a statesman—he’s an idiot.” In a time when Europeans are declaring the American Empire to be public enemy number one and American pundits are castigating the French and their western European allies (Germany, now Spain) as “cheese-eating surrender monkeys,” it seems that those tankers are steaming to quite different ports. But, Ash wonders, might it not be possible that a new alliance can be forged? “Can the West be put together again and, even if it can be, should it be?” Well, yes, he argues, but in a different project from containing communism or fighting terrorism (“Unless you are Don Quixote, you don’t attack a chimera”—namely, extending the material benefits of the so-called free world to the poor world beyond it, giving a penny on the pound or a cent on the euro or dollar “toward providing clean water, basic sustenance, shelter and medical care for the poorest of the poor.”

That would be a surprising future indeed, and Ash (History of the Present, 2000, etc.) makes a good case for why it, too, should not be considered chimerical.