Is Old Europe Doomed?

Cato Unbound has an excellent piece by Theodore Dalrymple asking is Old Europe doomed? Dalrymple raises a very interesting point about the nature of contemporary European society:

The principal motor of Europe’s current decline is, in my view, its obsession with social security, which has created rigid social and economic systems that are extremely resistant to change. And this obsession with social security 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.

What exactly is it that Europeans fear, given that their decline has been accompanied by an unprecedented increase in absolute material well-being? An open economy holds out more threat to them than promise: they believe that the outside world will bring them not trade and wealth, but unemployment and a loss of comfort. They therefore are inclined to retire into their shell and succumb to protectionist temptation, both internally with regard to the job market, and externally with regard to other nations. And the more those other nations advance relative to themselves, the more necessary does protection seem to them. A vicious circle is thus set up.

In the process of course, the state is either granted or arrogates to itself (or, of course, both) ever-greater powers. A bureaucratic monster is created that takes on a life of its own, that is not only uneconomic but anti-economic, and that can be reformed only at the cost of social unrest that politicians naturally wish to avoid. Inertia intermittently punctuated by explosion is therefore the most likely outcome.

Security and dynamism are in tension with each other. In order to achieve, one has to surrender an amount of security – success by nature requires a willingness to take risks and a willingness to accept a certain amount of failure. The US has a completely different sense of élan than Europe – we’re far less risk averse, far more entrepreneurial, and far less willing to settle into a comfortable stasis. Part of this is almost certainly due to the fact that for two and a half centuries the free-thinkers of Europe left to come here due to famine, persecution, and lack of opportunities at home. Decades of “brain drain” combined with some of the most devastating warfare in human history can have profound effects on a culture.

At the same time, Europe is struggling to define itself in the 21st Century. The attempt to create a pan-European consciousness is failing as the EU Constitution suffered a major defeat. European society is facing a major threat from Muslim immigrants who do not share the values of the rest of Europe. Birth rates across Old Europe have plummeted to below replacement levels. By the end of this century, should demographic trends continue, Europe will no longer exist. Granted, demographic trends tend not to continue along the same pattern forever – 1906 and 2006 might as well be light-years apart, but the decline of Europe should worry policymakers and citizens on both sides of the Atlantic.

What Europe lacks is what the ancient Greeks called thumos – a term which implies passion, spiritedness, but also a willingness to fight for one’s beliefs. The great Greek heroes will filled with thumos. Europe has lost that sense of passion, that sense of daring, that quality of thumos that pushes a culture away from stasis. The European social experiment is one in which the state provides for all, and individual initiative and the entrepreneurial spirit is systematically discounted. Why work hard when advancement is difficult if not impossible to achieve? How can an economy assimilate new workers when strict labor laws make it difficult, if not impossible to shed excess capacity when times are tight? The “social safety net” in Europe has become a snare in which the values that advance a society have become forgotten. F.A. Hayek spoke of “the road to serfdom” and Europe is on the brink of become a kind of feudal society in which the landed gentry from been replaced by the nomenklatura of the European political elite. High positions in the French government are almost exclusively reserved to graduates of the prestigious École National d’Administration – a school that would be like if Harvard and Yale merged into one massive training ground for the ruling class. The énarques control the politics of France, and they have every interest in keeping things in a comfortable stasis. If the concept of thumos is taught there, it’s lessons go unlearned.

The true lesson of Europe’s gradual decline is in understanding that fundamental tension between a “social safety net” and upward mobility, between thumos and stasis, between the entrepreneurial spirit and slow decline. The essential fallacy of Europe is in believing that you can have it all, a generous social “safety net” and a dynamic economy, masses of Muslim immigrants and multiculturalism, a post-modern society and societal cohesion. All of these things are in tension with each other at a fundamental level, and European society is failing to deal with these tensions, preferring to revel in the comfortable illusion that their socialized medicine and unsustainable pensions somehow cover up for their crumbling culture and society.

Arthur Toynbee once observed that “Civilizations die from suicide, not murder.” Europe is slowly but surely committing societal suicide. A society is held together by shared traditions, social mores, and a common sense of identity. In the UK, more people attend Friday prayers at mosques than Sunday services in cathedrals. The increasingly large Muslim immigrant population in Europe no longer shares the same sense of cultural identity as the rest of the population. The most fundamental building block of society is the family, and Europeans are having fewer children and fewer families. Post-colonial guilt has become a form of multicultural nihilism which rejects the values of thumos in favor of an attitude of cultural surrender.

