Is Europe Dying? Notes on a Crisis of Civilizational Morale
To put the matter directly: Europe, and especially western Europe, is in the midst of a crisis of civilizational morale. The most dramatic manifestation of that crisis is not to be found in Europe's fondness for governmental bureaucracy or its devotion to fiscally shaky health care schemes and pension plans, in Europe's lagging economic productivity or in the appeasement mentality that some European leaders display toward Islamist terrorism. No, the most dramatic manifestation of Europe's crisis of civilizational morale is the brute fact that Europe is depopulating itself.
Europe's below-replacement-level birthrates have created situations that would have been unimaginable when the institutions of European integration were formed in the late 1940s and early 1950s. By the middle of this century, if present fertility patterns continue, 60 percent of the Italian people will have no personal experience of a brother, a sister, an aunt, an uncle, or a cousin;1 Germany will lose the equivalent of the population of the former East Germany; and Spain's population will decline by almost one-quarter. Europe is depopulating itself at a rate unseen since the Black Death of the fourteenth century.2 And one result of that is a Europe that is increasingly "senescent" (as British historian Niall Ferguson has put it).3
When an entire continent, healthier, wealthier, and more secure than ever before, fails to create the human future in the most elemental sense -- by creating the next generation -- something very serious is afoot. I can think of no better description for that "something" than to call it a crisis of civilizational morale. Understanding its origins is important in itself, and important for Americans because some of the acids that have eaten away at European culture over the past two centuries are at work in the United States, and indeed throughout the democratic world.
READING "HISTORY" THROUGH CULTURE
Getting at the roots of Europe's crisis of civilizational morale requires us to think about "history" in a different way. Europeans and Americans usually think of "history" as the product of politics (the struggle for power) or economics (the production of wealth). The first way of thinking is a by-product of the French Revolution; the second is one of the exhaust fumes of Marxism. Both "history as politics" and "history as economics" take a partial truth and try, unsuccessfully, to turn it into a comprehensive truth. Understanding Europe's current situation, and what it means for America, requires us to look at history in a different way, through cultural lenses.
Europe began the twentieth century with bright expectations of new and unprecedented scientific, cultural, and political achievements. Yet within fifty years, Europe, the undisputed center of world civilization in 1900, produced two world wars, three totalitarian systems, a Cold War that threatened global holocaust, oceans of blood, mountains of corpses, the Gulag, and Auschwitz. What happened? And, perhaps more to the point, why had what happened happened? Political and economic analyses do not offer satisfactory answers to those urgent questions. Cultural -- which is to say spiritual, even theological -- answers might help.
Take, for example, the proposal made by a French Jesuit, Henri de Lubac, during World War II. De Lubac argued that Europe's torments in the 1940s were the "real world" results of defective ideas, which he summarized under the rubric "atheistic humanism" -- the deliberate rejection of the God of the Bible in the name of authentic human liberation. This, de Lubac suggested, was something entirely new. Biblical man had perceived his relationship to the God of Abraham, Moses, and Jesus as a liberation: liberation from the terrors of gods who demanded extortionate sacrifice, liberation from the whims of gods who played games with human lives (remember the Iliad and the Odyssey), liberation from the vagaries of Fate. The God of the Bible was different. And because biblical man believed that he could have access to the one true God through prayer and worship, he believed that he could bend history in a human direction. Indeed, biblical man believed that he was obliged to work toward the humanization of the world. One of European civilization's deepest and most distinctive cultural characteristics is the conviction that life is not just one damn thing after another; Europe learned that from its faith in the God of the Bible.
The proponents of nineteenth-century European atheistic humanism turned this inside out and upside down. Human freedom, they argued, could not coexist with the God of Jews and Christians. Human greatness required rejecting the biblical God, according to such avatars of atheistic humanism as Auguste Comte, Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Nietzsche. And here, Father de Lubac argued, were ideas with consequences -- lethal consequences, as it turned out. For when you marry modern technology to the ideas of atheistic humanism, what you get are the great mid-twentieth century tyrannies -- communism, fascism, Nazism. Let loose in history, Father de Lubac concluded, those tyrannies had taught a bitter lesson: "It is not true, as is sometimes said, that man cannot organize the world without God. What is true is that, without God, he can only organize it against man."4 Atheistic humanism -- ultramundane humanism, if you will -- is inevitably inhuman humanism.
