I have a column in this weekend's National Journal on American exceptionalism and the lure of the European model. I'll post it as as soon as it goes online--but meanwhile I recommend this piece by Roger Cohen from the NYT on the same subject. An excellent column, and I agreed with every word.
I lived for about a decade, on and off, in France and later moved to the United States. Nobody in their right mind would give up the manifold sensual, aesthetic and gastronomic pleasures offered by French savoir-vivre for the unrelenting battlefield of American ambition were it not for one thing: possibility.
You know possibility when you breathe it. For an immigrant, it lies in the ease of American identity and the boundlessness of American horizons after the narrower confines of European nationhood and the stifling attentions of the European nanny state, which has often made it more attractive not to work than to work. High French unemployment was never much of a mystery.
Americans, at least in their imaginations, have always lived at the new frontier; French frontiers have not shifted much in centuries.
Churn is the American way. Companies are born, rise, fall and die. Others come along to replace them. The country's remarkable capacity for innovation, for reinvention, is tied to its acceptance of failure. Or always has been. Without failure, the culture of risk fades. Without risk, creativity withers. Save the zombies and you sabotage the vital.
If America loses sight of these truths, it will cease to be itself.