Europe may not be doomed, but these trends continue to push Europe farther and farther down the road to cultural collapse. Thankfully the murder of Theo Van Gogh, the riots across France, and the row over the Danish cartoons depicting Mohammed have caused some to wake up to the problem, but it remains to be seen if the cultural and political elites in Europe are sufficient cognizant of the magnitude of the problem.

Within my generation’s lifetime, the birthplace of Western civilization could be no more than a museum piece, a ruin of a once great and vibrant civilization like the Roman remains scattered across the continent. If that happens, it would be a tragedy beyond comprehension. If Europe is to survive as a cultural, political, and economic entity, they must recapture some of that thumos, they must be willing to defend and maintain the shared values of their civilization. Elsewise, Europe will be just another civilization whose day has come and gone. Europe deserves better than that, and it is not yet too late for this course of decline to be arrested.

15 thoughts on “Is Old Europe Doomed?

  1. All good things come to an end, Jay.

    Why don’t we just let Europe die- and see what new civilization is born in its place? Wouldn’t that by the most “dynamic” thing that Europe could possibly do? Nietzsche once noted that new civilizations are born out of the synthesis of two decadent civilizations; in this case, the Western European civilization and Islam. Who knows what’s coming next?

    The 21st century belongs to Asia, anyway. Perhaps this “new European civilization” will rise to dominate the 22nd…

  2. “The essential fallacy of Europe is in believing that you can have it all, a generous social “safety net” and a dynamic economy, masses of Muslim immigrants and multiculturalism, a post-modern society and societal cohesion.”

    But, with the exception of the masses of muslim immigrants (replace with Latin Americans), you’ve just described the U.S. We seem to be able to make it work… at least most of the time…

  3. What about the US? After all, with your budget and current account deficits, you are going broke pretty fast. So, you are playing a Ponzi scheme, propped up by Capitalist Red China and semi-Fascist Japan. The real question, which breaks first: the European economy or the US?

  4. Dude, you gotta find another topic to obsessively write 50 blog entries per year about. Europe’s in trouble. We get it! Meanwhile, America is plagued by its own set of pitfalls, some shared with Europe (declining birth rate and aging population) and some unique (self-appointed world policeman, and employer-financed health care system that’s on the verge of blowing a gaping whole in our economy). It’s hard to say whether “Wal-Mart” is worthy of being added to the list of America’s looming downfall. You accurately state that America is far more entrepreneurial than Europe, but the Wal-Mart economy poses the gravest threat to homegrown entrepreneurship at least since anti-trust laws were first passed. Ultimately, since Wal-Mart has to live and die by its own sword, I suspect it will flame out when too many of America’s cherished “small business owners” succumb to the servitude of Bentonville, Arkansas. Contrast the road of centrallized market share that America is heading down and France, with its streets full of fresh food peddlers, seems like the “small businessperson’s” dream come true. This is something America can correct, but alot of long-term damage will be done before the wheels of change start turning….and at least for the time being will keep us circling the drain with Europe.

  5. There are some industries and areas in which Western Europe is more competitive than us: communications, for instance, they’ve surged way ahead of us in broadband connectivity. You can get broadband ten times faster than the typical American connection for $25 a month in France. Some industries which are practically untouchable in America are either being privatized or are being considered for privatization in Europe- such as postal systems and highways. While they’re stifled by regulations and bureaucratic silliness, there are enough capitalists in power there to head off a complete collapse into socialism.

    Now, if only they’d get their heads out of their collective rear ends regarding Muslim assimilation…

  6. It’s very revealing that all the europeans and leftists (who believe in the philosophy of misery) wanted to talk about is America’s so-called problems. You guys are trying very hard to distract yourselves from Europe’s problems and I think you are going to continue to do that right up to the moment that the muslims declare fit only for extermination. Calculus, you sounded especially desperate, as if pointing out America’s flaws could somehow avert Europe’s disaster.
    You didn’t even bother to say Dalrymple and Reding were wrong, which in itself is a profound statement. And Mark, the reason he keeps posting about it is the same reason people stare at wrecks: it’s horrifying but fascinating at the same time. And in the end, with a ring side seat for Europes collapse, hopefully we will learn better.

  7. The difference between Latin Americans in the US and Muslims in Europe is that the first want to advance in society. They do not expect much of the government.