The first lethal explosion of what Henri de Lubac would later call "the drama of atheistic humanism" was World War I. For whatever else it was, the "Great War" was, ultimately, the product of a crisis of civilizational morality, a failure of moral reason in a culture that had given the world the very concept of "moral reason." That crisis of moral reason led to the crisis of civilizational morale that is much with us, and especially with Europe, today.
This crisis has only become fully visible since the end of the Cold War. Its effects were first masked by the illusory peace between World War I and World War II; then by the rise of totalitarianism and the Great Depression; then by the Second World War itself; then by the Cold War. It was only after 1991, when the seventy-seven-year-long political- military crisis that began in 1914 had ended, that the long-term effects of Europe's "rage of self-mutilation" (as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn called it) could come to the surface of history and be seen for what they were -- and for what they are. Europe is experiencing a crisis of civilizational morale today because of what happened in Europe ninety years ago. That crisis could not be seen in its full and grave dimensions then (although the German general Helmuth von Moltke, one of the chief instigators of the slaughter, wrote in late July 1914 that the coming war would "annihilate the civilization of almost the whole of Europe for decades to come"5). The damage done to the fabric of European culture and civilization in the Great War could only been seen clearly when the Great War's political effects had been cleared from the board in 1991.
THE NAKED EUROPEAN PUBLIC SQUARE
Contemporary European culture is not bedeviled by atheistic humanism in its most raw forms; the Second World War and the Cold War settled that. Europe today is profoundly shaped, however, by a kinder, gentler cousin, what the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor has termed "exclusive humanism"6: a set of ideas that, in the name of democracy, human rights, tolerance, and civility, demands that all transcendent religious or spiritual reference points must be kept out of European public life -- especially the life of the newly expanded European Union. This conviction led to two recent episodes that tell us a lot about Europe's crisis of civilizational morale and where that crisis leads politically.
The first episode involved the drafting of the European Union's new constitution -- or, to be technically precise, a new European constitutional treaty. This process set off a raucous argument over whether the constitution's preamble should acknowledge Christianity as a source of European civilization and of contemporary Europe's commitments to human rights and democracy. The debate was sometimes silly and not infrequently bitter. Partisans of European secularism argued that mentioning Christianity as a source of European democracy would "exclude" Jews, Muslims, and those of no religious faith from the new Europe; yet these same partisans insisted on underscoring the Enlightenment as the principal source of contemporary European civilization, which would seem to "exclude" all those -- including avant-garde European "postmodernists" -- who think that Enlightenment rationalism got it wrong.
The debate was finally resolved in favor of exclusive humanism: a treaty of some 70,000 words (ten times longer than the U.S. Constitution!) could not find room for one word, "Christianity." Yet while following this debate, I had the gnawing sense that the real argument was not about the past but about the future: would religiously informed moral argument have a place in the newly expanded European public square?
A disturbingly negative answer to that question came four months after the final Euro-constitution negotiation. In October 2004, Rocco Buttiglione, a distinguished Italian philosopher and minister for European affairs in the Italian government, was chosen by the incoming president of the European Commission, Portugal's Jos Manuel Durão Barroso, to be commissioner of justice. Professor Buttiglione, who would have been considered an adornment of any sane government since Cato the Elder, was then subjected to a nasty inquisition by the justice committee of the European Parliament. His convictions concerning the morality of homosexual acts and the nature of marriage were deemed by Euro-parliamentarians to disqualify him from holding high office on the European Commission, despite Buttiglione's clear distinction in his testimony between what he, an intellectually sophisticated Catholic, regarded as immoral behavior and what the law regarded as criminal behavior, and despite his sworn commitment, substantiated by a lifetime of work, to uphold and defend the civil rights of all. This did not satisfy many members of the European Parliament, who evidently agreed with one of their number in his claim that Buttiglione's moral convictions -- not any actions he had undertaken, and would likely undertake, but his convictions -- were "in direct contradiction of European law."
Buttiglione described this to a British newspaper as the "new totalitarianism," which is not, I fear, an exaggeration. That this new totalitarianism flies under the flag of "tolerance" only makes matters worse. But where does it come from?
