SLOW MOTION SUICIDE: THE DECLINE AND FALL OF EUROPE
SLOW MOTION SUICIDE: THE DECLINE AND FALL OF EUROPE
The complex overview of Europe in relation to America:
Wherein we take a look at a recently much idealized Europe in contrast to the equally much demonized America and start to ponder the idea that Europe is not all that good and America is not all that bad.
What is Europe? Most simply, Europe comprises the twenty seven countries of the European Union, with a single currency, A European Parliament, a European Court, a population of nearly half a billion, and a ten-trillion-dollar economy. Europe also includes Switzerland and Norway, not formally a part of the E.U. but culturally and politically similar. But Europe is more than the sum of it’s nations and languages and histories. “ Europe is not a natural unity,” the historian Christopher Dawson wrote, but rather, “ the result of a long process of historical evolution and spiritual development.” It is a medley of races, and European man represents a social rather than a racial unity. Europe is an idea, then, a set of values and beliefs, a certain way of looking at the world that defines the West in general.
Yet in the last few centuries there have arisen variations and developments of Western values and ideals that have increasingly come to define Europe and its vision of itself as a superior cultural and political order, one that can avoid the injustices and failures of the past and harness more justly and efficiently the burgeoning forces of globalization and technology and the “global consciousness” both are creating. Nor are these ideals and values confined to the geographical and political reality of contemporary Europe and the nations of the E.U. These same values and beliefs, in fact, are held by many in the U.S., and represent a model that some Americans urge us to adopt, and others counsel us to resist.
The following pages are concerned with those ideas, values, and beliefs that constitute this European model. By keeping this focus in mind, we can avoid simplistic contrasts between a monolithic “Europe” and an equally monolithic “America.” Many Americans, liberals generally, approve of the European model as something to emulate.
Partly this reflects the place Europe has traditionally held in the imagination of some Americans. Like the Yankee ingenues in a Henry James novel, they have admired the Old World of sophistication, culture, and civilization that contrasts with the New World of crude, go-getting, frontier brashness. But these days this admiration more fundamentally reflects the belief that Europe provides a more humane and sophisticated set of social and political values.
In the presidential election of 2004, for example, Democratic candidate Senator John Kerry, who speaks French and spent childhood vacations in France, was touted as the candidate who, sharing the European distrust of force and preference for the management of crises through transnational institutions, could be more effective in relating to European allies. In the words of French writer Bernard-Henri Levy, Kerry is “ a European at heart.” Thus as president, we were told, Senator Kerry could undo the damage done by the unilateralist, “Euroskeptic” George Bush. Bush’s critics identified him as that most American - and despised - of cultural icons, a “cowboy” who, it was erroneously reported, had never even traveled to Europe.
In domestic policy as well, some Americans look to Europe for guidance on issues such as homosexuality, affirmative action, and the death penalty - indeed, in some recent Supreme Court decisions, justices have cited the European Charter of Fundamental Rights and the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights in support of their decisions. Many also tout the European dolce vita lifestyle as a more humane and fulfilling way to live compared to workaholic, money - grubbing Americans. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, for example, believes Americans have a lot to learn from the French about family values - an opinion Claire Berlinski calls “laughable” given that the French are creating fewer and fewer families, and almost 15,000 elderly French in 2003 died during a heat wave, their bodies chilled in warehouses while their children vacationed on the Riviera. (Which brings to mind, “The Air Conditioned Nightmare” The expatriate Henry Millers pro-French/ anti-American novel.) On many other issues, Democrats and liberals in general align with the same values and ideals that underlie the European model, as conservative Jonah Goldberg
indicated when he complained that President Bill Clinton “thinks like a European.” As Timothy Garton Ash puts it, “Blue Democrat America often turns out to be a European shade of pink. On several of the key social issues, American Democrats seem to be closer to Europeans than they are to Republicans.
But just as many in America admire the European paradigm, many Europeans look to America as a model of economic and social order and foreign policy, and disagree with the drive toward a European unity defined in contrast to the United States. On these issues, one European nation sometimes opposes another, and within each nation are groups that disagree over various issues.
We often hear, for example, that Europeans are universally opposed to the death penalty, Italian president Carlo Ciampi claims that opposition to capital punishment is the “most eloquent signal affirming a European identity.” The existence of capital punishment in America is one of the most frequently cited examples of how benighted Americans are in comparison to the more humane and civilized Europeans, who see capital punishment as “simply barbaric,” in the words of one-time French minister of justice Robert Badinter.
Yet among the European non - elite, opinions on capital punishment are often more similar to Americans’ than are the views of the academic, political, and media elites with whom our own reporters and intellectuals tend to interact. When California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger refused to stop the execution of a convicted multiple murderer and founder of a vicious street gang, the city council of his hometown of Graz in Austria voted to remove his name from a municipal stadium - even though one poll showed that 70% of Graz’ citizens opposed the move. And in the E.U. states from Central and Eastern Europe, support for the death penalty remains high among citizens and politicians alike. In the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia a majority of citizens support the death penalty, while both Poland’s president and Hungary’s former Prime Minister have called for its restoration.
Or consider the European disdain for vulgar American popular culture, as reflected in the French government’s restrictions on American movies via its Ministry of Culture, or in the anti-free-trade restrictions on “cultural products” in the E.U. commercial treaties, or in French theater director Ariane Mnouchkine’s famous description of EuroDisney as a “cultural Chernobyl.” Yet not just movies, but American popular music, clothing styles and brands, companies, food, and in some places even American holidays like Halloween and Valentine’s Day have become a part of European culture. In 2005, the most popular movie in France was Star Wars: Episode 3. The all time biggest hit in France is still Titanic. American popular culture permeates the taste of the French, from the several hundred McDonald’s and Starbuck’s franchises to the popularity of Britney Spears, the person most googled by the French in 2004. American high culture, too, attracts many Europeans, from the several thousand English-language books translated into European languages, to museum shows, like the 2004 Museum of Modern Art show in Berlin, which attracted a million visitors.
