Mark Steyn, Call Your Office

 

“This book,” Mark Steyn writes in America Alone, “is about…the larger forces…that have left Europe…enfeebled….The key factors are: 1. Demographic decline; 2. The unsustainability of the advanced Western social-democratic state; 3. Civilizational exhaustion.” Today, four years after the publication of America Alone, the New York Times confirms the enfeeblement of Europe in every particular. Excerpts:

In Athens, Aris Iordanidis, 25, an economics graduate working in a bookstore, resents paying high taxes to finance Greece’s bloated state sector and its employees. “They sit there for years drinking coffee and chatting on the telephone and then retire at 50 with nice fat pensions,” he said. “As for us, the way things are going we’ll have to work until we’re 70….”

According to the European Commission, by 2050 the percentage of Europeans older than 65 will nearly double. In the 1950s there were seven workers for every retiree in advanced economies. By 2050, the ratio in the European Union will drop to 1.3 to 1.

“The easy days are over for countries like Greece, Portugal and Spain, but for us, too,” said Laurent Cohen-Tanugi, a French lawyer….

The news here isn’t real news–Mark’s readers will have learned all this four years ago. The news is that the European collapse has finally become so obvious that even the grey lady can no longer ignore it. You’ll find the article, “Crisis Imperils Liberal Benefits Long Expected by Europeans”–a title that Mark could almost have used as a chapter heading, if, that is, it weren’t so boring–here.

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  1. Profile Photo Member
    @

    While you are revisiting Mark’s very important book, I think it’s worth revisiting Geert Wilders’ film, Fitna. Put in context of the “gathering storm” of demographics, appeasing attitudes, and more aggressive attempts by radical Islamic terrorists, we may see things coming to a head as November approaches.

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    @JamesPoulos

    Point three weighs heavy on my mind, Peter. Is Europe ‘civilizationally exhausted’? What I really want to ask is who, in Europe, is civilizationally exhausted. Despite the demographics, all of Europe is not contained in that aging generation that sits back and sighs, “Well, we had our run. We’ll end with a whisper. History decrees it.”

    True, no small portion of young Europe is in the tank for civil service and a fat pension, or solidarity with the torchers of cars. But surely some among Europe’s rising generations will revolt against the notion that exhaustion and failure are their only birthright. Europe’s ‘liberal benefits’ will exhaust themselves and fail long before its civilization does.

    We’d better prepare ourselves now, I wager, for a few inspiring surprises in Europe. But we’d also better prepare ourselves for the rise of powerful reactionary movements — ones that Europe’s domesticated, bureaucratic politics might be unable to contain.

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    @JamesPoulos

    Link’s fixed, Cindy. Thanks.

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    @JamesPoulos
    Rob Long: But will they rise up, James, and work to transform Europe, or will they do what they’ve always done: leave.

    My sense is that it’s highly possible — maybe even likely — that they’ll vote with their feet. They’ll leave Europe to its decline, and start again, somewhere. (Here, I hope.)

    And I’d love to have them — but not if it means curtains for Europe. A bad ending in Europe would be really bad — for the locals, yes, but also for the US. I suppose it’s possible that a Europe which becomes a demographic, cultural, and political extension of Russia’s southerly reaches will be a rich, vibrant, and peaceful place, but I confess to some doubt. Will the Sochi Olympics will prove me wrong?

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    @MorituriTe

    What about Eastern Europe, places like Poland or the Czech Republic? Is it possible that the center of gravity in Europe could shift to the east (though not as far as Russia?) I find it curious that the discussion of Europe’s future always seems to be in the context of what Rumsfeld called “Old Europe.”

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    @

    On Czechoslovakia; between the wars the Czechs enjoyed a small sliver of freedom. In that small period of time they managed to build up one of the most industrial and technologically advanced nations in Europe. My family originated there, and as “White Mountain Refugees”, were welcomed back to the country in that short prosperous period.

    Little good those advances did when the barbarians came knocking. The Czechs, it seems, were geologically cursed. 7 years under Hitler(who’s armied used Czech tanks and guns extensively), followed by another 45 under the Communists when the west abandoned them for a second time.

