Socialism was born in the nineteenth century as an ethical ideal. It was given a “scientific” veneer by Karl Marx and a totalitarian structure by Lenin around the turn of the century. It died some time between 1989 and 1991: that is, after the liberation of East Europe and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Yet the socialist impulse has lived on, zombie-like, in West Europe, assuming names like the “social market economy” or the “social model,” and developing a sort of benign Leninism whose “vanguard” is the hyper-bureaucracy of the European Union. That zombie socialism, being democratically demanded, was a symptom of political infantilism rather than tyranny, but it was an abdication of freedom nonetheless.
Large populations in Europe don’t wish to be citizens: they wish, in de Tocqueville’s words, to be children under wise schoolmasters. They wish to be taken care of. They wish to avoid marriage, children, family, work, and religion. This is the constituency for zombie socialism. In one of those bizarre but satisfying twists of history, this constituency was largely responsible for voting No on the EU Constitution in France and the Netherlands, driving a stake through the heart of whatever remains of socialism, zombie or otherwise.
The second death of socialism is an opportunity for the populations of Europe. As was the first: but it was thrown away in a generation-long binge of self-indulgence. Europeans now understand the consequences. They will grow increasingly poorer relative to the rest of the world. They will lose the very instrument of self-indulgence: the wealth of the schoolmaster state. They will increasingly be shouldered aside by immigrants with very different ideas about the good life.
The No votes were a sign of awareness, however dim, of all these things: of the failure of the schoolmasters and of the social model. The question now is whether the people of Europe will attempt to regain control over their own lives, and achieve the dignity and purposefulness implied by the word “sovereignty,” or whether, instead, they will whine and pout at their elites, demanding the restoration of an illusory existence.
What the elites will do if this second possibility bears out is already clear. They will find enemies, foreign devils, “Anglo-Saxons,” who are to blame for the mess that Europe has become. They will temporize, and leave the problems to the next generation. By then, the situation in Europe may be beyond resolution.