One of the most perceptive commentators on the European constitutional debate was neither a European nor a Christian but an Orthodox Jew born in South Africa: J. H. H. Weiler, professor of international law and director of the Jean Monnet Center at New York University. Weiler argued that European "Christophobia" -- a more pungent term than Taylor's "exclusive humanism" -- was the root of the refusal of so many Europeans to acknowledge what Weiler regarded as obvious: that Christian ideas and values were one of the principal sources of European civilization and of Europe's contemporary commitment to human rights and democracy. This deliberate historical amnesia, Weiler suggested, was not only ignorant; it was constitutionally disabling. For in addition to defining the relationship between citizens and the state, and the relations among the various branches of government, constitutions are the repository, the safe-deposit box, of the ideas, values, and symbols that make a society what it is. Constitutions embody, Weiler proposed, the "ethos" and the "telos," the cultural foundations and moral aspirations, of a political community. To cut those aspirations out of the process of "constituting" Europe was to do grave damage to the entire project.7
Whether that happens remains to be seen, as it is not clear that the European
constitutional treaty will be ratified by E.U. member states. But what is unhappily
clear at this juncture is that Europe has produced a constitution that denies
the vision of three of its most prominent founding fathers: Konrad Adenauer,
Alcide de Gasperi, and Robert Schuman, serious Christians to a man, all of them
convinced that the integrated and free Europe they sought was, in no small part,
a project of
Christian civilization.8 Europe's contemporary crisis of civilizational morale thus comes into sharper focus: Europe's statesmen, too many of them, are denying the very roots from which today's "Europe" was born. Is there any example in history of a successful political project that is so contemptuous of its own cultural and spiritual foundations? If so, I am unaware of it.
BOREDOM AND ITS CONTENTS
The demographics are unmistakable: Europe is dying. The wasting disease that has beset this once greatest of civilizations is not physical, however. It is a disease in the realm of the human spirit. David Hart, another theological analyst of contemporary history, calls it the disease of "metaphysical boredom," or boredom with the mystery, passion, and adventure of life itself. Europe, in Hart's image, is boring itself to death.
And in the process, it is allowing radicalized twenty-first century Muslims -- who think of their forebears' military defeats at Poitiers in 732, Lepanto in 1571, and Vienna in 1683 (as well as their expulsion from Spain in 1492), as temporary reversals en route to Islam's final triumph in Europe -- to imagine that the day of victory is not far off. Not because Europe will be conquered by an invading army marching under the Prophet's banners, but because Europe, having depopulated itself out of boredom and culturally disarmed itself in the process, will have handed the future over to those Islamic immigrants who will create what some scholars call "Eurabia": the European continent as a cultural and political extension of the Arab-Islamic world. Should that happen, the irony would be unmistakable: the drama of atheistic humanism, emptying Europe of its soul, would have played itself out in the triumph of a thoroughly nonhumanistic theism. Europe's contemporary crisis of civilizational morale would reach its bitter conclusion when Notre-Dame becomes Hagia Sophia on the Seine, another great Christian church become an Islamic museum. At which point, we may be sure, the human rights proclaimed by those narrow secularists who insist that a culture's spiritual aspirations have nothing to do with its politics would be in the gravest danger.
It need not happen: there are signs of spiritual and cultural renewal in Europe, especially among young people; the Buttiglione affair raised alarms about the new intolerance that masquerades in the name of "tolerance;" the brutal murder of Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh by a middle- class Moroccan-Dutch has reminded Europeans that "roots causes" do not really explain Islamist terrorism. The question on this side of the Atlantic, though, is why should Americans care about the European future? I can think of three very good reasons.
The first involves pietas, an ancient Roman virtue that teaches us reverence and gratitude for those on whose shoulders we stand.
A lot of what has crossed the Atlantic in the past several centuries has been improved in the process, from the English language to the forms of constitutional democracy. Yet pietas demands that Americans remember where those good things came from. A United States indifferent to the fate of Europe is a United States indifferent to its roots. Americans learned about the dignity of the human person, about limited and constitutional government, about the principle of consent, and about the transcendent standards of justice to which the state is accountable in the school of freedom called "Europe." Americans should remember that, with pietas. We have seen what historical amnesia about civilizational roots has done to Europe. Americans ought not want that to happen in the United States.
