About this Issue
Western Europe—“Old Europe,” as Donald Rumsfeld likes to call it,—seems to have seen better days. After years of high unemployment, slow economic growth, and a summer of riots in the suburbs of Paris and beyond, perhaps it is time to ask whether Western European trends in demography, immigration, and economic and social policy augur ill for the fate of the Continent. Do the French and German social models continue to be worthy of emulation? Or does the state of Old Europe stand as a living warning to the post-communist New European nations? Will Europe stand up for the freedom of Danish artists to depict whomever they like, however they like. Or … is Old Europe doomed?
Essayist and social critic Theodore Dalrymple (also known as “the Edmund Burke of our age” or “the Orwell of our time,” depending on who you ask) will kick off the discussion with an elegant essay examining the prospects of Old Europe. Charles Kupchan, professor of international relations at Georgetown; Timothy B. Smith, Queens University historian and author of France in Crisis; and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and author Anne Applebaum will put Dalrymple’s thoughts to the test in their comment essays, while offering their own unique insights into the fate of the Continent.
As always, Cato Unbound readers are encouraged to take up our themes, and enter into the conversation on their own websites, blogs, and even in good old-fashioned bound publications. “Trackbacks” are enabled. Cato Unbound will scour the web for the best commentary on our monthly topic, and, with permission, publish it alongside our invited contributors. We also welcome your letters. (Send them to email@example.com.)
Is “Old Europe” Doomed?
The late Professor Joad, a popularizer of philosophy rather than a philosopher in the true sense, used to preface his answer to any question by saying, “It depends on what you mean by…”—in this case, “doomed.”
The word “doomed” implies an ineluctable destiny, against which, presumably, it is vain for men to struggle. And this in turn implies a whole, contestable philosophy of history.
Historical determinism has two sources: first the apparent ability of historians, who of course have the benefit of hindsight, to explain any and all historical events with a fair degree of plausibility, even if their explanations of the same events differ widely, thus giving rise to the impression that if the past was determined, the future must be determined also; and second the tendency of people to assume that current statistical or social trends will continue, or in other words that projections are the same as predictions. One has only to consider the exponential growth of a bacterium on a Petri dish, which if continued would mean that the entire biosphere would soon consist solely of that organism, to realize that projections do not necessarily give rise to accurate predictions.
Nevertheless, it is undeniable that a pall of doom does currently overhang Europe. In retrospect, the Twentieth Century may be considered Europe’s melancholy, long withdrawing roar (to adapt Matthew Arnold’s description of the decline of religion). And just as, according to Disraeli, the Continent of Europe would not long suffer Great Britain to be the workshop of the world, so the world would not, and did not, long suffer the Continent of Europe to dominate it, economically, culturally and intellectually. Europe’s loss of power, influence and importance continues to this day; and however much one’s material circumstances may have improved (just take a look at photographs of daily life in France or Britain in the 1950s and compare them to daily life there today), it is always unpleasant, and creates a sense of deep existential unease, to live in a country perpetually in decline, even if that decline is merely relative.
Combined with this is the fact that most European populations experience a profound feeling of impotence in the face of their own immovable political elites. (My wife, who was born in Paris 56 years ago, cannot remember any period of her life from adolescence onward when M. Chirac was not a prominent figure in French public life, and had he not died after a mere fifty years at or near the top of the greasy pole, the same might have been said of M. Mitterand.) This feeling of impotence is not because of any lack of intelligence or astuteness on the part of the populations in question: if you wanted to know why there was so much youth unemployment in France, you would not ask the Prime Minister, M. Dominque de Villepin, but the vastly more honest and clear-headed village plumber or carpenter, who would give you many precise and convincing reasons why no employer in his right mind would readily take on a new and previously untried young employee. Indeed, it would take a certain kind of intelligence, available only to those who have undergone a lot of formal education, not to be able to work it out.
The principal motor of Europe’s current decline is, in my view, its obsession with social security, which has created rigid social and economic systems that are extremely resistant to change. And this obsession with social security is in turn connected with a fear of the future: for the future has now brought Europe catastrophe and relative decline for more than a century.
What exactly is it that Europeans fear, given that their decline has been accompanied by an unprecedented increase in absolute material well-being? An open economy holds out more threat to them than promise: they believe that the outside world will bring them not trade and wealth, but unemployment and a loss of comfort. They therefore are inclined to retire into their shell and succumb to protectionist temptation, both internally with regard to the job market, and externally with regard to other nations. And the more those other nations advance relative to themselves, the more necessary does protection seem to them. A vicious circle is thus set up.
In the process of course, the state is either granted or arrogates to itself (or, of course, both) ever-greater powers. A bureaucratic monster is created that takes on a life of its own, that is not only uneconomic but anti-economic, and that can be reformed only at the cost of social unrest that politicians naturally wish to avoid. Inertia intermittently punctuated by explosion is therefore the most likely outcome.
Hundreds of thousands of young Frenchmen, despairing of finding a job at home where about a quarter of people in their twenties are unemployed, have crossed the Channel to take advantage of Britain’s relatively flexible labor market: which, however, the British government is in the process of destroying by means of ever-closer regulation in the French centralist style.
Since coming to power, the current British government has increased public expenditure enormously, such that the British tax burden now exceeds that of Germany, which itself is a very heavily taxed economy. The ostensible purpose of this expenditure has been to improve public services while serving the cause of social justice, a rhetoric that the public has hitherto believed; the hidden purpose, or at least effect, has been to create administrative jobs on an unprecedented scale, whose principle function consists of obstruction of other people as they try to create wealth, and to bring into being a political clientele dependent upon government ‘largesse’ (half the British population is now in receipt of government subventions as part or the whole of their incomes). Not only will this lead to economic disaster, but it naturally results in the psychology succinctly described by Hilaire Belloc in the moral of his cautionary tale about Albert who was eaten by a lion at the zoo when he strayed from the nurse who took him there:
And always keep a-hold of nurse
For fear of finding something worse.