    That sort of history has done much to shape modern Czechs. They are untrusting of outsiders, and certainly independent. Sadly, when I visited there in 2009, they seemed swept up in Obama-mania, like the rest of Europe. I’m not sure what they think of him now…

    As for Czechs and Poles being the future of Europe, I’m afraid their influence, and physical size, is just too small. Should Europe fall again to barbarians, they would be swallowed up as well.

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    @RobLong

    But will they rise up, James, and work to transform Europe, or will they do what they’ve always done: leave.

    My sense is that it’s highly possible — maybe even likely — that they’ll vote with their feet. They’ll leave Europe to its decline, and start again, somewhere. (Here, I hope.)

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    @JayLong

    What about the Federal and State employees in the good old USA. It seems that theie economic situation has some similarities to those stated in Greece. When do we face the same problems

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  9. Profile Photo Member
    @

    Rob Long beat me to it, but I had the same reaction to the NYT article when I read it this weekend – I hope the US can attract any and all young Europeans with ambition, unwilling to spend the rest of their lives paying off Euro-debt.

    Now we just need to make sure their only alternative isn’t to spend the rest of their lives paying off Obama-Reid-Polosi-debt!

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  10. Profile Photo Member
    @

    Too bad it took them four years longer to figure it out. I wonder if it takes the New York Times that long to figure out that Europe’s future is also America’s future if things don’t change in the short-term.

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    @Brian

    The people of Greece have bolstered the argument that Europe will fail and proven Mark Steyn’s argument that people don’t give up entitlements easily. Even as they stand on a mountain of debt that threatens all of the EU, the people of Greece refuse to accept reality, roll up there sleeves, and get to work.

    Shame on everyone participating in the bailout of Greece, prolonging and exacerbating the problem.

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    @

    Mr. Steyn is absolutely right that demographic decline and the unsustainability of the social-democratic welfare state are enormous problems for Europe — and James Poulos is right that we shouldn’t be sanguine about the prospects of civilizational exhaustion in Europe.

    But I can’t help but feel as though the diagnosis of imminent, catastrophic failure leaving “America alone” is overwrought. In the lifetime of my grandparents, the European continent was obliterated, the cities of our WWII allies in rubble, Eastern Europe under the thumb of the Soviet Union, a fascist regime enduring in Spain, and the Jewish diaspora either exterminated or scattered. For different reasons, the French and Germans both rightly suffered crises of confidence, and Britain, exhausted by war, battered by German bombs, spent the next decades pursuing the disastrous policies that Margaret Thatcher would help undo. Meanwhile the United States undertook the task of protecting the free half of that battered continent from a rising totalitarian adversary.

    Aren’t things far less dire today? Given that, shouldn’t we be less defeatist about Europe, and more proactive in encouraging measures capable of addressing its serious bu far from insurmountable problems?

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    @BryanGStephens

    I agree with Rob. I think the best and brightest of the Old World have been leaving for the New World for ages, to the gain of the good old US of A.

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    @Karen

    My husband is a little miffed at Mr. Steyn of late, since I’ve referenced America Alone as one of many arguments in favor of adding another child to our family. He thinks two is enough, I think we’re just getting started. I’m sure Mr. Steyn never thought his work would be used by women aware of their waning fertility against their conservative husbands! Perhaps the book might have a wider impact if it was also in the “Parenting & Family” and “Sex & Relationships” sections of Barnes and Noble in addition to “Diplomacy and International Relations.” The way I see it, this really is womb v. womb warfare, and those with the most children will likely win. Hopefully, Europeans will take a lesson from Yitta Schwartz http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/21/nyregion/21yitta.html and get to work.

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  15. Profile Photo Member
    @
    Junker:: As for Czechs and Poles being the future of Europe, I’m afraid their influence, and physical size, is just too small.

    As to Poland, I must say I am struck by the optimism and growth I see when I visit. Aside from being one of the few countries in Europe that is welcoming to Americans (by and large), I genuinely feel the Poles viewed their children’s future as brighter and better. A reluctant Communist experience helps, no doubt. I would be interested to hear Mr. Steyn’s take on Poland.