    I have met many Chicano families en Chicago who are illiterate (in Spanish and English) but are making a big effort to make their children advance in society.

    I have also met many Muslims in Barcelona that only want to have a “state subsidy”.

    Guess who is going to be much better in 20 years?

  8. I agree that in the long run, Europe will fall. But so will the US and it has less to do with Walmart and much more to do with irresponsible fiscal management. Romanicizing about small business is irrelevant. The French do have charming markets. So what.

  9. I found the paper interesting but must disagree with the synopsis. Europe is an excellent place to live, do busines, and raise a family. While many European countries will face problems maintaining their welfare systems those systems can be adjusted and Scandanavian coutries have shown that economic progress can go hand in hand with social infrastructure. France has hit a political roadblock in its own efforts to change but other countries are ticking along rather well. I have plenty of Muslim friends in Europe who wish to advance and have advanced far beyond what their immigrant parents were able to acheive. I would also point out that internal immigration is alive and well and Eastern Europe also provides a large number of workers. To suggest that Europe has some sort of economic disease is a little far fetched as we have seen Airbus quickly catch up to Boeing, SAP prosper across the globe, and Europe’s auto industries continue to compete. European nations continue to stay high in tables measuring levels of income, health, education, and industrial productivity. Much ado about nothing I suspect…

  10. Advanced, I was partially agreeing with the author that a thriving society is one with a vibrant entrepreunerial spirit. In a Wal-Mart economy, such a spirit is suffocated….and it’s a huge burden to continued success.

  11. Ramon:

    If the governments of Europe would just let up on the state “subsidies”, I’ll bet those Muslims would be a bit more eager to go to work. I’m not against a safety net, per se… just against the featherbed that Europeans call a safety net.

  12. Advanced, I was partially agreeing with the author that a thriving society is one with a vibrant entrepreunerial spirit. In a Wal-Mart economy, such a spirit is suffocated….and it’s a huge burden to continued success.

    Except Wal-Mart employs a small faction of American workers.

    To be frank, I hate Wal-Mart. It’s impersonal, their stores are ugly, and the only reason I shop there is because Target is closed, and I only shop there when I’ve no other choice. But everyone benefits from someone pushing suppliers to be more efficient. 30 years from now, Wal-Mart may go the way of Montgomery Wards or the A&P Company (who in their day dwarfed Wal-Mart). But the vast majority of anti-Wal-Mart arguments are just silly. There’s a good reason why so many Wal-Mart employees are at the bottom rungs of the economic ladder – because Wal-Mart is one of the best places for them to get a solid job.

    What I’d like to see if how many Wal-Mart employees end up advancing their socio-economic position the longer they work there – I’d bet it’s a shockingly high figure.

    And while the US has its own sets of problems, our economy is still growing at an excellent clip, we still have 1/3rd of the world’s scientists working in our borders, and while immigration is a threat, at least Mexican immigrants share many of our values.

    Europe’s essential problem is a very inflexible economy, high immigration, high unemployment, and a shocking lack of culture assimilation. The US has a very flexible and resilient economy, very low unemployment, and Mexican immigrants tend to assimiliate quite well after a generation or two. That’s not to say that Europe isn’t a wake-up call to the states, but we’re in a much better position than most European countries.

  13. As a Brit living and working in Muslim Turkey I am, perhaps, in a better position than many of your respondents to comment on Britain’s social and immgration problems. Tony Blair and his henchmen seem set (as Dalrymple would confirm) on making every citizen, whether natural or naturalised, dependent on the State. Without the need to work or, in the case of immigrants, integrate there is no incentive to do other than ask for greater and greater handouts; under the banner of ‘social equality’the handouts are granted and the working taxpayer picks up the bill.

    Like the USA, Britain used to expect immigrants to integrate into its society; nowadays ‘multi-culturism’ is seen as a basic human right and the only apparent requirement of any citizen seems to be that of acknowledging the inability to live without handouts.

    There are problems with the international export of Islam, but many of these are of the politician’s making. My personal experience of Islamic society is that, just as in any sane society, people are prepared (even proud) to work, particularly where there exist no counter incentives such as those that apply in Britain and the rest of Europe.

  14. The muslims will never get as far as getting the upper hand in Europe. It is more than likely that something will be done well before the muslim population reaches 40%. If the old democraties cannot handle this issue – someone else will, hopefully in a “nice” way.

    But a new “Adolf” cannot be ruled out either…

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