First, Europe is a kaleidoscope of nation states identified by geography (place), language, history (lots of it), and culture. This makes a “Federal” Europe or a European identity elusive and unlikely. The USA has no “sacred place”, its language is someone else’s and its patriotism is to an idea: Liberty, the Constitution… This is a logical outcome for a nation of immigrants, giving it a self-selecting population basically attracted by the opportunities enshrined in “the Idea.” Now, only 5% of immigration to the States is from Europe, but that does not make the place any less American.
Second, the US believes “the Idea” to be a universal one and has an almost missionary zeal about bringing it to those seen, however selectively, as living under tyranny. This moral purpose underwrites much foreign policy in a way it generally doesn’t in European countries and the US has the might to turn policy into action — though not always into success.
Third, there is a truly astonishing continuity in the US in terms of instruments and institutions of state. It has, by far, the oldest still-functioning constitution; the structure of government would still be instantly recognizable to Thomas Jefferson, and encompasses the same set of values. Europe has been the birthplace of innumerable social engineering experiments or ideologies, destructive national “patriotism” and countless “-isms”. From the US viewpoint, this is a European phenomenon that needs to be crushed. These novel models of the state have not featured in the US, because the Americans believe that, in the Constitution, they got it right from the beginning. Any form of ideology threatens this belief, and since the Constitution, not nationalism, defines the American State, ideologies are an attack at the very root of America. Furthermore, at least in the pre-WW2 days, many Europeans came to America not just seeking Liberty and Democracy, but to get away from religious persecution, hysterical nationalism, class barriers etc. So, they had a strong sense of preventing all those phenomena from ever manifesting themselves in the USA. Sometimes described in terms of “rugged individualism” the typical American is not an individual in order to stand out from other individuals. He/she is an individual with liberties and rights to stand up against the state. Again, keep old Europe out of the New World.
Fourth, especially over the UN and Iraq in 2003, the US got the reputation of “not being a team player”. It did not, furthermore, respond to NATO’s first-ever institution of Clause 5 over 9/11. Instead it, just as George Washington had set out and Thos. Jefferson had reaffirmed, created “coalitions”. As it always has done, it avoids “entangling alliances”. Europe depends on NATO to give it a voice in world affairs; the US does not and so will happily act unilaterally if it perceives this to be in its best interests.
Indeed, the Americans are the most predictable and conservative people forming the most predictable state in the world — assuming you understand where they are coming from and why that is the way it is.
The article was published in “Life” magazine (13 february 2015)