The US and Europe: Still Sharing the Same Values?

We’re still digging through our archive for great podcasts – you can find links to recordings of ongoing events on the website – go to our home page (, click on IHS, and then on “archived events.” For example, on our 2009 page, you’ll find recordings of events with German author Bernhard Schlink, Romanian poet Liliana Ursu, Basque writer Bernardo Atxaga, and more.  Alternatively, click on “people” for an alphabetical menu of past speakers. We’re in the process of adding audio or video icons to speaker bios if there’s a recording of the event available.

Today’s podcast is an edited recording of a January, 27, 2005 panel discussion, featuring Berlin-based author Peter Schneider and International Affairs editor of the Financial Times, Quentin Peel, organized in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut Boston. Introducing the speakers is Irena Grudzinska Gross, former director of the Institute for Human Sciences. The discussion centers on the breakdown in the relationship between the US and Europe following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the famous Le Monde headline “Nous sommes tous Américains.”

According to Peter Schneider, the Iraq war was merely a magnifying glass, revealing deeper tensions. He did not dismiss the threat posed by international terrorism, which he believes is real. But, he argued, the US administration abused the legitimate fears of Americans after 9/11 to create a “culture of fear.” This is the only way to explain the re-election of George Bush following the well-publicized deceptions leading up to the war in Iraq. Distinguishing between “real” and “perceived” fear, he noted that the cities that had experienced the actual terror voted overwhelmingly against politicians engaged in the culture of fear. He went on to say that some “ism” is growing up in America, and while he cannot identify it yet, he believes the US is in danger. Making Simon Schama’s distinction between “worldly” and “godly” America, he said Europe and “worldly” America must come together to defend our enlightenment inheritance of secular humanism.

Quentin Peel, citing the results of the German Marshall Fund poll, argued that the differences between the US and Europe run deeper than the partisan divide in the US. He said he believes that the US and Europe do share essential enlightenment values, but differ over the “absoluteness” with which they are prepared to pursue them. Europeans do not like absolutes, hence their aversion to Bush’s attempt to divide the world into good and evil. The real problem, Peel concluded, between the US and Europe is that we think we know each other, but we do not.

The discussion aired on WBUR radio’s “World of Ideas” program on February 6, 2005. We are grateful to WBUR for making the recording available to EU for You.

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