The second reason we can and must care has to do with the threat to American security posed by Europe's demographic meltdown. Demographic vacuums do not remain unfilled-especially when the demographic vacuum in question is a continent possessed of immense economic resources. One can already see the effects of Europe's self-inflicted depopulation in the tensions experienced in France, Germany, and elsewhere by rising tides of immigration from North Africa, Turkey, and other parts of the Islamic world. Since 1970, which is not all that long ago, some 20 million (legal) Islamic immigrants -- the equivalent of three E.U. countries, Ireland, Belgium, and Denmark -- have settled in Europe. And while, in the most optimistic of scenarios, these immigrants may become good European democrats, practicing civility and tolerance, there is another and far grimmer alternative, as I have suggested above. Europe's current demographic trendlines, coupled with the radicalization of Islam that seems to be a by-product of some Muslims' encounter with contemporary, secularized Europe, could eventually produce a twenty-second century, or even late twenty-first century, Europe increasingly influenced by, and perhaps even dominated by, militant Islamic populations, convinced that their long-delayed triumph in the European heartland is at hand.
Is a European future dominated by an appeasement mentality toward radical Islamism in the best interests of the United States? That seems very unlikely. Neither is a Europe that is a breeding ground for Islamic radicalism; remember that the experience of life in Hamburg was decisive in the evolution of both Mohammed Atta, leader of the 9/11 "death pilots," and of the pilot of the "fourth plane" of that grim day, the plane forced down in Shanksville, Pennsylvania -- the one intended to hit the Capitol or the White House.
The third reason why the "Europe problem" is ours as well as theirs has to do with the future of the democratic project, in the United States and indeed throughout the world. The strange debate over the mere mention of Christianity's contributions to European civilization in the proposed European constitution was especially disturbing because the amnesiacs who wanted to rewrite European history by airbrushing Christianity from the picture were doing so in service to a thin, proceduralist idea of democracy. To deny that Christianity had anything to do with the evolution of free, law-governed, and prosperous European societies is, to repeat, more than a question of falsifying the past; it is also a matter of creating a future in which moral truth has no role in governance, in the determination of public policy, in understandings of justice, and in the definition of that freedom which democracy is intended to embody.
Were these ideas to prevail in Europe, that would be bad news for Europe; but it would also be bad news for the United States, for their triumph would inevitably reinforce similar tendencies in our own high culture, and ultimately in our law. The judicial redefinition of "freedom" as sheer personal willfulness, manifest in the 2003 Supreme Court decision, Lawrence v. Texas, was buttressed by citations from European courts. And what would it mean for the democratic project around the world if the notion that democracy has nothing to do with moral truth is exported from western Europe to central and eastern Europe via the expanded European Union, and thence to other new democracies around the world?
So Americans should, and must, care. We sever ourselves from our civilizational roots if we ignore Europe in a fit of aggravation or pique. Our security will be further imperiled in a post-9/11 world if Europe's demographics continue to give advantage to the dynamism of radical Islamism in world politics. The American democratic experiment will be weakened if Europe's legal definition of freedom as willfulness reinforces similar tendencies here in the United States-and so will the democratic project in the world.
1 Nicholas Eberstadt, "What If It's a World Population Implosion? Speculations about Global De-population," The Global Reproductive Health Forum (Harvard University, 1998).
2 Niall Ferguson, "Eurabia?" New York Times Magazine, April 4, 2004.
4 Henri de Lubac, The Drama of Atheist Humanism (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), 14.
5 David Fromkin, Europe's Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914? (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004), 224.
6 Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989).
7 J. H. H. Weiler, Un Europa cristiana: Un saggio esplorativo (Milan: Biblioteca Universale Rizzoli, 2003).
8 See Robert Wendelin Keyserlingk, Fathers of Europe (Montreal: Palm Publishers, 1972).
comments powered by Disqus
Richard Fell - 8/28/2005
Don't worry about Mr. Fredrick Thomas. He's always bursting with form. He sometimes proves an old adage, that we grow old too soon and too late smart.
Sergio Alejandro M?ndez - 8/24/2005
Dear Mr Frederick:
I see most of your sugestions have little to do with substance and a lot with form.
To the substantive: I do not have the need to become a neoconservative to oppose comunism. Since I oppose both, comunism and neoconservative ideology, and since there are countless of other political alternatives I can embrace, I do not see the need to follow your false dichotomy. Concerning to the supposed "real moral crisis" of Europe, that you back up with nothing else than hot air, I wonder if you consider goverments like Chirac, Berlusconi or Aznar until just a year ago, the kind of "dangerous lefties" that the fall of communism has brought to Europe. Or maybe you refer to Tony Blair, the principal ally of this administration in its cowboy adventures around the world. So much for your "substantive comments" (which of course, didn´t adress the issue of religion, but who cares anyways).
