Tibor R. Machan
I travel about quite a lot. I have crossed the USA back and forth about 25 times by car and have also done a good deal of driving in Europe–France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and so on.
Some time ago I noticed something that one might wish to explore more systematically than just relying on one’s personal observation. This is that in much of Europe the public authorities are who matter most, with the public standing in the back, waiting its turn. Twenty years ago I wrote about this in a column and it all got reconfirmed for me these last couple of days as I was making an 800 kilometer trip on the German Autobahn.
I am talking about how whenever some mishap happens on the road, the authorities shut it all down, even if it is just a crate of apples that spilled. I was driving north on A 2 and suddenly everything came to a screeching halt. Nothing moved. Like a huge parking lot. Everyone stood there, with cars idling, using up precious fuel in scorching heat, air conditioning blasting in every car that had it. To be sure, there were radio announcements telling us that matters have gone awry but this didn’t help much, especially if your German wasn’t it top shape just then.
There were two or three of these interruptions within a span of about five hundred kilometers, one lasting an entire hour. And when it was over and we drove past the “accident,” it looked like a small van turned over with some boxes spilled out on the road, no ambulance in sight, nada. At the next rest stop where everyone had to take advantage of the facilities I asked what exactly was the big deal and was informed that the Autobahn people just stop all traffic no matter the severity of the mishap. Sure, they could have pushed the crates that spilled out of the van over to the side of the road and made it possible for traffic to proceed but, no, that would not do. Let’s just shut it all down.
I am paranoid enough about public officials to imagine right away that they just don’t give a rat’s ass about inconveniencing of the driving public. Let them wait, who cares. They are just subjects who must submit the the public authorities, are they not?
Come to think of if, when I originally wrote about it I noticed a difference between how the public authorities handled the situation in Europe versus how they did in the USA but the difference appears to me to have disappeared. Now the same is happening all over the USA. A problem arises and what seems to matter is what is convenient for the authorities, never mind the driving public. Maybe I am too suspicious but it looks to me that America is becoming like Europe not only in its embrace of the welfare state, the entitlement mentality, but also in how the people who supposedly work for us as civil servants are becoming the wielders of power, never mind public service!
All this brings to mind for me that for centuries and centuries on end the bulk of the population of every country were deemed to be subjects, not citizens, not sovereign individuals. They had no rights only some privileges granted them by the state. Nothing was done as a matter of what they had coming to them from the public authorities, only as a matter of what these authorities decided they should be granted as a gift.
We in America now have a head of state who actually appears to accept this reactionary philosophy, judging by his eager embrace of the judicial philosophy of his former colleague from the University of Chicago Law School, now Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein. This theorist believes we do not have natural rights, rights prior to the development of a legal system, but the legal system establishes our rights–meaning he and his pals do. Not a great development, this Europeanization of America.