A European Perspective on the Reagan Years

American political leaders—or aspirants to political leadership—frequently visit Europe and return to inform their domestic audiences that "the Europeans" hold views that accord remarkably closely with their own. In consequence, they declare, "Europe" would be supportive of their own policies and made deeply anxious by those of their opponents.

This is not surprising. The spectrum of opinion is as wide in Europe as it is in the United States. American visitors would not be human if they did not seek out those who shared their views, and pay more attention to their opinions than to those of the groups with whom they disagreed. The question, how broadly the views of the European elites with whom American politicians communicate are shared by the population as a whole, is one about which even those elites would be rash to offer an opinion. No one—least of all the author of this article—has the right to speak for "Europe" except its elected leaders, and then only on the rare occasions when they can do so with a single voice. American politicians can therefore rest assured that whatever they do, some Europeans will support them and others will be deeply disturbed. The question is how many are there in each group, and how influential are they?

II

It is true that the center of gravity of European political thinking lies somewhere to the left of that in the United States: Jesse Helms probably has as few admirers in Europe as has Tony Benn in America. But even conservative European politicians are more likely to feel at home with Democrats than with Republicans, and the radical socialism, Marxist or marxisant, that is an accepted part of European political culture, has never established deep roots across the Atlantic. A right-wing American administration is therefore always likely to have more difficulties with its European allies than a centrist one.

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