Walter Laqueur: He's still pessimistic about Europe

Historians in the News

... The European Union's leaders are in the midst of lengthy celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the European Communities. At the same time, the gloom that enveloped the EU after the French and Dutch rejected its beloved constitutional treaty two years ago has been replaced by a restrained optimism that the show might just be put back on the road this summer.

Is it possible, then, that the writers who have spent the past few years predicting Europe's collapse could be wrong? The short answer is: no. Even a corpse has been known to twitch once or twice before the rigor mortis sets in. The longer answer is provided by Walter Laqueur in "The Last Days of Europe," one of the more persuasive in a long line of volumes by authors on both sides of the Atlantic chronicling Europe's decline and foretelling its collapse....

Unlike the Euro-bashing polemics of a few of those authors, Mr. Laqueur's short book is measured, even sympathetic. It is mercifully free of references to cheese-eating surrender monkeys and misplaced historical analogies to appeasement. The tone is one of resigned dismay rather than grave-stomping glee. This temperate quality makes the book's theme--that Europe now faces potentially mortal challenges--all the more compelling.
The demographic problem is by now so familiar that it hardly bears restating. Mr. Laqueur notes that the average European family had five children in the 19th century; today it has fewer than two, a trend that will shrink the continent's population in the next century on a scale unprecedented in modern history.

The failure of Europeans to reproduce makes it vulnerable to internal schism. Too often Europe has reacted to the growing threat posed by extremists among its minorities with a tolerance and self-criticism that has bordered on capitulation. Meanwhile, social tensions increase, not least because of high emigration to Europe from Muslim countries and high birth rates among Muslim populations. No one has yet found a good way of integrating those populations into mainstream European society....

Mr. Laqueur ponders whether Europe will really surrender to these adverse trends or finally resist. He is not optimistic. Perhaps Europeans will find ways to bolster their birth rates. Perhaps they will stiffen in the face of an escalating terrorist threat. Perhaps Muslims will assimilate better into Europe's democratic and tolerant societies. Perhaps the pro-American sensibilities and the pro-growth nimbleness of Eastern European countries will drive the rest of the Continent out of the ditch of stagnation and pacifism. Perhaps.
But then again, as Mr. Laqueur observes, museums are filled with the remnants of vanished civilizations. Abroad, the U.S. has long surpassed Europe in power, influence and economic dynamism; Asia may do so before long. At home, a profound demoralization has set in, induced in part by the continent's ruinous past century....
Read entire article at Gerard Baker in the WSJ

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