The dependent population does not like the state and its agents, indeed they hate them, but they soon come to fear the elimination of their good offices even more. They are like drug addicts who know that the drug that they take is not good for them, and hate the drug dealer from whom they obtain their drug, but cannot face the supposed pains of withdrawal. And what is true of Britain is true, with a few exceptions, everywhere else in Europe.
In the name of social justice, personal and sectional interest has become all-powerful, paralyzing all attempts to maximize collective endeavor. Nowhere is this clearer than in France, where a survey published in the left-wing newspaper, Liberation, showed that three times as many people had warm feeling towards socialism as towards capitalism. (The ambition of three quarters of French youth is to be employed by the state). Yet French defense of personal and sectional interest is so ferocious that it renders reform almost impossible, at least without violence on the streets. Workers in the French public transport system, who enjoy privileges that would have made Louis XIV gasp, strike the moment that any reduction in them is even mooted, all in the name of preserving social justice as represented by those privileges, despite the fact that striking brings misery and impoverishment to millions of their fellow-citizens, and their privileges are bankrupting the state. The goal of everyone is to parasitize everyone else, or to struggle for as large a slice of the economic cake as possible. No one worries about the size of the cake itself. Apres moi, le deluge has become the watchword not of the king alone, but of the entire population.
France is perhaps worse in this respect than most other European countries, but it is not in an entirely different class or category from them. It hardly needs pointing out that the rest of an increasingly competitive and globalized world is not going to be sensitive to the same concerns as European governments; and while it is possible that European countries will nevertheless survive or pay their way economically by finding niche markets, this would represent a marginalization of a continent accustomed to thinking of itself as the centre of the world. Of course, marginalization is not the same as doom, unless you believe that being important in the world is itself all-important.
But there are other threats to Europe. The miserabilist view of the European past, in which achievement on a truly stupendous scale is disregarded in favor of massacre, oppression and injustice, deprives the population of any sense of pride or tradition to which it might contribute or which might be worth preserving. This loss of cultural confidence is particularly important at a time of mass immigration from very alien cultures, an immigration that can be successfully negotiated (as it has been in the past, or in the United States up to the era of multiculturalism) only if the host nations believe themselves to be the bearers of cultures into which immigrants wish, or ought to wish, to integrate, assimilate, and make their own.
In the absence of any such belief, there is a risk that the only way in which people inhabiting a country will have anything in common is geographical; and civil conflict is the method in which they will resolve their very different and entrenched conceptions about the way life should be lived. This is particularly true when immigrants are in possession, as they believe, of a unique and universal truth, such as Islam in its various forms often claims to be. If the host nation is so lacking in cultural confidence that it does not even make familiarity with the national language a condition of citizenship (as has been until recently the case in Great Britain), it is hardly surprising that integration does not proceed very far.
The problem is multiplied when a rigid labor market is capable of creating large castes of people who are unemployed and might well remain so for the whole of their adult lives. To the bitterness caused by economic uselessness will then be added, or rather be multiplied by, the bitterness of cultural separation. In the case of Islam this is particularly dangerous, because the mixture of an awareness of inferiority on the one hand, and superiority on the other, is historically a very combustible one. Latin Americans have felt it towards the United States, Russians towards Western Europe, Chinese and Japanese towards Europe and America, no doubt among many other examples.
Doom or further decline is not inevitable, however, though avoidance of it requires active effort. The auguries are not good, not only because of the political immobilism that elaborate systems of social security have caused in most European countries, but because of the European multinational entity that is being created against the wishes of the peoples of Europe (insofar as they can be gauged).
The European Union serves several purposes, none of which have much to do with the real challenges facing the continent. The Union helps Germans to forget that they are Germans, and gives them another identity rather more pleasing in their own estimation; it allows the French to forget that they are now a medium sized nation, one among many, and gives them the illusion of power and importance; it acts as a giant pension fund for politicians who are no longer willing or able successfully to compete in the rough and tumble of electoral politics, and enables them to hang on to influence and power long after they have been rejected at the polls; and it acts as a potential fortress against the winds of competition that are now blowing from all over the world, and that are deeply unsettling to people who desire security above all else.
Apocalyptic thought is curiously pleasurable. Doom is too strong a word, in my view; I think it would be more accurate to say that Europe is sleepwalking to further relative decline. But we should also modestly remember that the future is, ultimately, unknowable.
Reply to Dalrymple
To a majority of Western Europeans, the outside world appears more like a threat than an opportunity. In France, Germany and Italy, the creation of wealth takes a back seat to its distribution—more often than not, from those with a little to those with a lot. Several Western European nations have become zero-sum societies, with winner-take-all welfare states and loser-suffer-all labor markets. The “European Social Model,” associated with the “Old European” nations of France, Germany and Italy, is becoming an anti-model, a lesson of what not to do. (Meanwhile, the Scandinavian model of “flexisecurity,” combining healthy economic growth, flexible labor markets, high labor force participation rates, reliance on trade, and a supple welfare state geared towards job creation and retraining, is being studied by social policy experts and reform-minded politicians across Europe). If Old Europe continues on its current course of stagnation, the sky will not fall, but protectionist barriers will probably rise, and the world will be a poorer place for it.
It is difficult to believe that only thirty to forty years ago, Western Europe was in the midst of a massive social and economic transformation—a rural exodus involving tens of millions of people, the arrival of millions of immigrants to fuel dynamic economies growing at 5% per year, and social and occupational flux of the highest order.
