How the West Was Lost

Article excerpt

How the West Was Lost [The Last Days of Europe: Epitaph for an Old Continent, Walter Laqueur, Thomas Dunne Books, 256 pages]

By Theodore Dalrymple

FLYING TO ROTTERDAM recently, the largest and busiest port in the world, I was forcibly struck by the aerial view. I doubt there is a sight anywhere that is more eloquent testimony to the power of human intelligence and organization. Indeed, this appUes to the whole of the Netherlands: a physically unpromising fragment of land, much of it reclaimed from the sea, has been diUgently transformed into one of the globe's most flourishing regions, whose economic product exceeds that of the whole of Africa

The text accompanying a book of photographs of the Dutch landscape that I was given as a present is an unconscious witness to the country's wealth. Extolling Dutch society's fundamental egalitarianism, the text stated that in HoUand you wUl not see expensive cars, only middle-of-the-range models. The examples given were Mercedeses and BMWs.

The Dutch are probably the best-educated people in the world (though middle-aged people complain, as everywhere else, that standards are falling). Many Dutch have a vocabulary in English that exceeds that of native speakers in Britain and America. And for many years, the Dutch prided themselves that theirs was a country in which nothing ever happened. The business of HoUand was business - plus social security with a bit of anti-Calvirust decadence thrown in. The country was so tranquil, contented, and firmly established that, failing a rise in the level of the North Sea, it seemed the idyll would continue forever.

But a couple of political assassinations, unprecedented in Holland for more than 300 years, suddenly illuminated, as if by a flash of lightning, a darker aspect of reality - one that was not confined to HoUand but was Europewide. In a very short space of time, complacency gave way to a nagging sense of doom.

It is Europe's doom that Walter Laqueur explores and explains in this succinct and clearly written book. He does not say anything that others have not said before him, but he says it better and with a greater tolerance of nuance than some other works on this vitally important subject

There are three threats to Europe's future. The first comes from demographic decline. Europeans are simply not reproducing, for reasons that are unclear. They seem to care more about the ozone layer and carbon emissions than they do about the continuation of their own societies. Or perhaps bringing up children interferes with what they conceive to be the real business of life: taking lengthy annual hoUdays in exotic locations and other such pleasures.

The second threat comes from the presence of a sizable and growing immigrant population, a large part of which is not necessarily interested in integration. As the population ages, the need for immigrant labor increases, and among the main sources of such labor are North Africa, the Middle East, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. When I recently drove to Antwerp from the South of France, I thought I had arrived in Casablanca. There are parts of Brussels where the police are enjoined not to be seen eating or drinking during Ramadan. Similar accommodations are occurring all over Europe: in the Central Library in Birmingham, for example, I found a women-only table occupied exclusively by young Muslims dressed in the hijab. (They were the lucky ones, members of liberal households that allowed them out on their own.)

The third threat comes from the existence of the welfare state and the welfare-state mentaUty. A system of entitlements has been created that, however economically counterproductive, is politically difficult to dismantle: once privileges are granted, they assume the metaphysical status of immemorial and fundamental rights. The right of French train drivers to retire on full pension at the age of 50 is probably more important to them than the right of free speech - especially that of those who think that retirement at such an age is preposterous. …

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