More re: Mark Steyn, Call Your Office

What Mark proclaimed to the world in his 2006 book, America Alone–namely that Europe is suffering demographic collapse and civilizational exhaustion–the New York Times, I noted the other day, has finally gotten around to confirming. To which James Poulos in effect replied, aw, cheer up:

[S]urely some among Europe’s rising generations will revolt against the notion that exhaustion and failure are their only birthright….We’d better prepare ourselves now, I wager, for a few inspiring surprises in Europe.

I’m not so sure. Consider this graf from the Times article:

More broadly, many across Europe say the Continent will have to adapt to fiscal and demographic change, because social peace depends on it. “Europe won’t work without that,” said Joschka Fischer, the former German foreign minister, referring to the state’s protective role. “In Europe we have nationalism and racism in a politicized manner, and those parties would have exploited grievances if not for our welfare state,” he said. “It’s a matter of national security, of our democracy.”

Fischer may speak of “our democracy,” but what he’s really saying is that Europeans simply cannot be trusted with democracy. Ordinary people? The elites have to smother them with benefits to keep them from electing another Mussolini. The vast, unelected, utterly bureaucratic superstate that Fischer and his kind have been erecting in Belgium? Vast, unelected, and utterly bureaucratic is just the way they want it. A superstate, an elite that’s profoundly and explicitly suspicious of ordinary people–all this makes it exceedingly difficult for Europeans who want to oppose the statism to find political ground on which to plant their feet–to organize, to found blogs and journals, simply to breath. When Americans find themselves faced with an unresponsive political system, what do they do? Throw tea parties. In Europe, that’s just unthinkable. Literally. The conditions of European life–the elitism, the narrow range of views expressed in the press, the whole deference to elite, bureaucratic authority which which the whole society has been condition–make it all but impossible for such a thought to present itself in anyone’s mind.

“Rising generations will revolt?” I sure hope so. But on a scale of one to ten, with ten representing the most forlorn of hopes, I’d rate that one about a nine. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe in Poland or Hungary, nations whose history has taught them the importance and fragility of freedom, a movement may yet stir. But in Germany or Italy or Spain or France?

  1. Scott R

    And to buttress your point, Peter, I’ll throw in a little Steyn: “It’s true that there are many European populations reluctant to go happily into the long Eurabian night. But, alas for them, modern Europe is constructed so as to insulate almost entirely the political class from populist pressures. As the computer types say, that’s not a bug, it’s a feature: the European Union is a 1970′s solution to a 1940′s problem, and one of the problems it was designed to solve is that fellows like Hitler and Mussolini were way too popular with the masses.” (A.A. p105) What I’d like to know is whether the average man-on-the-street European thinks as little of himself as do his betters.

  2. Peter Robinson
    C

    “[M]odern Europe is constructed so as to insulate almost entirely the political class from populist pressures.” That’s it! (As so often happens when I read Mark, I find myself thinking, yet again, “Gee. I wish I’d written that.)

    Which isn’t to say, however, Scott, that you don’t still have some explaining to do. The entire text at your command? How do you manage that one?

  3. Scott R

    By virtue of their humor and almost supernatural abilty to turn a clever phrase, Steyn and P.J. O’Rourke are two authors whose books I’ve been through so many times that, honestly, I can locate a particular passage in a matter of a few seconds. I don’t know if that makes me smart or pathetic. Evidence of the latter: I own a “Viva Steyn” T-shirt.

  4. tgs91m3

    I think what we learn from America Alone is that there will be a revolt in Europe, but it will come from rising generation of ‘youths’, that is to say the growing number of culturally confident Muslims who would want to implement Sharia law instead of Democratic Socialism.

  5. Mark Wilson

    This idea of the Euro-elite being insulated from the unwashed masses seems vaguely related to John Podhoretz’s point in part 1 of this week’s Uncommon Knowledge: When elections are over, “politics” ends (the political class quits interacting with the people they nominally represent) and “action” begins (the politicians go about their business manipulating the levers of the bureaucracy).

  6. Andrew Klavan
    C

    I don’t think European culture is exhausted. I think it’s actually dead. There are still identifiably European people living on the continent, but the culture, the creative force of their society, is a corpse being devoured by carrion Islamism. The death of Europe is like the death of Marley in “A Christmas Carol” – if we don’t understand that, we don’t get the rest of the story. When Obama and the left say, “We should be more like Europe,” they are asking us to aspire to extinction.

  7. James Poulos
    C
    Andrew Klavan: The death of Europe is like the death of Marley in “A Christmas Carol” – if we don’t understand that, we don’t get the rest of the story.