Today stasis is the order of the day. As Theodore Dalrymple notes, in Old Europe the public purpose is geared toward the protection of existing jobs and wealth; meanwhile, wealth creation has disappeared from the radar screen. The general population sees immigrants and their children as threats to their share of a dwindling system of spoils. Starting in the mid-1970s, Western Europeans attempted to freeze the postwar economic miracle in its tracks, as they shut their borders to immigrants, and shut their factories to new workers. Europeans lost the focus on economic growth and instead concentrated on the distribution of existing wealth. They began to over-regulate labor markets in order to “humanize” capitalism. The drawbridge was raised and the moat was dug around the comfortably employed “insiders,” to the detriment of aspiring workers, a disproportionate share of whom are of recent immigrant origins. This is a colossal waste of human potential, not to mention the racial discrimination involved. Low economic growth rates coupled with relatively low birth rates and a reluctance to open up the borders amounts to a recipe for the long-term decline of Europe’s weight in the world. Western Europeans, of course, are free to choose such a future. But is this really what they want?
In order to avoid answering this question, politicians, intellectuals and labor leaders invoke the specter of “globalization” to wash their hands of responsibility for the problems they have created. Many Western Europeans proclaim their desire for social democracy, but they forget that without full employment, social democracy is impossible. Middle class Germans and Italians are certainly in favor of helping the poor and the unemployed… provided they don’t have to make a personal sacrifice. They are willing to consider every remedy except the proven, successful one: the deregulation of labor markets. This—and not necessarily the level of social spending—is the key to Old Europe’s problems.
Dr. Dalrymple is correct to argue that Western Europe’s obsession with stability and social security is a barrier to growth and a millstone around the neck of future generations. Dr. Dalrymple argues that Old Europe suffers from a loss of cultural confidence. He is correct. The entire European project has become defensive in nature: its key purpose is to serve as a buffer against the apparent American menace. Meanwhile, nuclear weapons proliferate, civil wars smolder in Africa, AIDS marches through Asia… and millions of Europeans are more concerned about the spread of McDonald’s and Coca Cola. The USA is resented due to its wealth, its dynamism, and its inconsistent projection of its power. Western Europeans dream of a “multipolar” world to counterbalance U.S. power but they are not willing to spend their own money or risk their own skins to make it happen.
Dr. Dalyrmple is correct to note that Western Europeans have forgotten that social solidarity rests upon constant change and economic growth. Without full employment, there can be no social solidarity. The Swedes understand this, but the French do not. There are too many comfortable people in France, Germany and Italy with too much to lose. As Daniel Bell observed over thirty years ago, the virtues which made capitalist development possible in the first place—savings, hard work, innovation, risk-taking—were collapsing under the weight of capitalism’s comforts. Bell’s conclusions ring a little hollow in the USA, but contemporary Western Europe is proving the professor prophetic: the organized working class fights not for the “right to work,” as it once did, but for the “right not to work”: state-sponsored comforts including short working weeks, long paid vacations, lavish spa treatments, and precocious pensions.
All of this comes at a cost, but, as Dalrymple notes, “Old Europe” is not on the brink of collapse. What does not kill European business makes it stronger: jungle statism, with its regulatory thickets, predatory taxmen and capitalist-bashing “intellectuals,” makes those European corporations which do survive even fitter. This explains why Western European productivity levels outshone American ones in the 1980s and into the mid-1990s. But productivity has now slowed down in Western Europe, and this is a bad omen. Still, Old Europe’s key problem is not low productiviy or the failure to create new wealth; it is its failure to allow the market to distribute new wealth in the form of new, private sector jobs. This is why French youth of immigrant origins riot but their Canadian counterparts do not.
In one regard, Dr. Dalrymple’s cogent analysis of Europe’s malaise does not give credit where credit is due: Europe’s powerful intellectuals are united in their opposition to change, in their demonization of globalization, and in their reflex-like defense of all things “social.” They bear a heavy share of responsibility for Old Europe’s current malaise. As Dalrymple observes, three times as many people in France have warm feelings towards socialism as towards capitalism. France, Germany and Italy are indeed in denial regarding the source of their current wealth. Here are three of the world’s top ten economies, whose current comforts rest upon centuries of capitalist wealth accumulation, yet the majority of the population in each nation is anti-capitalist. We can thank the European intellectual class for this. France and Italy have never had a reckoning with Marxism: self-styled “Trotskyistes” abound in the academy; former Trotskyites become prime minister of France; extreme right and left wing parties win over 8 million votes in national elections, and parties like the “Communist Revolutionary League” of France are treated as legitimate actors and not the crackpot extremists that they are. “Intellectuals” continue to stoke the fires of nineteenth-century class conflict. Armed with a language that does not correspond to the reality on the ground, they fight phantom menaces, wasting energy and distracting the public from the true origins of their economic problems. The French working class abandoned the Socialist Party a long time ago: it has nothing to offer them but joblessness.
Western European labor leaders and intellectuals tend to see the world in black and white terms: the market is uniformly inhumane, in need of taming by wise politicians. But the state is inherently good and wise, by definition an instrument of “solidarity.” There are no shades of gray and no place for paradox. The idea that a bit more job insecurity would lead to more job creation is simply unacceptable in Old Europe (but the Danes and the Finns have accepted this and that’s why they are in better economic shape). The notion of “creative destruction” would strike most denizens of Old Europe as a bizarre right-wing American concept, even as the concept plays itself out every day in any successful capitalist economy—from the USA to Sweden. Intellectuals have only got time for the pain; they never speak of the gains from trade. Unlike their Swedish and Danish counterparts, the French Socialist party cannot countenance the idea that private sector job creation might be the solution to the country’s woes: all efforts have focused on building up the state sector, which further taxes the private sector. And the vicious circle goes on and on. Until this circle is broken, Western Europe will continue to stagnate.
I have just one criticism of Dr. Dalrymple’s excellent essay: he charges that the British government “is in the process of destroying” the economy through “ever-closer regulation in the French centralist style.” It is certainly true that taxes have increased on Blair’s watch, but Britain is still one of the most business-friendly environments in the rich world. Barriers to entry are few. The British economy is not at the mercy of corporatist vested interests with the power to block economic change. The British have accepted the Thatcher adjustment to labor markets. No one wants a return of Arthur Scargill-style trade unionism, which put the comforts of the few on the shoulders of the many. The British have displayed an enviable amount of pragmatism in recent years: where else in Europe has a government introduced substantial fees to reinvest in the university system?
The idea that higher taxes in the UK will lead towards Eurosclerosis is off the mark: if high taxes per se killed jobs, then how do the Scandinavian economies thrive? It’s not the level of tax that is crucial, it is the type of tax. Sweden has punishing income taxes but very low corporate taxes. Denmark and Sweden are ranked among the most attractive places to invest and build new businesses. Britain’s tax structure is not nearly as harmful to job creation as is the French or German. Higher spending will not necessarily cripple the British economy. Above all, British labor law is still relatively weak and flexible. I am mildly optimistic about Britain’s future. Consider the pension issue: the problem in Britain is that they are not generous enough—the complete reverse of the German, Italian and Frence scenario. British finances are in relatively good shape: debt-to-GDP ratios are relatively low, and until very recently Britain was, along with Canada, in the best shape of any G8 nation. It’s true that there are still too many people on “disability” benefits in the UK, but in comparison with Old Europe, Britain is doing well. Child poverty is decreasing. Does anyone really believe that the National Health Service was funded adequately when Blair came to power eight years ago? (Every time I meet a British medical doctor-refugee in Kingston, Ontario, I find the answer to my question.) There is precious little demagoguery to be found in British politics outside of the loony left and the Conservative Party’s Europhobic backbench boys. Neither camp wields very much power. The French take to the streets to oppose policies which might reduce unemployment; the British reserve such protests for more important issues such as the right to hunt foxes! Thatcher brought vested interests to their knees; vested interests continue to bring Paris and Rome to a standstill several times a year. Old Europe is distinguished by its politicians’ failure to propose and carry through reforms which will, in the short term, be painful, but without which long-term decline is the only alternative.
Reply to Dalrymple
Dr. Dalrymple trenchantly identifies some of the pressing challenges facing Europe. But he ultimately errs by allowing hyperbole to triumph over analysis, leaving us with an essay that, albeit elegant, is essentially a Europhobic rant.
Darlymple informs us that “a pall of doom” and “a profound feeling of impotence” now overhang a Europe that is in the midst of losing its power, influence and importance.” The chief culprits are Europe’s “obsession with social security,” a pervasive political immobility, and a European Union that might enable the French to sustain “the illusion of power and importance, but does nothing to address “the real challenges facing the continent.” As a result of excessive state intervention and public expenditure, Europe is headed toward “economic disaster.” Muslim immigration is only making matters worse. Host nations lack the cultural confidence to make integration work and sluggish economies provide few opportunities for employment, saddling immigrants with a bitterness born of “economic uselessness” and “cultural separation.”
Quite an indictment. Indeed, if conditions are so dire, perhaps Europe should just throw in the towel, accept its global irrelevance, and quietly slip into oblivion.
To be sure, Europe does have its problems. Rigid labor markets and onerous welfare systems dampen economic growth. Europe’s citizens feel detached from governing elites in national capitals as well as in Brussels. Many Europeans still tend to equate nationhood with ethnicity, one of the factors that impedes the integration of immigrants into the social mainstream. And the process of political and economic integration has stumbled of late, with French and Dutch rejection of the Constitutional Treaty revealing widespread discontent with the prospect of a deeper and wider union.
But a more realistic–and less polemical–assessment of Europe reveals many strengths, not just weaknesses. Dalrymple portrays the EU as an economic basket case, but its aggregate wealth now rivals that of the United States. The EU represents a single market of over 450 million consumers, compared with a U.S. population of roughly 300 million. Due to a low fertility rate, Europe’s population is poised to shrink in the decades ahead, while America’s will continue to grow. Nonetheless, Europe’s population will be considerably larger than that of the United States for at least the next four decades.
As for economic output, the United States has of late enjoyed more robust rates of growth than Europe–about three percent per year in America compared with two percent in Europe. Dalrymple is right that Europe’s welfare state and its rigid labor markets constrain economic output.
Nonetheless, the health of the European economy is much less grave than he makes out. If one sets aside Germany, Europe’s economic growth has been roughly equivalent to America’s. That sleight of hand is of course unfair; it would be like evaluating the health of the U.S. economy while setting aside the performance of California. But withholding Germany from the picture does make clear that many EU countries are doing quite well. It is simply not the case that the continent is populated primarily by sclerotic, dysfunctional economies on their last gasp.
Moreover, Dalrymple exaggerates the structural constraints on growth. Much of the growth differential between the two sides of the Atlantic stems from two factors: Europe’s population has been stagnant while America’s has continued to grow; and Europeans tend to work fifteen percent fewer hours per year than their U.S. counterparts. If Europe had more warm bodies and they were willing to work longer hours, growth rates within the EU would pick up accordingly.
The deregulation and liberalization of continental economies would also help, releasing the potential for growth currently being constrained by the high costs of labor and structural rigidities. Dalrymple is right to point out that structural reform will not be easy; organized labor remains far stronger in Europe than in the United States, as made clear by the frequent work stoppages that paralyze Paris. But Europe’s left is in disarray, in part due to the pressures and dislocations of globalization. Germany’s new chancellor, Angela Merkel, may be hemmed in by her coalition with the Social Democrats, but she appears intent on bringing down the non-wage costs of labor which continue to fuel unemployment and dampen growth.
Dalrymple’s assessment of the project of European integration is similarly off the mark. The enterprise of economic and political union is not, as he would have it, little more than a therapeutic illusion that “helps Germans to forget that they are Germans,” and that “acts as a potential fortress against the winds of competition that are now blowing from all over the world.” Quite the contrary. The EU enables Germans to be comfortable with their nationhood even as they help construct a pan-European political project. And far from being a protective device intended to insulate Europeans from globalization, economic integration within Europe provides impetus for liberalization, ultimately enabling the EU to compete more effectively in the global market place. It may have been more political posturing than sincere critique, but French Socialists were not mistaken to portray the Constitutional Treaty as an “Anglo-Saxon” document that would help liberalize European markets.
Although most of Dalrymple’s essay vastly exaggerates Europe’s woes, in one respect it considerably underestimates them: the challenge of integrating Muslim immigrants into European society. The terrorist bombings in Madrid and London, the riots in France, the violence in the Netherlands, the ongoing turmoil stemming from the publication of cartoons offensive to Muslims, the strengthening of anti-immigrant parties across Europe–these all demonstrate the ill effects of a Europe that has embraced multiculturalism in fact, but not yet in spirit.
In light of Europe’s looming demographic crisis, the problem promises to get worse, not better. France, for example, has one of Europe’s highest fertility rates–about 1.9 children per woman–as compared with a rate of only 1.3 in Germany, Italy, and Spain. But since a fertility rate of 2.07 is needed to keep France’s population at a steady level, even the more amorous French are poised to watch their countrymen dwindle in the years ahead. In Germany, Italy and Spain, the problem will be even more severe. The decline of Europe’s population promises to starve its economy of badly needed workers and to bankrupt its pension systems. One recent study estimates that the ageing of its populace could cut Europe’s economic growth rate by as much as fifty percent by 2040.
Simply put, the EU needs immigrants to replenish its shrinking work force and keep its pensions solvent. With fertility rates in Central and Eastern Europe also lagging, many of these immigrants will of necessity come from Turkey and Muslim countries in North Africa and the Middle East–where a youth bulge coupled with high unemployment will provide an abundance of willing workers for decades to come.
If Europeans are to do a better job of integrating Muslim immigrants into their societies–which they must–they will need to embrace more fully a civic definition of nationhood, one that welcomes newcomers regardless of origin and religious persuasion. They must also provide language and vocational training; otherwise, immigrants will remain on a fast track to second-class citizenship. Muslim leaders in Europe have their own work to do, encouraging their communities to pursue integration rather than segregation and supporting a politics of moderation rather than confrontation.
Dalrymple concludes that Europe “is sleep-walking to further relative decline.” Perhaps it will end up there. But for now, the EU remains a vital center of economic power and its continuing enlargement to the east is extending markets, democracy, and its political sway to Eurasia’s strategic heartland. Not bad for a group of nations that only six decades ago were trying to destroy each other.
Reply to Dalrymple
I long–I really do long–to contradict Dr. Dalyrymple. I write here as an American who lived in Europe for most of my adult life. I have a European husband, a European house. I have children with European passports. I too have a European passport, in addition to my American one. I speak three European languages besides English, have friends in several European capitals, and am moving back to Europe next year.
Yet on reading the “Is Old Europe Doomed” essay, I was reminded of a recent conversation with a friend, another American Europhile, now resident in East Asia. Sadly, we agreed that the Europeans who bash “wild” Anglo-Saxon capitalism, who believe America is an unregulated jungle, and who feel smug and safe within their secure welfare states are deeply, deeply deluded. They haven’t yet realized that the economic and social challenge presented by the successful societies of Asia is hundreds of times more dangerous to their way of life than the caricature they’ve created of the challenge presented by the United States, a country which is nearly as over-regulated as their own. If the rise of China continues apace, I’m afraid Dr. Dalyrymple’s final phrase–that Europe is “sleep-walking to further relative decline–might even be too mild. At some point, it’s also possible that Europe’s decline, for all the reasons he listed, might even cease to be relative.
But I also take his point about historic inevitability–namely, that there isn’t any. So since I can’t match Dr. Dalyrymple’s apocalyptic eloquence anyway, I’m going to reverse the question slightly, and list three factors which could, over the next decade, help reverse Europe’s course. I’m not attempting anything so uplifting as counter-intuitive optimism here, just trying to identify what, exactly, could help Europe escape its current economic and psychological slump.
The first, and probably most serious problem Europe faces is a dearth of political leaders who have not only identified the source of the economic problems–the regulation, the over-extended state, the absence of entrepreneurship–but also have ideas about how to fix them, and know how to sell those ideas to the public. To put it differently: Most of Europe is still waiting for its Margaret Thatcher. Most of Europe still doesn’t have serious, economically liberal, center-right political leaders who win elections, and who present economic opportunity, economic choice, and economic freedom as positive, not terrifying.
This is not to say that there could never be such leaders. Portugal–not a country known for its libertarianism–did recently produce a free-market government (or freer-market government; these things are relative). So did Denmark. Italy almost did–anyway Italians voted for Silvio Berlusconi on the grounds that he sounded different from his corrupt predecessors, even if he turned out not to be quite so different as advertised. It is not impossible to imagine that Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats could develop into such a party, but it seems, sadly, that Mrs. Merkel has not worked hard enough on the “sell those ideas to the public” part of the solution. It’s also not impossible that Nicholas Sarkozy could become a truly transformative leader too, but it’s not clear whether the rest of the French establishment would let him.
The second thing missing in “old” Europe is an acknowledgment of the possibilities presented by the new members of the European Union. One of the oddities of contemporary Western European psychology is the absence of any sense that “we won” the Cold War. The fall of the Berlin Wall was, after all, as much a triumph for Western Europe as it was for the U.S., if not more so. In the final analysis, the Easterners walked across the wall because they liked what they saw on the other side. But–as with everything else–the expansion of Europe has led not to a sense of victory, or a perception that Western ideals were vindicated, but more fear: The Polish plumbers will take our jobs, the Lithuanian construction workers will put ours out of business.
Maybe, with time, the addition of central Europe to the EU will give Europeans a broader perspective on their own history, a larger definition of what it means to be “European.” Maybe some of the new members will produce leaders who can sell their ideas and experience in the West. After all, they have a very recent, and for the most part very succesful experience of turning their state-dominated, centrally-planned economies into relatively fast-growing markets. Maybe the rapid expansion of European markets for goods and labor will jump-start the flagging economies of the West. Or maybe–alas it’s possible–Western Europe will bribe the best easterners with EU jobs and scholarships, and convert them into negative, fearful Euro-statists before anyone has even had a chance to notice that it’s happening.
Finally, Europeans need to ditch their increasingly bizarre obsession with the evil United States. I realize that the current virulence of European anti-Americanism is in some senses an accident, the product of the election of George W. Bush (whom Europeans hated even before Iraq), the events of Sept. 11, the war, and truly terrible American diplomacy. But it’s becoming a problem for Europe now too. Relatively mild free-market reforms–privatization, lower taxes, de-centralization–can be skewered, in Europe, if opponents simply refer to them as “too American.” Without a sense of solidarity among Western countries–all of the Western countries–it’s impossible to construct a coherent response to Islamic radicalism either.
Again, I don’t think European hatred for the U.S. is inevitable. Elsewhere, I’ve written myself that surprisingly large numbers of Frenchmen and Germans–approximately a third–are actually pro-American. I don’t think it’s coincidental that those who most like the U.S. are often the same less educated, less wealthy, lower-middle classes who brought Thatcher and Berlusconi to power. These are the people who have the fewest opportunities in today’s Europe, and who imagine a more “American” society would offer them greater opportunities. My point is not that they are right or wrong about America, but that their aspirations are real. Someday a creative politician will find a way to appeal to them. Someday, an American president might find a way to do so too.
I realize, of course, that this is far from a complete list. Indeed, as I write this, tens of thousands of British Muslims are protesting against the publication of Danish cartoons. Clearly, there is a lot more to say about them–but I’ll leave that topic for later discussion.
Kicking off the Conversation: Dalrymple’s Response
I am grateful to all three respondents.
I agree with Anne Applebaum that fear of America acts as a blind to real challenges coming from the east—including that of dependence on Russia for energy, of course. This is particularly dangerous in the light of our military unpreparedness. The challenge of India and China is, among several others, educational. They take education very seriously and we do not, or regard its principal function as boosting the self-esteem of the poor pupil. Declining and low standards prevail in much of Europe as a result. In a competitive world this is a disaster, and unlike the US, we cannot attract sufficient highly-qualified people to make up for our own deficiencies, brought about by educational frivolity.
I cannot agree that multiculturalism, embraced in fact as well as spirit (or theory) is part of the solution to our problems posed by Moslem immigrants. This sees to me preposterous. The idea that the French riots took place because the inhabitants of the banlieues did not speak sufficient French is absurd: they all spoke French. And I fail to see how embracing multiculturalism will do anything to inhibit Muslim extremists. As one Italian put it, multiculturalism is not couscous: it is the stoning of adulterers—and, as we have recently discovered, far worse than that. The United States has an advantage because it has a compelling foundation myth, which Europe does not have, and this helps to integrate new arrivals.
I agree wholeheartedly with Prof. Smith that European intellectuals have a lot to answer for, with their snobbish disdain of economic motives and market mechanisms. But I think Mrs. Thatcher’s record is much more equivocal than Prof. Smith allows. She was actually responsible for some of the centralization that is now evident. I accept his excellent point about levels of taxation in Scandinavia; but the idea that increases in tax in Britain do anything to improve services is mistaken. Expenditure on the National Health Service does not improve it, for reasons that it would be difficult to explain in a short space (I have worked, on and off, in the NHS for 30 years). Public expenditure that does not achieve its ostensible purpose is a great economic burden. There is no reason, for example, why senior managers in the NHS should have increased by 17.5 per cent in one year alone.
If Not Multiculturalism, What?
If Dr. Dalrymple is uncomfortable with the notion of multiculturalism, then how would he propose to deal with the social and political tensions associated with Muslim immigration to Europe? Would he simply close the door to immigrants? Would he argue against trying to integrate them into the mainstream? If Europe fails to turn itself into a more welcoming place for immigrants, then I fear that Dalrymple may well be right that it does not have a bright future.
Mutlticulturalism or Assimilation?
I’m not sure what is meant here by “multiculturalism.” The current American definition of the word—as used in academia for example—is the opposite of the traditional melting pot: multiculturalism means there is no “dominant” culture; there is no one definition of America or American to which all immigrants try to adhere; there is no linguistic or religious or behavioral tradition that we all have in common. If Charles intends to import that idea to Europe, it’s doomed to fail. (I’m not sure it works too well here either, but that’s a completely different matter).
It seems to me that the real difficulty immigrants face in Europe is not racism, or even just the plain old unwelcoming, non-multicultural attitudes of Europeans. It is that the historical national identity of most Europeans is purely ethnic. The definition of a Dane is someone who speaks Danish, grew up eating Danish food, is familiar with Danish fairy tales and has four Danish grandparents. You can’t just tell the Danes they need to scrap all of that old stuff and invent a new identity. To do so would produce a backlash, a cultural vacuum, or both.
The only way immigrants will be absorbed into European countries such as Denmark is the same way they’ve been absorbed for hundreds of years: They must learn Danish, read Danish newspapers, marry Danes, and join Danish political, social, and cultural institutions.
Britain and France are actually exceptions to this, somewhat, because it is possible to be “British” but not “English” or “Scottish,” and because the French have a quasi-universal notion of Francophone culture. Still, the best way to become British is the way generations of, say, British Jews became British: adopt the culture (think of all those Jewish Lords and Ladies). You can’t expect to live a separate life and have separate values and speak a separate language and be accepted as if you were the same. Some European Muslims seem to expect this, however.
There is Multiculturalism and Then There is Multiculturalism
There is multiculturalism and then there is multiculturalism. The type alluded to by Theodore Dalrymple is of course an extreme example. I’m not sure if I’m aware of anyone getting stoned in Canada.
But back to multiculturalism. In the Canadian definition, multiculturalism simply means that we celebrate our ethnic diversity, we welcome immigrants with open arms, and say to them: venez, enrichissez-vous (and -nous, too).
We can do this because we believe in the future, we have a dynamic economy with very little long-term, structural unemployment, and we have very little to “lose.” Unlike French language and culture chauvinists, English Canadians don’t view culture as a pure, sealed vessel.
It’s easier for me, an English Canadian, to take such an approach; after all, like most of my compatriots, I have a very weak sense of national identity. My roots are weak, I have no Racine to revere, and poutine (french fries with cheese curds) isn’t exactly Roquefort. The terroir of the Niagara Peninsula is… well….
France and other European nations have a more difficult time accepting the idea of cultural diversity because they have long, established, written cultures, preserved by urban institutions for hundreds and hundreds of years. These are nations with rich histories. They see no reason to “relativize” their national pasts in order to please newcomers.
The root of Europe’s problems is in fact structural unemployment. I think that the French would become a bit more tolerant if they had to: if the economy were moving at full steam, companies would hire people regardless of their ethnic background.
One final comment on multiculturalism: to be sure, it can be taken to extremes, as any movement can. But what, I ask, is wrong with enunciating the following type of vision to newcomers:
You have a past too, and we won’t require you to deny it. We can strive toward a national culture which, on the one hand, pays due respect to the national values which made this country what it is today, but which also respects difference, and does not ask immigrants to pretend that they have no roots of their own?
After all, there’s a reason why we in the rich world admit immigrants, and the least we can do is show a little respect. There is no harm in that.
As long as the fundamental laws of the land—in Canada, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms—are respected, what is the harm in being a tolerant society? One might respond: multiculturalism is a myth. Perhaps. But a useful one, in that it puts an admirable ideal in our sights and it gives us a sense of hope. Before immigrants to Canada are considered equal in the economic sense (this of course takes a generation or two, usually), they are already considered equal in the theoretical and political sense.
The one may help lead to the other. Multiculturalism will never win everyone over, but consider the complete opposite—ethnic nationalism. Is this what we want? We know where that road leads…
Finally, a few parting shots at the French model, as I sit in the Roissy aiport. French opponents of multiculturalism charge that it will lead to ethnic ghettos. And there are no ethnic ghettos today? Both taxi drivers I spoke to, on the way in and the way out, were of immigrant origins. Both of them told me how they feel unwelcome. Both hate French politicians, of all stripes. Both railed against the law outlawing religious symbols. And both predicted that there will be more riots. I heard the same thing in the suburbs, where I was on a radio show hosted in a café.
The French model is grounded in an ideology so profound it can’t see beyond its nose, and it allows elites to remain oblivious to the reality on the ground. France is living proof that a multicultural society (demographically speaking, that is) which denies this reality, does so at the risk of social peace. Beyond this concern, wouldn’t all the devotees of Adam Smith out there be more inclined—shouldn’t they be—to embrace a more cosomopolitan, individualist view of social identity? It’s ironic, but true: multiculturalism strengthens individualism, insofar as it works in the direction of respecting difference. Ethnic nationalism, by contrast, works in favor of the group, at a terrible cost to individualism. Ethnic nationalism has a far bloodier past than multiculturalism.
Integration and “Savage Liberalism”
As the descendent of a long line of refugees, I cannot be against immigration—though common sense suggests that some immigrants may be easier to integrate successfully than others.
My mother arrived in Britain penniless, but fortunately for her—and for Britain—no one sought to persuade her that she need not learn English, and no one set up expensive and ineffective services for her in case she did not. She was not obliged to give up her tastes or conform in private respects, but she was expected (de facto) to blend into society as much as possible, rightly and reasonably, in my opinion. There was no ideology seeking to Balkanize the sensibilities of the population, enclose people in ghettoes and so forth, in the process acting as an employment opportunity for hordes of officials and bureaucrats.
Although it is not a complete answer, a flexible labor market is very important, because there is nothing like work to integrate people. One of the problems in France is that youth unemployment is very high, and you only have to ask a plumber or a carpenter why he does not employ anyone to find out why. Thus, huge numbers of young immigrants or descendents of immigrants gather in one area—“social housing”—without realistic prospect of work.
In Britain, 25 percent of medical students are now of Indian subcontinental origin. This is not the result of official policy, but because Indian schoolchildren are best, both because their families are intact and there is a serious emphasis on education among them. Not long ago in Britain, black football players were scarce because of prejudice, and the behaviour of the crowds towards them authentically revolting. Fortunately, however, there were 92 competing clubs in the league, and once a few clubs started to use black players, the rest soon had to follow suit—because of the logic of the situation, not because the directors of clubs suddenly became more broadminded. However, prejudice declined in the end as well.
In so far as fear of the future leads governments—often at the behest of the people—to make labor markets rigid, it increases the potential for violence and intercommunal conflict. It is therefore necessary to destroy the prejudice against flexible labor markets. In France, the words “savage” and “liberalism” go together like a horse and carriage (of love and marriage one cannot speak); but this is, in present circumstances at least, the precise opposite of the truth.
Integration and Wounded Pride
I’m sure Dr. Dalyrymple is right about work being the best possible way to integrate foreigners. I can well imagine that much of the tolerance for immigrants that America prides itself on would evaporate pretty rapidly in the case of a severe recession here too.
But I’d like to return to another, not unrelated point, which is one that he started off with: Namely, the fact that much of Europe’s self-perceived “decline” is as much psychological as economic. I lived in Britain during the 1990s, a time when the country was generally improving economically. But the economic growth didn’t stop books about the country’s decline from becoming best-sellers, and didn’t prevent the media from remaining bitter and cynical about the political class.
Partly this is to do with the sense of relative decline that Dr. Dalrymple mentions: Many Europeans are richer this decade than they were in the last decade, but they aren’t richer than everybody else. Nor are they dominating the global economic game. People across the continent resent the fact that you have to speak English, and play by what they imagine to be America’s rules in order to do well. It’s an assault on their national identity.
In that context, the large numbers of immigrants who also don’t seem interested in playing by European rules attract extra resentment: They undermine the (already shaky) national identity even more.
Multiculturalism is Marvelous for Restaurants
I think Prof. Smith underestimates some of the difficulties of multiculturalism in the European context at any rate. No one is suggesting that people who come to European countries should forget where they come from, eat the same food as the people who are already present there, and in short should make themselves exactly identical in al respects to Frenchmen, Germans, etc.
However, his multicultural optimism cannot possibly include the adoption of Cambodian political principles, Somali gynecological surgery, and so forth. He is not suggesting, I presume, that Pali, Sanskrit and Classical Arabic, as well as Church Slavonic, should be part of the curriculum taught in all Canadian schools.
In Britain, as in France, ghettoes of Muslim immigrants have been allowed to form, and as I know from my own medical practice, forced marriage is common within it, and girls are forcibly and illegally prevented from receiving an education. If they attempt to join the surrounding society, they are physically locked up—indeed, there are police units that do nothing except rescue such girls from their imprisoning families, and there are private detective agencies that specialize in kidnapping girls who have run away from home. Moreover, conflict between Muslims and Sikhs erupts sometimes into violence.
40 percent of Muslims living in Britain want Sharia law to be instituted for themselves, and 20 percent sympathize with train bombers.
This is not because there are no economic opportunities in Britain—it is economically more open than France, for example. It absorbed East African Asians in large numbers, and they prospered enormously—all before anyone had thought of multiculturalism.
Multiculturalism is marvelous when it comes to the restaurant trade—but not when it comes to matters such as the political philosophy by which we live, or the legal system we employ.
It Takes Capitalism to Have Socialism
I am afraid that Dr. Dalrymple exaggerates. The type of “multiculturalism” he criticizes reminds me of the far-left’s critique of capitalism. Yes, there are abuses within any large process, such as capitalism, but by focusing on them we miss the big picture. Surely what Dr. Dalrymple describes is grounded in fact, and such violations of human rights run counter to our laws and are therefore unacceptable, but his blog post does not tell the whole story. I think it misses the point: denying cultural difference and demanding instant assimilation does not work. France is proof of this. Accepting diversity—although not the extreme type that Dr. Dalrymple highlights—is the better way to go. I am arguing for a middle ground.
Finally, I’d like to get a final few thoughts in on Old Europe’s general malaise. I think that Anne Applebaum hit the nail on the head when she noted, in her first reply to the lead essay by Theodore Dalrymple, that Old Europe lacks centrist politicians, particularly center-right ones. I would argue that center-left politicians are rare too: Segolène Royal, the likely Socialist contender for the French presidency in 2007, recently praised Tony Blair. She paid a high price for this. Surely every French socialist knows that Blair is a sneaky Bernsteinite.
This type of caricaturizing of the moderate left is a glaring problem in France and Germany at the moment. But the right is demonized, and that’s the even more alarming problem. Merkel is unable to implement the reforms she would like because the public does not trust her and the left won’t let her. France might appear to have a center-right in the form of Sarkozy and de Villepin, but they have a tendency to engage in the same old industrial protectionism as the left. The root of Old Europe’s problems is that it is in denial regarding the nature of the society it has constructed. In the first instance, European nations are capitalist, not socialist. It takes capitalism to have socialism, in the sense that without capitalism you get Cuba and North Korea and Albania when you try to redistribute. How many politicians in Old Europe are ready to defend capitalism against the utopian left? Not one prominent man or woman. Old Europe thinks that it has reached a sort of end-of-history—people dream of moving beyond capitalism to a more “humane” world. Witness the 35 hour week. The 35 hour week will go down in history as the point at which France raised its hands, capitulated, and sank into a slumber. Let’s hope that the rest of Europe wakes up before the continent’s relative decline leads to protectionism and drags the rest of us down.
European Identity: A Work in Progress
I would like to associate myself with the perspective on multiculturalism offered by Professor Smith. I think he presents a sensible and reasoned definition of the term and how it works in practice.
I would also warn against primordial conceptions of Europe’s traditional nation-states—those holding that Europeans have a far less malleable and open notion of national identity than do Americans, due to the nature of America’s foundational principles. It is worth keeping in mind that Europe’s contemporary nation-states are social and political constructions, products of the state-building efforts that began in the 18th century. They are still works in progress, changing in step with demographic shifts on the ground—as made clear by recent changes in German laws on naturalization.
It is also inappropriate to presume that the United States had an integrative, multicultural notion of identity from the outset. Until at least the late 19th century, the citizens of the US demonstrated much stronger loyalties to their separate states than to the union. African-Americans were welcomed into the social mainstream only during the second half of the twentieth century. American multiculturalism was fueled by the industrial revolution, which created an ethnic mixing bowl. America’s open, multicultural approach to national identity is a twentieth century development.
Globalization is now doing the same for Europe—pressing it in the direction of becoming demographic mixing bowls. Traditional notions of nationhood are under threat and their adherents are digging in their heels. But changes in identity do not come easily—as the U.S. Civil War made amply clear.