Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Theodore Dalrymple Looks at Old Europe

 
 Not So Brave Old WorldIn 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 dialogue monologue of the state. Of statism.

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?

10 comments:

PhilippinesPhil said...

"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."

Don't hold your breath.

bioqubit said...

..."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..."

There is more to that statement than meets the eye. For example, consider the condition of a country like Romania. Long a backwater of Europe, we forget that around 800 A.D., there was a social revulsion against anyone who seemed intelligent. It led to lots of killings of their best and brightest. Such self-destructive social movements have long term consequences that span generations and even centuries.

That such a thing has happened to Europe and Russia on a much larger scale with two major wars that killed tens of millions of people is only now becoming apparent. They have not necessarily "become stupid", but this destruction has clearly dulled their competitive edge.

As an aside, a country least affected, Switzerland, is perhaps the most innovative country in all of Europe.

Baron Bodissey said...

bioqubit --

You are quite right. Half of Europe's best genetic material was killed by its wars. The other half emigrated to the New World or Australia. So what's left?

Actually, the process is still ongoing. Many of the best & brightest in the Netherlands are hightailing it as fast as they can for Canada and Australia.

Does this mean that Europe will soon be a "Europe" theme park, with attractive castles and quaint thatched cottages run by Islamic caretakers, and with a few old "native" feebs to lend authenticity?

OK, OK; I know I'm exaggerating. But still...

Evan said...

The whole death-of-Europe meme is clearly starting to snowball. Here is an example of an almost delusional counterstroke by a Dutch academic in the International Herald Tribune. It brushes aside Europe's difficulties and indicates that transatlantic tensions are due to American insecurity at Europe's alternative model for global governance - diplomacy, foreign aid, statism and the rest of it at the expense of the Hobbesian world over which America wants to preside.

There have been several books recently about the rising European juggernaut. The arguments mostly involve a bigger market and GDP, the value of centralization of governance, and the superiority of European values. Interestingly, most of them are written by Americans (e.g., Jeremy Rifkin and T.R. Reid) and not Europeans. Equally interestingly, whenever I see one in the bookstore I look in the index for "demographics," "population," "fertility" and so on. There are never any entries.

Archonix said...

Did you try looking for any concrete economic figures? Those books ivariably use half-ruths and fudges to make the european economies look better than they are, but when average growth across the Eurozone is reaching for 1% at a rapid pace, and unemployment is rising at an ever increasing rate, it's hard to pretend.

The EU isn't merely incompetent, though. It's evil. It's the creation of people who watched and admired the russian revolution. It's the USSR reborn, re-organising our militaries, police and national institutions so that they hold noloyalty to the people, and only to the EU "state". Already the Commission is declaring that people who disagree with its aims are "mentally ill".

james burke said...

i hear of the decline of europe and living there, am frustrated by the bureaucracy and all the things mentioned in the article and posts above. I am also focused on finding solutions to the problem. Despite the high taxation and slow social mobility, i think the larger problem is a positive image of europe and what it is to be from one country and from a european collective. We are clouded by our past. One possible solution i propose is to have a truth commission-like process across the continent. It should allow all citizens a voice..(of course we should use the internet to do this). and should be a
reconciliatory tallying of history including what i call, "the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful".
It should account for all the blood we have on our hands as individual countries/civilizations through history, ie how many people we think we have maimed, tortured and killed, it should account for all of the good things we have brought into the world, inventions of politics, morality and technology as well as the arts. Perhaps then we can clear some bad blood, some collective karma to move on. Of course we need some significant structural reforms too. I just think europe has a lot of human wisdom and creative capital even if it punching below its weight economically.

Exile said...

Everyone makes a good arguement here, so I thought I'd chip in...
I agree that the beaurocracy is too much. That taxation in Europe is generally too high. That social democratic solutions are too expensive and, I believe, offensive to free thinkers and to those people who have to pay through the nose for those who don't, or won't,
contribute to society.
But here's a thought. Why can't we have taxation based on consumption and not on the teachings of Karl Marx? No income tax would at least free up the money in our pockets, and that would probably free up the competition.
By the way, I did see the 'fall of the wall' coming......!

A. Eteraz said...

europe will have to move towards less welfare and more competition. the only way to assimilate your minorities and immigrants is by making them compete against you. their desire to beat you will make them want to become like you.

but europeans don't want competition. they want to nap and doze and be lazy and get fat. go ahead europe, but then don't cry when you have nothing left to show. someone please read ralston saul's 'voltaire's bastards.'

Seamus said...

How ironic - completely inadvertantly Ireland has lucked into setting the template for the rest of Europe. Interesting how the new EU accession states invariably want to follow Ireland's low corporate tax regime and relatively light social welfare system, rather than the dirigiste Franco-German model. Much to the angst of the Franco-German axis.

How did we end up with this? By missing out on the slaughter that destroyed much of Europe's ebullience, as one commentator notes. Also I think on missing out on Marshall Aid.

And, paradoxically, breaking away from Britain. Fifteen, twenty, thirty years it seemed obvious that the Republic of Ireland was an economic backwater while Northern Ireland and Scotland were part of one of the world's leading economies. Not now, however. The English are just too generous - in Northern Ireland, the majority of the workforce are dependent on the state. Scotland has become a devolved child - with the trappings of independence but none of the responsibility.

The Republic of Ireland (which, it must be said, judiciously used EU money to build up its infrastructure rather than build a bloated welfare state) has missed out on all this.

One wonders too if Ireland "missing out" on Marshall Aid was, paradoxically again, a blessing in the long run.

Dymphna said...

Seamus--

If you want some good Irish libertarian views, click on to my Dublin cousin's site:

Mark Humphrys

It's been up and going since the early '90's, but then he teaches IT at Dublin University (I think), which accounts for his intelligent leanings and his good blogging creds.

One of my other cousins (on the same side of hte family, now that I think of it -- we were a political family in the old days. Grandfather spent some time in gaol during the Easter Uprising. But since he was an American citizen, they had to let him go) is a writer, and so liberal she spent some time on the last campaign trail with some woman who was running. Don't know who, as I avoided looking at it.

Mary Rose's views aside, Ireland is doing beautifully. As long as you guys can keep those with her political views out of office, you're safe. The Celtic Miracle only stays miraculous when it's run on the supply side plan, not the Marshall Plan.

As for No. Ireland, the terrorists' ties with Hamas, etc., is creepy. And who could go up against them and survive? All that could be done was to have your relatives go public and make you a martyr -- as those young women did last St. Patrick's Day. Gerry Adams couldn't get lunch in America that day, while those three women had the doors opened for them all day.

I posted about the story at the time, but it's buried in the March archives...with my dial-up it takes forever to retrieve.

About Mark: I consider myself well read on Founding documents and 18th century philosophy but he has me beat. Check him out.

I just checked the link and found his "support Denmark" button. I suggest we all steal it.

Well done, Mark!
(He doesn't take comments -- has never had the time or inclination to moderate them, I guess)-- I only found him online because I was looking for some old political info on my grandfather and up popped M's blog with our grandparent's wedding picture...not a copy I'd seen, either. His ideas on genealogy were published a few weeks later in The Atlantic Monthly so the whole thing felt karmic.