    I seem not to be winning many converts to my France-will-save-the-day thesis. As W might say, HISTORY WILL BE MY JUDGE! So for now, let me suggest the alternate possibility that the death of Europe might really (still) be like the death of Scrooge. There’s always at least the possibility of redemption. Or, in a more secular key: success is never final, defeat is never fatal…

  8. Karen

    And how far is America from extinction? This morning, I took my two little boys to a local park/farm. We took a hayride, and on the wagon with us were two women with their children. One woman wore a veil, the other a niqab. Seeing muslim women with their heads covered around here isn’t uncommon, but seeing a woman in a niqab is. Her wearing it clearly isn’t a choice. Who would drape themselves in black in 90 degree weather and go on a hayride? In my mind, she may as well be in chains. Yeah, it’s a free country (for now), but that niqab embodies for me the oppressive, fundamentalist beliefs of radical Islam. One of her daughters had an “Elmo” shirt on, and I wondered if it is possible to merely absorb the niqab into the cultural soup of America. But I fear it’s a warning, a slow and steady trickling stream of radical Islam into our society. But how do we combat this trend, if indeed it is a threat?

  9. Steve Manacek
    C

    I would take Andrew one step further. The essential life-force of Europe has been, if not dead, then at least in a persistent vegetative state for some time — probably since the end of the First World War, which virtually annihilated an entire generation. You can’t read anything of the inter-war years without concluding that the holders of traditional European values had completely lost drive and self-confidence by then. (Churchill, of course, was an anomaly, but it is significant that he was very much of the pre-WW I generation.) And nothing since then has provided any real evidence for a different diagnosis. There remain little pockets of vitality, and occasionally, when the system receives too great a shock (e.g., Britain ca. 1978-79), one or more of these pockets can exert some influence or even control. But it is all just temporary. However — since the patient has been comatose for so long, I’m not sure that the “end” is necessarily all that near. Absent the Islamic infux and impact on demographics, I could easily see the patient hanging on for another century or more. But Islam is the wild card, my thoughts on which will have to wait for another post.

  10. Duane Oyen

    The real question, after the “Europe Dead” debate, is what about us? And I tend to take some comfort in remembering how lousy things were in 1950 (going from memory after reading McCullough’s “Truman”), when we just came off the Berlin Airlift, the Rosenberg case was front and center as the USSR had just revealed their Bomb and we were finding their spies in every department, the steel industry was a labor-instigated mess but the President was blaming management, and we were being shredded in Korea. Then later, there was 1972, with the USSR on the march, losing in Vietnam, Constitutional crisis with the WH, inflation and price controls, imminent war in the Middle East, oil shocks, and still messy college campuses- and the Republican leaders to bring us out of it were “conservatives” like Hugh Scott and Bob Michel.

    Somehow we survived all that. We may again.

  11. Andrew Klavan
    C

    Funny – I just this minute received an email from a very successful screenwriter whose quietly held opinions make Rush Limbaugh look like Frank Rich. “You must watch this!” he says and when I open it, lo and behold, it’s Peter interviewing Mark on Uncommon Knowledge. Clearly these two rabble-rousers are spreading panic among the simple denizens of Hollywood! And in general, truly, I’m very optimistic and think Islamism is an opportunistic disease that will be turned back the minute anyone works up the courage to say, “No!” Still won’t save Europe though. Already gone. RIP. Loved the whole Michelangelo thing…

  12. Conor Friedersdorf
    C

    Peter,

    I share your dismay at the “vast, unelected, utterly bureaucratic superstate” that European elites are imposing, and I agree that some of them are doing so with the express intent of subverting the popular will, but I dissent from the proposition that Europeans are going to submit to faceless bureaucrats in Brussels without a protest or a backlash.

    Presumably, you and I both disagree with prior causes that brought the French people into the streets — bulldozing a McDonald’s to protest globalization, for example, or striking to maintain a 35 hour work week — but the quality of protesting against elites is present in the French people, and can always turn itself against a different cause. It seems that everyone in this conversation agrees that Europe faces significant challenges, and kudos to Mr. Steyn and others for drawing attention to them, but defeat can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    And isn’t it nice, incidentally, that none of us fear the French, German or Italian overreaction that the former German foreign minister mentioned? Given even recent European history, that is an achievement to be celebrated as we sensibly lament the perilous trends that threaten Europe.

  13. Robert Dammers

    It may be wishful thinking, but I am not convinced that one should write Europe off too completely. The Oxford Union famously passed the resolution that they would no longer fight for King and Country, but people missed the scare quotes. It turned out that they would not fight for “King and Country” as a rallying call. An assault on their values and existence, once clear, became more than sufficient reason for people to mobilise on a phenomenal scale, and endure dreadful hardships until victory. They were certainly less stoically unanimous than films show them as being, but the principle holds true. (Of course, in the same way Mrs T did not say “There is no such thing as society” – she said ‘There is no such thing as “Society”‘ – a world of difference).

    Equally, I recall a young friend of mine feeling guilty as the task force sailed off to the Falklands that he was not with them – the urge to “do your bit” is still strong. The language of patriotism has changed – and that makes it harder to see whether it still exists.

    In the UK, even our wishy-washy coalition, the language of liberty seems to be alive again.

  14. Rob Long
    C
    Conor Friedersdorf:

    And isn’t it nice, incidentally, that none of us fear the French, German or Italian overreaction that the former German foreign minister mentioned? Given even recent European history, that is an achievement to be celebrated as we sensibly lament the perilous trends that threaten Europe. · May. 26 at 4:05pm

    Not so fast. The Europeans have been killing each other for 1000 years, and I’m not sure we can stamp that particular habit of theirs “DONE” just because (part of) Europe has been war-free for the past 70 years. (First, you have to arbitrarily decide that “Europe” means only those countries west of Vienna. South of Vienna has been a cesspool of ethnic violence as recently as 15 years ago.)

