Iraq and the Pathologies of Primacy
The Flawed Logic That Produced the War Is Alive and Well
FRANCE, which is a country, cannot be compared with the United States, which is both a country and a continent. The only fair comparison is between Europe and North America--two continents, with two conceptions of production, two different structures corresponding to two different atmospheres and civilizations. Perhaps it should be added that we are also considering two different ages: on the one side youth, on the other maturity, eventually old age. By thus underlining the most striking contrasts between them we are enabled, perhaps, to understand them better. This is the spirit in which any useful discourse on the relations between France and the United States-- between the Old World and the New--must be conducted. It is the best way, moreover, to serve Western unity. I always feel that I understand the United States while I am there. But back in Europe I know that I understand it no longer, and I therefore try to be prudent in my judgment. I sometimes wish that Americans who talk about the Old World and its problems would feel the same scruples.
First let us look at American industrial production. I must confess that in this field my admiration for the United States is almost unbounded.
We can distinguish two principal periods in the industrial revolution. The nineteenth century, the European period, was based on the machine. It was adapted to European conditions and to the specific and diversified structure of Europe. The twentieth century, the American period, was based on standardization, mass production, scientific organization of labor. It profited from the conditions existing on a new continent which permitted the development of a specifically American structure. Though the initial inspiration in both cases was identical--the machine--the scale of the American application made it the equivalent of a new creation. Where one would have expected a simple difference in degree there turned out to be a difference in nature. When we set ourselves to learn from the United States, therefore, let us keep in mind that the conditions are not the same on the two sides of the Atlantic and that one cannot imitate without making adaptations.
To a Frenchman who is used to Cartesian methods of reasoning the American system of production seems to derive from four distinct and coördinated operations: systematic use of the machine; intensive standardization and mass production; scientific organization of labor; and concentration of production, if not by creating giant factories, at least by unified management of efficient working staffs. This has nothing to do with state planning of the Soviet type, as suggested by the word "rationalization" which was first introduced by the Germans but is unknown to Americans. It is rather the spontaneous achievement of an industrial élite, the true expression of the genius of the people.
Now, in this system there are certain things which can be taken over or copied just as they are and others which are as impossible to transfer as the climate itself. American industry, operating under characteristic conditions and with a characteristic structure, enjoys a number of advantages which we lack in Europe. In the first place, it has raw materials and fuels in abundance, in some cases even in excess. The manufacturer is assured of a steady supply of raw materials of uniform quality, suitable for machine use and standardized techniques. In comparing American and European conditions we do not take into sufficient account how much this quality factor affects the value of the finished American product. The American also has the tremendous advantage of working in an organized and stable economic setting. If he needs new equipment, he has no trouble in obtaining financial credit. His stock on hand can be small; a telephone call, a truck--and the necessary items appear! The whole mechanism is precisely adjusted. It does not suffer from dislocations due to the shocks of war, bombardments or shortages. This is an oversimplification, of course; but it indicates how and why production has developed as it has in the United States, and with what results.
In an economic system where individuals are standardized as easily as the mass product there is no place for classes. The whole North American continent is one enormous market, and after the customers have been steam-rollered into the accepted pattern they are ready to absorb without question the mass-produced models which are fed out to them indefatigably. Publicity and advertising direct the customer's taste into precisely the channels chosen by the big industries. Lincoln most certainly deserves his countrymen's gratitude for saving American unity. If a Southern Confederacy had been established alongside a Northern Union the entire fate of the continent would have been different.
In such a simplified structure it is easy for employer and employee to see their common interest and develop a feeling of solidarity. The worker realizes that he benefits from the prosperity of the enterprise where he is employed, and the fact is that he does benefit. His union understands that it is in its interest to cooperate toward the same end. In both cases experience has taught that in the United States progress does pay. Under such conditions the owner does not hesitate to mechanize his production, even if this means discharging part of his personnel. Those who are thrown out of work can find other employment because the New World is in fact new and is still being borne forward on a rising tide. There still are great opportunities for development both in new industries and in the exploitation of hitherto unknown natural resources. Think just of Texas, where today oil is causing a wave of feverish activity in a style which we supposed had died with the nineteenth century! And on top of its enormous natural gifts the United States has only one-tenth as many inhabitants per square mile as there are in Central and Western Europe. The advantages of being lifted on such a flood tide are literally beyond comparison.
Europe does not have that sort of atmosphere or that sort of structure. Doubtless we are in a position to equip ourselves and to practise industrial techniques not inferior to those used in America. We can also practise Taylorism, organizing our production scientifically along authentic American lines. But beyond that point we must struggle in a jungle full of underbrush, creepers and parasites, whereas the American benefits from a simplified structure as regular as a California plantation. Where North America forms practically one single market, Europe has 20 different countries, each with its own sovereignty expressed in an intransigent tariff system. And whereas the English language serves almost all the North American continent, Western Europe has ten different languages.
