I recently noted that European political and social life embraces an immobilism anchored on universal consensus. It looks on paralysis and sees, not a crippling ailment, but social peace. Most Europeans lead a wonderful existence. They wish for nothing to change. I had thought this could be managed for a generation, then apres mois le deluge.
I may have been too optimistic. How can such blind immobilism endure the collision with the children of Muslim immigrants, who exist outside the placid social consensus, and confuse vandalism with mobility?
One of the great moral dramas in the world today is that of the decline of Europe. A century ago, Europeans ruled the world. A century from now, the continent will be a combination museum and old folks’ home: those who have visited Venice recently will have obtained a good impression of the European future. A case can be made that the decline is the effect of a long sequence of self-inflicted moral catastrophes, from World War I to the present generation’s unwillingness to marry and to breed.
How the decline is handled poses a separate moral dilemma. The riots in France make a mockery of consensus: the French way of life, to be sustained, will have to be defended with brute force. Identification of those deserving of such treatment acquires a critical importance, unless one wishes (as the Europeans wisely don’t) to apply police power indiscriminately.
A way of life must stand up and fight against its moral enemies: but who are the latter? Nicholas Sarkozy, the French Interior Minister – and so the country’s top cop – has called the rioters “thugs,” a mild enough characterization under the circumstances. Yet much public discussion of the riots in France has focused on this statement, and made it appear that the riots were somehow caused by Sarkozy’s insensitivity. Even within the government, someone whose title is “Minister of Equal Opportunity” criticized Sarkozy‘s words as “warlike and imprecise.”
According to the universal consensus, money fixes everything. People riot because they are poor. Give them a large enough handout, and they will be pacified. The entire structure of the European Union, and many of the social arrangements of individual European countries, including France’s, rest on this principle.
Calling a rioter a “thug” implied that moral character, not money, determines human conduct. Americans come in for much abuse because so many of us happen to believe in this truism. Since America was unavailable for blame, poor M. Sarkozy has taken the place usually reserved for us: the heartless lout intent on punishing people who are, in effect, victims.
The riots in France will end, sooner or later. Order will be restored. But Europe’s idyll may be approaching an end as well, sooner rather than later. With a weak economy, low fertility, and a large, disaffected immigrant population, the happy immobility of the past will, with each passing day, become harder to sustain.