Walter Laqueur: The End of Europe As We Know It

Roundup: Talking About History

Walter Laqueur is an American historian and author of the forthcoming After the Fall: The End of the European Dream and the Decline of a Continent, an assessment of the European crisis (Thomas Dunne Books, 2012).

In 1849, the year of the “spring of nations,” a peace congress took place in Paris. The main address given by Victor Hugo, the most famous author of the time, announced that

A day will come when you, France—you, Russia—you, Italy—you, England—you, Germany—all of you, nations of the Continent, will, without losing your distinctive qualities and your glorious individuality, be blended into a superior unity, and constitute an European fraternity. . . . A day will come when bullets and bombshells will be replaced by votes, by the universal suffrage of nations, by the venerable arbitration of a great Sovereign Senate, which will be to Europe what the Parliament is to England, what the Diet is to Germany, what the Legislative Assembly is to France.

One hundred sixty years have passed since this noble vision was enounced; a European parliament of sorts has come into being, but not exactly a European brotherhood, and one suspects that Victor Hugo would still not be too happy with the present state of the Continent.

My memories of Europe go back to a childhood in Weimar Germany and growing up in the Nazi Third Reich. I left the country shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War. I have returned for many short visits and some long stays since, been to most European countries and made the Continent one of my fields of study. My children went to school on both sides of the Atlantic. European culture has been the formative influence in my life (that of the past admittedly more than the present). Thus I had the good fortune to benefit from a variety of global perspectives. When I look out of our windows in Washington, DC, I can see the raccoons and squirrels in the trees of Rock Creek Park; when I look out of our apartment in Highgate, London, I see the squirrels of Waterlow Park and, in winter when the leaves are down, the grave of Karl Marx.

Having seen Europe and the Europeans in good times and bad, the day may have come for a summing-up...

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