The established and rigid European system does not produce men who are nomadic or standardized. If they lose a job it is so difficult for them to find a new one that employers often hesitate to undertake necessary mechanization for fear of turning entire families out into the street. It can be said truthfully that in Europe technical progress does not necessarily "pay." There are too many people and too few raw materials; the social system is too complicated. After two wars, the second of which came when we had not even recovered from the first, the Old World certainly does not give the impression of moving forward on a rising tide.
American methods as they are practised in America attain maximum efficiency, and productivity is a reality. This is because the various factors contributing to production have full play there--as they do not in Europe.
In the first place, there is research. In a competitive economic system, where any concern which does not modernize continuously is soon outstripped by its rivals, the research laboratory has become an indispensable instrument of production. Progress as such is a luxury no longer; it is a necessity. The discovery of some new process, some new way to use a given material, may give an enterprise a sensational boom just as its failure to find new methods may lead it rapidly to ruin. Research in the twentieth century, moreover, bears little resemblance to what we associate with famous names like Claude Bernard, Berthelot, Pasteur or Perrin. It does not rely on the genius of individuals but on the collective work of teams of experts. This requires practically unlimited capital which only giant enterprises can command. Before 1914, when imperial Germany was engaged in research work on that scale, she became a pacemaker in many fields of big industry. But the United States is in a position to go much further. Even allowing for America's colossal resources, the results of the American method are so remarkable that the question arises whether it is not perhaps the only efficient method at the present time. However, make no mistake: as things now are in the world it is only in the United States that it can be practised at all. By an additional piece of luck, America has secured a large number of brilliant and creative European minds that the Old World either failed to keep or actually persecuted and expelled. This valuable help, noticeable particularly in the field of atomic research, should, no doubt, be credited to Europe; but it is the United States that has profited.
Standardization and mass production form a second factor which the New World can exploit fully but the Old World cannot. At first glance the United States would not seem to have any advantage here, for it has only 150,000,000 inhabitants whereas Europe, even in its present reduced dimensions, has considerably more. But it must not be forgotten that the 150,000,000 Americans form a homogeneous body within a single tariff system. With them should also be counted 15,000,000 Canadians, who have the same customs, the same way of living, producing and consuming. Europe, divided into many sovereignties and with ten different languages, could never approximate the same conditions except after almost impossible negotiations. The modern man's standard of living is involved also. If it is to be raised, custom-made goods must be replaced by mass production. However, mass production should necessarily go hand in hand with mass consumption, and this consumption must itself be rationalized, nursed along and educated by advertising to accept the limited number of models which are kept in stock. From the cultural point of view, this standardization of the customer may not be exactly progress; but from the social point of view it is. We often forget that since mass production necessarily depends upon the mass consumer it can prosper only in the climate of democracy. France, democratic politically but aristocratic in taste, has taken a long while to understand this truth. In the United States it has been accepted without reservation or regrets, and the same can be said of advertising, which is taken as a matter of course. The United States is also the birthplace of "public relations"--the art of justifying business enterprises to the public on the score of service. Sectionalism and diversity have prevented these activities from developing in Europe, but they have flourished quite naturally in the homogeneous society across the Atlantic.
I am much impressed by the fact that America has succeeded in giving the worker a rôle that suits him and encourages him to contribute to production. No doubt this is easier to achieve in an expanding economy. But what is interesting is the fact that modified capitalism--and it should be stressed how much it is modified--allows the free enterprise system which is based on risk and profit to have a salaried class which is not a proletariat. Before the First World War, employers were paternalistic and arrogant, but since then the extraordinary development of the labor unions enables employees to negotiate on an equal footing. The Communists are in the habit of contrasting the Western democracies with the so-called People's Democracies. I would like to think that there is as much social equality in Russia as in the United States. And if the latter is called reactionary, I no longer know the meaning of the term.
Be that as it may, from the point of view of production the results are remarkable. Today the policy initiated by Henry Ford is practised by most American industrialists: high wages, but to the accompaniment of increasing efficiency, so that a reduction in the net cost is reflected in the selling price--the only effective way to increase the buying power of the public. It was through this policy that Ford, in his heroic period, laid the foundations of his immense success. The trusts--forerunners of rationalization --had not understood that from the moment an industry threatened with overproduction is unable to dispose of its surplus, it cannot help itself by maintaining high prices. Franklin D. Roosevelt did not understand it any better when he favored increasing prices and wages simultaneously without paying any attention to the rate of production. It seems that today the lesson has been understood. We in Europe have no idea to what extent rationalization, productivity, research--in other words, the elements of technical progress--have become the rule in the United States. And it is mainly this technical progress which is the key to social progress and finally also economic prosperity. In the long run there is no use in "doping" the consumer by artificial excitements of publicity or credit if you cannot offer him, at an attractive price, the merchandise which you want him to buy. The depression of 1929 was to a large extent the result of such practices.
If the present prosperity of the United States seems sound, it is because American buying power increases quite logically from an increase in productivity. It is a common European idea that industrialization necessarily brings overproduction and unemployment. But this is an error, at least as regards the New World. I am convinced that, on the contrary, the elasticity of the domestic American market is almost unlimited. It will not be limited unless initiative slackens or there is a weakening in the present passionate pursuit of technical progress.
