The West Cannibalizes Itself
What civilization has ever sought to repudiate its own culture and traditions as we do today?
ROBERT W. MERRY
Some 13 European thinkers issued an intellectual protest late last year against the assault on the Western heritage that has been raging on the Continent and in Britain for years. They called their 11-page document “The Paris Statement” and gave it a title: “A Europe We Can Believe In.” The Europe they believe in, write the 13 signatories (well-known in Europe, less so in America), is under threat of destruction from the forces of globalization, multiculturalism, and the EU managerial class, as well as growing anti-Christian prejudice.
“These lands are our home,” says the Statement, “we have no other. Home is a place where things are familiar, and where we are recognized, however far we have wandered. This is the real Europe, our precious and irreplaceable civilization.
The Statement has received a smattering of attention in the European media—broadcast television in Poland and the Netherlands; major newspapers in Germany, France, Spain, and Poland; national weekly magazines in Poland and Hungary; and opinion web sites in the UK, Switzerland, Belgium, and Spain. But mostly it is an intellectual statement written for and consumed largely by other intellectuals.
And of course the assault on Western heritage from within is a potent phenomenon in Europe, fostered by nearly the entire elite structure of the civilization. Thus it isn’t clear what a few highly accomplished intellectuals, however eloquent or anguished, can do to stem the erosion of the civilizational identity. But we are witnessing the emergence of some powerful political currents within the general European population, manifest in increasingly populist voting patterns in France, Germany, Austria, and elsewhere. Hence the Paris Statement could become a significant intellectual underpinning for Europeans who are increasingly concerned about the direction of things in their homeland.
The threat to Europe, says the Statement, comes from “a false understanding” of what Europe is and represents. This “false Europe” is the product of people who are “orphans by choice,” glorifying their vision “as the forerunner of a universal community that is neither universal nor a community.” Believing that history is on their side, these patrons of the false Europe have become “haughty and disdainful, unable to acknowledge the defects in the post-national, post-cultural world they are constructing.” The false Europe, says the statement, is “utopian and tyrannical.”
The true Europe, on the other hand, encompasses a number of fundamental elements—a body of law that applies to all, yet is limited in its demands; a shared understanding of political and cultural traditions and a fealty to those traditions; an appreciation of the nation state as “the political form that joins peoplehood with sovereignty”; a shared regard for the role of the Classical tradition in shaping the Western mind; and an understanding of Christianity as the religious bulwark of the civilization.
Now, write the signatories, “all this is slipping away. As the patrons of the false Europe construct their faux Christendom of universal human rights, we are losing our home.”
In place of the old Europe comes a culture of “libertine hedonism.” Though the elites boast of unprecedented liberty, European life is “more and more comprehensively regulated” than ever before. Work relations, business decisions, educational qualifications, and news practices increasingly are regulated by managerial mandarins operating in darkened corners of the EU bureaucracy. “And Europe now seeks to tighten existing regulations on freedom of speech, an aboriginal European freedom—freedom of conscience made manifest.” The Paris Statement continues:
Political leaders who give voice to inconvenient truths about Islam and immigration are hauled before judges. Political correctness enforces strong taboos that deem challenges to the status quo beyond the pale. The false Europe does not really encourage a culture of freedom. It promotes a culture of market-driven homogeneity and politically enforced conformity.
The Statement decries the growing sensibility among Europe’s elites—and many recent arrivals from other lands—that immigrants shouldn’t be required to assimilate into the Western culture because the Western culture doesn’t represent anything particularly special. Says the Statement: “We are to affirm the very colonization of our homelands and the demise of our culture as Europe’s great twenty-first century glory—a collective act of self-sacrifice for the sake of some new global community of peace and prosperity that is being born”—but which, it could be added, will never become the reality envisioned by Europe’s self-deluded elites.
Indeed, some of the dire results of this experiment have become manifest. The signatories write, “Some of our countries have regions in which Muslims live with an informal autonomy from local laws, as if they were colonialists rather than fellow members of our nations.”
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And the emergence of this false Europe is robbing the European societies of their self-respect and hence their cohesion and force. “Shorn of higher ideals and discouraged from expressing patriotic pride by multiculturalist ideology,” says the Statement, “our societies now have difficulty summoning the will to defend themselves.”
This is in part because of the indoctrination that has suffused European academic life, where “cultural repudiation” has become a cheap and easy way to demonstrate enlightenment and “spiritual election.” As a result, says the Statement, “our universities are now active agents of ongoing cultural destruction.”
If readers of the Statement get a sense that what ails Europe is most likely a terminal cultural pathology that ultimately will kill the patient, that would be a reasonable interpretation. It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Paris Statement is not much more than a cry in the cold, dark forests of history. And yet it’s worth pondering: when in history have we seen a civilization turn on itself with such savagery as we see in the West today? What civilizations of the past or present have repudiated themselves and their cultural foundations with such focused intent, then invited in masses of others who don’t share the heritage?
The Chinese civilization is experiencing a renaissance of self-consciousness to go with China’s growing economic and military might. The Magian culture of the Middle East, while struggling with internal and external threats and challenges, is fiercely protective of its lands and cultural identity. A willingness to fight and die for them is widespread throughout those lands. Hindu nationalism is on the rise in India. President Vladimir Putin’s popularity in Russia is due in part to his devotion to his country’s Orthodox identity and its cultural narrative dating back to the Tsars.
Only in the West is there any perceived need to produce a document such as the Paris Statement, a call for the kind of cultural devotion and civilizational identity that are natural and well established in all the other civilizations of the world today.
Still, there is a populist backlash brewing in the West against this false Europe. The Statement acknowledges this with some ambivalence. “We have reservations,” it says, adding that Europe “needs to draw upon the deep wisdom of her traditions rather than relying on simplistic slogans and divisive emotional appeals.” At the same time, it suggests that “this new political phenomenon” could be “a healthy rebellion against the tranny of the false Europe, which labels as ‘anti-Democratic’ any threat to its monopoly on moral legitimacy.”
After all, says the Statement, this new populism challenges “the dictatorship of the status quo” and the “fanaticism of the centre.” The Statement concludes: “It is a sign that even in the midst of our degraded and impoverished political culture, the historical agency of the European peoples can be reborn.”
Can it? That is the fundamental question hovering over Europe in these times, and it presages probably years of political conflict, maybe even major civic unrest. The Paris Statement—signed by heralded intellectuals from France, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Norway, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium—goes a long way toward setting the terms of that conflict from the perspective of those who would protect and save the homeland of Europe.
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Robert W. Merry, longtime Washington, D.C. journalist and publishing executive, is editor of The American Conservative. His latest book is President McKinley: Architect of the American Century.