    European socialism, even in its hilariously impotent, EU-ish, politically correct form, can turn pretty easily. I love France, and hope that James is right and France leads the way to a peaceful re-emergence of European identity. But France could just as easily snap, and erupt into a not-so-peaceful resurgence of ethnic/racial French pride. What happens when the French get tired of Muslim youth rioting in the banlieus and decide to riot back? Why are we so confident that this can’t, won’t, happen?

  15. James Poulos
    C
    Rob Long: I love France, and hope that James is right and France leads the way to a peaceful re-emergence of European identity. But France could just as easily snap, and erupt into a not-so-peaceful resurgence of ethnic/racial French pride. What happens when the French get tired of Muslim youth rioting in the banlieus and decide to riot back? Why are we so confident that this can’t, won’t, happen?

    The likely scenario is a bottom-up reactionary movement and a top-down reassertion of power, order, and European civilization by select of the Continent’s younger elite. I don’t doubt France might face unrest from far left and far right youth.

    Yet only France has the cultural resources to fuse national pride and universal ideals into a united Europe that can actually endure in the face of its existential challenges. And only France can lead it. It’s a once-in-history opportunity. I think it’ll be seized.

    The alternative is hugely grim. The world has not been without an independent European civilization — which has been responsible for a lot of harm and trouble, but which cannot be replaced with anything better, for Europe, for the US, or for the world.

  16. James Poulos
    C
    Robert Dammers: In the UK, even our wishy-washy coalition, the language of liberty seems to be alive again.

    I hope this is true, though in some ways I’m more pessimistic about Britain than I am about France. Even if Britain does enjoy a great renaissance, I doubt that could translate into an effective project for European salvation. Continental Europe has to save itself.

  17. Aaron Miller
    Rob Long

    What happens when the French get tired of Muslim youth rioting in the banlieus and decide to riot back? Why are we so confident that this can’t, won’t, happen? · May. 26 at 5:26pm

    Or what happens when a Dutch court convicts Geert Wilders and condemns the platform of the nation’s fifth-largest political party?

    Strangley, nobody seems to be talking about the seemingly inevitable chain reaction which would occur in Europe if the Greek economy should collapse in the next few years. Many other European economies are in dire trouble, and the recent transfer of wealth from the least weak nations (like Germany) to the weakest (Greece) ensures everyone is huddled together at the edge. If Greece falls, they will soon be followed by their weakest investors (Spain?), and those by others, until the strongest nations opt for a shift to economic isolationism or another drastic measure.

    I tend to agree with Mark. Most of Europe is racing into the abyss too fast to stop now. Hopefully, Eastern European nations will rise to the occasion when disaster arrives.

  18. Mark Zdeblick

    It seems the Islamic conversion of Europe is more a symptom of European decay, rather than a primary driving force. The biggest driving force behind Western decay, in my view, is the destruction of the pre-WWII currency, ie, gold-back, hard money policy. The ability to effortlessly devalue money (FDR devalued the US dollar 65% overnight, from $20.67 to $35 /oz) allowed politicians to finance WWII. Instead of taking the difficult medicine that politicians drank after the US Civil War and returning the dollar to a stable standard, this powerful weapon was not sheathed after WWII hostilities ended. Instead it was used to finance the Welfare State. The ability to politically devalue currency is the most powerful of intoxicants and corrupts to the core of society. This is the primary cause of European demise; until it is fixed, the hole will just keep getting deeper.

  19. Conor Friedersdorf
    C

    Rob,

    You write, “South of Vienna has been a cesspool of ethnic violence as recently as 15 years ago.” It’s an excellent point that undercuts my argument, and I shouldn’t have been oblivious to it.

    As for France, I certainly don’t discount the possibility of strife between immigrants and ethnic French. On some level, I expect it, though I hope it doesn’t come to pass. Still, it is hard to imagine conflict on the scale that did characterize Europe for centuries, or ethnic strife of the kind seen during WWII, or the expulsion of Jews and Muslims from Spain, etc.

    The countries I mentioned, France, Germany and Italy, and a couple I didn’t mention, England and Spain, are at the very least much, much less likely to war against one another, or seek conquest far beyond their borders, than they once were, and that is an achievement. Indeed, if the choice is “civilizational exhaustion” or civilizational aggression of the kind seen in the run-up to World War II, I’d much prefer what we have today, for all its faults — there was no European golden age when we were all better off but that has now passed.

  20. Peter Robinson
    C
    Andrew Klavan: Funny – I just this minute received an email from a very successful screenwriter whose quietly held opinions make Rush Limbaugh look like Frank Rich. “You must watch this!” he says and when I open it, lo and behold, it’s Peter interviewing Mark on Uncommon Knowledge.

    Fast, Drew, before your pal forgets he sent you that email: Mark and I are available. Screenwriting, acting, moving cameras around on dolleys–we see our careers merely as preparation for the moment when the studio executive finally picks up the phone and calls.