In a thoughtful and elegiac essay for the Cato Institute, Theodore Dalrymple describes the pall which hangs over Europe. Like much that has happened in the last decades — say, since the Berlin Wall crumbled under the weight of history — Europe’s current condition could not have been predicted. Or rather, those in charge of which messages get out were not sending us any warnings about Europe’s sad decline.
And though Mr. Dalrymple doesn’t mention Donald Rumsfeld’s infelicitous remark about “Old” Europe, it seemed as though once that phrase escaped his lips, Europe appeared to shrivel and age in front of our eyes.
Why is this? What has happened to this group of nations which previously jockeyed furiously among one another for supremacy? Perhaps those hundreds of years of sending off her best and brightest to be slaughtered has left Europe without much of a “bench” — not many in reserve for the tough times. The remaining DNA is thin gruel for the future.
Meanwhile, Europe has become obsessively avoidant of anything resembling tough times. Everyone gets a share of a pie that no one is willing to risk making larger or livelier. What the United States has done in her mistakes with the underclass, Europe has done to itself. All anyone understands or wants to hear about is their entitlement. “Social security” is neither very socially nor voluntarily inclined nor is it terribly secure. Having left America to do the military heavy lifting without much response in the way of gratitude, and having imported foreigners to do the work no Europeans were unwilling to perform, the mandarins are decadent and weak.
Oh, the elites are still in place, and they still mouth the same pieties — carefully shorn of any higher meaning or any notion of sacrifice on the part of its citizenry. But the pieties are now nothing more than a façade, and everyone can mouth the lines silently while their leaders speak the same old bromides. The average person has long since memorized the
Mr. Dalrymple believes this:
the principal motor of Europe’s current decline is…its obsession with social security which has created rigid social and economic systems…extremely resistant to change. And this obsession…is in turn connected with a fear of the future: for the future has now brought Europe catastrophe and relative decline for more than a century.
Imagine living ashamed of the past and fearful of the future! It is not only foreign to our American way of being in the world, it is also foreign to human nature. Man lives with “an eye to the future and an ear to the past,” to paraphrase Robert Hunter. But Europeans have become afraid. They banded together as best they could with their sad “European Union” but it has come to nothing because its creators do not understand human longing and aspiration. Human beings are always a particular people of a particular place. One of the best things in human nature is our celebration of identity. But the EU/Communist/statist utopian ideal of a glossed-over global reach is turning out to be pathetic in reality. Rather like the Shakers, the rules by which they live will force Europeans to simply fade out. Neither a whimper nor a bang. Merely silence.
Mr. Dalrymple uses Britain’s sad case as an example:
Since coming to power, the current British government has increased public expenditure enormously, such that the British tax burden now exceeds that of Germany, which itself is a very heavily taxed economy. The ostensible purpose of this expenditure has been to improve public services while serving the cause of social justice, a rhetoric that the public has hitherto believed; the hidden purpose, or at least effect, has been to create administrative jobs on an unprecedented scale, whose principle function consists of obstruction of other people as they try to create wealth, and to bring into being a political clientele dependent upon government ‘largesse’ (half the British population is now in receipt of government subventions as part or the whole of their incomes)…
As Dalrymple points out, Europe has created a bureaucratic monster. Thus it seems that Kafka and Weber were prescient in their quite differing depictions of the horrors of bureaucracy.
Not that we can say America has escaped unscathed. One has only to visit the Division of Motor Vehicles in Washington, D.C., or any large publicly-funded university to understand the dangers in such edifices.
When Mr. Dalrymple describes so mordantly:
the miserabilist view of the European past, in which achievement on a truly stupendous scale is disregarded in favor of massacre, oppression and injustice
we know we are in the presence of the mandarin viewpoint, one which flourishes at the margins of America in academia, politics and the press. So far the old man's sclerosis, which has ossified Europe, exists only at the edges here. The rationalist, scientist world view prevalent in Europe, the one which thuggishly proclaims that this is all there is, this is the cosmology which is responsible for the sclerosis in Europe. Here, is it still peripheral.
What Mr. Dalrymple calls Europe’s sense of doom is really despair. It is the foreclosure of hope and vitality. Deadness spreads from one limb to another and it remains to be seen if the involvement of vital organs have passed the point of return to life.
Who knows? Perhaps the frenzied attack on Denmark will rouse the Europeans before it is too late. The cause of Islam’s hysteria is so patently trivial that even the elites must see through the ruse. If such is the result, then this bears consideration: one Danish newspaper’s decision to test the waters of freedom of speech may well have opened the floodgates. Europe may be roused to start caring for itself robustly, with firmness and a strong sense of pride and identity. The despair may be drowned by the living waters of hope. Even its immigrants may be drawn in by the vision of something greater than themselves, something more important than their grievances.
Before you shake your head in discouraged disbelief, remember the Berlin Wall. Did you predict its passing?