Thursday, February 09, 2006

More on the Fate of Europe...

Here is a provocative piece by Theodore Dalrymple on the future of Europe....Hat tip to Gates of Vienna

Is Old Europe Doomed?
by Theodore Dalrymple
Lead EssayFebruary 6th, 2006

The late Professor Joad, a popularizer of philosophy rather than a philosopher in the true sense, used to preface his answer to any question by saying, "It depends on what you mean by…"—in this case, "doomed."

The word "doomed" implies an ineluctable destiny, against which, presumably, it is vain for men to struggle. And this in turn implies a whole, contestable philosophy of history.

Historical determinism has two sources: first the apparent ability of historians, who of course have the benefit of hindsight, to explain any and all historical events with a fair degree of plausibility, even if their explanations of the same events differ widely, thus giving rise to the impression that if the past was determined, the future must be determined also; and second the tendency of people to assume that current statistical or social trends will continue, or in other words that projections are the same as predictions. One has only to consider the exponential growth of a bacterium on a Petri dish, which if continued would mean that the entire biosphere would soon consist solely of that organism, to realize that projections do not necessarily give rise to accurate predictions.Nevertheless, it is undeniable that a pall of doom does currently overhang Europe. In retrospect, the Twentieth Century may be considered Europe’s melancholy, long withdrawing roar (to adapt Matthew Arnold’s description of the decline of religion). And just as, according to Disraeli, the Continent of Europe would not long suffer Great Britain to be the workshop of the world, so the world would not, and did not, long suffer the Continent of Europe to dominate it, economically, culturally and intellectually. Europe’s loss of power, influence and importance continues to this day; and however much one’s material circumstances may have improved (just take a look at photographs of daily life in France or Britain in the 1950s and compare them to daily life there today), it is always unpleasant, and creates a sense of deep existential unease, to live in a country perpetually in decline, even if that decline is merely relative.

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The principal motor of Europe’s current decline is, in my view, its obsession with social security, which has created rigid social and economic systems that are extremely resistant to change. And this obsession with social security is in turn connected with a fear of the future: for the future has now brought Europe catastrophe and relative decline for more than a century

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The dependent population does not like the state and its agents, indeed they hate them, but they soon come to fear the elimination of their good offices even more. They are like drug addicts who know that the drug that they take is not good for them, and hate the drug dealer from whom they obtain their drug, but cannot face the supposed pains of withdrawal. And what is true of Britain is true, with a few exceptions, everywhere else in Europe. In the name of social justice, personal and sectional interest has become all-powerful, paralyzing all attempts to maximize collective endeavor.

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Doom or further decline is not inevitable, however, though avoidance of it requires active effort. The auguries are not good, not only because of the political immobilism that elaborate systems of social security have caused in most European countries, but because of the European multinational entity that is being created against the wishes of the peoples of Europe (insofar as they can be gauged).The European Union serves several purposes, none of which have much to do with the real challenges facing the continent. The Union helps Germans to forget that they are Germans, and gives them another identity rather more pleasing in their own estimation; it allows the French to forget that they are now a medium sized nation, one among many, and gives them the illusion of power and importance; it acts as a giant pension fund for politicians who are no longer willing or able successfully to compete in the rough and tumble of electoral politics, and enables them to hang on to influence and power long after they have been rejected at the polls; and it acts as a potential fortress against the winds of competition that are now blowing from all over the world, and that are deeply unsettling to people who desire security above all else.Apocalyptic thought is curiously pleasurable. Doom is too strong a word, in my view; I think it would be more accurate to say that Europe is sleepwalking to further relative decline. But we should also modestly remember that the future is, ultimately, unknowable.


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