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Europe - United States: common values or cultural divorce ?

Editor : Fondation Robert Schuman
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Since the end of the Cold War two opposite arguments have emerged to confront each other in the Euro-American debate. One holds that the values on either side of the Atlantic are identical; conversely and since the mid-1990's and especially since 11th September 2001, an image and its opposite have formed in international political culture: that of a legalist, secular, peaceful Europe that has succeeded in moving on to a post modern age in contrast with that of an America which is moving back to a pre-modern, bellicose, religious barbarian era.

This antimony is the starting point of the analysis put forward in this paper. The author refutes these theories and favours neither of them.

The theory of the “cultural divorce” is inconsistent with the continuum of ideas and opinions inherent to the Euro-American couple which makes it impossible to establish a clear separation between Europe and the USA, but also and equally, it is inconsistent with the existence of identical dominant values behind frequently different political practices.

The theory of “common values” for its part is inconsistent with the existence of profound differences of opinion on key issues which are due to specific historical experiences and different geographical situations – all of which leads to certain unavoidable contrasts.

In addition to this the “note” suggests that the trans-Atlantic debate on values reveals in fact an opposition between models of cultural, social, and political preferences which exists inside American and European societies but shows up differently.

It endeavours to place the debate on trans-Atlantic values into a wider context; is there a Western entity the values of which would set it apart from the rest of the world? It suggests that the answer to this is not easy to identify, but however in many areas there is an American exception.

As a result the author draws up four conclusions:

-The debate on values is not one where hasty generalisations can be made either in one manner or another;

-The use of trans-Atlantic differences in the construction of Europe makes no sense at all;

-The theme of common values must not be used as a main foundation for the trans-Atlantic relationship;

-However recent developments favour the thesis of the growing divergence between Europeans and Americans.
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Bruno Tertrais
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