Europe’s Apocalypse

May 29th, 2010

By Brianna Aubin

Last week, the New York Times published an article saying that the European welfare state would quickly become unsustainable due to high levels of debt, decreasing birthrates, and overly generous benefits.  And in other news, pigs are flying over my window, the sun has risen in the west, and the temperature in Hell is currently 10 below zero and dropping.

More seriously though, the article describes the downward spiral the European welfare states have found themselves falling into.  Portugal, Spain and especially Greece are obviously the ones that have fallen farthest down the well, but there is not a country in Western Europe that could honestly be called safe, and the Europeans know it.  Hence the title of this article.  Balls of fire will not be literally raining down from the sky at any point (unless they’re Molotov cocktails, which could happen), but the world truly is coming to the end of an era, and what will end up emerging from the turmoil is anybody’s guess.

The problem now though is that Europe is stuck between a rock and a hard place.  If they do not make deep structural changes in the way their countries are run, then their nations will suffer serious social unrest as the governments run out of money.  If they do make those changes however, they will also face serious social unrest from the people who are no longer receiving that money.  You only have to look at Greece to know the truth of that.

An Italian is quoted in the article as saying that, “This country has no future.”  That is not quite true.  After all, the continent of Europe is not about to slide into the sea.  The question is not whether Europe will have a future, but what that future will be.  And what that depends on, ultimately, is the set of ideas that Europe adopts when it comes time to choose a foundation for building that future.

There are three main sets of ideas competing for the future of Europe.  One is freedom.  One is government control.  The third is Islam.

The first, freedom, has few adherents in Europe.  Yes, they set a great store by political liberty, but the ideas of economic liberty, capitalism, have very few advocates.  What few people realize though, is that political and economic freedoms are inextricably linked; you cannot have one without the other.  A bookstore is every bit as dependent on the economic freedom necessary to keep the store and the printing presses going as it is on the political freedom of the authors to write as they please, and there are many right-leaning publications whose sole saving grace in a field where majority opinion disagreed with what they had to say was that they managed to sell like soap.

The second set, government control, is a very likely possibility.  I call it government control because it doesn’t really matter whether that government control takes the form of communism, socialism, fascism or corporatism.  The important thing in an ideology of government control is that the needs of the individual become subordinate to the needs of the group, the needs of the group to be determined by a third party, which usually turns out to be government.  The last French election gave a landslide victory to the socialist party.  Hungary, on the other hand, seems to be sliding more towards fascism.  Neither development is particularly encouraging.

The third ideology, Islam, will probably be denied by many to be a serious possibility.  However, I do think it has to be taken into account.  The birthrates of Europe’s Islamic minority are significantly higher than those of the cultural European majority, and it is worth noting that France, the nation with the continent’s highest birthrate, is also the nation with the largest Muslim minority (about 10%).  There are sharia courts in Britain, Mohammed is one of the most popular baby boy names in Belgium, and the Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks of the infamous Jyllands-Posten cartoons was attacked by Muslims in a lecture for showing an insulting cartoon of Mohammed.

Islam has, I believe, a case of deep-seated envy for the West.  If they’re the moral ones after all, and we’re just a bunch of evil degenerates, then why are we the ones with the computers, skyscrapers and airplanes?  If theirs is the superior culture, why does Greece translate five times more books from English per year than the entire Arab world?  But now that Europe is falling down the rabbit hole, Islam will have a chance to beat their fists and cry that theirs is the superior culture after all.  In a time of ideological flux, when the correct ideas of freedom are not available, what people end up picking as their new ideology often depends on little more than which set of ideas sound the most confident and are making the most noise.  And if there’s one thing Islam is good at, it’s appearing very self-confident and making lots of noise.

America will be hard-hit by the future course of events in Europe no matter what happens.  The Euro was once billed as a potential replacement for the dollar, after all.  Now, even if the currency survives the turmoil it’s a safe bet that it is not about to become the world’s reserve anytime soon, though the currency’s drop might serve to help conceal the dollar’s own loss in value from the unsavvy.  But just how bad those effects become will ultimately depend on what we choose to do about them.  Europe is not the only place undergoing an ideological crisis; America simply hasn’t been as badly hit yet.  I do not think Islam is a viable choice for America’s future ideology, though the fact that there are those who are planning to put a mosque at Ground Zero certainly shows that we have a battle to fight in that arena as well.  However, the other two options, freedom and government control, have certainly been busy warring for supremacy since the economic meltdown started.

We have far more defenders of freedom, thanks mostly to a combination of libertarian and conservative advocates; after all, Austrian economics may have begun in the country whose name it bears, but it was in America that the school really started to flourish, along with most of the other major ideological defenders of freedom.  It is also the nation which has the strongest explicit tradition of freedom, even if it hasn’t always lived up to that tradition as it should have.  But the advocates of government intervention have spent the last century putting their roots into this nation, and they’re certainly not going to let go without a fight.

I mention America’s battle because I think that it is pertinent to Europe’s battle.  As I stated earlier, Europe does not have many defenders of freedom in their midst (in fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that many of those who might have stood a chance of doing so were part of Europe’s brain drain to the United States).  Even many of those who are on the Right in Europe would be considered to be on the Left in the U.S.  Which means to me, that if Europe has any hope of preserving the ideas of freedom or having them win out in their own countries, that hope will almost certainly spring from the United States.

As America goes, ultimately so will the free world go.  I hope for Europe’s sake (and our own!) that America chooses wisely.

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3 Responses to “Europe’s Apocalypse”

  1. larry ennis |

    I agree with your accessment that Europe is showing signs of lapsing into a mostly welfare state.
    Tom Carter reaches a similar conclusion in his article about Germany. The state of the economy in the rest of Europe is draining Germany and its people. Strangely enough the great difference between Germany and its neighbors is its similarity to U.S.A.
    Both Germany and Japan have economies that were influenced by American/U.S. foreign aid policies.

  2. Brianna |

    Well, funny thing about Germany. Aside from the hard lesson of the Weimar republic, which no German wants to revisit, they also had a post WWII society working to free up their markets during the rebuilding effort. It was called the Mont Pelerin society, and they passed a lot of laws to liberalize (in the classical sense!) the German economy. Some of the laws were even passed on weekends when nobody was paying attention, because the people who were writing them knew that if they tried to do it in the open, there’d be a huge fight to retain the social welfare state. If you’re interested, there are some details about the Mont Pelerin society in Brian Doherty’s Radicals for Capitalism.

  3. Tom Carter |

    Very insightful take on the current problems of Europe, Brianna. I’ve lived in Europe most of the time for many years now, and in my experience everything you say is pretty much true. I always had doubts about the whole concept of the EU, and the advent of the euro left me shaking my head that economically powerful countries, especially Germany, would be willing to link their monetary future to so many weak, relatively unproductive countries. Skeptics about the EU and particulary about the euro, especially in the U.K., had it right all along. I hope Americans don’t take any pleasure in this situation (you didn’t) because the collapse of the euro and maybe the EU would be a huge problem for the U.S. in many ways.

    As far as the influx of Muslims into European countries in the recent past is concerned, it would be hard to overstate the problem. We’re seeing old, stable societies eroded from within, and it’s a true tragedy. We simply must avoid that kind of tragedy in the U.S. Permitting a mosque to be built at or near Ground Zero is an ominous sign indeed.

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