Last week, having ventured forth ignorantly into the wilds of peak oil, I was flooded with emails containing facts and figures on the undeniable decline of the world’s largest oil fields. I am forced to admit that the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel is quite clearly the headlamp of an oncoming train. And this train has many boxcars (as well as a little red caboose). One of those boxcars is Europe, which Claire Berlinski describes as a “menace.” In fact, her recently published book is titled, Menace in Europe: Why the Continent’s Crisis is America’s, too.
Europe has always been an ethnically fractured, war-torn continent (that is, until America established a permanent military presence). And now, after sixty years of peace, America’s position in Europe has deteriorated. According to Berlinski, the death of Christianity has ripped the continent from its transcendental moorings, hurtling it into an abyss of anti-Americanism. In this sequence, the economic optimists assume that Europe will not give way to barbarism. And yet, the cult of appeasement has turned its smiles toward Islamic radicals who loudly proclaim that Europe is their prize and the Jews are their enemy (just as Hitler did). “Yes, yes,” Berlinski confesses, “I do keep bringing up the Nazis.” She does so because the Islamists are like the Nazis, only they’ve got a larger pool of recruits to draw from.
In this and so much else Berlinski is not an optimist. “I do not prophesy the imminent demise of European democratic institutions,” she admitted. “[But] Europe’s entitlement economy will collapse. Its demography will change. The European Union may unravel. Islamic terrorists may succeed in taking out a European city.” What she predicts is the collapse of socialism and liberalism. Given current developments, noted Berlinski, “it is possible and reasonable to imagine a very ugly outcome.”
Economic optimism may look smart and sexy after a glass or two of French wine. But it’s 2006 and ugly outcomes are pressing down from several directions. The exponential growth of the world’s population, and the inability of the global economy to cope withal, means that Thomas Malthus is still relevant. Man’s condition on earth is not perfectible. “I have read some of the speculations on the perfectibility of man and society with great pleasure,” wrote Malthus. “I have been warmed and delighted with the enchanting picture which they hold forth. I ardently wish for such happy improvements. But I see great, and, to my understanding, unconquerable difficulties in the way to them.“
Whatever errors Malthus made in his specific calculations, his point of departure was nonetheless sensible. Population has an upward limit, somewhere, and scientific ingenuity is also limited. Consequently, the world economy cannot grow forever. We may marvel at the high wire act that is technological civilization, but do we seriously imagine that civilization will keep its balance and remain aloft forever? The climb from the 9th century to the 21st has been a great upward spiral, but no one should assume that history is a record of continual progress. From the 2nd century to the 9th, civilization declined into barbarism. And if anyone doubts that this sequence will happen again, consider the advent of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
Already the barbarians are at the gates. They are, in fact, inside the gates. It is not merely an Islamist assault we must contend with. European nihilism is an internal Western problem. Given the fact that weapons of mass destruction are out there, a catastrophic event is only a matter of time (though Berlinski knows better than to say so). Let us admit a metaphorical oxymoron: the world is losing its collective mind. Eventually, we are going to suffer for it. Furthermore, I believe an impending economic catastrophe is tied to a WMD catastrophe. (That is to say, economic crisis and the mass use of nuclear weapons derive from the same root madness.)
In the case of Europe, the crisis is stunningly obvious. Wandering through Perugia, in Italy, Berlinski made the following observation: “There were no parents pushing strollers past the palace, no grandparents coaxing hesitant toddlers down the cathedral stairs. I saw thousands of Italians walking, shopping, gabbling with friends, talking aperitivi, sitting on the San Lorenzo steps and watching the other people passing by – but I did not see one single child.”
Europe’s birthrate has plummeted. “Unless these trends reverse themselves,” noted Berlinski, “European countries will soon be unable to make payments on their extensive pension and health care programs.” A few lines later she wrote: “Immigration is Europe’s only hope.” This is because Europe will not give up its welfare state. And so, Europe must import Muslims, and more Muslims, to meet its demand for cheap labor. According to Berlinski, Europe will need to increase the immigration rate five to tenfold just to keep up. “But immigration in numbers adequate to rectify the population decline will come at a huge cost in social stability,” she explained. Europe cannot assimilate so many non-Europeans. Already the racial feelings of Europe are roiling beneath the surface. Men are tribal animals and Europeans are not as enlightened as they pretend.
Eventually the influx of Muslims into Europe will trigger a backlash. Mass racism can be dug up and reanimated at any time (because human beings can turn nasty at any time). In the life of the mind, even criminal thoughts recur – and criminal ideologies. The death of communism, for example, has proved to be an exaggeration. One only has to look at events in Latin America, Africa and Nepal. When the next Great Depression overtakes the world, the communist cause will revive. The ideological struggle is constant and ongoing. No ideology ever wins a final victory. Truth itself rises and falls with the truthful.
The key fact in the ideological struggle of the moment, says Berlinski, is that Christianity has lost its place in Europe. “Skepticism regarding morality is what is decisive,” wrote Nietzsche, who anticipated Christianity’s disappearance from Europe. “The end of the moral interpretation of the world, which no longer has any sanction [from a belief in God] … leads to nihilism.” Nietzsche called it “the advent of European nihilism.” Berlinski suggests that this nihilism leads to the cult of anti-American hatred as well as anti-Semitism. “I am not an apologist for the Church, an enemy of secularism, or an advocate of religious revivalism,” she explained. “I am in fact a secular Jew who is delighted never to have faced the Inquisition.” But the truth is the truth, she added. Without transcendental values, there is nothing left “beyond pleasure and personal relations, and these do not seem to be enough to keep hopelessness at bay.” When people cannot love God or country, they must find someone or something to hate. And hating America fits the bill (when hating the Jews is not enough). “European anti-Americanism is a cultist system of faith, rather than a set of rational beliefs, and as such is impervious to revision upon confrontation with facts, logic, evidence, gestures of good will, public relations campaigns, or attempts on the part of the American secretary of state to be a better, more sensitive listener,” wrote Berlinski. It is not that America is “beyond reproach.” Rather, the anti-Americanism of Europe is so irrational that it poses a greater danger than anything America is doing. Berlinski tells us that Americans “need not attempt to correct Europe’s antipathy toward the United States by means of pained introspection and efforts to improve” because such attempts “will not work.” Furthermore, the Bush administration did not turn Europe against America. Such an idea, she says, “is a naïve delusion.”
Berlinski doesn’t want to be a prophet of doom, and clearly backs away from fatalism. Doom is usually a term of exaggeration. What is doomed, according to her, is not Europe or the European peoples. What is doomed is the path that leads away from nationalism and religion towards internationalism and atheism. That seems to be Berlinski’s conclusion. European nihilism is a movement that takes Europe away from God and country and family. It is a denial of man’s nature and man’s meaning as a spiritual, social and sexual being. In the last analysis this nihilism produces a tremendous crisis, as Nietzsche predicted it would. The law of cause and effect (and the eternal recurrence of war) suggests that European man will return to an older pattern of existence as the crisis advances toward catastrophe. Those in the Islamic world who imagine that Europe cannot recover its active warlike side should think again.
Berlinski has the added virtue of realizing Russia’s threat to Europe, even though the Europeans and Americans prefer to ignore it.
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