By the way..it is is Señor ("ñ" Alt 164).
Frederick Thomas - 8/22/2005
A couple of modest suggestions to improve the effectiveness of your posts:
1. Remove negative characterizations such as "drivel," regarding your adversary's views, particularly those which demonstrate from the context that you do not understand the definition of the term.
2. Remove misspellings, such as
-to (for too)
-specially (for especially)
-realting (for relating)
3. Fix the grammar, eg:
-"I was just trying to make a small precision on Mr Weigel"
-"Garry Dorrien, who has studied the issue in deep "
-"Never intended to hide my biases,"
-"if you have any interest to get yourself educated"
Spanish grammar does not always work in English, something I must remind myself of in Spanish.
4. On the substantive front, perhaps you should consider becoming a neocon yourself, and opposing Communism, which is responsible for the murder of some 103 million of its own people ("Murder by Government" appendix) over 70 years 1919-1989.
Anyone who would support such a murderous regime simply has no credibility. Remember, Mr. Mendez, the Soviet Union fell in 1989, both because it was evil, and because it was an economic basket case.
So, good luck as a new junior neocon!
5. Finally, the European crisis of morale to which the author refers is real, and is caused by the strange reversal of Euro-politics caused by the fall of communism, which put destructive lefties in power.
Since both Germany and France today have well over 10% unemployment, with the leftist coalitions enjoying less that 30% approval, about half of the right-center coalitions, we will not need to worry about this situation for much longer. If that is because of your boogymen neocons, so be it.
I wish you well!
Sergio Alejandro M?ndez - 8/19/2005
First at all, I was not trying to offer any argument at all. I was just trying to make a small precision on Mr Weigel "Bias", that seems to be ignored by most of the people who have commented in this post(including you). So your whole drivel doesn´t worry to me to much. I was also trying to make a precision from WHERE Weigel ideas come from, and specially the ideas realting the role of religion on the public square. And since this is just a comment section and not a place to educate others (such as yourself) I was not intending to make any precision on the terms. I suppose you should have a basic idea of what a neoconservative is. If you don´t let me offer a little definition from Garry Dorrien, who has studied the issue in deep: "...an intelectual movement originated by former leftists that promotes militant anticommunism, capitalist economics, a minimal welfare state, the rule of traditional elites, and a return to traditional cultural values “. (DORRIEN, Gary, The Neoconservative Mind: Politics, Culture, and the War of Ideology, Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1993, p. 8).
Concerning the issue of religion, don´t take my word, go read it in the webpage of the magazine www.firstthings.com (try to look the name "Weigel" in their search engine ). Then come back and tell us Weigel and his likes don´t have a bias. You can also read Mr Neuhaus book "The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America". That is, of course, if you have any interest to get yourself educated, which by the tone of your reply, I doubt.
Ah, by the way, yes, I think neconservatives are an ideological sinester and nocive intelectual current. Never intended to hide my biases, as you pretend we ignore neocon ones.
Don Adams - 8/19/2005
Most of your post is just the sort of shallow and overtly ideological rant to which I referred in my original response to this article. You use the word “neocon” or a related term least 9 times in this brief outburst, never with any precision, always with pejorative, even sinister connotations. I note, for example, the hint of paranoia in your comment “Mr. Weigel is Roman Catholic, we are reminded, but one thing we never heard is that Mr. Weigel is also a prominent neoconservative, contributor of “First Things” magazine.” What exactly are we to make of this? That someone is withholding vital information from readers of this website? That there may be subliminal messages hidden within the text? Actually, exposing the unsuspecting readers of HNN to right-wing “mantras” is the least worrisome thing of which you accuse the “neocons.” More troubling by far is your apparent belief that they have managed to trick “majoritarian white secular” Europeans into discriminating against themselves. Those devils!
In the absence of a substantive challenge to Mr. Weigel’s argument, you offer little more than name calling. It's too bad, because the lone coherent element of your post – the last sentence – might have made for an interesting counterpoint.