Perhaps the greatest division between the European mass and elite concerns the supposed evolution beyond nationalism into the Supranational “Europe” of the E.U. This disdain for the nation may run no deeper than the bureaucrats in Brussels. According to the European Values Study, 90% of Europeans surveyed identified with their city, province, or country, while only 3% identified with Europe. What Tony Judt calls the “chronic absence of interest (in the E.U.) on the part of the European public” is reflected in voting patterns: between 1979 and 2004 voter participation in elections for members to the European Parliament fell an average of 20 percentage points, and the difference between the number of those participating in European Parliament elections and those voting in national elections ranged from 20 percentage points to a high of 43 in Sweden, a dismal level of participation duplicated in the new member states from Eastern Europe. Well-educated, sophisticated E.U. functionaries and cosmopolitan intellectuals who benefit from the E.U.’s increased opportunities for supranational work, leisure, entertainment, and travel may believe that Europe has entered a “postmodern” world beyond the parochial loyalties of the nation and the dangers of patriotism, but the vast majority of Europeans who can not take advantage of these opportunities still find their identities within the borders of their own nations. As Tony Blankley concludes, “The continuing attraction of nationalism is perhaps why voting in European Parliamentary elections is so low, and why there is so much resistance to a European Union Constitution.”
Clearly, attitudes within Europe about America, political issues, and cultural values are more various and complex than the simplistic America vs. Europe conflict suggests.
As well as conflicts between masses and elites within individual countries, there are important disputes between European nations over issues we sometimes think define Europe in general. Everyone knows that Europe is less religious and more secular than America - during the debate in 2003 over mentioning Christianity in the Preamble to the European Constitution, a French diplomat said flatly, “We don’t like God.” Religion is indeed on the wane in Western Europe - church attendance averages less than 5% - yet many other European countries are still quite religious. Poland, for example, ruffled European Union feathers by taking the lead in trying to get the E.U. constitution to acknowledge Europe’s Christian roots ( the attempt failed). More recently, at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Poles displayed an anti-abortion exhibit that linked abortion to Nazi concentration camps. A Polish European Parliament member has said, “We want to see Europe based on a Christian ethic,” something no Republican in a supposedly evangelical-dominated United States would dare to say publicly.
It is in foreign policy, however, that the dispute over which paradigm to follow, that of America or the European Union, has been most intense - a division to which ex - Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld gave memorable expression when he spoke of “Old Europe” and “New Europe.” Rumsfeld’s comment was made during the acrimonious and divisive disagreement among European nations over the war to remove Saddam Hussein. France and Germany, of course, fiercely opposed the war, their leaders doing everything in their power to subvert a UN Security Council resolution in support of overthrowing Hussein. On the same day in October 2002 that the U.S. Congress voted approval of the war in Iraq, the Norwegian Nobel Prize committee awarded pacifist Bush critic Jimmy Carter the Peace Prize. The committee chairman frankly admitted that the award was meant to protest a war - mongering George Bush. And in February and March 2003, huge anti-war rallies filled the streets of European capitals.
Yet many Europeans supported the war against Hussein. In January 2003, eight European nations wrote a letter of solidarity with the United States’ intention to remove Hussein, and soon after, ten Eastern European countries did likewise, causing French president Jacques Chirac to sniff that these nations’ behavior was “not well brought up.” Even in France, a few intellectuals and politicians spoke out in favor of removing Hussein, including Bernard Kouchner, founder of Medecins Sans Frontieres, and philosophers Andre Glucksmann and Bernard-Henri Levy. In February 2003, twenty top French business leaders lobbied Chirac to end his opposition to the American-led war.
Indeed, many European nations have contributed to the American-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the former, NATO forces are increasingly involved not just in providing security but also in actively fighting the Taliban remnants. Even France and Germany, bitter opponents of the war in Iraq, have been quietly helpful. German intelligence allegedly passed on Hussein’s defense plans to the U.S. a month before the invasion, something the German government now denies. Before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Hussein’s foreign minister passed on intelligence to the CIA, using the French intelligence agency as a go-between. England, of course, has stood by the United States most steadfastly in Iraq. But many other European countries, including Poland, are still involved in that conflict. When sovereignty was restored to the Iraqis in 2004, sixteen of twenty-four NATO countries had forces in Iraq - a support subject, of course, to the vagaries of domestic politics, as shown by Spain’s withdrawal after the Madrid train bombings, Italy’s withdrawal after Romano Prodi’s election, and continuing anti-war sentiment in England. As Robert Kagan famously put it, Europeans are from Venus and Americans are from Mars, particularly the Europe of the European Union and its ideal vision; but clearly some Europeans are from Mars, just as some Americans are
Despite these complications and reservations, however, there nonetheless remains a comprehensive vision of political and social order consciously touted by many European nations and embodied in the activities and ideals of the European Union. This is the “EUtopia” that offers itself as a model superior to “American conditions,” as ex-German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder put it, using a code term that signifies everything negative and threatening about America. Indeed, this EUtopia is frequently defined specifically in opposition to the cultural, social, and political orders of the United States.
This increasingly stark and acrimonious division between Europe and America is sometimes lamented as something new, a decline laid at the feet of President Bush, the alleged unilateralist “cowboy” whose lack of diplomatic sophistication has alienated our one time allies. Such a charge, however, ignores Europe’s long tradition of suspecting American power and influence, particularly after the United States became a superpower and eclipsed European nations like England, France, and Germany that once swayed the world. Even during the unity forced by the Cold War, and the halcyon nineties after the fall of the Soviet Empire ended that conflict, disagreements and clashes have roiled America’s relationship with various European nations, particularly France. The European preference for government solutions to social and economic problems has long distinguished Europe from the United States and its reliance on individuals and the market:
“Nobody in Europe,” English historian A.J.P. Taylor said in 1945, “believes in the American way of life - that is, free enterprise.” From the Suez Crisis of 1956 to the uproar over the deployment of Pershing missiles in 1983, which sparked a protest by two million Europeans, the interests of the United States and Europe have frequently conflicted.
Despite these disagreements, the continuing Soviet nuclear threat forced Western Europe to cultivate close ties to the United States in order to enjoy American guarantees of European security. Yet even during the Cold War, American economic power caused discomfort for many in Europe. In 1964, French political scientist Maurice Duverger wrote that “there is only one immediate danger for Europe, and that is American civilization,” a fear seconded in J.J. Servan-Schreiber’s 1967 essay “The American Challenge.” Once the Soviet Union imploded and that threat disappeared, Europe began to find more concrete ways to assert its global prestige and independence from an America that had become what French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine, in 1999, called a “hyperpower.” That America was as much or more a rival as an ally of the French was made clear in 1996 - also during the Clinton administration, before the advent of the “cowboy” Bush - when French President Francois Mitterand said, “France does not know it, but we are at war with America. Yes, a permanent war; a vital war; an economic war; a war without death.”
Nations, obviously, pursue their own political and economic interests, and for many European nations, these interests will conflict with those of the United States no matter which party holds the presidency. Yet the “postmodern” EUtopian ideal is supposed to transcend such parochial national interests and realist power politics and move, in Robert Kagan’s words, “beyond power into a self-contained world of laws and rules and transnational negotiation and cooperation.” This disconnect between the proffessed ideal and the actual behavior of European nations calls into question the viability of the EUtopian “postnational” vision, a theme to which we will return.
THE EUROPEAN PARADISE
We should start by defining the ideal that the European Union is supposed to embody and that many in the United States believe its own citizens should embrace. Indeed, as presented by its champions, the European social and political order will make the 21st century the “New European Century,” in the words of one enthusiast, for it will be the solution to mankind’s perennial ills, and a recipe for creating heaven on earth. One of the more enthusiastic champions of the E.U. vision, Jeremy Rifkin, believes that a “bold new experiment in living” has arisen in Europe, and that the Europeans are “leading the way into a new era.” This “European Dream” as Rifkin calls it, “emphasizes community relationships over individual autonomy, cultural diversity over assimilation, quality of life over the accumulation of wealth, sustainable development over unlimited material growth, deep play over unrelenting toil, universal human rights and the rights of nature over property rights, and global cooperation over the unilateral exercise of power.” And unlike a worn-out American dream mired in the past, this dream “represents humanity’s best aspirations for a better tomorrow,” an estimation seconded more soberly by the professional historian Tony Judt, who finishes his history of Europe since WW II with the claim that Europeans are “now uniquely placed to offer the world some modest advice on how to avoid repeating their own mistakes,” and that “ the twenty first century might yet belong to Europe.”
The content of this European Dream is a laundry list of the utopian Enlightenment ideals of the last three centuries. In terms of foreign relations, as summarized by Kalypso Nicolaides of Oxford University, the E.U., the institutional mechanism for managing and expanding the European Dream, endorses “supranational constraints on unilateral policies and the progressive development of community norms” in order to create a global, interstate Kantian community of “autonomous republics committed to relating to each other through the rule of law.” This “security community” will favor “civilian forms of influence and action” over military ones, and strive to create “tolerance between states” and to “move beyond the relationships of dominance and exploitation with the rest of the world.” Its guiding principles will be “integration, prevention, mediation, and persuasion,” which bespeak a faith in rational discussion and negotiation rather than in the old realist reliance on military power to maintain global order by deterring and punishing violators of the peace.
This vision can be further fleshed out with a letter published by French philosopher Jacques Derrida and German philosopher Jurgen Habermas in the summer of 2003 regarding the war in Iraq. They identified six “facets” of European identity:
1. no religion in politics;
2. state correction of the vagaries of the market;
3. the contraction of the sociopathological consequences of capitalist modernization;
4. a preference for the protective guarantees of the welfare state and solidaristic solutions against an individualist performance ethos which accepts crass social inequalities;
5. the abolition of the death penalty;
6. a world domestic policy that renounces the use of force.
As Garton Ash concludes, this vision claims that Europe is “different from the United States, that in these differences Europe is, on the whole, better than the United States, and that a European identity can and should be built upon these differences - or superiorities. Europe, in short, is the NOT - AMERICA.
This EUtopian vision, moreover, is touted not only as superior to America, but also a model for the whole world to imitate. It is based on a view of the state as a powerful actor in achieving global social justice: “The state,” Nicolaides writes, “should fulfill a wide range of socioeconomic and political functions - abroad as well as at home.” The social welfare entitlements, for example, that Europeans enjoy should be a goal for all peoples, and act as a limit on the forces of economic globalization whose more ruthless consequences are blamed on American-style capitalism and its ethos of radical individualism.
These entitlements for Europe’s citizens are indeed extensive. As T.R. Reid puts it, “In Europe falling into the ‘safety net’ is more like falling into a large, soft bed with a down comforter for protection against the cold and a matron standing by with a warm cup of tea to soothe discomfort.” Universal government-paid health care, of course, is the most famous entitlement. But in other areas of life, Europeans rely on government largess to maintain their lifestyle in the face of adversity. For example, the unemployed don’t just get a monthly check to cover living expenses; they get housing, utilities, food, and child care benefits, along with cash payments that on average replace about 80% of the employee’s income (American benefits cover about half of lost income). Other entitlements include free or extremely inexpensive university education, paid leave for new parents, child-care subsidies, benefit checks to parents for each child until age eighteen, expansive sick leave, mandated wage floors, restricted working hours ( Europeans work about 400 fewer hours than do Americans), and generous paid vacation and holiday leave( 23 days in England, 25 in France, at least 30 in Sweden; Americans average 10).
This is the EUtopia held up as a model for the world: state-subsidized comfort, leisure, security, and social justice at home, and “postmodern” foreign policy that has transcended force and national self interest, relying instead on international institutions and diplomacy to keep global order and bestow the EUtopian benefits on the whole world. Schooled by three centuries of slaughter inspired by great-power nationalist ambitions and loyalties, Europeans seemingly have evolved beyond such retrograde passions and institutions into the world dreamed by the Enlightenment, a world without want, injustice, or violence.
Indeed, these enthusiastic descriptions of EUtopia remind one of H.G. Wells’s Eloi, the “very beautiful and graceful creatures” whom the Time Traveler from Wells’s 1895 novel The Time Machine encounters in his visit to the year 802,701 A.D. The delicate, youthful, vegetarian Eloi live in a seeming paradise, a garden world without work or conflict or government: “They spent all their time in playing gently, in bathing in the river, in making love in a half-playful fashion, in eating fruit and sleeping.”
At first glance, the Eloi appear to be the culmination of human evolution beyond primitivism and deprivation, a cheering vision of human progress and our destined utopia of pleasure and leisure. But on closer inspection, certain features are troubling. The Eloi are tiny, only four feet tall, soft and hairless, “indescribably frail,” like a “beautiful kind of consumptive.” They have the intellectual level of a five year old and are “indolent and easily fatigued.” Worse, they are hedonistic narcissists, casually watching one of the fellows drown without interrupting their play. The Time Traveler realizes that rather than the culmination of human evolution, the Eloi represent the devolution of the human race, now “decayed to a mere beautiful futility.”
This realization is sharpened to horror when the Time Traveler learns of the Morlocks, “bleached obscene, nocturnal Things” that live underground in ant-like collectives and feed on the effete Eloi like “fatted cattle.” The acheivement of security and ease had simply rendered the Eloi incapable of defending themselves against their savage predators: “ I grieved,” the Time Traveler says, “ to think how brief the dream of the human intellect had been. It had committed suicide. It had set itself steadfastly towards comfort and ease, a balanced society with security and permanency as its watchword, it had attained its hopes - to come to this at last.”
Are the denizens of EUtopia the vanguard of human development, showing the world the way to the good life of security, peace, and material abundance and pleasures? Or have they, like the Eloi, chosen the path of slow-motion suicide, trading survival for the good life? And if they are like the Eloi, who or what are the Morlocks waiting to devour their pray?
SNAKES IN THE EUtopian GARDEN
The grand ideals of EUtopia touted by its admirers lose their luster when the actual practice of Europeans states is examined. In foreign policy, for example, we noted above that the E.U. recognizes “supranational constraints on unilateral policies,” as Professor Nicolaides put it, and has entered a “postmodern” world where disputes will be adjudicated not by force serving nationalist interests but by transnational institutions employing universal principles enshrined in international law. Yet over the last fifteen years, when the Europeans have gotten their chance to put these ideals into action, their behavior has been something quite different from their rhetoric. During the 1990s, they failed to halt ethnic cleansing and genocide in the Balkans, while in the 2002 run-up to the war in Iraq, naked national self-interest determined the behavior of some European nations rather than allegiance to multilateralism and transnational norms.
When in 1991 the Serbs under Milosevic began ethnically cleansing non -Serbs in Bosnia, European leaders believed the time had come to demonstrate that in a “multipolar” post-Cold War world, Europe could resolve a conflict in its own backyard using their non lethal “postmodern” methods, and so stake a claim to global influence commensurate with America’s. In the words of Jacques Chirac in 1995, “The bipolar world we have known is finished, and the world of tomorrow will be multipolar. One of these essential poles will be Europe.” The Balkan crisis would be an opportunity to show how “essential” the European pole now was. “If one problem can be solved by the Europeans,” Luxembourg’s foreign minister Jacques Poos declared, “it is the Yugoslav problem. It is not up to the Americans or anyone else.”
The “problem” as it unfolded through the 90s was one of horrific dimensions evocative of Nazi Germany: torture, mutilation, rape, concentration camps with skeletal figures behind barbed wire, locked trains filled with prisoners - the urgency of stopping the horror was visible for years on the international news. And the “postmodern” solutions of the Europeans were completely incapable of stopping the slaughter: “In the case of Bosnia,” Robert Lieber writes, “weapons embargoes, Security Council resolutions, the creation of U.N. -protected ‘safe areas,’ and European intervention under U.N. auspices proved ineffective in halting murderous ethnic violence.”
Indeed, these solutions frequently worsened the crisis. The arms embargo merely left the Bosnians more vulnerable, as they were facing what was in effect the old Yugoslav army. The U.N. peacekeepers were virtual hostages, targets to be threatened when necessary, and completely ineffectual at protecting the Bosnians. The U.N. “safe areas” turned out to have Orwellian names, as the concentration of people there merely facilitated their slaughter, as happened in Srebrenica, when ill-armed, out numbered Dutch “peacekeepers” watched as 7,000 Muslim men were killed. Before it all ended, 200,000 people had died and three million had been displaced. Rather than the “New Europe” of E.U. postmodern pretensions, “This was bad old Europe, as it had not been seen since 1945.”
Worse still for those E.U. pretensions, the slaughter in Bosnia and later in Kosovo was stopped with American-led old-fashioned bombing campaigns that concentrated the Serbs’ minds wonderfully and brought them to the negotiating table. For the simple fact of the matter, both then and now, is that the Europeans do not have the military capacity to project force in order to stop brutality and slaughter, which means they have no threat of force to give teeth to their non-lethal means of resolving conflict. During the Kosovo crisis, for example, the Europeans had to make “heroic efforts,” as the British foreign secretary put it, to deploy a mere 2% of their nearly two million troops in uniform as peacekeepers. This meant that the United States’ military had to bear the burden of stopping the slaughter. Regarding the 1999 bombing campaign in Kosovo, William Shawcross writes, “The United States flew the overwhelming majority of the missions, and dropped almost all the precision-guided U.S. made munitions, and most of the targets were generated by U.S. intelligence.”
This dependence on an America presumably mired in a retrograde reliance on force that Europe had transcended was a “shocking blow to European honor,” as Robert Kagan put it. Europe’s most potent military, Great Britain’s, could provide a mere 4% of both the aircraft and the bombs dropped. Moreover, the U.S. ran the campaign its own way, resisting the numerous European attempts at dilatory half measures. “For all Europe’s great economic power,” Kagan concludes of the Balkan crisis, “and for all its success at achieving political union, Europe’s military weakness had produced diplomatic weakness and sharply diminished its political influence compoared to that of the United States, even in a crisis in Europe.”
If the Balkan crisis - a “ source of serial humiliation,” as Tony Judt puts it - illustrated the impotence of Europe’s postmodern paradigm in the face of determined aggression, the run up to the Iraq war in late 2002 and early 2003 showed that for all the rhetoric of “supranational restraints on unilateral policies,” national self interest was still the key factor in the foreign policy of many European nations. Only the most gullible Europhile could believe that France’s and Germany’s opposition to the removal of Saddam Hussein was based on some commitment to transnational “multilateralism” enshrined in international law and validated by the U.N. Security Council imprimatur - which was never sought, by the way, to justify the bombing of Serbia, or the military intervention of the French in their various African ex-colonies. As ever, the needs and interests of individual nations and politicians - particularly the most powerful nations in the E.U., France and Germany-determined the positions those nations took and then camouflaged with the rhetoric of international law and multilateralism.
In Germany, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, running for re-election in the summer of 2002, needed an issue to deflect attention from his party’s dismal record on reenergizing the German economy and putting to work some of the four million unemployed. By campaigning against the coming war in Iraq, despite assurances to President Bush in May that he wouldn’t, Schroeder tapped into the anti-Americanism in German society partly created by resentment against Germany’s huge debt of obligation to the United States. “Some Germans,” a German editor is quoted as saying, “have never forgotten being humiliated by gum - chewing black Americans who ‘liberated’ them from Hitler.” Not content with registering disapproval of American plans to eliminate Hussein, Germany actively campaigned against a Security Council resolution approving the use of force in Iraq. The German ambassador to the U.N. pressured non - permanent Security Council members like Mexico, Chile, Cameroon, and Angola; and Germany joined France and Belgium in formally objecting to a proposal for NATO to send defensive equipment to Turkey, which wanted assurances that it would be supported by its fellow NATO members if attacked for the war against Hussein. This obstructionism had nothing to do with some new “postmodern” foreign policy paradigm, and everything to do with political necessity and national amour propre.
In France, too, the old-fashioned electoral needs of a politician were a factor in the nation’s foreign policy position. But there were other equally old-fashioned interests involved - money and national influence. As a veto-bearing member of the U.N. Security Council, France was in a greater position than Germany to protect those interests even if it meant failing to disarm a proven mass - murderer who had violated sixteen U.N. Security Council resolutions - so much for respecting international law and institutions.
The great apostle of international law and multilateralism, French President Jacques Chirac, was in fact one of Saddam Hussein’s best international friends for three decades: Chirac once called the butcher of Baghdad “ a personal friend and great statesmen” who enjoyed the Frenchman’s “esteem, consideration, and affection.” In 1974, then Prime Minister Chirac traveled to Iraq where he negotiated with then Vice President Saddam Hussein to sell nuclear reactors to Iraq. In 1975, France agreed to sell two reactors to oil-rich Iraq, one with enough weapons grade uranium for three or four nuclear devices. Hussein stated publicly that the agreement was the “very first concrete step toward production of the Arab atomic bomb.” The Israelis destroyed this reactor in 1981, doing the civilized world a huge favor. But Chirac gained personal political advantages from his relationship with Hussein and his status as head of the “unofficial ‘Iraq lobby’ in France.” After his forced resignation as prime minister in 1976, Chirac stayed afloat politically with money rumored to have come from Hussein.
But the nuclear reactor was just one small part of France’s weapons trade with Hussein. In the same deal that sold the nuclear reactor to Iraq, France sold another $1.5 billion worth of weapons, including the Mirage F1, France’s most advanced jet fighter at the time, along with an air-defense system, surface to air missiles, and advanced electronics. This was just the beginning of French arms sales to Iraq, which reached $20 billion worth of the most sophisticated weaponry, including “thousands of HOT and Milan and anti-tank missiles, Roland 2 air defense systems, and Gazelle helicopters.” As Kenneth Timmerman notes, “Iraq was in effect subsidizing the French Defense Ministry.”
By 1983, Iraq was buying more than half of all French arms exports. In return, the French received oil and lucrative contracts to develop Iraqi oil fields. And of course, in the decade between Gulf Wars I and II, France continued to do business with Hussein’s regime, over a billion dollars worth in 2002, not counting the nearly four billion dollars reaped through the corrupt U.N. oil-for-food program, in which eleven Frenchmen participated, including a former Minister of the Interior and two ambassadeurs de France. But the lucrative contracts to develop oil fields perhaps influenced France’s behavior the most, as well as the vision of renewed arms sales once sanctions on Iraq were lifted. In 1994, oil giants Total SA and Elf had negotiated contracts to develop the Nahr Umar and Manjoon fields; the Total SA deal was worth $50 billion over seven years - with oil at $20 a barrel. Needless to say, these deals would be worthless if Hussein was removed from power.
It is no surprise, then, that before the U.S. invasion France was actively working to lift the U.N. sanctions on Iraq and to weaken the U.N. weapons inspections, and then furiously opposed America’s decision to remove a homicidal autocrat. Deep-seated anti-Americanism - after war broke out, a quarter of the French wanted Hussein to win, and foreign minister Dominique de Villepin said that an American victory was “not desirable” - and fear of France’s restless Muslim population also contributed to France’s decision to oppose America. Rather than an Enlightenment commitment to “post-national” multilateralism based on international law and institutions, France and Chirac were pursuing their own political and economic interests: “The long friendship with Saddam, commercial considerations, the response to the le defi Americain, and concern over the reactions of France’s Muslims - all these played a part in Chirac’s calculations in summer 2002.”
The behavior of France and Germany will surprise no one who understands that nations pursue their interests by whatever means available, depending on how strong or weak they are vis-a-vis their rivals. The E.U. recourse to multilateralism and transnational institutions is as much the reflection of European weakness as of idealism: “Europe’s relative weakness,” Kagan notes, “has understandably produced a powerful European interest in building a world where military strength and hard power matter less than economic and soft power.” Given that the E.U. nations’ military spending combined is a bit more than half that of the United States, it is indeed understandable that such “military pygmies,” as NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson once put it, pursue their national, political, and economic interests through other means, and use these means to hinder and impede the United States when its pursuit of its interests conflict with those of Europe.
At any rate, the actual behavior of Europe certainly does not support any notion of a new, enlightened paradigm for creating global order and resolving conflict that eschews force and relies instead on diplomacy and transnational institutions. That aspect of the European Dream is an illusion. The truth is closer to that expressed by George Washington during the Revolutionary War, regarding the young nation’s new alliance with France: “It is a maxim founded on the universal experience of mankind, that no nation can be trusted farther than it is bounded by its interests.”
The rosy portrait of EUtopia’s domestic bliss offered by admirers like Jeremy Rifkin is equally illusory. It certainly is hard to square with the dismal estimation of modern Europe found in some of the continent’s most important writers. Two novelists in particular, one from Germany and one from France, offer a more pessimistic vision of the “postmodern” E.U. paradise, one in many ways evocative of Well’s prophecy of European decline.
In the novels of German writer W.G. Sebald, a once magnificent European civilization has fractured into a heap of broken fragments that lack all coherence and meaning and so are slipping into oblivion. His rootless protagonists wander through this shattered cultural landscape and attempt to restore through memory that lost meaning, only to find at the end of their search the dark master-narrative of modern Europe: the war and genocide that filled Europe with corpses and refugees and displaced persons. The survivors of that cataclysm are no longer at home in a world in which their identities have been deformed or lost, leaving them, like the character Austerlitz from the novel of the same name, prey to “some soul-destroying and inexorable force,” a “dreadful torpor that heralds the disintegration of the personality.” Their lives now are trapped in “a constant process of obliteration” that leaves them incapable even of staying alive: if someone came to “lead me away to a place of execution,” Austerlitz says, “I would have gone meekly, without a word, without so much as opening my eyes.”
Sebald’s novels abound in architectural metaphors, often accompanied by grainy, black-and-white photographs, that capture the dilapidated state of European civilization in which such lost souls like Austerlitz wander. In Austerlitz, a once-grand English country house now seems “as if silent horror had seized upon it at the prospect of its imminent and shameful end,” the bits and pieces of European high culture that it contains now broken and covered with sheep dung. Such buildings, constructed by a European civilization confident in its power and superiority, now serve only as decaying reminders of that lost glory, like the neo-baroque Central Station in Antwerp, in which the waiting passengers seemed “somehow miniaturized” by the lofty dome 200 feet above them. Like Wells’s Eloi, they are “the last members of a diminutive race which had perished or had been expelled from its homeland.”
Sebald’s lyrical melancholy for the broken grandeur of Europe is nowhere to be found in the work of French novelist Michel Houellebecq. There the fragmentation of European civilization leaves people no meaning in life, no way of connecting with other people except through their physical appetites and pleasures, especially sex, no matter how impersonal, humiliating or sordid. In Platform, Houellebecq’s grand metaphor is not the lost architectural grandeur or lovely fragments of European civilization that Sebald mourns and memorializes, but the sex-toursism industry, where Europe’s spiritual emptiness and hedonism intersect with the forces of economic globalization.
Houellebecq’s narrator Michel embodies many of the pathologies of postmodern EUtopian man. Reduced to mere appetite and pleasure, and cut off from meaningful community or connection with something greater than himself, the narcissistic Michel, indifferent to others, relies solely on the “meager compensation” of sexual pleasure to compensate for humans having been created “short lived, vain, and cruel.” The France in which he lives is “utterly sinister and bureaucratic,” a place where under “placid socialism” materialism is the highest good and “Pleasure is right,” as the advertising slogan of a sex-tourism company puts it. Yet at the same time, Paris is terrorized by immigrant gangs and reports of “professors being stabbed, a schoolteacher being raped, fire engines attacked with Molotov cocktails, handicapped people thrown through train windows because they had ‘looked the wrong way’ at some gang leader,” a description prophetic of the November, 2005 immigrant riots in Paris.
Michel sees clearly that his own and his contemporaries’ amoral, useless existence is the consequence of the bounty created by his European forbears, who “believed in the superiority of their civilization” and had “invented dreams, progress, utopia, the future.” But their “civilizing mission,” their “innocent sense of their natural right to dominate the world and direct the path of history had disappeared.” What remains are the freedom, leisure, and wealth they created, the capital being squandered by their descendents, who like Michel have lost “those qualities of intelligence and determination.” All that is left are material pleasures: “As a decadent European, conscious of my approaching death, and given over entirely to selfishness, I could see no reason to deprive myself of such things.” But Michel knows that living for pleasure is a cultural dead end: “I was aware, however, that such a situation was barely tenable, that people like me were incapable of ensuring the survival of a society. Perhaps, more simply, we were unworthy of life.”
Yet physical pleasure cannot give life meaning even for a selfish hedonist, as Michel learns when the woman with whom he thought he had forged a meaningful bond based on their mutual obsession with sex is murdered in Thailand by Islamic terrorists, those true believers who still possess the transcendent meaning and purpose in life that Europeans have lost. After his recovery from the attack, Michel stays on in Thailand to commit slow-motion suicide. Before dying, he leaves a chilling epitaph for the West: “To the end, I will remain a child of Europe, of worry and shame. I have no message of hope to deliver. For the West, I do not feel hatred. At most I feel a great contempt. I know only that every single one of us reeks of selfishness, masochism, and death. We have created a system in which it has simply become impossible to live.” Like Wells’s Eloi, postmodern Europeans have sacrificed the values and beliefs that ensure survival for comfort and pleasure, a trade-off that can only end in extinction.
Novelists, of course, speak for themselves, yet the rootlessness, despair, and failure of community Sebald and Houellebecq chronicle are reinforced by other evidence less subjective and impressionistic. A recent poll cited by columnist Mark Steyn reports that in France, 29% of those polled felt optimistic about the future, while in Germany only 15% did so. Meanwhile in violence-ridden Iraq, 69% were optimistic that things will improve. Likewise, a 2003 Harris poll found that while 57% of Americans are satisfied with their lives, only 14% of the French, 17% of the Germans, and 16% of the Italians are. Suicide rates are equally revealing: in many European countries, suicide is the second leading cause of death, after accidents, and France’s suicide rate is about twice that of the United States’, as are Belgium’s, Luxembourg’s, Finland’s, Austria’s, and Switzerland’s. Rates of emigration from Europe to America, even as hardly any Americans immigrate to Europe, also suggest that the “European Dream” is not so attractive to many of those who live it. Before 9/11, European immigration to the U.S. rose by 16%; of the two million Germans who have left their country, most come to the U.S. Even given the visa restrictions after the terrorist attacks, rates are starting to climb again. Many of these immigrants are coming from the old Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, bypassing the closer E.U. paradise for the culture presumably mired in outmoded paradigms.
The E.U. managers themselves acknowledge this pervasive malaise afflicting their citizens. A survey conducted in 2006 by Eurobarometer, the E.U.’s own polling service, reports that the tone of respondents is “mostly one of anxiety. In all or almost all countries - albeit with varying intensity - fears and uncertainties largely predominate and are moreover articulated with greater precision and conviction than is the case for hopes, which are expressed in a much more hesitant and vague manner: this anxiety is focused on concrete perspectives, anchored in the objective reality of the present, whilst hopes are in the form of desires or personal wishes, and reflect the psychology of each respondent, as well as the tendency of their ‘temperament’ towards confidence and optimism. In this case, a large number acknowledge that they are ‘pessimistic’ for themselves and/or, more seriously, for their children.” As New York Times reporter Richard Bernstein has noted, “there seems to be no energy and no political will directed toward what used to be enthusiastically called the European project.”
This book will explore in more detail the various problems that diminish the luster of the European Dream and challenge its status as a model for the United States. Rampant secularization in Europe has led to spiritual impoverishment and a materialist culture of pleasure, leaving Europeans unsure about what is worth fighting, killing, and dying for, not to mention rendering them incapable of defending their own civilization against those who want to destroy it. Old socialist-inspired assumptions continue to drive government interference in the economy and social life, with chronic unemployment, punitive rates of taxation, and expensive social welfare entitlements, with the result that many E.U. economies, particularly the powerhouses France, Germany, and England, are increasingly incapable of competing in a rapidly globalizing and interconnectd economy. A dwindling population exacerbates these problems, as Europeans are not reproducing at replacement rates, raising the question of where the workers will come from to provide the revenues for generous retirement and other benefits. Meanwhile, a growing cohort of fecund, unassimilated, underemployed Muslim immigrants continues to fester, its marginalization worsened by self-loathing. Third-Worldism and boutique multiculturalism on the part of Europeans who cannot praise the superiority of their own culture. Marginalized Muslim immigrants, moreover, account for much of the crime in Europe and a resurgent anti-Semitism. A neo-fascist resurgence of nationalist xenophobia may be one response to the increasing impact of disaffected Muslims on European life. Finally, an irrational anti-Americanism, the product of resentment and envy, prohibit many Europeans from seeing the United States as a model for how to integrate immigrants and unleash the entrepreneurial energy of individuals and free markets.
The European Dream, then, may be the dream of Wells’s Eloi, an illusion of enlightened prosperity and peace masking the darker forces slowly destroying it from within.
EUROPE ON THE BRINK
THE PLACE OF Europe in the world today, though obviously still significant, is very different from its overwhelming global dominance in 1914 on the brink of the First World War. At that time, Europe - one-quarter of the world’s population, compared to 7% today - indeed bestrode the globe as a colossus. Through its colonial empires, European nations controlled, to some degree, three-fourths of the world’s cultures and peoples. England alone was in possession of a quarter, while its navy ruled the oceans.
In one respect, however, E.U. Europe today resembles the Europe of 1914: its optimism for the future based on a transnational interconnection of states whose interests are best served by peaceful cooperation rather than militaristic nationalism. In 1914, this optimism was underwritten by “peaceful productivity so dependent on international exchange and co-operation that a belief in the impossibility of general war seemed the most conventional of wisdoms,” a belief articulated in Norman Angell’s 1910 best-seller The Great Illusion. International organizations and agreements sprang up to formalize the interdependence of nations, transnational treaties were written to eradicate slavery and international prostitution, and an International Court was created to limit the use of the new military technologies and to promote peaceful solutions to conflict. The free movement of resources, goods, capital, ideas, and people throughout the world - “globalization” was in many ways more advanced then than it is now - also promoted the notion of war’s obsolescence, as did political and philosophical ideas that made material comfort, rational calculation of self-interest, and scientific rationalism the prime engines of human behavior. The Enlightenment liberation of mankind from religous superstition and retrograde traditions had seemingly led to a world of technological advance and material improvement. And this progress could only accelerate, eventually bringing the fruits of advanced civilization, social improvement, and material prosperity to the whole world.
Yet lurking beneath the facade of progressive improvement, forces long at work within European culture would explode in the balmy summer of 1914. The First World War, of course, was devastating beyond anything Europe had ever experienced. By the time it was all over, twenty million soldiers and civilians had died, another twenty-one million had been wounded, and the post-war Spanish flu pandemic took another twenty million lives. Moreover, the dead were concentrated in a particular cohort: one in three young males was lost to the war: “Little wonder,” historian John Keegan writes, “the post-war world spoke of a ‘lost generation,’ that its parents were united by shared grief and the survivors proceeded into the life that followed with a sense of inexplicable escape, often tinged by guilt, sometimes by rage and desire for revenge.”
In addition to the butcher’s bill, the Great War destroyed four empires, created a raft of new, mostly unstable nations, and unleashed nationalist, ethnic, religious, and idealogical forces with which we are still dealing today. The Second World War, which killed fifty million and reached levels of destruction and genocidal murder unprecedented in human history, was a continuation of the First, and it makes perfect sense to speak of both wars as one, the twentieth century’s Thirty Years War. The Great War was also the midwife of Nazism and Bolshevist communism, and the concentration camps, corpses, displaced persons, and broken lives both species of totalitarianism left behind. The ill-conceived and hasty abandonment of European colonies, particularly in Africa, left those peoples with the worst of both worlds, their own culture’s dysfunctions rendered even more toxic by badly digested European ideologies, particularly nationalism and socialsim. The fifty-year Cold War followed, with its numerous proxy wars, revolutions, postcolonial chaos, and the chronic threat of nuclear annihilation. And the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire left us with the modern Middle East, the current font of global disorder. German historian Fritz Stern aptly has called the Great War “the first calamity of the twentieth century....from which all other calamities sprang.”
Why did these catastrophes happen? “Why,” Catholic theologian George Weigel asks, “did a century that began with confident predictions about a maturing humanity reaching new heights of civilizational accomplishment produce in Europe, within four decades, two world wars, three totalitarian systems, a Cold War threatening global catastrophe, oceans of blood, mountains of corpses, Aushwitz and the Gulag?”
The causes of the Great War are many, but surely the increasing secularization of Europe and the decline of traditional religous authority throughout the nineteenth century were in part responsible for the willingness of Europeans both to go to war and to continue fighting even when the conflict settled into a horrific stalemate marked by seemingly pointless slaughter. “World War I,” Weigel writes, “was the product of a crisis of civilizational morality, a failure of moral reason in a culture that had given the world the very concept of moral reason.” That “crisis of civilizational morality” that followed the banishment of God from public culture, Weigel adds, has led to a similar crisis today: It was only after 1991 (the end of the Cold War), when the seventy-seven-year political-military crisis that began in 1914 had ended, that the long-term effects of Europe’s ‘rage of self-mutilation’ could come to the surface of history and be seen for what they were - and what they are.
Indeed, today God has been banished from European public life. In addition to the low level of church attendance mentioned earlier (in Western Europe, around 5 percent) opinion polls reveal the underlying attitudes that explain the empty churches and cathedrals across the continent. Percentages of people who tell pollsters that religion is very important in their lives range from 9% in Denmark to a third in Catholic Italy and Poland; in the U.S. 60% say religion is very important. And while 50% of Americans go to church every week, in the Netherlands, Great Britain, Germany, Sweden, and Denmark, fewer than 10% attend once a month. Unsurprisingly, fewer Europeans believe in sin: only 57% of Spaniards, 55% of Germans, 40% of the French, and 30% of Swedes. T.R. Reid writes about attending Sunday services in churches all over Europe and being struck by “how beautiful those structures were, and how empty.” Stockholm’s St. Jacob’s Church, with a capacity of nine hundred, had twenty nine people when Reid visited, and in England’s famed Canterbury Cathedral during one morning-prayer service, he counted thirteen, the number swelling at midday only because of an influx of tourists. Europeans may not have become outright atheists, as Tony Blankley argues from his own analysis of the European Values Study. But the surviving faithful tend to concentrated among the aged, the rural, and some Eastern European countries. These low levels of church attendance and the relentless “de-Chrsitianization” of the European public square, starkly evident in the grand cathedrals filled these days mostly with tourists, suggest that whatever spiritual beliefs Europeans profess to pollsters are worn very lightly.
Private belief aside, the “Christophobic” nature of European public life, to use legal historian J.H.H. Weiler’s term, is apparent everywhere, surfacing in issues both trivial and important. In the Netherlands, Dutch orthographers ordered that starting in October 2006, “Christ” would be written with a lower-case “c,” and “Jews” with a lower-case “j” when referring to the religion. When Slovakia signed a concordat with the Vatican that the government would respect the choice of doctors not to perform abortions because of moral convictions, the E.U. thundered that abortion is an “international human right” doctors have no choice but to recognize, whatever their religious convictions. In England, clerics in the Anglican Church dismiss the Crucifixion and Resurrection as metaphors, “cathedrals have been converted into nightclubs, the crucifix is a fashion accessory, and the word Religion is a brand name for young women’s dancewear.”
Worse still, the church has often taken the lead in secularizing itself by shifting its mission from saving souls and ministering to the flock, to changing the world and agitating for “social justice.” Particularly in England, the nostrums of liberal and leftist ideology have become the new doctrines, with all the self-loathing guilt that accompanies the West’s loss of faith in its own institutions. Speaking in Cairo in 2005, the Archbishop of Canterbury apologized to the world because “the Church had taken ‘cultural captives’ by exporting hymns and liturgies to remote parts of the world.” In some instances this guilty doubt has metamorphosed into cheerful disbelief: the Anglican primate of Scotland, presiding at a funeral for British foreign secretary Robin Cook, described himself as “an agnostic Anglican, taking the service in a Presbyterian church, for a dead atheist politician. And I thought that was just marvelous.”
Elsewhere in Europe, crude caricatures of Christian doctrine and symbols are casually accepted. Such blasphemy, Weigel notes, is “tolerated in European popular culture in a way that similar defamation of Judaism and Islam would never be.” The refusal to acknowledge the Christian roots of Europe in the E.U. Constitution mentioned earlier showed the same disdain for Christianity among the Eurocratic elite, some of whom called the demand to acknowledge Europe’s Christian roots “absurd,” a “huge mistake,” and a “joke.” This hostility to Christianity’s presence in the European public square was also revealed in late 2004, when Italian Catholic philosopher Rocco Buttiglione’s nomination to be the commissioner of justice in the European Commission was attacked and derailed because his Christian convictions about homosexuality and the nature of marriage were deemed “in direct contradiction of European law.”
Rather than an expression of tolerance for nonbelievers and non-Christians, the E.U.’s refusal to acknowledge the historical fact of Europe’s cultural debt to Christianity is, according to Pope Benedict XVI, “the expression of a consciousness that would like to see God eradicated once and for all from the public life of humanity and shut up in the subjective sphere of cultural residues from the past.” Claire Berlinski’s description of a de-Christianized England rings true for Western Europe as a whole: “British Christianity has become a vaporous shadow of its former self.”
The powerful opening sequence of La Dolce Vita, Federico Fellini’s cinematic portrait of postwar Italian decadence and moral exhaustion, shows a statue of Christ dangling from a helicopter carrying it away from Rome. How was it that Europeans allowed God to disappear from their lives?
When Nietzsche in 1887 made his famous declaration that “God is dead” - that, as he elaborated later, “the belief in the Christian God has become unbelievable,” for “God is no more than a faded word today, not even a concept” - he was merely stating the obvious conclusion of a process that had been unfolding for more than a century. Nietzsche’s further comments make it clear, moreover, that God’s death wasn’t from “natural causes,” the end result of mankind’s increasing enlightenment, but was an act of premeditated murder: “Wither is God? the ‘madman’ in a parable asks. “I will tell you. We have killed him - you and I. All of us are his murderers...God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.”