How to Resist the End of Europe

Are we Europeans doomed to suffer the loss of our inexhaustible cultural creativity, along with its source in Judeo-Christian tradition? The prospect must not be accepted.

Europa and the bull on an ancient Greek vase. Wikipedia.

Europa and the bull on an ancient Greek vase. Wikipedia.

Last Word
Jan. 25 2016
About the author

Daniel Johnson, the founding editor (2008-2018) of the British magazine Standpoint, is now the founding editor of TheArticle and a regular contributor to cultural and political publications in the UK and the U.S.

I am deeply honored that my essay, “Does Europe Have a Future?,” elicited such substantial responses from four distinguished writers. All four have not only entered fair and useful comments on the essay but also contributed their own answers to the question posed in my title.

Peter Berkowitz and Wilfred McClay agree with me that the nation-state is not the source of Europe’s ills. And I agree with Berkowitz, following Alexis de Tocqueville, that European nations need to recover their tradition of freedom, just as I agree with McClay that such liberty must be limited by law, human or divine. It is refreshing to hear Americans encouraging Europeans to take pride in their patriotism and their national identities; in this respect, McClay rightly contrasts the grand traditions of European civilization, which gave birth to the United States and to so much else, with a European Union that is anything but united.

On this point, I part company with Claire Berlinski even as I’m grateful for her superb tour d’horizon and the weight she properly gives to the threat posed to Europe by Vladimir Putin’s Russia. To her, the only answer to the external threats menacing Europe is a single foreign and defense policy, which means strengthening and indeed uniting the European Union. I beg to differ: however much some European leaders may dream otherwise, the EU is not a military alliance. Nor do I recognize her description of German, French, and other EU military officers “eager” to “unleash” their forces against Europe’s enemies. That was not the case even during the cold war, much less now.

The only effective alliance we have is NATO, which implies an acceptance of U.S. leadership that the French still find unpalatable. France is indeed adept at launching policing operations in its former African colonies, but it is no more eager to support U.S. military operations in the Muslim world now than in 2003, when it refused to join the coalition against Saddam Hussein, or in 1986 when it denied President Reagan permission for American bombers to fly over France en route to Qaddafi’s Libya. True, the French are now bombing Islamic State (ISIS) forces in Syria and Iraq, but that is because ISIS poses a direct threat to France itself.

Berlinski quite appropriately asks whether European states in general “are prepared to fight for Europe—or only for themselves?” She never really answers this question, perhaps because it answers itself. It is indeed quite unreasonable to expect young men and women to fight and die for an abstraction like “Europe.” NATO is or should be another matter: the Atlantic alliance has kept the peace for three generations, and its European members are well aware of their debt to the United States in this regard. But since the end of the cold war, a question mark has lain over NATO, too. Although the British have shown themselves to be reliable partners on many occasions, the alliance’s failure to deter Putin from annexing Crimea and destabilizing the rest of Ukraine is, as Berlinski says, deeply disturbing.

On another aspect of European security, I cannot follow Berlinski’s argument that a large-scale resettlement of refugees from Syria is Europe’s “best strategic option.” France and Germany, the two biggest European countries and the ones that would absorb the biggest number of migrants, have also shown themselves to be the least capable of integrating large Muslim minorities. If migrants do pose a threat to our security, it is surely better to keep most of them outside rather than in the heart of Europe.

Finally, like Walter Laqueur, who has been analyzing European history and politics for most of his 95 years, I do not think Europe is obliged to choose between abyss and apocalypse. Particularly after the overoptimistic visions of the past, he is certainly right to counsel against succumbing prematurely to despair. Still, despite my huge respect for his wisdom and experience, I confess dismay at his grave prediction that “Europe’s future will be a modest and shrunken one.” If that is true, the West as a whole faces an equally bleak future, for Europe is an integral part of a civilization that is more than the sum of its parts. Those of us—including many Americans—for whom life would be unthinkable without the inexhaustible cultural creativity of European history cannot contemplate the end of that history with resignation.

And that, if I may speak personally, is precisely why in 2008 I founded the British magazine Standpoint as a platform for the fight against all the forces that are undermining the West and, especially, Europe. Laqueur’s prophecy of slow decline is by no means the worst-case scenario, but I see no reason why we should accept the decline of the West at all. All my adult life I have been trying to prove Oswald Spengler wrong, and I am not about to give up now.


