Long-time readers of this blog know that while I greatly respect Mark Steyn (and always enjoy reading him), I fundamentally disagree with him about the inevitability of radical Islam’s ultimate success.
Over at the Corner, he provides some supporting evidence by noting that Geert Wilders’ Dutch nationalist Freedom Party is making strong gains – and is arguably the most popular party in the country, largely because of the persecution he has been subjected to by the Establishment.
This dovetails with what I have been saying: Nationalism is not dead in Europe. For six decades its has been slumbering thanks to the triple shocks of two world wars, American protection and unprecedented prosperity.
With the world wars receding into distant memory, the need for America’s security blanket fading and the prosperity threatened, the old feelings are emerging.
From my (admittedly limited) experience with Europeans, I would say that the vast majority still retain a strong affinity for their nation. In positive terms, they are proud of their culture and history. In negative terms, they look down on those who denigrate their customs and heritage – particularly those inside their borders and living off their largesse.
Last year I noted that at least in the Rhineland, there were a lot of flags featuring the imperial eagle. I speculated that for the Germans, this may have been an attempt to bypass the guilt of the Nazis and restore and reassert their previous prestige and glory. Prior to 1933, Germany had much to be proud of culturally and scientifically.
Imagine my surprise when (briefly watching the Olympics) to see the Austrians waving flags with their imperial eagle on them. This was something I did not expect to see, and they were quite plentiful.
Of course both the Germans and the Austrians wore their national colors – these were not throwback flags of the 1914 regimes. Instead they had taken the modern tricolor and augmented them with the heraldic device of the old monarchy.
Like their American liberal counterparts, Europe’s ruling class actually fears and dislikes its citizens. The rules want to give the people as little power as possible and, whenever possible, limit their choices to different variations of approved official outcomes.
In an economic and personal liberty sense, there is not a lot of distance between Christian Democrats and Social Democrats. Where parties of classical liberalism exist (pro-free market), they tend to be smaller, capable only of achieving high office by forming coalitions with the more rightward statists (i.e. the German Free Democrats and the CDU-CSU consortium).
But there is one important difference that is increasingly apparent: a pride in the nation itself. The social democratic leadership, like that of the liberals in the US, wants to see nationalism extinguished. The flag is merely some colors on a pole; what they really want is a regional or global government that will distribute wealth on the basis of need. Because their philosophy is derived from Marxism, the state is a separate entity from the nation – indeed they would like to see more states joined together since that not only makes it harder to dismantle but extends its control.
By contrast, the rightward parties – even the ones that favor government intervention – still believe in the primacy of the nation over that of the state. What has so many Europeans alarmed is that they increasingly see the state – run by social democrats – being turned against the nation.
Rampant immigration and the refusal of these immigrants to assimilate have struck many of these people to the core of their identity. Their loyalty to their nation is strong, and the paths and village squares are packed with reminders of their heritage. Now all of that is threatened.
The past matters a lot in Europe – much more than religion. I suspect that most Europeans are indifferent to what religion the foreigners among them practice, but they are now coming to fear that the great monuments of the past – treasures of art – may be destroyed. Their very future as a people is threatened.
This is a visceral, tribal emotion. Again, for the past 60 years, it hasn’t been stirred because there was no real threat to it. Prosperity made everyone rich, and the Cold War forced them to band together. The World Wars reminded them not to take their national pride too far.
But NATO never tried to tear down cathedrals or force women into bondage. Visiting American troops brought strange customs, some arrogance and swagger, but they also brought security and huge sums of spending money. American bases were a net gain, which is why NATO countries are now fighting to keep the ones they have left – or, in the case of Eastern Europe – actively lobbying to have new ones established.
Muslim immigrants, on the other hand, have proven to be poor guests. Outspoken, violent, often criminal, they resist assimilation and instead are bringing their culture with them.
For the jaded elites, this is nothing to get excited about. Fundamentally Marxist in their outlook, they view flags and language as just another barrier to the ideal communist state.
But for everyone else, it is deeply disturbing. The Dutch take it for granted that their country will speak Dutch, for example. The Danes resent the demands made on them and the fact that they can no longer speak their mind about people who clearly do not like the country they are in.
And of course the French are deeply insulted that anyone could be in France and not want to be like them.
Some time ago I pondered whether in an age of falling birth rates any of the European countries would have the stomach for fighting. If you have but one son, sending him off to war becomes a different matter than if you have two or three, plus a couple of daughters.
I have since come to realize that birth rates are not uniform. Mark Steyn has repeatedly noted that the birth rates of many European countries are buoyed by those of unassimilated Muslim immigrants – meaning that the actual native rate is even lower.
But among the natives there are disparities.
Europe is divided by class to a degree few Americans understand. Even after studying the continent all my life, I know I’m still missing a lot of the subtleties involved in class distinction.
But one thing I do know is that the professional military class is still alive and well. It is diminished, but still there. Over the summer I watched a lean German soldier snap off a salute that would have made Frederick the Great proud. The martial pride was very much apparent.
These are the people who are still having multiple kids. They were the ones pushing the tandem strollers in the old city. What is happening now is similar to what is happing in the US: those segments of the population that view children as a burden on the earth, or a financial waste, are not having any. This means the future belongs to the ones that still have confidence.
The “civilization” may well collapse – at least in the sense that the form of government and even the borders will change.
But Mark Steyn is wrong if he things that Greeks will cease to exist, or Germans will be speaking Arabic as a first language in 50 years. The Greeks in particular have been through a lot pain over the centuries. Like their present predicament, much of that has been self-inflicted.
Despite all of the trials they have seen - the Persian threat, conquest by Rome, the fall of Eastern Empire, Ottoman domination – the hardiest somehow made it through. That is why I think they will pull through the current crisis.
I want to be clear about this: I am not making this prediction out of optimism, nor am I assuming that the coming struggle will be easy. It will not, and the Europe that emerges may well be more contentious and dangerous – a throwback to the 18th and 19th centuries. All I am saying is that Europe will change, but it will still be European.