The Widening Atlantic: Market Gap, War Gap, God Gap
A transatlantic discussion on the differences between the United States and Europe from the perspectives of two historians.
German historian and founding director of the Heidelberg Center for American Studies at Heidelberg University, Professor Dr. Detlef Junker, and Mary Nolan, professor of history at New York University (NYU), discussed “The Widening Atlantic: The Market Gap, the War Gap and the God Gap” at the GCRI on November 8, 2010.
Hosted in cooperation with the Heidelberg University Association, the discussion was also the first event in the U.S. to introduce the 625th anniversary of Germany’s oldest university, the Universität Heidelberg.
The Consul General of the Federal Republic of Germany Dr. Horst Freitag emphasized the longstanding history of trust and joint cooperation of the transatlantic relationship in his welcome remarks.
“Continued transatlantic cooperation remains vital to the cultural, economic, political and, not least, to the security interests of both Europe and the United States,” agreed the first speaker, Prof. Dr. Junker. In his presentation, Junker focused on historical facts of the 20th century to showcase structural differences between the U.S. and Europe: “Transatlantic reactions to the challenges and crises of today are influenced by the different political systems and values of the U.S. and Europe rather than by the reality of the new geo-political and geo-economic situation in the world.”
To Professor Mary Nolan, the second speaker, the process of the widening Atlantic began in the 1970s, when Europeans and Americans reacted differently to the economic and oil crises, and the end of the Bretton-Woods monetary system. “The 1970s marked the end of the American hegemony,” she said.
Talking about the Market Gap, Junker said: “After World War II., Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal was the first massive intervention of the U.S. federal government in the economic life of the Americans.” Based on an ever-changing relationship between the state and the marketplace, he spoke about the establishment of “mixed economies” on both continents. He argued that the difference between the U.S. and Europe lies in social politics: “Europe is the region of the world that has the most extensive social welfare system that is financed chiefly through a mixture of private savings and public money, i.e., by the taxpayer. American social welfare expenditures, however, add up to only 50 to 60% of the social welfare expenditures of the leading European welfare states.”
Referring to the economic changes in the 1970s, Nolan indicated that the market gap reflects the different varieties of capitalism that have developed in Europe and the United States. “The differences involve economic policies, the degree of regulation, profit expectations, finance, and labor relations. They reflect distinctive values about the economy and about the desirable kind of society,” she said. Nolan used the health care system as an example to draw a comparison: “The European health care system is a universal entitlement whereas the U.S. system is a means-tested entitlement.” For Junker, the distinction between Europe and America in terms of war lies in the degree to which it is deemed legitimate and necessary.
“The War Gap is not only visible in the political culture, but also in military expenditures and the ability to lead a war,” he continued. He based his statements on the book Where Have All the Soldiers Gone? – The Transformation of Modern Europe, by James J. Sheehan, that discusses the demilitarization of the European mind and the European societies. “The difference is not only that Europe has become demilitarized and the U.S. not, but also how,” Nolan added.
In Nolan’s opinion, the war gap presents itself in the size of military spending, marketization and privatization of the military and welfare, and the militarization of a mission.
In their comments about the God Gap, both speakers agreed that there is an increasing secularization in Europe and an increasing religiosity in the United States. “The U.S. has both, formal separation of church and state, and the penetration of politics by religion on an unprecedented scale,” Nolan said. In her opinion, the god gap exists not only in politics but also in the education system: “As we approach the second decade of the 21st century, Darwin and the theory of evolution still remain controversial topics in American high schools.” According to Nolan, the disagreements, structural differences, and centripetal forces between Europe and the U.S. are not likely to diminish. She concluded that for the last four decades, Europeans have looked increasingly to one another as they have shaped their economies, political institutions, social policies, cultures and identities. “The U.S. has long since ceased to be the kind of economic, political and cultural referent and influence that it was in the American quarter century from 1945 to the mid-70s,” she said. In Junker’s opinion, “The glue that binds the transatlantic world and constitutes the West is the bequest of the Enlightenment. This bequest consists of constitutionally enshrined freedoms and individual rights, the dignity of the individual, the rule of law and the separation of powers, the thorough separation of church and state.”
Referring to the rights of free speech, free press, and freedom of inquiry in research and science, he concluded: “We are free to agree that we disagree – one of the most important political and cultural achievements in world history.”
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