So says George Weigel at the American Enterprise Institute site (via Realclearpolitics). The main symptom of the continent’s mortal ailment is depopulation: the inability or unwillingness to have babies.
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; 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. And one result of that is a Europe that is increasingly “senescent” (as British historian Niall Ferguson has put it).
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.
But the cause of the European disease, Weigel maintains, is an aggressive secularism – or, in Charles Taylor’s phrase, an “exclusive humanism” that has erased God and Christianity from the minds of the people. Europe is trying to wrench itself free from its own history; to the degree that it has succeeded, the attempt resembles a suicide.
Weigel summons the usual philosophical absolutists and nihilists, like Marx and Nietzsche, and he recalls the catastrophic events of the twentieth century, which Europe began in wealth, confidence, and power, but barely survived, and not without complicity in some of the most horrendous crimes in history. The “Christophobia” of the Europeans, Weigel predicts, will ironically mean the triumph of Islam over the continent. The secularists will succumb to the fanatics.
I have posted my own ideas on what is very clearly a generational implosion in Europe, and I won’t repeat myself here. Many of Weigel’s points are valid. A statistically significant number of Europeans seem to be consumed by the kind of self-love that will not admit a rival, whether it be love of spouse, of children, of country, or of God. They are in truth engaged in a war with their own past: one is tempted to say, with themselves. Quite obviously, they can only lose. And Weigel is one of many who believe Islam will inherit the desert left behind by the present generation of Europeans.
So we agree on the symptoms. Not so on the cause: Europeans bred lustily through two world wars with multiple holocausts, and I doubt they stopped having babies because of anything Nietzsche wrote. Loss of faith in Christianity is only one element of the decline: statistically, which is the only way one can describe such things, the Europeans of this generation seem to have lost faith in everything. They have turned their backs on the ideals of their fathers, and they have spent the inheritance of the next generation. Weigel’s explanation of this astonishing development isn’t necessarily false, but it is partial, incomplete. But I freely admit to having nothing better to offer.