Stein Ringen reviews Claus Offe's new book in the latest Times Literary Supplement: The American seen. The book, Reflections on America: Tocqueville, Weber and Adorno in the United States, is published by Polity Press. These remarks caught my eye:
Tocqueville’s, Weber’s and Adorno’s reflections abound with questions that have lost none of their relevance. What is the destiny of freedom and is it better protected in the American or the European social model? Are we excessive in our demand for equality, and if so what follows? The state is both necessary for and dangerous to freedom; how do we find the balance? Is culture, now a huge sector of economic growth, an industry of manipulation? Is there a social architecture between the individual and the state or was Margaret Thatcher right that there is no such thing as society?
If anything, the European–American comparison seems to me to have become more relevant. Europe has put behind it the transition to democracy that Tocqueville correctly saw would be difficult, and is now an equal partner with America in the great drama of liberty. Europe has not been “Americanized” except superficially, and is competing with America with a distinct social model.
Comparatively speaking, the European model is more state and less voluntarism, the American model less state and more voluntarism. Which serves the cause of liberty best? The controversy between America and “old Europe” is, from the European side, at least in part about defending the European social model. But is it better? And how can we know?
...There is, of course, much lacking in the American model – the persistence of poverty, discrimination and racism. But is the European model superior? If we stay on the Continent, these are some of the things it seems unable to provide: anything more than sluggish economic growth; full employment; an inclination to have enough children to reproduce the population; the eradication of poverty and the prevention of new forms of social exclusion; mass participation in higher education in decent universities; and even social peace.
...The European social model needs to be challenged more than protected. The way to do that is not for Europeans to turn inwards, but to take their model to the world and submit it to competitive testing. There is more to see in America than a threatening world power; there is also a social model that continues to put trust in voluntarism, and with much success – look again to the American universities. It is a good idea for us in Europe to maintain a healthy curiosity about the peculiarities of American social life.