Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Steyn on Bawer and Berlinksi on Europe

Ah, the irrepressible Mark Steyn ... from Maclean's, here.

April 05, 2006

Wake up, Europe. It may already be too late.
Why the fall and spring riot seasons in France are signs of the coming apocalypse


I've had a recurring experience in the last few months. I'll be reading some geopolitical tract like Sands Of Empire: Missionary Zeal, American Foreign Policy, and the Hazards Of Global Ambition by Robert W. Merry, and two-thirds of the way in I'll stumble across:

"With the onset of the Iraq War and European opposition, many Americans embraced a severe anti-European attitude. 'To the list of polities destined to slip down the Eurinal of history,' wrote Mark Steyn in the Jewish World Review, 'we must add the European Union and France's Fifth Republic.' "

Or I'll be slogging through Beyond Paradise and Power: Europe, America and the Future of a Troubled Partnership, edited by Tod Lindberg, and find that Timothy Garton Ash's essay on "The New Anti-Europeanism In America" begins thus:

"In the year the United States went to war against Iraq, readers saw numerous articles in the American press on anti-Americanism in Europe. But what about anti-Europeanism in the United States? Consider the following:

"'To the list of polities destined to slip down the Eurinal of history, we must add the European Union and France's Fifth Republic. The only question is how messy their disintegration will be.' (Mark Steyn, Jewish World Review, May 1, 2002)"

If the best evidence of the pandemic of "anti-Europeanism in the United States" is a Canadian columnist writing for a Canadian newspaper (Jewish World Review is a plucky New York website that happened to reprint a piece of mine from the National Post), that would seem to be self-refuting. A European who wanders along to his local bookstore to sate his anti-Americanism will find a groaning smorgasbord of tracts catering to every taste, including the French bestseller that claims the plane that hit the Pentagon on 9/11 never existed. An American who strolls into Barnes and Noble to sate his anti-Europeanism will have to make do with a two-sentence quote by an obscure Canadian on page 243 of some book sternly warning of the rampant anti-Europeanism all around.

Until now. Two books have just hit the shelves -- While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within by Bruce Bawer, and Menace In Europe: Why The Continent's Crisis is America's, Too by Claire Berlinski. In media-speak, two of anything makes a trend, and Clive Davis doesn't care for this one. Davis is a perceptive commentator for the Times of London and, in reviewing Bawer and Berlinski for the Washington Times, he sniffed: "What worries me about books like this is that they risk reducing Europe to a caricature in much the same way as Stupid White Men turns America into one big Wal-Mart with drive-by shootings."

That's unfair, and does a disservice to both authors. For many Europeans -- and Canadians -- the Stupid White Men school of anti-Americanism is a form of consolation: the Great Moron may be economically, militarily and culturally dominant but we can still jeer at what a bozo he is. Bawer and Berlinski, both genuine American Europhiles, have a serious purpose: in his titular evocation of the young JFK's book on pre-war European appeasement, While England Slept, Bruce Bawer makes plain that he wants to wake Europe up -- and, if it's too late for that, then at least to wake up America. Neither is a xenophobic yahoo: Berlinski "divides her time" -- as the book jackets say -- between Paris and Istanbul; she has a doctorate in international relations from Oxford. Bawer is a homosexual who moved to the Continent because he was weary of the theocratic oppressiveness of redneck America and wanted to live his life in the gay utopia of the Netherlands. Alas, when he got there he found the gay scene had gone belly up and, theocratic oppressor-wise, Pat Robertson has nothing on some of the livelier Amsterdam madrasas. Both books are somewhat overwrought -- Berlinski dwells on her own relationship with some Muslim lad who later figured in Zadie Smith's hit novel White Teeth, and Bruce Bawer is reluctant to give up on the idea that a bisexual pothead hedonist utopia is a viable concept rather than, as it's proving in the Netherlands, a mere novelty interlude; his book might have been better called While Europe Slept Around.

Nonetheless, if Clive Davis thinks this is anti-Euro rotten fruit-pelting, that's more of a reflection on the complacency of the Continent's own commentariat. The difference between "anti-Americanism" and "anti-Europeanism" is obvious. In, say, 2025, America will be much as it is today -- big, powerful, albeit (to sophisticated Continentals) absurdly vulgar and provincial. But in 20 years' time Europe will be an economically moribund demographic basket case: 17 Continental nations have what's known as "lowest-low" fertility -- below 1.3 live births per woman -- from which no population has ever recovered.

