For while there are important differences of emphasis between parts of Europe...

For while there are important differences of emphasis between parts of Europe, its civilisation is united by a common set of values in respect of four critical and inter-related areas of human life that are distinct from the cannons of American conservatism. European attitudes towards property, equality, social solidarity and the public realm are different from those that currently dominate discourse on these subjects in the U.S. They express themselves in cultural mores, law and social choices which in turn shape the way European economies and societies function.

In the first place, property is not seen in Europe as an absolute right, as it is by US conservatives. Rather, it is a privilege that confers reciprocal obligations -a notion captured by article 13 of the postwar German constitution, which specifies that “property imposes duties. Its use should also serve the public weal”. Those who hold and own property are members of society, and society has a public dimension to which necessarily they must contribute as the quid pro quo for the privilege of exercising property rights. Nor is this attitude towards social obligation just directed at property-holders . Across Europe there is a profound commitment to the notion that all citizens should have an equal right to participate in economic and social life, and that the state is more than a safety net of last resort: it is the fundamental vehicle for the delivery of this equality. It is not just the institutions of social order and defence -for example, courts, prisons and the military- that it is acceptable to hold in common, as American conservatives contend; Europeans extend the ambition to include hospitals, schools, universities, utility networks and even scientific knowledge. A publicly founded infrastructure supports equality of membership and participation. The principle of participation extends to notions of social solidarity –or “fraternity” as the French constitution would have it, one of three values on which the French Republic is declared to rest, along with liberty and equality; a constitutional commitment that in some ways speaks for the continent. Fraternity means that Europeans believe in looking out for one another to insure against life’s hazards- the principal reason why social spending in Europe runs some 50 per cent above that in the US.


Fuente: The World We're In. Will Hutton. Abacus. London. 2002.


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