Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Further on Bumiller

John's assessment of Elisabeth Bumiller's New York Times article hits the nail on the head, most importantly in regards to the supposed intellectual status of French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. The gist of Bumiller's piece is that Chirac and Schroeder are somehow representatives of the great intellectual nations which are Germany and France while nations like Romania and Lithuania are full of backwards, uneducated illiterates. In response to Bumiller, I have two things to say:

First, she obviously knows absolutely nothing about Chirac, about Schroeder or about east Europeans. If she did, she'd be aware that the French public has long considered Chirac rather intellectually limited. A common criticism lodged against him is his less than impressive facility with the French language. I know of no French person who considers him a great thinker in any way. Similarly, Gerhard Schroeder has never done or said anything that even remotely suggests a great mind at work. Once again I'm aware of no German who believes Schroeder is particularly adept in intellectual pursuits. Indeed, if anything, he's considered a rather shallow womanizer (he's been divorced three times) more concerned about the color of his hair than reading Habermas or attending a presentation of Tristan und Isolde. And as far as the east Europeans are concerned, I can attest that of all the people I've worked with at the United Nations and the International Red Cross, for sheer intellectual formation, literary awareness and cultural appreciation, the east Europeans take a back seat to no one. While I was at the Red Cross, I had the good fortune to share an office with a Bulgarian woman who now lives with her husband in the Netherlands. Unlike my west European colleagues, this particular individual possessed a level of linguistic, philosophic and literary knowledge unsurpassed in my department. Additionally, her love for the ballet and opera demonstrated a cultural sophistication superior to any of the French and Germans I've worked with in Europe. My experience with other east Europeans, including Georgians, Poles and Serbs has only reinforced this perception. Any claim that the east Europeans are somehow intellectually wanting when compared to their west European cousins is ridiculous.

And this brings me to my second point. Bumiller's assumption regarding the west Europeans, so at odds with reality, is nothing more than pandering to the unthinking prejudice, entertained by so many on the left and in the west European political and journalistic elite, to the effect that west Europeans are intellectually and culturally more refined than the gun-slinging Americans and the silly little east Europeans. This is pure ideology without any foundation. Rather, quite the opposite seems true to me; west Europeans are becoming increasingly uncultured and eurocentric, they have less and less appreciation of their own history as well as a declining knowledge of the rest of the world. As Bush rightly noted, today it's the east Europeans who understand political truths, not the west Europeans. And, it's the same highly intellectual and cultured east Europeans who also respect Bush's common touch.

One last point: Bumiller's article reads like a cheap and cynical attempt at sarcasm. She also has a lot to learn about writing.

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