The decline of Europe, moral and political, has been a frequent subject of this blog (see here and here). It has all the horrible fascination of a slow-motion train wreck. A better metaphor, for a moralist, would be a continent-sized laboratory experimenting with the absence of higher values: one gets to see what happens to societies which fail to inspire any deeper loyalty than one’s own skin.
Modern Europeans believe in very little, except in as comfortable and safe a life as possible. Indeed, health and safety have altogether replaced faith, hope, and charity as the cardinal desiderata.
One signal difference between Europeans and Americans is the jettisoning of religion by the former and the persistence of faith among the latter. Can this help to explain Europe’s peculiar loss of nerve — its moral and political failure? Two of the authors reviewed by Dalrymple believe this to be the case; he, on the other hand, remains unpersuaded.
For myself, I am somewhat skeptical of the strength of American religious feeling compared with the breadth of the religious affiliation that they claim. If Americans were to experience a loss of confidence in their country’s power, whether objectively justified or not, the crisis of meaning and purpose might strike them too.
Here I must say Dalrymple shows himself too much of a Brit, charmingly clueless about how matters stand across the Atlantic. To believe that the average American derives his sense of meaning and purpose from his country’s muscular posture in the world is, put generously, comical. The average American does not now, and never has had, any interest in his country’s posture in the world. The American vision turns inward, not outward: and it seeks achievement, not power.
Still, I understand the source of Dalrymple’s error. I recently stood on the steps of the Victoria monument, in front of Buckingham Palace. I don’t like great piles of stony architecture, but the place, it seemed to me, hummed with grandeur.
Britain is a small island. Its people are a bunch of quarreling tribes, more or less kept in place by the English. How did they come to rule half the world? And what must it feel like, having ruled so much, to become just another country, unable to control the tide of alien immigrants or the tangle of silly EU regulations? I had no answer to these questions. Buckingham Palace still looked like the home of a mighty empress — but only a sad old woman lives there now, granny to a pack of royal buffoons.
In a sane moment, Dalrymple wonders whether the doom-mongering on Europe had been overdone. The threat of Muslim immigration, on which his authors harp, may well negate itself.
Will these books appear to have been unduly alarmist in half a century’s time? I certainly hope so, and indeed suspect that it might be so. We have had many perils and predicted apocalypses before. Islamism, and indeed (in my belief) the whole of Islam, is potentially very vulnerable to the corrosive effect of the intellectual acid-bath of rational criticism. Therefore, what we have to fear is fear itself: a fact of which the Islamists are themselves fully aware. I hope only that the ultimate critique of Islam in Europe is not a fascist one.
The last line goes to the heart of the matter. European civilization will not go away any time soon. Buckingham Palace will stand. But the liberal order, which Europe invented and has fitfully embraced, could well be overthrown in our lifetimes.