Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The end of Europe? II

And thus spoke Zarathustra to the people: ".... The time has come for man to plant the seed of his highest hope. His soil is still rich enough. But one day this soil will be poor and domesticated, and no tall tree will be able to grow in it .... I say unto you: one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star. I say unto you: you still have chaos in yourselves .... Alas, the time is coming when man will no longer give birth to a star. Alas, the time of the most despicable man is coming, [the one] no longer able to despise himself. Behold, I show you the Last Man.

" 'What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?' thus asks the Last Man, and he blinks. The earth has become small, and on it hops the Last Man, who makes everything small .... 'We have invented happiness,' say the Last Men, and they blink. They have left the regions where it was hard to live, for one needs warmth .... Becoming sick and harboring suspicion are sinful to them .... A fool, whoever still stumbles over stones or human beings! A little poison, now and then: that makes for agreeable dreams. And much poison in the end, for an agreeable death .... One no longer becomes poor or rich: both require too much exertion ....

"No shepherd and one herd! Everyone wants the same, everyone is the same: whoever feels differently goes voluntarily to the madhouse. 'Formerly, all the world was mad,' say the most refined, and they blink."
- Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Prologue (1882)

If Berlinski's is the most perceptive and charming of the recent books on Europe, Mark Steyn's America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It is surely the most blunt and original, and of all of them, the most unapologetically conservative. In spite of its title, the book is really about the apparently unstoppable decline of Europe, as reflected by its mix of overburdened economies, inability to defend itself, dicey demographics, unsustainable welfare states, and rapidly growing Muslim populations.

It is also a devastating and almost-irrefutable book, cutting through layers and layers of accumulated conventional wisdom and poisoned junk-food residue left behind by the media. It challenges everyone: realists - Steyn dismisses them as obsolete in a shrinking world; liberals - they're largely unwilling to defend their own liberalism; even neocons - can the Islamic world be reformed - really? In Steyn's view, the real problem is not the Muslims of the Middle East, but Eurabia, the alienated and anti-assimilating Muslims of Europe. America Alone is mainly a book about Europe, and only secondarily about America. The United States simply emerges as an historically normal nation-state, Europe as a doomed post-historical project. Steyn's point on this score: the US doesn't need to join the "rest of the world"; it's Europe that needs to rejoin history. It has a generation left, at most. Otherwise, save your dollars and get over there now to have a look-see: Europe is entering its museum closing time.

The book's style does sometimes veer into Steyn's newspaper column banter. But it has several intertwined broad themes that control its arguments, and Steyn has obviously given them considerable thought. They encompass the post-1945 evolution of Western governments away from "primary" responsibilities (maintaining internal peace and order, self-defense) toward ever-more expansive "secondary" ambitions (refashioning society, labeling everyone a victim and making them objects of solicitude). From this trend arise the relentless expansion and simultaneous unsustainability of the social democratic welfare state - economically, demographically, and politically. At its heart, modern government's "secondary" impulses rest on an incorrigible tendency by elites to treat everyone else as helpless children.

In Europe, another development is being scribbled over top of the first: the basic conflict between Islam as a political project, on the one hand, and the nation-state system and liberal democracy, on the other. ("Terrorism" and the "war on terror" are merely the violent symptoms of this contradiction.) That makes the emerging conflict different in nature there from here: we view it as a foreign war - in Europe, it's headed towards expression as a civil war - not so different from the streets of Gaza or Baghdad. Finally, we have the confusion and fatuity of many liberal and leftist politicians and thinkers when confronted with these unpleasant facts. Steyn is put into the peculiar position many conservatives find themselves in these days, of defending a liberal political system that liberals themselves helped to build, yet are often unwilling to defend. So conservatives do the job that liberals won't, and conservatives end up in a strange position when they do so. That fact alone explains more about the rise of "neoconservatism" (which is really no more than a kind of "right-wing liberalism") than any number of conspiracy theories.

Steyn deftly grasps the self-destructive dynamic here and wonders if Europe can escape the end result: the dynamic of self-hatred, a manifestation of the self divided against itself. For Euro-Muslims, the divided self is a result of a double alienation, both from traditional Muslim society and from post-modern, post-religious Europe. Islamic culture (especially its Arabic core) is markedly underdeveloped in its capacity for self-examination and self-criticism. The resulting self-hatred is projected outward on to the supposed causes, the West and the allied corrupt Muslim governments. For Western post-Christian leftists (and their self-hating post-Jewish allies), self-examination and self-criticism are hypertrophied; the result is self-hatred projected inward, with typical symptoms: a paralysis of self-interested action and rational thought, the invention and invocation of fantasies ("noble savage," "social justice," etc.), and an inability to defend oneself. In Europe (not as much here), the fully-developed symbiosis draws white Europeans and alienated Euro-Muslims into an intertwining of hatred and self-hatred. The suicidal meet the homicidal.