All those heavyweight scholars who immortalized between hard covers my cheap Eurinal-of-history aside did so because it was so self-evidently risible. Well, it looks a lot less so in 2006 than it did in 2002. The trap the French political class are caught in is summed up by the twin pincers of the fall and spring riot seasons. The fall 2005 rioters were "youths" (i.e. Muslims from the suburbs), supposedly alienated by lack of economic opportunity. The spring 2006 rioters are "youths" (i.e. pampered Sorbonne deadbeats), protesting a new law that would enable employers to terminate the contracts of employees under the age of 26 in their first jobs, after two years.

To which the response of most North Americans is: you mean, you can't right now? No, you can't. If you hire a 20-year-old and take a dislike to his work three months in, tough: chances are you're stuck with him till mid-century. In France's immobilized economy, it's all but impossible to get fired. Which is why it's all but impossible to get hired. Especially if you belong to that first category of "youths" from the Muslim ghettos, where unemployment is around 40 to 50 per cent. The second group of "youths" -- the Sorbonne set -- protesting the proposed new, more flexible labour law ought to be able to understand that it's both necessary to the nation and, indeed, in their own self-interest: they are after all their nation's elite. Yet they're like lemmings striking over the right to a steeper cliff.

When most of us on this side of the Atlantic think of "welfare queens," our mind's eye conjures some teenage crack whore with three kids by different men in a housing project. But France illustrates how absolute welfare corrupts absolutely. These Sorbonne welfare queens are Marie Antoinettes: unemployment rates for immigrants? Let 'em eat cake, as long as our pampered existence is undisturbed.

The only question about Europe is whether it's going to be (a) catastrophically bad or (b) apocalyptically bad, as in head for the hills, here come the Four Horsemen: Death (the self-extinction of European races too self-absorbed to breed), Famine (the withering of unaffordable social programs), War (civil strife as the disaffected decide to move beyond mere Citro├źn-torching), and Conquest (the inevitable victory of the Muslim successor population already in place). I'd say option (b) looks the better bet, for a few if not all Continental nations: united they'll fall, but divided, a handful might stand a chance.

However, if, like Clive Davis, you find Bawer and Berlinski too shrill, try Charles Murray's new book, In Our Hands. This is a fairly technical economic plan to replace the U.S. welfare system, but, in the course of it, he observes that in the rush to the waterfall the European canoe is well ahead of America's. Murray stops crunching the numbers and makes the point that, even if it were affordable, the European social democratic state would still be fatal. "Give people plenty and security, and they will fall into spiritual torpor," he writes. "When life becomes an extended picnic, with nothing of importance to do, ideas of greatness become an irritant." If Bawer's book is a wake-up call, Murray reminds us that western Europe long ago threw away the alarm clock and decided to sleep in.

And, if even Murray's too much, go back to the granddaddy of them all -- Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Recounting the Muslim march on France 1,300 years ago, Gibbon writes:

"The decline of the French monarchy invited the attack of these insatiate fanatics. The descendants of Clovis had lost the inheritance of his martial and ferocious spirit; and their misfortune or demerit has affixed the epithet of lazy to the last kings of the Merovingian race. They ascended the throne without power, and sunk into the grave without a name. . . . The vineyards of Gascony and the city of Bordeaux were possessed by the sovereign of Damascus and Samarcand; and the south of France, from the mouth of the Garonne to that of the Rhone, assumed the manners and religion of Arabia."


1 comment:

richard landes said...

excellent essay, esp in its ability to cut through the "complacency of the Continent's own commentariat." i would have gone in a different direction, tho. rather than distinguish the future trajectories of the usa and europe (which sounds like invidious comparison), i'd point to the distinctive differences btw american criticism of europe and vice-versa.

for a european to take a book like bawer's as a sign of "anti-europeanism" is like shooting the messenger. there are plenty of people, myself included, who are aghast and afraid at what we see when we watch europe self-destruct, and want nothing more than for europeans to start taking care of themselves.

this is very different from the kind of anti-americanism that drives europeans (let's say the french) to root for our failure (say in iraq), even tho that would be a tragedy for them.