As we approach the festive season — the elongated, enchanting month from Thanksgiving through Christmas to New Years — my mind has been drifting through various memorable past holidays. Some have been personal — the last one with my father before he died. But one that stands out for historic reasons was Christmas 1991.
It was precisely on Dec. 25, 1991 — 20 years ago next month — that the Soviet Union expired. Mikhail Gorbachev resigned his office, and the godless Soviet Union formally ended its existence. On that Christmas Day — of all days — mankind was given the gift of deliverance from the half-century-long threat of nuclear annihilation.
Mankind had never been more than one human misjudgment away from the unthinkable. It seemed a miracle that for all the human blundering, the crass politics of the world, the trillions of dollars spent on nuclear weapons — we had come out the other side untouched by the long-dreaded nuclear flame.
But after expressing my heartfelt gratitude for the deliverance from such an evil, I remember thinking that it was a pity that from then on history and politics would be so boring — not that I was complaining.
Of course, it didn't take long for the world to be filled once again with the horror (and the thrill) of danger. That point was murderously punctuated in history on Sept. 11, 2001. The rise of radical Islam, the resurgence of long sleeping China, the economic crash of 2008, which keeps on crashing; the ongoing folly and incompetence of Washington politics; the imminent fiscal and perhaps political chaos of Europe — all reveal the truth of Hamlet's famous pronouncement that: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in our philosophy."
It was that quote from Hamlet that came to mind this weekend as I was reading the leftist, German magazine Der Spiegel approvingly quoting and elaborating on the words of Sigmar Gabriel, the chairman of the German Social Democrats (SPD):
"'We must invent and establish Europe a second time,'" It's easy enough to say this from his standpoint as leader of the opposition. But many in Angela Merkel's party, the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), tend to agree — they just don't talk openly about it. Officials at the Chancellery are also looking for concepts for the day when the crisis is over.
It's an opportunity to change the world. Why, for example, shouldn't it be possible for the Europeans to pull together, just as the 13 new American states did in 1787 for their constitutional convention? Then, too, the states were jostling for power and money. But, after a long struggle, they managed to constitute themselves, under the motto "We the People," into a powerful, democratic, federal state that has endured to this day.
The Americans enshrined "the pursuit of happiness" in the Declaration of Independence. But is that any different than the European dream of peace, freedom and prosperity? Could the words "We the People," or "We Europeans," also be chiseled into the constitution of a European federal state one day?
It warmed my heart to see leading leftist Europeans invoking America's founding words and ideas as they struggle through their collapsing fiscal and political structures. Yes, of course, I understand that such a call for the "American model" is being used with the objective of reducing the power of the European nation states and forming a stronger, more centralized European government. And I am also cheerfully aware that — as I have long argued for — the several peoples of Europe are moving in exactly the opposite direction: They are increasingly demanding, and voting for, stronger nation states and less centralized European government and power.
At a time when Americans increasingly fear we are declining and doubt the efficacy of our form of government; at a time when the Chinese are prancing around the world bragging that their model of authoritarian state capitalism is superior to American democratic, private property based capitalism; in this dreary, confused, uninspired autumn 2011 — our words "We the People" and "the pursuit of happiness" crackle through the centuries to yet touch the hearts and minds of our jaded, world-weary European cousins.
Our founding words and ideas are ever young. They are imperishable. And we should not wander from our faith in them. On America's Thanksgiving Day 2011, we should be thankful for what our founding Fathers created and bequeathed to us and to the world. And we should be strengthened to fight for the more complete application of those ideas in the election year that follows this week's prayerful Thanksgiving celebration.
© Creators Syndicate Inc.