The world quite rightly looks on at the continual self-immolation of political and civic discourse and even the diminishing capacity for self-government in Britain and the United States and wonders, ‘what is wrong with those people?’ It is a fair question. Though four centuries of unchallenged puritanism and excessive global expansion only now being reversed (debunking Anglo-teleological models of history and ideology in the process) do provide most of the answers. But present pathologies cannot be reduced to this political trend of extremist binaries fighting over very little actual material divergence being new. Anyone in the Seventeenth Century could have understood that rubes and dupes with little knowledge of the world but very strong opinions are useful pawns in times of state collapse and fractious decline. Indeed, its been my point for over a year now that trendy allusions to the Interwar Period are a flop propped up by the historically ignorant, and that our nearest historical parallel to the present moment is in fact the Reformation and the subsequently related Thirty Years War and British Civil Wars.
Looking at more modern time periods, however, it wasn’t the Anglos that at this political juncture first. Much like how people when I was a teenager said that Japan was the developed country that ended up ‘left out’ of the turn of the century, observers have the order of things all wrong. Japan, it seemed to me then, was not a lost country, but the future of the developed world. More alienated, carved into monopolistic fiefdoms, and unable to grow due to Boomers making the very act of reproduction economically detrimental. I think it is now obvious that I was right. Japan showed where the Eurozone and the U.S. both were going. Now, here we all are.
Lets pivot away from late service sector model economies into ‘the realm of ideas’. Another set of countries showed the path of political parties extremely similar in actual content but extremist in shrill cultural presentation politics that effectively go nowhere well before such a model came to the Anglosphere: Scandinavia. If there is one part of the world more utterly devoted to Protestant pieties and idealism as an exercise in virtue signaling, surely it is this. I am also going to include the Netherlands here, which is not a Scandinavian country, but ideologically might as well be. Its people share the same flat-yet-self-righteous affect anyway.
Since none of these Pastry-Windmill Countries matter geopolitically, it is often hard to sell the case of their ideological odiousness to people from parts of the world that actually influence global events. They are, after all, nice places to live. Some, like Iceland (who I am leaving exempt from my criticism here because culturally it remains quite distinct from the rest) and Norway are fantastic places to visit. Non-Germanic Finland I have a soft spot for because so many of my favorite bands come from there. I myself have been to all of them save Denmark and Sweden.
The reason these countries are nice, however, has little to do with themselves unlocking a magical formula for good living but rather having small populations on relatively large and resource rich pieces of land in a high GDP part of the world whose geopolitical security has been extremely well provided for by the United States since the end of World War II. This is niche exploitation that anyone could do in the right circumstances. These were effectively poor and rural countries just a few generations ago who received massive amounts of foreign capital and faced few outside dangers. Their economic rise is part and parcel of having the right friends at the right time, much like the Gulf monarchies in the Middle East. Therefore, what success they have are hardly due to factors that could just be replicated elsewhere with virtue, bootstraps, and gumption.
And yet, when one lives for time on Asia’s westernmost peninsula (also known as Europe), as I once did, one meets many Pastry Windmill People who are convinced that they serve as some kind of righteous model (the saintly elect) which other parts of the world yearn to be like. Or, conversely, one meets another kind of Pastry Windmill Person, one who believes their societies are so nice because they are innately culturally or even racially superior and no one else could ever replicate such development for all others lack the correct skull measurements. Oftentimes, a Victorian British style hybrid of both of these Pastry Windmill Types will appear, expressing both the missionary impulse to enlighten the foreign savage and also show superiority…by turning them into good Scandinavians of course. This is done through a process called ‘getting educated’ whose specifics are never addressed…and which also seems to ignore how many Pastry Windmill People go abroad for their own education.
We have here the general prototypes of the political archetypes that presently plague us in the Anglosphere. The left dominated by priggish busybodies who believe that true change comes from modifying behavior and language rather than material conditions, a right entirely dominated by literal howling fascists, and a center who believes itself a logical end point of history even as the world they promise gets sucked down the drain in front of all of our eyes. Sweden, the most obnoxious country of the whole lot when it comes to ideology, gets wracked with anti-Semitic riots and racist trouble on a regular basis. Norway had the most devastating act of far right domestic terrorism anywhere in the world so far in the Twenty First Century. Denmark is world famous for its racism (though it has the decency to not be so messianic as its neighbors at least). Political parties that agree on everything except cultural signaling must then dial said signaling up to 11 in order to express their divergence. Does any of this sound familiar to you?
