Politics, Society

The slow cultural suicide of Europe

The Dutch ex-politician and intellectual Frits Bolkestein, no stranger to defying political taboos, published a remarkable article in the Wall Street Journal called “How Europe Lost Faith in Its Own Civilization.” He is not the first person to wonder how Europe lost confidence in its own civilization (“the noble Western traditions of self-assessment and self-criticism have often degraded into sentimental self-flagellation”) but then he draws attention to the possibility that one of the sources of this phenomenon may be found in Christianity itself:

“Whether we like it or not, our civilization remains deeply marked by Christianity. Consider the Gospel of Saint Matthew, which states that “whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (23:12). Friedrich Nietzsche characterized this as “slave morality.” But one does not have to go that far to realize that this saying, along with instructions to “turn the other cheek” and “go the extra mile,” do not exactly prod people to stick up for their own.

Instead of suggesting that Europeans can prevent their “slow cultural suicide” by finding inspiration in Christianity, he advocates to “take pride in our classical values.” It is not every day that one can reject both multiculturalism and Christianity, quote Friedrich Nietzsche, and get published in one of America’s biggest newspapers.

What is not sufficiently made clear in Bolkestein’s article is that “our current masochism” is something that only really resonates with politicians, progressive intellectuals and conformist hipsters. It is not something that has caught on with the majority of the European people. As a matter of fact, multiculturalism needs continuous reinforcement and support by the State to sustain itself.

The philosopher Michael Levin has suggested that multiculturalism is not popular despite the fact that it contradicts common sense and empirical observation but because of it:

The theme uniting the tenets of conventional liberal wisdom is that they all run exactly counter to experience; I think they are arrived at from experience, via the assumption that experience always misleads.

Levin thinks that the common observation in science that things are often not what they appear is responsible for the tendency of progressives to embrace ideas that are the opposite what common sense would dictate.

Another explanation is that progressives prefer “unconstrained” visions of society. Thomas Sowell identifies the unconstrained vision as one that does not accept any limits to human malleability or the ability of experts to improve on “chaotic” decentralized processes such as free markets. Progressives are therefore quite hostile to claims that human nature or economic incentives are guaranteed to defeat their objectives.  Despite all the logical and empirical arguments against it, the progressive vision of man is one of a human being endowed with “free will” unconstrained by evolutionary traits.

The quest for a European political union and a single currency can be seen as the culmination of this view of society exacerbated by profound guilt over Nazism. As Simon Kuper wrote in a recent article in the Financial Times:

…there was never much economic logic behind the euro – certainly not a euro that includes everyone from Germany to Greece. Economics wasn’t what the currency was about. Rather, the euro is a war baby. It was created because Europe was struggling to get over the second world war…The general thinking was that a common currency would “bind in” a new Germany and somehow prevent Hitlerism…much of European life then was built on memories of war. Hardly any Europeans would vote for anti-immigrant parties, because look what Hitler had done…The European Central Bank, too, was a war baby. It inherited the Bundesbank’s obsession with inflation, traceable to the trauma of German hyperinflation of the 1920s that had helped create Nazism.

The advocates of an “integrated” Europe were not just content with abolishing nationalism and expressions of ethnic identity in their member countries, but also aimed to eliminate the recurrence of such ethnic politics by celebrating the changing ethnic composition of these nations. The ideology of multiculturalism was supposed to reconcile citizens with these events by presenting the demise of a dominant culture as a benefit.

One of the reasons why modern Western governments have become increasingly authoritarian again (suppression of free speech and free association) is because this project goes so firmly against what we understand about human nature and history that only coercion can secure its implementation – and even that may be temporary. Ironically, the consequences now seem to undermine the welfare state consensus in Europe (including Scandinavia) and trigger a renaissance of identity politics.

In hindsight it is striking how the objective of denazification was conceived as a defense of the welfare state and increased centralization; the socialism of the National Socialists was never identified as a great concern, nor the micro-management of people’s thinking, feeling, and behavior which has remained a constant elements of modern politics.