Sergio Alejandro M?ndez - 8/18/2005
This essay deals with to many issues to comment them in detail. Somebody else commented that this was a great essay, even if we recognize that Mr Weigel has its "biases". Mr Weigel is a Roman Catholic, we are reminded, but one thing we never heard is that Mr Weigel is also a prominent neoconservative, contributor of "First Things" magazine. So his drivel on "the naked public square" (a term coined by another prominent neocon, Father Richard Neuhaus, editor of "First Things") in europe is obviously not coincidence: is the repetition of neocon mantras concerning the separation of church and state and the role of religion in public life. Of course, the role of religion is no other than the role of conservative religion on public life; even if Neuhaus and the neocons are constantly reminding us how religion pushed for left causes in the US and in the globe. That is a nice rethoric, but of course, when religion pushes for lefty causes they do not see as thing to be celebrated, but rather than the proof of "how corrupted" liberal churches are.
So the naked public square in Europe is ultimately a bad thing for people like Wiegel, simply cause its excludes a powerfull social motivator for the right: religion. Weigel knows that without religion in the european public square, conservative causes (like a christian civilization, another interesting - and poorly constructed- term in neoconservative jargon, specially in the light of the "clash of civilizations" thesis), and US imperial project, will lose an important ally. But then, doesnt the thesis of the public naked square rellies heavely on populists assumptions? According to neocons and the religious right, the US has beeen hijacked by a secular minority elite that defies the popular will of americans, most of them who have strong religious based values. Good. But in Europe population goes in the opposite direction: most people have abandoned religion, including in his beloved England, the england of Hume and anglo saxon enligthment. So the fact is that christianity is dead or dying in Europe, and has no place as a corner stone of the european constitution. That may be a terrible thing for Weigel, and I understand, given his political background, why. For others, such as me, who think that the construction of a more tolerant Europe depends heavely on the recognition of "others" (jews, muslims, and well, the mayoritarian white secular population) as equalls and the abandoment of a bloody religious past of intolerance, it is great news. So, I hail the death of the old europe, and the renaissance of a new one.
N. Friedman - 8/16/2005
Maybe so. My only point was to note that Weigel's population facts are accurate.
Whether or not Weigel's theory that Europe, thought of as a civilization, is dying is certainly a legitimate question and, I might add, one of long standing. I am not smart enough to answer such a question.
In any event, I am somewhat doubtful when Weigel claims that the failure to mention "Christianity" in the EU constitution is a significant issue pointing to the collapse of European civilization. I am reminded (by me) that the US Constitution does not mention Christianity and has survived more than 200 years.
The problem with the EU constitution appears not to have been the failure to mention Christianity. Instead, the issues evidently were the lack of democratic accountability as well as fears about the changes brought, thus far, by EU bureaucratics without the support of the people.
In any event, whether or not Europe, considered as a civilization, will survive as a European/Western civilization remains to be seen. Again, I have no answer to such a question. Some very bright people believe that the change has occurred already or is now occurring. Such, you will note, is the view of Orianna Fallaci, Bat Ye'or, Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington. On such view, Europe has changed from a post-religious society into a society which merely appeases an ascendant Islamic civilization to the extent that European values are beginning to collapse.
At present, I have read only Bat Ye'or's book on the topic. She has an interesting thesis. There is certainly some evidence for her theory, a huge stack of evidence. I plan to read Fallaci's book when I have some time. Of course, in the end, a changed Europe may, as Niall Fergusson argues, prove to be a good thing. Then again, the present course of Islamic civizilation in Muslim region countries is scary - at least if you care about women, non-Muslims, basic freedom, etc., etc.
N. Friedman - 8/16/2005
E. Simon - 8/16/2005
I don't think I overlooked it so much as presented a different argument.
Oscar Chamberlain - 8/16/2005
"It does mean, however, that Europe's population issue is a real one."
Quite true, and it is important to put that in its economic context. We--and by "we" I mean the capitalist world--really don't know how to have a growing economy without at least a slowly growing population. The "why" of this is at if not over the ragged edge of my understanding of economics, but it does seem to be true.
With that in mind, it suggests why "native born European nationals" may feel satisfied with the population density of their communities and nation and yet perceive a need for more workers. The ideal population density for daily life and and the necessary demographics for a healthy economy are not in sync.
This is of course also true in the United States. But our national vision of ourselves is more dynamic and makes it easier to incorporate new peoples and even new religions.
N. Friedman - 8/16/2005
As I said previously to Mr. Simon, the issue in Europe is not obtaining a preferred population size. Such becomes clear in view of the unprecedented - at least for Europe - number of immigrants moving permanently to Europe, people who are, in effect, taking the place in the work force of Europeans. About 20 million legal immigrants. And there are millions of illegals as well. Europe would be unable to pay social security without the presence of these people as the average age of people in their societies is getting larger.
