Like an eager kid who desperately wants to be included in his cooler older brother’s activities, America looks to the European Union for cues on sophisticated governance. But what happens when that cooler older brother is middle-aged, unemployed, and still living in your parents’ basement? This is America’s dilemma. Will America learn from Europe’s mistakes? Or, will America continue to be enamored with the European Union, despite its failed policies and unsound philosophical grounding?

Practical problems of governance abound in the EU. Great Britain, Germany, Spain, France all agree: multiculturalism has failed completely. French President Nicolas Sarkozy admits, “We have been too concerned about the identity of the person who was arriving and not enough about the identity of the country that was receiving him.” Look no further than Greece for proof that the cradle-to-grave welfare state is financially unsustainable. Unemployment benefits, pensions, child-care subsidies, free university education, generous paid vacation and holiday leave, and government-provided health care—these programs cost money and require a robust economy to support the social-welfare safety net. As Europe’s population grows older and grayer, demands for more entitlements continue to increase. An ever-expanding welfare state needs the pitter-patter of little feet to fund it in the future. With the current declining fertility rates, by 2050 the European Union economies will have a mere two workers for every retiree.

Practical failures aside, Bruce Thornton argues that the European Union’s philosophical grounding is diametrically opposed to America’s principles. The EU model assumes the perfectibility of mankind—that “a universal, essentially rational human nature is progressing away from the irrational superstitions and traditions such as religion that in the past defined and disordered human life and society.” Social, political, and economic institutions facilitate mankind’s perfection, by creating peace, equality, and justice and enabling human happiness. And who will staff these institutions charged with perfecting mankind? Technical elites who know the best way to live will craft policies and allocate rights accordingly. Thus, the perfection of mankind results in centralized, top-down style governance.

To embrace the European Union’s premises about human nature, the purpose of government, and the status of rights, America must shed its own. America’s way of life is premised on a permanent human nature—not one progressing towards perfection. It is a mix of base and lofty. Throughout the Federalist, Publius recognizes mankind’s “destructive passions and selfish interests.” But, this does not mean that men ungovernable. With the aid of institutional arrangements, a vigilant and manly spirit, and virtue, men are capable of self-government. The purpose of government is not to create “rights” to various welfare programs:  limited government is necessary to secure natural rights. A self-governing people rejects administrative elites’ advances on their liberty. Its citizens refuse to become “a herd of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd.”

It is time to abandon our delusions about the European model.  Whereas Publius once warned us “to teach that assuming brother moderation,” our task today is to avoid following him down the same path of economic sclerosis, unaffordable entitlements, impending demographic collapse, and failed multiculturalism.

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