Personal Anecdote Time: I once attended an IR seminar where a Swede stood up and-totally unironically- proposed that there were such things as ‘Humanitarian Superpowers.’ Countries that, in her words, would wield predominant influence on diplomacy through virtuous example and commitment to liberal values. Two nearby people from the Netherlands clapped at this…display. It is a memory that haunts me still. And yet, perhaps to our misfortune, this attitude was merely ‘ahead of its time’, as that kind of sentiment would no longer shock me if I heard it coming from the Center for American Progress or a talking head on cable news today. You get a lot of this in U.K. media in particular these days, as that country’s days of global influence are so far behind it that this might be all that is left now. The Guardian is particular offender here. Get ready for a near future bombardment of ‘you can’t pull out of any endless war in the Middle East ever because of women’s rights’ to descend on all of us from this quarter.
Needless to say, this same ‘humanitarian superpower’ person was also the same individual who later attempted to mock me for skipping out on a boring meeting of wonks in an office that wasn’t required so that I could go to a local history museum instead. I retorted with just enough humor in my voice to take the edge off that she ‘was basic’. She was.
The funny thing about this originally Scandinavian pathology of exceptionalism is that it is somehow even more delusional than American Exceptionalism. American Exceptionalism might be a cargo cult of a civic religion with very real and damaging effects on diplomacy in the world, but it is at least based on the knowledge that a powerful country has disproportionate sway on world affairs (even if in such a way that compromises that very influence by triggering backlashes). The idea of tiny geopolitical nonentities thinking they are in some kind of drivers seat, or even thinking they are playing good ear-whispering angel to the bad angel of Turkey or Israel or whatever on America’s other shoulder, is laughable. A further irony, and one that really infuriates the Pastry Windmill People if mentioned to them, is that the ur-Kantian liberalism of their region is every bit as much a public education derived state ideology as the flag-humping trucker nuts dangling Humvee driving American chuds they believe themselves to be so much better than. Both people are just parroting the mythology given to them by the dominant media and educational cultures of their respective societies. And both those societies seek validation in being seen as uniquely virtuous across the globe. Both are truly the children of the Reformation. Much like how the Saudis are the children of the Wahhabi Reformation. No sane person abroad is actually impressed by all of this posturing. Especially when it comes from a place whose sanctioning of another nation might…increase the cost of Pastry and Windmill imports?
Pastry-Windmills will retort that perhaps living in a boring and severe country with terrible fashion sense is a small price to pay for such socio-economic security. Once I would have agreed. But even if we traffic in the absolute binaries the Germanic peoples are so fond of (we shouldn’t), I know now I would take an interesting place, within reason, over a secure one. I know that to this day the basket case of Italy is a far more interesting and culturally vibrant place than any Pastry Windmill Country could ever hope to be. I value indulgent art and vibrant giallo cinema. I do not value boring social realism and Ikea-like starkness. I don’t want my cuisine options to be the culinary equivalent of canned dog food. And I don’t want everyone around me to have the same damn boring homogenized opinions divided by tribe into two superficially extreme but functionally docile tribes of Witchunter Generals. Nazis vs Wokecels. It happened first over there, then it came here. They aren’t, in the words of a former president, sending their best.
The only hope I have for the North Atlantic world is that its (genuinely impressive compared to most other places) ability to take in large amounts of very culturally different immigrants continues, and it is able to demographically decouple from WASP inertia and pathology. Changes may be painful, but it is well within the realm of possibility that such shifts could work out in the end. But Pastry Windmill Country is the Germanic version of WASP Mecca. Or perhaps more accurately, its Salt Lake City. It will never change. What could be a phase for us is a thousand year long way of life for them. I say we have followed their trends long enough, and its time to leave them to their backwards ways. Our collective ability to engage in critical and contrarian thinking will thank us if we leave this jar of pickled moose knuckle behind.
But hey, I am genuinely thankful for all the metal. But these days even that has often migrated elsewhere.