This does not mean that Weigel's thesis is correct. It does mean, however, that Europe's population issue is a real one.
N. Friedman - 8/16/2005
I think you overlook that Europe is bringing in migrants in unprecedented numbers. Such migrants are, in effect, filling in the gaps left by indigenous people having too few children. Such is the case whether or not Mr. Weigel's thesis is otherwise correct.
E. Simon - 8/15/2005
Your points are well taken.
I think nationalism (the rise of Europe into "modern" nation states) contributed to both the creation of higher populations per area (as it does everywhere), as well as to artifically sustaining it. Many, but not all, of the opposing considerations that have accompanied the creation of the E.U., might then be predicted to have the effect of reversing these trends.
John Chapman - 8/15/2005
I thoroughly enjoyed and was touched by this well done article because I see it describing a valid fundamental philosophy.
If nothing else, we certainly should acknowledge where we came from, all the way down to that very rock man first set up and worshipped because he couldn’t understand why the elements nourished and killed him at the same time.
America’s population growth will also decline some day in the far future. But will someone lay the cause of civilisational morale on America too? Europe’s and America’s structures are, to a degree, defined by the results of 1945. As is our mentality. It’s a matter of finally and totally discarding the post-1945 world order and the old treaties used to contain American power. It is time for European nations to accept that they are no longer the most important in the world. Similarly, it is time for politicians and intellectuals in the United States and Europe to come to that same conclusion. Religion, in the next five hundred years may become part of a museum exhibit, or, completely dominate the planet. If the American "empire" is in decline it is in a stage comparable to the later days of the Roman Republic. Which means about five more centuries of what we are experiencing now.
However, since the world is a mysterious place, Europe might see a rapid demographic turnaround and manage to successfully integrate millions of immigrants.
Frederick Thomas - 8/15/2005
Nuance and intellect are not dead.
Both are surely on display here, and deserve a wide reading. Thanks to Messrs Weigel and Adams.
Europe made Christianity as much as Christianity made Europe. This is clear when one compares the original bare bones form of Christianity with the complex forms which happened later. Europeam pre-Christian cultures demanded prominent female "goddesses," such as Freya, Athena and Brigit, and Christianity responded with the Marys and a slew of female saints. Likewise, Europe demanded a religion which is integrated with the state, and Christianity responded by becoming grand sophisticated and centralized. The widespread acceptance of Mithraism meant that Christianity was obligated to orient its churches to the equinox sunrise, keep the holy fire in the form of candles lit at all time, and introduce holy orders. It is possible, I suppose, to assert that all religions follow this kind of adaptive evolution, from Buddhism to Judaism, but at the end one sees a form of Chrsitianity almost completely integrated with European culture, and exemplifying it. To me, both Europe and its principal religion benefitted from the symbiotic evolution which they experienced. I have difficulty in imagining Botticelli and renaissence art without its religious themes featuring the impeccable Simonetta Vespucci (niece of Amerigo Vespucci) as Mary. One may ask, is there any other culture which has accomplished so much?
While mayhem has been perpetrated in the name of almost every religion, the lack of religion is perhaps more chaotic. Next month I will be in Paris for the 213th anniversary of "Bloody September," the first act of the Terror, when the oh-so-secularist Marat recruited several hundred murderers from Corsica to butcher as many priests, editors, intellectuals and, occasionally "aristos" who may have offended the hypersensitive Marat by not recognizing his greatness, not publishing his books, etc. in the past. Marat supplanted God with himself, with horrible results. The gutters on Rue de la Seine were filled ankle-deep with blood,for three blocks, a fitting symbol for secularist Europe. In all perhaps 5,000 perished. Thank God (sic) that the devout Charlotte Corday bisected his pulmonary artery after pretending to be a groupie. His intellectual successors, the 20th century communists, studied Marat's methods carefully, and always murdered in the name of the people.
While the Enlightenment prominently features David Hume, the noted religious sceptic, it as prominently featured Francis Hutcheson one of history's great educator-philosophers, and an ordained Presbyterian minister. Hume presciently identified the dangers of people like Marat, who can destroy a free society quickly, and developed the conceptual underpinnings for what became "checks and balances," while Hutcheson identified the importance of a moral ethos in public life. Unfortunately, France had as its Enlightenment icon the foolishly Romantic Rousseau instead of Hume and Hutcheson, and went into revolution believing that in a state of nature, everyone would just play nice.
