The U.S. has more in common with South America than Europe

I’ve been saying the same thing for quite some time.

North and South America have similar histories. North America was colonized by English-speaking Northern European Protestants, and South America was colonized by Spanish and Portuguese-speaking Southern Europe Catholics. Both continents have an African-descended population rooted in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and both have a native population that was eventually conquered by the Europeans. The main difference is that there were more native people in Latin America, and more intermixing between them and the Europeans, so Latin America has this large mestizo population we don’t have in North America. Instead, America created a racial caste system roughly comparable to India’s religious/occupational caste system whereas in Latin America the lower classes from the colonial period became more integrated and intermixed.

On both continents, the elite tends to be European-descended people with the natives being the poorest people and the blacks being among the lower strata of the working class. Also, North and South America have much higher rates of violence than Europe due to their legacy as frontier societies, and both continents are much more religious than Europe. Also, both continents have a dominant continent-wide language in a way that Europe does not. I think the main way the United States is more like Europe than Latin America is that the US has traditionally been more of a middle-class-oriented society than Latin America (although it could be argued the US South comes closer to the Latin American model).

I do think Canada is much closer to be a European country than the US, probably because their population is smaller, they have more of a bi-national colonial legacy (English and French), and they obtained independence at a later date. And our northernmost cities like Seattle, Portland, and Minneapolis/St. Paul tend to be the most liberal the same way that Latin American cities on the southern cone like Santiago and Buenas Aries are the most liberal.

By Samuel Goldman

If you move in upper middle class circles, you know the conversation: A friend or relative comes back from sojourn in Europe with endless critiques of American life. The food in Italy, the trains in Germany, the architecture in Czechia — everything American pales in comparison.

Some of these comparisons are merely annoying, like the enthusiasm for soccer that’s become a paradoxical mark of cultural sophistication (in Europe, soccer is traditionally a working-class game). But deference to European models also has a distorting influence on U.S. politics. On the left, admiration of Scandinavian countries funds pursuit of higher minimum wages and more generous social benefits. On the right, Hungary and Poland serve as models of family policy and immigration restriction. Why can’t we be more like our peers?

Perhaps the better question is: Why do we think these countries are our peers?

U.S. history, geography, and demography have little in common with the smaller, older, more homogeneous nations of Europe. European-inspired policies may be worth trying, but we generally have different policies and institutions because we have different experiences, resources, and expectations.

That doesn’t mean that the U.S. is peerless. In an intriguing tweet, political scientist Paul Musgrave observed that many of our “exceptional” features seem pretty normal if you look closer to home. While it’s not much like European nation-states, the U.S. has plenty of similarities to other post-colonial, pluralistic societies in North and South America.


Categories: Geopolitics

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