Humility is probably one of the most difficult human virtues to achieve. For me, as a Hungarian intern at the Acton Institute, listening to Samuel Gregg’s June lecture in Grand Rapids on his new book, Becoming Europe about the Old Continent’s crisis is instructive. Relations between the United States and major European powers have been testy from time to time, of course, but Europe seems to lack self-criticism.
Aging Europe, an unsustainable social model, a two-speed Europe: these are some key expressions we hear about Europe every day. Each of these phrases reflects a problem with the evolution of European society and the free market. Actually, it seems as if the continent is living out its teenager years unsure whether to commit to social-democracy or the free market. Meanwhile, doing both of them wrong. As we can expect from a teenager, the symptoms refer to deeper-rooted problems.
In my opinion, the ongoing European crisis is not just merely economic, but attitudinal as well. Europe has lost its faith, “Faith” with capital letters and “faith” with lowercase letters. It has lost Faith when in the name of freedom it had marginalized its own roots in Christianity. A recent example is that in Asturias, a Spanish province, schools replaced the words “Christmas” and “Easter” with “winter holidays” and “end of second term holidays,” respectively.
However, Europe has also lost faith in itself, meaning that having faith in one’s self inherently implies some kind of responsibility. Instead of taking the necessary risks of entrepreneurship by utilizing their hidden skills, many Europeans would rather pursue social benefits by maneuvering between laws and free-ride on the waves of social solidarity. Most probably, it happens because many people don’t believe in their potential for success. They expect the government to support them, because they are still highly skeptical of the free market and, ultimately, prosperity.
The Europeans’ skepticism and the lack of trust underlies decades of disappointment and suffering: from communism, from Nazism, from the first and second World Wars, and from the constant threat of revolution during the Cold War. Although the young generation knows this history of the 20th century only from books, movies, and family brunches; they find themselves coping with this legacy in the attitudes of people.
The current economic crisis is more or less a direct consequence of Europe’s recent 100 years. Although what happened was not our fault, what will happen tomorrow is definitely our responsibility. Without practicing self-criticism and striving to outgrow these inherited bad attitudes, we will fail to shape our future.
And a futureless teenager is certainly worse than an indecisive teenager.