    This optimism is a distinctly “American” attitude and something we often take for granted. Perhaps Mr. Steyn did not mean “civilizational exhausted” as such, but that is what really captured his premise to me. Living in London and spending time in France, Germany, and Italy, I got the sense from the locals that the best was behind them. The good times are gone and the best you can hope for is to take as much as you can from whoever you can now before its too late. Obviously fertile grounds for liberalism.

    That is the “civilizational exhaustion” I fear is seeping into our nation in the era of Obama.

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    @ScottR

    Daniel and Junker: Actually, Mark addresses the issue of the ex-soviet-bloc countries of Europe in his book and seems to be of two minds. On the one hand, he points out that the surest way to the demographic death spiral is to be a former Communist country in Europe, with Rumsfeld’s “New Europe” having a demographic profile even worse than that of “Old Europe.” However, he adds that he simply can’t accept that a fiesty Poland, for example, would submit to the next great “ism” threatening Europe–Islamism–so soon after shaking the last one.

    Much as I’m enamored with “America Alone,” I always felt Mark was weak here: He seems to succumb to the same emotional argument to which so many of his own critics succumb in dismissing him–he wishes it weren’t so and therefore thinks it isn’t so. He clearly admires Eastern Europe and so, I believe, wishes away a fate that a less-smitten Steyn would foresee. But I hope I’m wrong.

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    @JamesPoulos
    Conor Friedersdorf: Mr. Steyn is absolutely right that demographic decline and the unsustainability of the social-democratic welfare state are enormous problems for Europe — and James Poulos is right that we shouldn’t be sanguine about the prospects of civilizational exhaustion in Europe.

    But I can’t help but feel as though the diagnosis of imminent, catastrophic failure leaving “America alone” is overwrought. […] shouldn’t we be less defeatist about Europe, and more proactive in encouraging measures capable of addressing its serious but far from insurmountable problems?

    Yep, Conor, I think we should — then again, I’m an American. Were I an Englishman, well… it’s not surprising to me that so many of America’s best British commentators, whatever their political stripe, place a hope in the US greater than the one sometimes we ourselves do.

    At any rate, I’m so bummed out and horrified by the dark Steynian vision because it’s so bloody plausible. My only real analytical departure (as you know) comes courtesy of my abiding faith in the not-so-parochial cultural resources of the French — which at least have the potential, when precious little else does, to save Europe from another long bout of deep misery.

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  18. Profile Photo Member
    @

    I agree with James Paulos that the 3rd cause of the decline of Europe – “civilizational exhaustion” – the most influential of all three. I get the impression many Europeans have partially adopted, either passively or positively, the ethics of moral relativism. The same can be seen within American academia, it being the most promiscuous advertiser of relativism in the U.S. The failure of most ethicists to bridge the “is-ought” gap formulated by David Hume is to blame for much of what has happened. Such moral relativism makes the following claim: No set of values (ends) or virtues (behavioural means) can be considered morally superior to another set.

    Thus, we have the roots of both cultural relativism (relativism with regard to the ends and means of groups of people) and aesthetic relativism (relativism with regard to the ends and means of artists). We see cultural relativism when European politicians make humiliating concessions to Muslim aggressors. We see aesthetic relativism when trash peddled by hipster artists is labeled as “art.”

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    @MarkWilson

    Does an increasing life expectancy inevitably mean just a longer retirement, or will it become the norm to work longer as we have more healthy years?

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  20. Profile Photo Member
    @

    Robert,

    I’ve got a lot of praise for those more successful than myself, and a lot of criticism too. Both are the result of honestly held opinions. Since you haven’t any way of knowing my motivations, I’ll thank you to refrain from speculating on them going forward. But agree or disagree with me, I’ll look forward to your criticism, and presume it is offered with the best of intentions.

    Meanwhile, thanks for affording an opportunity to correct your mistaken impression.

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  21. Profile Photo Member
    @

    I’ve noticed that Conor Friedersdorf likes to criticize people that are more famous and suceesful than he as a way of drawing attention to himself.