Christianity may indeed be fairly well finished in northern Europe, excepting everything from Austria and Bavaria south, although after the next elections evict the current group of Socialist losers from office in France and Germany, it may have another chance in the north. The successors to this European cultural phenominon are mainly not in Europe, but in North and South America, in Asia, and particularly in Africa, which has the fastest growing and most devout Christian community worldwide.
Thanks again for a real pleasure.
Lisa Kazmier - 8/15/2005
Is there a natural population to Europe? What if Europe was overpopulated and to reduce its numbers is not "bad"? Isn't this planet choking with ever increasing numbers? Is manna from heaven saving them all?
To me, that is the great underlying presumption here: that populations must infinitely increase as civilization requires it. Well, for some survivors of the Black Death, their wages went up and their labor was in great demand. Putting behind their own personal losses, a number of people could thrive.
That is not to say the Black Death didn't cause a great deal of misery and its aftermath was an easy task. Not at all and in some places it took centuries to reach the same population totals that existed in the 14th century.
Still, the great population explosition of 1750 to 1850 (or later if you wish) was one bloc in terms of demography. It was not "normal." Neither is sustaining ever increasing numbers or the same figures. I think that's probably a point made by some other responders such as the one titled "An Ideal Population Density." It seems that decision isn't even attempted in this article, only that the trend is "wrong" if it's depopulation. Smells like a myth to me.
Bill Heuisler - 8/15/2005
Your comments are a fine additive to an excellent article by Mr. Weigel. Since you said it far better than I could, thank you for channeling my thoughts and writing them so well.
E. Simon - 8/15/2005
Why should we assume that Europe, up until now, has had such an attribute? At a size less than the that of the U.S., but with 456 million inhabitatants in the 25 member countries of the E.U., perhaps the population density was too high. As these countries increasingly unify politically and economically, we are seeing policies specifically designed to consolidate human resources such as labor into a more efficiently run economy of scale. And conversely, as nationalized labor constraints break down, mobility is also increasing. These all translate into decreased spatial competition from a lessening of fixed physical infrastructure, no longer as necessary to accomodate a less immobilized social and economic fabric. Like in the U.S., it seems reasonable that Europeans will come to appreciate their newfound sense of space as it becomes more socially feasible to enjoy it.
Don Adams - 8/14/2005
I apologize for the mangled sentence in the middle of my second paragraph. I will fire my proofreader straightaway....
Don Adams - 8/14/2005
Unlike the many shallow and overtly ideological rants which so often serve as public discourse, here is an essay of real depth and substance. To be sure, Weigel has has biases - he is, as noted, a Catholic theologian who works for an organization dedicated to the role of religion in the formation of public policy - but his article is much more about ideas than ideology. He offers an interesting and compelling interpretation of Europe's social and political condition, one filled with concepts that can be thoughtfully considered and debated.
Is he right? I believe he is to a large degree. While there is surely no single explanation which can account for a phenomenon as complex as Europe's decline in population, Weigel's thesis of moral boredom and spiritual drift is as close as one is likely to come. Political societies are, like people, indeed motivated by things beyond money and power. Those which thrive are most often those who see their actions as limned against a background of something larger than commerce or politicsthe dailiness of life -- a narrative or set of narratives which energizes and provides a compelling rationale for action. Such narratives need not be Christian, of course -- the example of an energized global Muslim population makes that point as well as it could be made -- or even religious, but in Europe, at least, that has been the case. Much of the last 5 centuries of its global dominance has been underwritten by a sense of Christian purpose and logic. Never mind what we think today of colonialism and its attendant horrors for native people across the globe; Europeans themselves have, from the 15th century on, seen their rise as part of God's design. The loss of that narrative, along with its moral and intellectual underpinnings, does indeed leave Europe adrift in many ways.
Playing foil to the US may make for occasionally entertaining politics, but that will not by itself serve as a narrative around which Europeans can cohere, or from which they can draw real cultural sustenance. Such narratives can not be simply imposed, of course, which means that Europe's decline may well continue unabated for the foreseeable future.
- West Point historian says if his cadets can understand the history of war, so can Congress
- Australian historian Alan Atkinson wins $100,000 literary prize
- From his perch in Saudi Arabia, Princeton’s Mark Cohen says Jews and Muslims should remember they used to get along
- Duke honors historian John Hope Franklin with year-long series of events
- What New Left History Gave Us