Europe's End: Not with Bang but a Whimper

Mark Steyn's recent best seller, America Alone is a gloomy book on Europe's future.  By Europe, Mr. Steyn means primarily what Donald Rumsfeld once referred to contemptuously as "Old Europe."  In a variation of the prime cliché of the 1992 Clinton campaign, Mr. Steyn's chief premise is that "It's the demographics, stupid."  He cites in great and grave detail the comparison of the plummeting European birth rate and the prodigious birth rate of Muslims who now live in Europe.  In some parts of Europe "Mohammad" is among the most popular names for newborns.

In addition to the declining European demographics, Mr. Steyn focuses on the evolution of both European attitudes and policies.  He notes that there is the unsustainable, all-encompassing welfare state that has stifled individual initiative and a sense of personal and familial responsibility.  There is the European refusal to support a serious military capacity.  He points out the politics of both pacification and appeasement that are the inevitable consequence.  These policies of pacifism and appeasement are pompously portrayed by Europeans and their American sympathizers as virtue, hoping no doubt to disguise their necessity.

As Robert Kagan pointed out in his 2002 Policy Review article "Policy and Weakness," Europeans have convinced themselves that they live in an ideal Kantian world.  This is a fantasy where all contentious issues in the world are resolved as if at a New England town meeting where citizens decide the location of the bike path. 

Its poor relations with its own vigorous and militant Muslim minorities and the consequences of these relations are the most portentous evidence for the decline of Europe.  These relations exacerbate an already bad situation.  The Muslims are unassimilated and often on the generous European dole.  They have rights, but little of either responsibilities or prospects.  Many have been religiously radicalized while Europe has evolved into an easy, post-Christian secularism.  In essence, it appears to be only a matter of time before the vibrant and militant minority prevails over the flaccid majority, and, like Saint Sophia in Istanbul, the Cathedral of Notre Dame becomes a mosque.

In a recent interview with Hugh Hewitt, Mr. Steyn acknowledges his pessimism and welcomes a refutation.  No serious person wants to see Europe transferred into a hostile outpost of an Islamic caliphate.  Ralph Peters in a recently published New York Post column attempts this refutation of Mr. Steyn. 

In his column Mr. Peters is quite contemptuous of Mr. Steyn's arguments. Although he does not mention Mr. Steyn by name, he no doubt includes him in the "rash of pop prophets" who speak of Eurabia.  For Mr. Peters Europe's salvation lies in the fact that Europe has such a long history of the implementation of its own ability to hate.  Mr. Peters refers to Europe as "world champion haters," who "brought us recent hits as the Holocaust and Srebrenica."

He cites the historical willingness of Europe to rise up against the Jews and drive them out of their midst.  Just as Jews were driven out of England and Spain, so the Muslims will be driven out of Europe; this action being a product of European "rage."  According to Mr. Peters, if some of the French can support its most xenophobic political candidates, so Europe can, at some point, support the wholesale forced emigration of Muslims. 

These arguments of Mr. Peters are less than convincing.  His historical analogies do not hold up.  It is true that Jews were expelled from European countries at various times over the last millennia.  However, the Jews at those times were a tiny, non-violent minority.  The Europeans who expelled the Jews were strong and confident in their religion and culture.  In contrast, in the highly unlikely event that the Dutch were to try to force Muslims to emigrate, the roughly 1,000,000 Muslims in Holland are not simply going to walk to the docks, and what then would the Dutch really do?

Mr. Peters brings up the Holocaust and Srebrenica as examples of what Europeans are capable of doing.  Mr. Peters argues that it is this kind of brutality that will be the salvation of Europe and he implies that these acts are not the acts of a decadent or lazy people.  However, when evaluating these brutal performances and the willingness of Europeans to defend their own principles and cultures, it is equally important to evaluate the performance of the vast majority of Europeans when faced with these genocidal onslaughts.  Those noble Spanish, Swedes, and Swiss could not muster the courage or the will to fight the Nazis and its Holocaust.  The Danes, Norwegians, French, Dutch, and Belgians resisted those German "haters" but in vain.  The Italians joined the German haters, but fought with effectiveness of the French. 

When the Serbs were slaughtering Bosnian Muslims in 1995 in Srebrenica, Europe expressed a kind of pro forma disapproval, but it could not muster the energy or the power to transform this disapproval into initiative toward any meaningful action. It relied on the unilateral military action of the United States, aided by the British.  One has only to ask whom do 21st century Europeans most resemble:  the aggressive and powerful Germans of 1940 and the Serbs of 1995, or the Swedes of 1940 who would rather appease and trade with the Nazis than shut down the German steel industry with a halt to iron exports? 

When considering the European future and Mr. Peters' sanguine view, Aristotle offers useful insights.  Aristotle emphasizes the nature of the regime and the important effect of the regime on the way of life and the character of its people.  Aristotle emphasizes the importance of virtues, such as fortitude, temperance, or courage in creating a regime that will lead each citizen to a good life. 

The current regimes of Western Europe were borne out of the ashes of the First and Second World Wars.  After the destruction and carnage of two World Wars, it is not difficult to understand why Europeans would succumb to politicians offering, first and foremost, cradle to grave security.  Thus was born the world's most comprehensive welfare state, where responsibility for everything from health care to housing to childcare to eldercare was turned over to a supposedly benevolent state.

Europeans could not resist the promise of security when couched in the rhetoric of compassion and equality.  Europeans chose cushy dependence over risk, initiative, and true liberty.  As Richard Weaver once wrote, "Ideas have consequences," and so do three or four generations of welfare-state dependence.  Rather than producing Aristotle's "good life" where rights and responsibilities are balanced and respected, Europe has evolved into something else entirely. 

Imagine lions in a zoo.  These are world class predators, analogous to Mr. Peters' European "world class haters."  Rather than being independent, self-sustaining, risk-taking, and competitive, these lions lie around for 22 or 23 hours each day.  When not sleeping they walk in circles.  They are dependent upon their keepers.  It is all so easy, risk free, and it must be frightfully boring.  Returned to the wilds, it is unlikely that these lions would survive.  This is not the kind of life resulting from, or which encourages, Aristotelian virtue.  Nor can this life be in anyway described as a "good life" unless the good life is defined narrowly as mere sustenance. Nor can the comfy, prolonged adolescence that is life in Europe.

Even "world class haters" with the history of Europe need virtues such as courage and fortitude if they are to stand up to and prevail against the radical Muslims in their midst. Even they need energy and a sense of purpose.  What Peters sees as "rage" and the sense of being "besieged" assumes something worth defending.  To rise up and assert themselves against radical Muslims, the inhabitants of Europe must believe in something more precious than universal healthcare, a 35 hour work week, and six weeks of paid vacation. 

Yes, French youth rioted to protect certain governmental guarantees, but have any people mobilized to fight a war to protect their government-mandated benefits?  Will Europeans really sacrifice and fight to defend their bureaucracies?  Can England really throw out millions of Muslims  while it lacks the courage to fly its own flag in prisons, lest the cross of St. George offend the Muslim inmates?  Will the Dutch force Muslims out of Holland when they cannot and refuse to protect those in Holland who have criticized the excesses of Islam?  Which pied piper will lead this Muslim exodus out of Europe?

Mark Steyn's gloomy prognosis for Europe stands unrefuted by the fantasies of Mr. Peters.  T. S. Eliot's vision, published in 1925, is far more prescient than that of Mr. Peters. For Eliot, Europe is characterized thus: 

"We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men ...

Paralyzed force, gestures without motion ...

The supplication of a dead man's hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star ...

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper."
Henry P. Wickham, Jr. welcomes comments.