It is from this point of view that the present crucial period in America should be judged. Two opposing tendencies are at work. The struggle is between the forces of inflation and deflation--a struggle which at bottom is a struggle between politics and economics. The development of an increasingly progressive economy tends toward deflation; but the social democracy of the welfare state and the rearmament policy tend toward inflation. As inflation is the easier and less painful of the two, governments invariably end up by yielding to its temptations. Possibly, then, the tide may go that way. But the instinct of an industry which has always made a success of progress works in exactly the opposite direction. If its action cannot counteract the rising tide of social and military expenditure, it can at least for a time reduce its effects.
All we have said is true--but true in America and not necessarily true elsewhere. Here is where misunderstandings and errors begin, and often they are as much the fault of the Americans as of the Europeans.
The real characteristic of American prosperity is that it is American and that it exists specifically for American reasons. In saying this I do not mean to minimize the American merit, but to draw attention to the fact that a Europe which looks back across an impressive cavalcade of centuries and which has been subjected to war on its own territory twice in 30 years can simply not be expected to achieve similar results. I am afraid that the American industrialist in judging his European colleague underestimates the handicaps on European production. He is so used to riding a rising tide that he forgets how much effort it takes to hold one's own when the tide is slack or low. He gives his advice, then, in a condescending manner and often in caustic terms--and fails to produce the desired effect, for he is being as annoying as Frenchmen are when they assume a superior manner and present themselves as the defenders and sole guarantors of the intellectual civilization of the world.
Another thing the American should remember is that since he has not had the war on his own territory he should talk about it with utmost reserve. He cannot understand what war and the fear of war mean to a European. Those who have been in the two world wars and those who had close relatives in them have suffered personally. But for most of those who stayed in the New World the idea of war is associated with such things as full employment and the absence of depression. At the present time, again, Americans do not suppose that the policy of rearmament need affect the standard of living in any way, and one even hears the view expressed that it offers an opportunity for setting a new level for the national standard of living. But to Europe, and to France in particular, war means invasion, destruction and ruin; and so as far as any idea of a third world war is concerned, it means simply death. The mere possibility of it cannot be mentioned without horror, without physically shivering. If one has to prepare against the possibility of such a war, one should talk about it only with great care to the people in countries whose casualties are numbered not in the hundreds of thousands but in the millions.
I understand that, ever since the First World War, the United States has lost some of its feeling that the rest of the world is essential to it economically. That is all too natural, and if I were an American I would feel tempted to tell myself that North America could probably prosper all by itself without the other continents, and particularly without Europe, which is a burden anyway. Since 1914 the balance between the two continents has never been restored. America needs nothing--Europe needs everything. America exports without importing. As a result, since the only way the importing countries can repay is in merchandise, they can hardly pay at all. Instead of our holding out our hand and America giving, it would make for much sounder national economies if there were an exchange of products or services.
But even if there is no commercial solidarity, there is political solidarity--the solidarity of civilization, due to the fact that both sides are united to defend the West. Sometimes, however, this solidarity seems hardly to be recognized by American public opinion, and this is one of the reasons, I believe, why American arguments do not carry the full weight they might in the Old World. Instinctively we hope to find allies, partners; instead we find arbiters, often judges. It will be recalled that the French people were shocked when President Wilson, in 1918, refused to visit the devastated areas of northeastern France. We sense a similar aloofness from reality in the attitude taken by the American representatives in Iran, Egypt and Indo-China. I know all our errors very well; but we tell ourselves that we fight on the front of the same civilization. If that thought were voiced oftener in the United States it would have a considerable effect in France and would give American opinion greater influence over French public opinion.
Americans are inclined to feel that because the American states found it so advantageous to unite in a federation the European states should do likewise. The suggestion is of course highly sensible, and it is precisely what Europe is trying to do at this very moment. The fact that American opinion is growing impatient because after three years of striving the goal still seems distant reveals a serious lack of understanding. The citizens of Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia who united in 1787 spoke the same language, were of the same ethnic origin and had only a very short period of American history behind them. A thousand years of history stand between France and Germany and (in spite of a certain feeling of Continental solidarity) an opposition on the very essence of institutions and ideas. A frontier between two European countries has nothing in common with a line between two states of the American Union or even with the border between the United States and Canada. In these circumstances might not a little more admiration, perhaps, be lavished on the progress which in three years has brought Europe in 1952 to speak of the Schuman Plan and a European Army?
The lessons of these random observations is that for arguments to be effective they must be adapted to the surroundings where they are used. Things that apply in the United States apply in a different way in Europe. I am always surprised to find in my own experience, and within myself, how much American and European ways of seeing things differ even though basic ideas and essential tendencies are the same. Is it possible to be at the same time American and European? Certainly not. There should be, therefore, a continuous effort of adaptation and transposition, and when it is made by those who are friends and partners in the defense of the same civilization that effort should be crowned with success.