A recent obsession in the drawing rooms and salons of Europe is the fact that a plurality of Americans (22%) cited "moral values" as their main reason for going to the polls. To civilized Europeans, the culture wars -- God, gays and guns -- are the most risible bit of American politics.
Ever since 1945, European elites have preferred their politics to be technocratic -- mainly managing capitalism for the common good, rather than tackling private issues of faith and morality. This is partly because Europeans are less passionate about religion. Only one in 10 French people says religion plays an important role in his or her life. But lately, cultural issues have begun to force their way back into the mainstream of European politics, stoked by three things.
The first is the willingness of politicians to ride roughshod over ancient traditions -- and the growing willingness of what Edmund Burke called the "little platoons" to fight back.
The second factor is the revival of religion -- or at least its refusal to die. Europe has long been the world's most secular continent -- fittingly so given that the great prophets of secularization such as Emile Durkheim and Max Weber were European. But now religion is again entangling itself with politics.
The third factor is the growing ambition of the ultimate technocratic project. The European Union is run by gray men who talk about protocols and summits with the same relish that real people reserve for sports teams. Yet their enthusiasm for both deepening Europe (by creating a European constitition) and broadening it (by admitting Turkey) is stirring up a formidable backlash. The upcoming votes about the European constitution will inevitably raise questions about national identity.
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