The radical Islamic project has little traction here - it's Europe where the terror cells are being hatched and the political future is in serious doubt. The attempt to buy off the Euro-Muslims with welfare has only produced a generation of lazy, undisciplined resident aliens with no future in European society, but plenty of free time to watch al-Jazeera and think about how much they hate the infidel West. The other pole of this negative dialectic is represented by the European leaders who lack the confidence to defend themselves and their societies. America has far few Muslims to begin with, and they're better educated and integrated into American society. But there's a flip side to this, as Steyn points out: it's because Americans are comfortable with their "liberal" system (including religious freedom) and willing to defend it, that they also have no difficulty expecting immigrants to adapt themselves to it. For the most part, Europeans lack this confidence, and the result is something very different from here: a large, growing population of alienated Muslims who are neither here nor there, doubly alienated, perfect candidates for radicalization. The origins of the European lack of self-confidence are many. But note the fact that traditional national identities in Europe are being euthanized by the Euro-elites. The intended replacement is a weak EU-identity that many Europeans have difficulty taking seriously and which most Euro-Muslims don't identify with at all. The real difference between the US and Europe is not the religion the media and talking heads keep chattering about; it's that the US has a strong secular, national identity and Europe does not. Europe has not only put its religious identity to sleep; it's even putting to sleep the national identities that, a century or two ago, were supposed to replace religion.

In the long run, it might turn out that the 9/11 attacks will prove to be a turning point in European, not American, history. The attacks were planned by Euro-Muslims, not American Muslims. And their successor attacks have mostly happened in Europe. It is the epicenter of the emergent conflict.

Although America Alone -is- a book, not a collection of newspaper columns, it's still studded with the witticisms and zingers we have come to expect from Steyn and that never fail to hit their targets:
  • "In the social democratic welfare state, you don't have kids - you are the kid."
  • "There are moderate Muslims, but no moderate Islam."
  • "Europe is ahead of America, mainly in the sense that its canoe is already halfway over the falls."
  • "The EU is a 1970s solution to a 1940s problem ... a quarter-century past its sell-by date."
  • "Europe's Muslim immigrants are the children Europe couldn't be bothered to have."
  • "[Daniel] Pearl's beheading was the story ... for the jihadis, Pearl [as a reporter] wasn't needed to tell some other story."
  • "The non-imperial hyperpower [the US] does not garrison remote ramshackle outposts, but its most wealthy allies, freeing them from having to defend themselves .... Defense welfare is like any other form of welfare."
  • "Fighting a war is not a lawsuit, its victims are not plaintiffs ...."
  • "As they said of the British at Singapore [in 1942], at least four of those five guns [military, economic, diplomatic, informational] are pointing in the wrong direction."
  • "[Multiculturalism] is a kind of societal Stockholm syndrome .... It doesn't involve actually knowing anything about other cultures ... It just involves making everyone feel warm and fluffy inside, making bliss out of ignorance."
  • "There are three outcomes to the present struggle: surrender, destroy Islam, reform Islam. We can lose."
Bush is conspicuous by his relative absence, probably because Steyn wants to communicate the fundamental conflict and trends, and they have nothing to do with Bush. Like most conservatives, he's also probably gone through multiple stages of Bush disillusionment, and Steyn aims some bitter barbs in his direction: too wimpy, too indolent, too PC, too tolerant of the Saudis and their system of radical schools, too ready to promote big guvmint and overlook its failures.

Steyn's list of possible conflict outcomes is not exhaustive, as many conservative critics point out. But given that the world is getting smaller and smaller, and given the fact that virtually no Muslim country fits liberal-internationalist criteria as "normal," our options, both liberal-internationalist and conservative-realist, are running out.

The larger melancholy of Steyn's book, clear only in the last couple chapters, is the profoundly unhealthy relationship that has developed between the US and the rest of the developed world since 1945, and especially since the end of the Cold War. This is a world deeply dependent on the US for its military protection; its foreign policy; our demand on world markets for their exports; our ability to absorb the world's savings as investment capital into an economy that is stable, non-corrupt, and growing healthily (a combination that occurs almost nowhere else); our role as an escape for the ambitious and talented stymied in their home countries by oppressive dictatorships and stifling welfare states; a place that develops their medicines, because we still have a semi-free medical system - and so on. America far outspends the rest of the developed world in things military, but that is only because the rest of the developed world has abandoned the ability to defend itself or contribute to a common defense. Given American responsibilities, we arguably don't spend enough; what is definitely true is that they don't spend enough. They have become dependencies, not allies. This is what Steyn means by "America alone": the rest of modern civilization is in not-so-good shape. One of the reasons is a potent source of anti-Americanism: the existence of America - the idea of America - is profoundly disturbing to most of the world's elites who are always doing their best to control, if not outright shake down, the countries they rule. These countries still suffer from the very thing that led to the world wars and the near-destruction of civilization in Europe and Asia: modern economic systems functioning in the heart of (at best) semi-modern social and political systems that can't handle modernistic dynamism.

Steyn's scary vision of Europe, the Middle East, and Africa sliding into a new Dark Ages may be too negative. It's certainly only one possible future. But it is a real possibility, and it needs to be taken seriously.

POSTSCRIPT: Steyn has a Web site and a solid presence in the newspaper world, being one of the best and best-known conservative commentators. (Read his famous interview with Monica's dress.) Listen to podcasts with Steyn here, here, and here; and read a recent talk he gave at Hillsdale College.

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