One of the preeminent international analysts and students of the transatlantic area, Walter Ze’ev Laqueur, died Sunday at the age of 97. Born on May 26, 1921, in what was then Breslau, Germany (and now Wrocław, Poland), he fled his homeland days before Kristallnacht; his family would die in the Holocaust. He moved to an Israeli kibbutz, to London, and eventually to the United States – moving as seamlessly from journalism, to foreign affairs, to academia. He spoke a half-dozen languages and wrote dozens of books – from a primer on terrorism in the 1970s, to political science (including writing the reference book on fascism), to memoirs and novels, to serious analyses of international intelligence, Russia, the Middle East, and a series of books on the decline and fall of Europe. So esteemed was Laqueur’s insights that he became a professor at Georgetown University despite never earning a university degree. He went on to chair the International Research Council of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and to edit The Washington Monthly.
Below are a few of his insights on the West, the welfare state, and the siren song of statism:
The greatest force driving European decline:
“The decline of Europe, once the center of the world, can be interpreted above all as a decline of will and dynamism.” (After the Fall: The End of the European Dream and the Decline of a Continent, 2012, p. 274.)
Why traditionalists are attracted to fascism and statism:
“Fascism attracted romantics resisting the spirit of materialism. … Fascism appealed to conservatives critical of modern society with its lack of tradition, hierarchy, and religious values. It also brought in young antibourgeois rebels who believed that fascism was a necessary stage in the destruction of capitalism. Common to all these people was the belief that liberal democracy was bankrupt and that fascism, whatever its shortcomings, was a movement of uncompromising men of firm beliefs and action. These intellectuals were willing to accept restrictions on their liberty because this seemed a small price to be paid for a cultural renaissance that would lead to a national revival, perhaps even to the birth of a new civilization.” (Fascism, 1996, pp. 64-65.)
Why the welfare state is falling apart:
“As contemporary economists see it, the modern welfare state redistributes income from the working young to the retired old and from the rich to the poor. … [S]ervices are at a low level and have to be rationed according to the funding available. … [T]here is a generational problem for which no answer has been found. As more people live longer and as the labor force is shrinking, the burden of taking care of the expenditures of the elderly rests more heavily on the young, and this burden, too, is likely to grow. An intergenerational compact will be needed [to reduce services – ed.] not only in Europe but in all developed countries. (The Last Days of Europe, 2007, pp. 131, 204.)
How fascists and Marxists joined forces:
“[A] rapprochment has taken place between the anti-Communist Right and the neo-Communists, on a doctrinal level and also for practical reasons. The extreme Right recognized, albeit a bit reluctantly, that if it opposed liberalism, democracy, and capitalism, it would have to advocate a state-controlled economy and perhaps even state ownership, such as under Communism. The Communists, on the other hand, quickly realized that they had to drop the internationalist character of their ideology and to opt for national socialism. Both the extreme Right and the neoCommunists wanted a strong Russian state. Above all, they faced a common enemy and understood that they would have to join forces in order to prevail in the political struggle. Many differences remained, but between 1991 and 1995 the Right became more socialist (or at least collectivist) and the Left more nationalistic. The dividing lines began to blur.” (Fascism, p. 184).
The most critical factor in terrorism succeeding or failing:
“The success of a terrorist operation depends almost entirely on the amount of publicity it receives.” (Terrorism, 1977, p. 109).
Moments of hope:
“I now feel uneasy facing the apocalyptic utterances of yesterday’s Euro-enthusiasts. For even if Europe’s decline is irreversible, there is no reason that it should become a collapse.” (The National Interest, 2011)
On Europe’s future:
“I became a historian of the postwar era in Europe, but the Europe I knew no longer exists. My book Out of the Ruins of Europe, published in 1970, ended with an optimistic assessment of the future. Later, in 2008, The Last Days of Europe: Epitaph for an Old Continent was published. I returned to the subject in my latest book, After the Fall: The End of the European Dream and the Decline of a Continent. The sequence of titles probably says it all.” (Der Spiegel, 2013).
Why the world needs the West:
“The decline of the West would be less of a tragedy – history after all is a constant sequence of decline and fall and rise of powers and civilizations – if one could see other centers willing and able to replace them. But with all the shortcomings of the Old World, it is difficult to see lux ex oriente. For me Tennyson’s words still ring true: ‘Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay.’” (Harvest of a Decade: Disraelia and Other Essays, 2012, preface)
Walter Laqueur, RIP.