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14 March 2014

A Rejoinder to George Schöpflin


We are grateful to George Schöpflin for his thoughtful response to our article: America, England, Europe: Why Do We Differ? But he makes some criticisms that seem to us to be based upon a misunderstanding of our argument.
Is it a fair criticism, for instance, to say that the article “tends to accept monocausality, reducing everything to a single factor (family types in this instance)”? Consider our text. Yes, we refer to the persistence of culture, and its impact on politics and economics, as a “Continuity Model”, based on the “well-founded assumption of the persistence of human culture”. We discuss the contributions of Alan Macfarlane and James Campbell to the understanding of cultural continuity in England. We turn to Emmanuel Todd’s analysis of family types. And we state that “[f]amily systems analysis explains some of the complexity of Central and Eastern European politics”. Surely the phrase “some of” demonstrates we are not asserting monocausality.
We therefore have no quarrel with Mr Schöpflin when he refers to the many factors beside family structure which influenced European – and Hungarian – culture, politics and economics. As Alan Macfarlane puts it, complex phenomena result from chains of causation with multiple links.
If there is a particular emphasis on family systems in our short article, it is because educated readers are typically familiar with cultural and economic arguments concerning national and civilisational differences, but they have usually had little exposure to modern family systems research. In a welcome development, the European Union has recently been sponsoring some of the key research in this area, such as the work of Gilles Duranton et al. on family systems and employment in Europe. Similarly we are puzzled by Mr Schöpflin’s references both to Marxian developmental stages and to a linear Christian and Enlightenment model of progress. We don’t see these models in our argument. He is disputing something we didn’t say.
Mr Schöpflin claims that in Europe there is currently “a clash of reality-definitions and a corresponding epistemological crisis”. True or false, this sounds excessively continental to us. We are Anglo-empiricists, and we prefer to focus on practical matters and build upward from there. We therefore seek to identify practical ways to bring Hungary, and all the communities of Europe – each in its own distinctive way – to a free and prosperous future. Once that is achieved, the epistemology will take care of itself.
But we believe Mr Schöpflin to be mistaken (along with many others) when he claims that the EU is necessary for “elaborating unified standards as apart of the singlemarket”. It is a peculiarly European error to think that without an over-arching state, with its coercive power to compel people and businesses to do necessary things, those things will never happen. Consider how North America actually works. It does so through an enormous amount of voluntary and cooperative activity in order to create shared standards. Much of the cross- border economic integration that occurs in North America is achieved by voluntary adoption of model standards promulgated by industry or professional organisations at state/provincial or local levels. Neither transnational nor federal regulation is needed.
On this issue, the EU is an overly-costly solution to an over-estimated problem. In its current incarnation and arrangements, the EU does far more than provide “a degree of political and legal central control” in order to protect small states from being abused. Rather its excessive regulations are an obstacle to growth at a time when Continental Europe is shrinking both demographically and as a share of global wealth. In an environment where the newer democracies of Europe are underperforming on their promises of prosperity and employment, this lack of growth is a menace to freedom. In both Canada and the United States a much less burdensome central direction of the economy than Brussels provides has not led to privation and misery in the smaller states and provinces. Mississippi, the poorest US state, has a higher GDP per person than Sweden. More freedom and local autonomy really can work. And a second battle of Verdun probably won’t break out as a result.
We and Mr Schöpflin understand different things by the phrase “the natural community formed by the Dual Monarchy”. We mean organic, deeply rooted, evolved in contrast to a top-down blueprint imposed by supposedly expert planners. Nor are we dewy eyed” about Austria–Hungary. But we reserve the larger share of our tears for the millions who were slaughtered and oppressed by the many vicious and incompetent successors to the Empire. These governments typically claimed to be an improvement, but they were in most cases economically stagnant and isolated, politically inept and oppressive, and frequently murderous. A further “natural” development of the K und K would have been superior to the horrendous fate of Central Europe once the Empire was gone.
To the extent that Hungary today is suffering from being “post-colonial”, the masters who caused that suffering were Hungarian fascists, German National Socialists and Soviet Communists, not the wispy ghosts of Austro-Hungarian bureaucrats, now gone for almost a century. Hungarians should be above any such self-pity in any case. Their future is in their hands now. History should be a source of lessons, not excuses.



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