Is this the end of Europe?
Acton Institute Powerblog

Is this the end of Europe?

Writing for Public Discourse, Samuel Gregg has some rather negative predictions about the European Union in a new piece titled, “The end of Europe.” Gregg begins by quoting France’s leader during World War II, General Charles de Gaulle. In his Mémoires d’Espoir, de Gaulle saw Europe as having “a spiritual and cultural heritage.” He wrote that “the same Christian origins and the same way of life, linked to one another since time immemorial by countless ties of thought, art, science, politics and trade.” The current crisis in Europe reflects de Gaulle’s insights. European governments have abandoned their Judaeo-Christian origins and have placed their faith in bureaucracies whose authority stretches beyond country borders, but who are guaranteed to further European decline.

Gregg states that there are essentially three concepts to consider regarding Europe’s current issues:

One is the economic difficulties troubling not only small European nations, such as Greece and Portugal, but also large countries, such as Italy and France. The second is the influx of migrants likely to continue sweeping across Europe’s borders over the next few years. As the Paris atrocities have demonstrated, no amount of political correctness can disguise the fact that the migration issue cannot be separated from the problem of Islamist terrorism. And that raises a third matter, which is on everyone’s mind but which few European leaders seem willing to address in any comprehensive way: is the Islamic religion, taken on its own terms, compatible with the values and institutions of Western culture?

Not far beneath the surface of these issues are important cultural questions. In his book Mass Flourishing, Nobel prize-winning economist Edmund Phelps has illustrated how certain value commitments and the ways in which they become institutionalized have helped shape national and supranational European structures that prioritize, for instance, economic security through the state over liberty, creativity, and risk-taking. This is one reason why many European politicians, business leaders, and trade unions regularly invoke words like “solidarity” when opposing economically liberalizing reforms. The notion that solidarity can be realized by means other than extensive regulation apparently escapes them.

Similarly, the fact that most of the migrants presently surging into Europe come from religious-cultural contexts quite different from Europe’s own historical roots has inevitably led many to wonder whether some of these migrants can—or are willing to—integrate themselves into European societies that presumably want to remain distinctly Western in their values and institutions. Since the 1960s, many migrants to nations such as Sweden, Belgium, and France have not assimilated. In some cases, they live almost extra-territorial existences, as anyone who has visited les banlieues of cities like Brussels, Lille, or Stockholm knows. To enter the Brussels district of Molenbeek, from where at least one of the Paris terrorists came, is to pass into a different world: one of drugs, unemployment, and, above all, radical jihadist sentiments.

Gregg goes into how the traditionally Christian European nations should address this migrant crisis:

An idea of solidarity informed by Jewish and Christian faith clearly indicates that concern for neighbor can’t be outsourced to welfare states. It also forces one to recognize that people needing assistance have both bodies and souls; they are not purely material beings. This concept of solidarity doesn’t deny a role to the government. But it does require personal commitment that goes beyond just giving money—or voting for other people to give their money—to support more, probably ineffective, welfare programs.

Imagine a Europe unafraid of insisting that it has a specific culture rooted in Judeo-Christianity and the various Enlightenments into which newcomers are expected to assimilate. Migrants entering such a continent would be likely to develop specific expectations of what it means to be European. Contrast this with a Europe that affirms the self-evidently false claim that all cultures and religions are basically the same, or that refers endlessly to diversity and tolerance but roots such things in the contemporary cult of non-judgmentalism. The first Europe doesn’t require newcomers to become believing Jews, Christians, or fledging philosophes. It does, however, have a basis for explaining why those unwilling to accept this culture should look elsewhere for a permanent home. By contrast, the second Europe can have no principled objection to significantly diluting or even abandoning Western culture in the name of tolerance.

Gregg concludes his piece returning to de Gaulle:

[M]any European leaders—political, economic, and religious—and a good number of Europe’s citizens have invested their hopes in the bloodless administrative structures that promote top-down technocratic solutions to problems that simply cannot be solved through such means. The problem is that without an animating, morally uplifting vision—be it a humanism informed by and rooted in Judeo-Christianity, de Gaulle’s Europe des Patries, a confidence that one belongs to a civilization with a unique character worth preserving, or some combination of these things—Europe’s moral and cultural hollowing-out will continue amidst an Indian summer of managed decline and self-loathing. This makes it vulnerable to agitation from within, whether it’s from hard nationalists of right and left, or those who wish that the siege of Vienna and the battle of Tours had turned out differently.

At the end of his life, de Gaulle was pessimistic about Europe’s long-term fate. He didn’t think it would succumb to the then very real Soviet threat. Communism, he believed, contradicted key aspects of human nature; hence, it couldn’t last. But the death of European self-belief, already well advanced among many of Western Europe’s intellectuals, according to de Gaulle, was a far more serious long-term threat to Europe.

Unfortunately, I fear, le général will be proven right.

Please visit Public Discourse to read the entire article. If you’re feeling festive about the end of European society, here’s some R.E.M.: