With the fall of the Berlin Wall, Europe thought that Francis Fukuyama’s proverbial End of History had finally arrived.
So much for that idea, Victor Davis Hanson writes in his syndicated column:
Walk the beautiful streets in Munich, Strasbourg and Vienna, and you can see why Europeans thought in the last decades that they had reached the end of history. There is not a soldier to be seen. Sidewalk cafes are jammed midweek with two-hour lunch-goers. Fashion, vacations and sex dominate the ads and billboards.
Bikers, electric commuter trains and tiny fuel-efficient cars zoom by in a green contrast to our gas-guzzling Tahoes and Yukons.
So naturally, there is a general sense of satisfied accomplishment among European social democrats. They believe that finally a quiet sameness across their continent has replaced two millennia of constant European warring and revolution. Now, everybody seems to get an apartment, small car, state job, good pension and peace — and in exchange, all voice comfortable center-left consensus politics.
But beneath the genteel European Union veneer, few remembered that human nature remains constant and gives not even nice Europeans a pass from its harsh laws.
So suddenly the Greek financial meltdown, and the staggering debts that must be repaid, have alternately enraged and terrified northern European creditors. Even the most vocal Europhiles are quietly rethinking the entire premise of a European Union that offers lavish benefits but no sound method of paying for them.
After all, it is one thing to redistribute income by taking from richer Germans and Austrians to give to poorer Germans and Austrians. But it is something else for all Germans and Austrians to extend their socialist charity to siesta-taking Greeks, Italians and Spaniards. For all the lofty rhetoric of the collective European Union, age-old culture, language and nationalism still trump the ideal of continental unity.
But bickering over a trillion dollars in bad southern European debt is not the EU’s only problem. Why, for example, do Europe’s cradle-to-grave entitlements so often end up encouraging declining populations, atheism and lower worker productivity that is readily apparent to the casual visitor?
Perhaps if everybody ends up about the same, regardless of effort or achievement, then life must be enjoyed mostly in the here and now. Why sacrifice for children, or put something aside for heirs, or worry over a judgment in the afterlife? The more the European Union talks about its global caring, the less likely its own citizens are to have children.
You could fill a whole magazine article, or even a book with the concepts in that last paragraph — and of course, Mark Steyn did in 2006. It went over famously well with some of the more outspoken members of Canada’s Muslim population. Or as Mark writes in Canada’s Macleans magazine this week, “The trick in this line of work is not to be right too soon. A couple of years back, I wrote a bestselling hate crime:”
Don’t worry, I’m not in plug mode; indeed, I shall eschew even mentioning the book’s title. But its general thesis is that the jig is up for much if not most of the Western world. “Alarmist,” pronounced Maclean’s, reflecting the general consensus of polite society here and in Europe.Polite society has spent the years since playing catch-up. So if you don’t want your fin du civilisation analysis from a frothing right-wing loon you can now get it from the house-trained chaps at the New York Times:
“Europeans have boasted about their social model, with its generous vacations and early retirements, its national health care systems and extensive welfare benefits, contrasting it with the comparative harshness of American capitalism . . . ‘The Europe that protects’ is a slogan of the European Union.”
Protects from what? Right now, Europe mostly needs protection from itself, and its worst inclinations:
“With low growth, low birth rates and longer life expectancies, Europe can no longer afford its comfortable lifestyle.”
The Times hits all the Steynian themes, including the Continent as defence-welfare queen:
“Europeans have benefited from low military spending, protected by NATO and the American nuclear umbrella.”
Absolved from having to pay for their own defence, Continentals, like Canadians, beat their swords into welfare cheques, and erected vast cradle-to-grave social entitlements. Even under the U.S. security umbrella, they proved unsustainable. Why? Because Europeans stopped breeding. And, even with unprecedented levels of immigration, they’ve been unable to halt population decline. Again, that was mere Steynian alarmism a year or two back. Now it’s received wisdom. Here’s Time magazine:
“Germany is shrinking—fast. New figures released on May 17 show the birth rate in Europe’s biggest economy has plummeted to a historic low.”
That’s true. Time doesn’t really provide much in the way of historical perspective, but, for the purposes of comparison, in 1964 West Germany alone produced 1.35 million new babies; in 2009, a united Germany managed less than half that—651,000 births. In 1964, Germany was undergoing its postwar economic boom. In the mood for a reprise? On the depleted manpower of 2010, that ain’t gonna happen.
And these days, remember, Germany has to support a continent.
And they’re none too thrilled with idea. Or as I wrote when I blurbed Thedore Dalrymple’s recent essay for the front page of PJM, if for some inexplicable reason you wanted to reawaken German nationalism, how would you go about it? Dalrymple suggests a three-part strategy. And good news: current events have already set the ball rolling…