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    @SteveMacDonald

    I have spent the last 11 years living in England – Spain – England. While I understand mark’s arguments and agree with his logical progression – i have difficulty emotionally accepting it.

    1. A world without Jamon Iberica de Bellota, great wines from Rioja and Ribera del Duero and the best sea food (northern Spain) found anywhere in the world (including Japan) is simply too deppressing to contemplate. they also give a populace much to live for.

    2. within a year of mark’s book – which brought dreams of patriotic (yet tragically not realized) training programs to spur the birthrate – almost every woman under 35 in my head office in santander became pregnant or adopted from Russia/China.

    3. i admit it is difficult to see anything resembling the old globe dominating society in britain today, but even Mark would admit – the brits will get pushed only so far and then have always come roaring back.

    4. Societies and cultures that bounced back from the Black Death, WWI & WWII should not be written off – and have proven themselves to be amazingly resilient.

    Hard to argue against Mark’s numbers – but never forget the je ne sais quoi, No Pasaran (although they did) spirit of “old Europe.”

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    @Caroline

    And now the immigrants are emigrating.

    I hope I have my “im’s” and “em’s” in the correct spots.

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    @
    4. Societies and cultures that bounced back from the Black Death, WWI & WWII should not be written off – and have proven themselves to be amazingly resilient.

    The threat of civilizational exhaustion is different from the above three. Disease and war threaten living standards in an overt way. The damage done by both is universally undisputed. However, threats that approach in the form of erroneous ideas, particularly in epistemology and ethics, can ruin a civilization while receiving acceptance.

    What would Europe do today if faced with another belligerent like Nazi Germany? The contemporary European mentality is so repelled by war per se, that the level of violence and the amount of resolution required to win a war today completely exceed the tolerance of most Europeans. The influence of postmodern philosophy and multiculturalist ethics has crippled Europe intellectually.

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    @Kofola

    Junker, I know that many Czechs tend to bemoan their fate mid-century, but keep in mind that they were one of two Central European states allowed un-tampered elections, and unlike the Hungarians they voluntarily voted for a communist majority. Not to mention that the other Czech parties were highly socialist. (Although the Slovaks were a different story). That being said, the Czechs seemed to learn their lesson better than most in the 1990s and have proven the most libertarian-minded, broadly speaking of the post-Communist states. My own experience, supported by the recent election results though sadly suggest that’s changing to some degree.

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    @Kofola

    As for the broader question of whether the US can rely on CE Europe, I’m also skeptical. While I find there is definitely a much ardent support for traditional Western values within significant portions of the population, there are also no shortage of individuals who wouldn’t hesitate to return to communism. CEE politics is traditionally schizophrenic, and thus never reliable in the long run. Furthermore, while they tend to be more open to new ideas (the Flat Tax being a key example), they also face the same structural problems of Western European socialism, only without the developed economic backbone. Since they have so little immigration into their countries, the region isn’t going to face the issue of Islam domestic, but it’s anybody’s guess as to how they’ll react to the changes in the west. Turn to Russia, turn back to socialism or fascism, bunker down in the American corner? I’d say anything could be possible. That being said, what’s to say that the US will even pay attention? Central Europe has traditionally been low on America’s FP priorities.

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    @

    For Karen Luttrell:

    Go for it! (Them) Father-of-six encourages you.

    ———

    Re: Talented Immigrants. Just think of the talent that was turned away when people fleeing Nazi Germany were turned away! Yes, we did get many winners, but certainly lost more.

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    @Caryn

    Um, where is Mark Steyn anyhow???

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    @

    “Britain, exhausted by war, battered by German bombs, spent the next decades pursuing the disastrous policies that Margaret Thatcher would help undo.”

    And all of Margaret Thatcher’s good work has been undone in the last decade by the Labour government . Britain, I believe, is in worse shape now then it was before Thatcher and I don’t see things improving any time soon.

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    @Pseudodionysius
    Caryn: Um, where is Mark Steyn anyhow??? · Jun 2 at 1:14pm

    Like all good Bond villains, he is submerged beneath the Mediterranean in a Frank Lloyd Wright New Hampshire Aquatic Fortress of Solitude.

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