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January 26, 2010

Menace in Europe

Why the Continent's Crisis is America's, too
Claire Berlinski - 9781400097708

So impressive was the Thatcher bio by this writer that I had to try her older book (2006). It skims the war on terror, but explores in depth the reasons for Europe's refusal to engage, as its civilization declines. Berlinski is an American who has spent most of her adult life studying Europe and its history; living and reacting within its cultures from England, France and Germany, to Istanbul, Turkey where she currently resides. Her work is a treasure trove of information and memorable analysis.

She observes, strikingly, that Europeans are behaving as they always have. The seeming novel developments in politics and culture are not new--they have ancient roots. "From the sack of Rome to the Yalta Conference, that past has been one of nearly uninterrupted war and savagery." The most quiescent time in generations was after 1945 till the end of the Cold War, when their destiny was really controlled by the two superpowers. After the collapse of the Soviet empire Europe's history simply resumed its historic course. Then, as now, Europe was incapable of marshaling any effective, unified response. Not to Germany, nor to Communism, nor now to radical Islam. Its leaders lack the imaginative power to appreciate their adversary. They expect radicals to be like Europeans, amenable to reason and susceptible to bribery. They cannot appreciate that their posture engenders not reciprocal conciliation, but contempt. (Not unlike Obama and the left.)

Since the French revolution, and perhaps before, Europe has been gradually de-Christianizing. In recent years it is attempting to move from nation states to the mythical European Union without much success. It leaves behind little "beyond pleasure and personal relations, and these [are not] enough to keep hopelessness at bay." Without a common transcendental belief, this hopelessness universal.

Their anti-Americanism has been a theme of their tradition for 200 years. "They can exist without God, but fail without something to hate." Life is meaningless to them, and by their inclusion in the Western world their problem becomes ours. An unmoored, amoral Europe precludes our avoidance of them. Their combined economy and population exceeds ours, and it is imploding under the weight of social and economic pressures which neither the citizens nor the politicians will confront. Everything about their state of existence impacts us in some way; there is inchoate anti-Semitism, and a refusal to halt the advance of Islamic radicalism in their own spheres. Jewish pogroms have always been the canary in the coal mine, which bodes ill for yet more dissimilar immigrants. Europe--France especially--had enormously profitable relations with Iraq, which explains their vehement opposition to the overthrow of Saddam.

Liberal Americans are "besotted with Europe." They look to their cultures and institutions for inspiration, as they work to copy their welfare states. They wish "to learn of their family values," but there is no recognition that their low marriage rate, reduction in the establishment families, and catastrophically low birth rates are a problem. They are the lowest in the developed world, and well below replacement. Their native populations are shrinking. I immigration is required . . . most of it from wholly different cultures. To fund their welfare programs they are vigorously importing people to fill jobs and pay taxes, as they refuse to allow the integration of these foreigners into their societies. America attracts people who actually want to be here, to assimilate, and to intermarry.

Progressives style themselves as more sophisticated and politically mature, and believe Europe's antipathy is impartial, and a rational response to American failings. "I encourage them to feel uneasy in these sentiments."

She explores myriad avenues in exposing Europe for the "sick man" it is. She explains how America is better at almost everything of contemporary importance. Europe does have a remarkable history, but hasn't accomplished much since before Napoleon. It is strangely passive, vaguely coherent, and practices an odd sort of utilitarianism which avoids rule by divine right, yet offers nothing to replace it. Laws are obeyed because it's preferable to chaos. Things are done as they've always been done, and without belief or rationale. Rejection of moral absolutes is the source of a profound risk aversion. While amazingly tolerant of some things (terrorists?), they are intolerant of Jews, Americans, "Franken foods," and a variety of things which challenge their claim to tolerance.

She touches upon the electoral result of the Spanish train bombing, and the Dutch fears engendered by the Mohammed cartoons as well as the murders of Pim Fortuyn (a gay politician) and Theo Van Gogh (the producer of Submission.) European leaders demonstrate an unwillingness to comprehend the threat. They continue to insist that radical Islam is a problem of underdevelopment. The list of countries which spawn terrorists do have a common theme, but it is not underdevelopment. Most of the prime terrorists are from the middle and upper classes.

While it is possible to be European without abandoning Islam, it is impossible without abandoning its radical forms. Embracing a diluted Islam is little different than embracing diluted Christianity, which explains why immigrant Muslims feel no significant compulsion to integrate. Why integrate in a country which is decadent and without convictions?

For millennia there has been general agreement by cultures that certain things are deeply meaningful, while others are not consistent with a Good Life. Europe (and not a few Americans) has become fixated on money, sex and fame. Yet "religion, and the philosophical ideas of love, courage, integrity, dignity, respect, compassion, authenticity, genuineness--these are the things that will deliver the Good Life." Europeans are hungry for something no longer provided by their cultures. Conventional religion has been replaced by other "religions" like environmentalism.

The West devours religion by tempting the faithful with more immediate satisfactions: personal autonomy, sexual freedom, few rules, and neat things to buy. Europe has snuffed out Christianity, and may do so with Islam . . . hopefully before Islam snuffs out Europe. But it is far easier to destroy than to build.

"Of course it is true that military force is not the only solution. Overwhelming military force is the only solution." Her critics insist that she "keeps bringing up the Nazis." She challenges them to find a single situation where the analogy fails.

Profound instincts become sublimated when repressed. Religious instinct, and the nationalistic instinct, amongst others can be neither denied nor eradicated. We now have nature worshippers, global warming worshippers, faux religions like the Druids, Wiccans, etc. The most prominent rock group in Germany--Rammstein--is Naziesque, but the group and its followers deny this vigorously. She reviews many of their lyrics, however, and they are scary. If they represent the "normal way of being German" spare us the abnormal way. They claim to be "helping Germany to rediscover its identity," but she asks why Germany would want to rediscover that identity?

There is an ancient theme in German history, one of resentment when it does not occupy its "proper place." But the scariest feature is that they plainly have not learned from history. They feel oppressed by the world, and especially by America. Imagining that they could be brothers of the French, sisters to the Belgians or cousins to the British is at least laughable.

Comical--or not--she reviews the Laeken Declaration in which, "At long last Europe is on its way to becoming one big family," then lists a full page of wars--at least 70--beginning with the sack of Rome and ending with the Balkan Wars, with the caveat that "only the first wars that come to mind: I have probably forgotten quite a number. By way of contrast, the United States has fought one war, and that against itself."

"As someone who has spent time thinking about Europe . . . I do not prophesy [its demise] . . . nor do I predict catastrophe on [its] soil, [but] Europe's entitlement economy will collapse. Its demography will change. The European Union may unravel. [Terrorists] may succeed in taking out a city." And once again, the only people to whom this will come as a surprise are those how have not been paying attention." (emphasis in the original.)

European anti-Americanism is a cultist system of faith, rather than a set of rational beliefs, and as such is "impervious to revision upon confrontation with facts, logic, evidence, gestures of good will, public relations campaigns, or attempts on the part of [the Americans] to be better, more sensitive listeners." The bulk of the attitude, America's deficits notwithstanding, is exuberantly irrational. And it is neither improving, nor likely to.

Posted by Curmudgeon at January 26, 2010 10:27 AM