Saturday, May 22, 2010

The End of Europe?

Christopher Caldwell's Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West (Doubleday, 2009) is an intelligent, honest and insightful look at Europe today and its future. It argues for no political agenda and really comes to no conclusion. It simply lays out the situation in Europe and leaves the reader to respond in whatever way one wishes.

But some of the reflections on the nature of Europe are worth quoting and pondering. On the alienation of Europeans from their own heritage he writes:
It is a brave thing to be an immigrant, to cast off from your old reference points and certitudes and set out in quest of a better life. But many native Europeans in our time are in a similar position. They live as exil a l'interieur [interior exiles] - cut off by economic and cultural changes from the world they thought they would inhabit. In one respect they are in a worse position than immigrants - they did not choose this disruption. And the economic downturn that began in 2008 has rendered European countries even less recognizable to their natives. (343-4)
While acknowledging that Europeans wish to defend their own values, he points out the difficulties Europeans face in trying to do so:
Certain Europeans are resolved to defend their continent's values, particularly against Islam. but what does that mean? You cannot defend what you cannot define. There is no consensus, not even the beginning of a consensus, about what European values are. A united Europe would have nothing to fear from Islam, but Europe is not united. Its civilization is split in two, torn between the ideal of human rights and the ideal of patriotism, between fear of Europe's religious heritage and pride in it, between viewing Islam as a permanent new feature of Europe's religious landscape and as something that will dissolve on contact wit hedonism and consumerism. Being true to Europe can mean getting tough (since the cost of battling Islam frontally will only rise as Muslims become more numerous) and being nice (since Islam will be powerful enough in Europe someday soon that Europeans will not wish to cross it). (345)
One dilemma that seems to have no answer is the observation that, by the time that Europeans realize that integration has failed, it will be too late to pursue a different strategy. Caldwell quotes the German jurist Udo di Fabio's lament:
The adherents of our well-intentioned politics of tolerance, which makes generous offers of integration in order to stave off the cultural fragmentation of society, are missing the basic problem: Why in God's name should a member of a vital world culture want to integrate into Western culture, when Western culture, which at least in his view is not producing enough offspring and no longer has any transcendental idea, is approaching its own historical end? Why should he get caught up in a culture marked as much by self-doubt as by arrogance, which has squandered its religious and moral inheritance on a forced march to modernity, and which offers no higher ideal of the good life beyond travel, longevity and consumerism? (347-8)
Why indeed?

No comments: