The Last Days of Europe: Epitaph for an Old Continent

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The Last Days of Europe: Epitaph for an Old Continent Walter Laqueur St. Martin's Press, 2007

It is significant that Walter Laqueur has joined the growing chorus now pointing to the extraordinary demographic transformation occurring in Europe. He has long been prominent among modern European historians, this being at least his twenty-second book. He speaks of Europe's "political class" and says that it has just recently become conscious of the threat to Europe's existence (not as a place, certainly, but as a civilization anything like what the world has known in the past). The significance of Laqueur's book is that that political class may be willing to listen to him, whereas it has not been open to the alarums expressed, even so long ago as 1973, by the likes of Jean Raspail in The Camp of the Saints. That is, they will listen to Laqueur if they have themselves come to a point where his recitation of a number of untoward facts about demographic swamping is not itself too "politically incorrect" for them to tolerate.

The title The Last Days of Europe is consistent with Laqueur's view that the tipping point of demographic change has passed, so that Europe's "existential crisis" is by this time "irreversible." A combination of Europeans' long-declining birthrate, their aging as a population (which itself accelerates the decline in the birthrate), the influx of tens of millions of Muslims and other immigrants, and the much higher birthrate of those immigrants - all of this will within a generation or two put the erstwhile "natives" in the minority. Any hope that the immigrants will "assimilate" and become Europeans-as-such is a dim one, he thinks, both because the immigrants as a whole, while not wishing to return to their home countries, do not wish to assimilate and because as they become a majority they will be inclined to insist that the indigenous Europeans assimilate to them.

He gives some telling facts about the failure of the native European population to reproduce itself. It may surprise us that "the birthrate has been falling for the last 150 years." In the nineteenth century, the average number of children per family was five, but this "fell below the reproduction rate (2.2) in the major European countries before the outbreak of World War I" [emphasis added]. Russia provides a salient example of the decline, with its population of 145 million shrinking by two percent per year. Laqueur speculates about the causes of Europe's failure to replicate itself. They include some factors that are too recent to explain the long-term trend, even though they may contribute to the fall in recent decades: the birth control pill, many women's turning toward careers, the lower place now given to marriage as an institution, and the aging of the population. One that he suggests that may go back as far as a century and a half is "the desire for enjoyment," which translates into a wish not to be "tied down" with children. We might add that 150 years ago a much larger portion of the population was engaged in agriculture. The long-term secular trend toward urbanization could well provide the setting for the other causes.

What Laqueur recites about the vast immigrant influx into Europe explores the second dimension of the demographic swamping.

There are at present approximately 1.6 million Muslims in Britain, most of them from Pakistan and Bangladesh. 80,000 Pakistanis live in Bradford, for example, a city of 470,000. Of these 80,000, about half have been born in the United Kingdom. The bulk of the immigrants have not come from the educated classes of their home countries, but instead from the poorer, largely uneducated population. They stay to themselves, living in low-income households and rarely intermarrying with Britons, preferring to import spouses. And it has recently been announced that the British government will finance the immigration of Moslem Iraqis, and their families, who were employed as interpreters and aides by the British troops who were sent to Iraq in an attempt to maintain order in that country. …