My Mosaic essay was written toward the end of 2015. A good deal has happened since then, to which I would like to turn in concluding.

A strong backlash has by now developed to the German-led “open door” policy toward mainly Muslim migrants from North Africa and the Middle East. All over Europe, borders are closing: not only in Central and Eastern Europe but even in liberal Denmark and Sweden. The latter country, which has taken in the highest number of migrants in proportion to its population, has also experienced the biggest rise in support for an anti-immigration party, the Sweden Democrats: from less than 2 percent a decade ago to nearly 30 percent today, making it the country’s most popular party. And this is hardly surprising, given that the influx of young male migrants has already profoundly altered Sweden’s demography; within its fertile population, Sweden now presents a greater imbalance between the sexes than even China under its notorious one-child policy. Domestic opinion has further polarized after the revelation of a cover-up by Swedish police of assaults by Afghan migrants on women at a festival in Stockholm.

In Germany, meanwhile, the political establishment is still absorbing shock waves from mass assaults on women, mainly by North African and Arab migrants, at New Year’s celebrations in Cologne and other cities. With the ever louder demand for an end to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door policy, it may be only a matter of time before she is forced to give in. Indeed, Germany’s borders are already much less porous than during the heady days of last summer; the latest debate concerns deportation, not only of those convicted of crimes but also of those whose applications for asylum have been rejected.

Europe’s ability to deport illegal migrants is still an open question—a powerful human-rights lobby, with strong support in the legal professions, can appeal all the way to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. On the ground, however, sheer numbers are overwhelming even the continent’s most efficient bureaucracies; just in the first half of this month, well over 50,000 people have requested asylum in Germany alone, and it is already clear that 2016 will bring an even greater surge, this time from Europe’s southern flank, than the record numbers of 2015. The “frozen” conflict in Ukraine has led to a steady exodus of refugees fleeing Putin’s attempt to restore Russian hegemony in the former Soviet empire.

The leitmotif of European politics today is a fear for which I have coined the term “border anxiety.” The German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, has proposed a tax on gasoline to pay for strengthening Europe’s border defenses. While such a tax would be deeply unpopular in Germany and is unlikely to be adopted at the transnational level, I can foresee a situation in which Germany will be subsidizing the efforts of EU countries north of the Mediterranean to keep migrants out and setting up refugee-processing centers in North Africa and the Middle East. Having profited from the artificially low exchange rate of the euro at the expense of their poorer neighbors, the Germans may be called on to invest some of their wealth in relieving today’s border anxiety—however discomfiting the connotations surrounding the potential creation of a new “Fortress Europe.” (It was Hitler who crowed that his Festung Europa was impregnable: a boast disproved by the Allied invasion of Normandy on D-Day.)


One theme that emerges from the European debate, and is aired as well in the responses to my Mosaic essay, has to do with the role of religion, and more particularly the decline of religion, in Europe’s malaise. As I wrote, Europe was heir to the Jewish ideas of freedom under God and the rule of law. Christianity spread these and other biblical principles across the globe. Western civilization may be built on classical Greco-Roman foundations, but its visible structures are a secularized simulacrum of the Judeo-Christian moral universe. (On this topic, incidentally, I do not believe that Wilfred McClay and I disagree as much as he suggests on the respective emphasis placed by Judaism and Christianity on voluntary obedience to God’s law: in the Hebrew Bible, liberty and righteousness are not really opposites but two sides of the same coin.)

Today, however, in the heart of Europe, the Judeo-Christian source of our civilization appears to be drying up. Rather than a living tradition, it is in danger of becoming a fossil. Churches and synagogues are emptying; the values that guide private and public conduct are undercut by a corrosive relativism that recognizes no limits; and the transcendental dimension of life is caricatured in the distorting mirror of ideology.

Take the example of Britain. The established religion, the Church of England, has been in long-term and perhaps by now terminal decline. Out of a population of 65 million souls, Anglican church attendance has fallen below the one-million mark. A century ago, by contrast, well over two million Anglicans, out of a total population of just over 40 million (excluding what would later become the Republic of Ireland), attended church regularly. Other branches of Christianity enjoyed still higher rates of attendance, with the result that about a quarter of the adult population went to church regularly. Today, that proportion may have fallen below 10 percent.

Of course, not all churches are being hollowed out. Pentecostals and Catholics in particular have witnessed recent growth, largely due to immigration, and Jewish communities, after a long period of decline, now seem stable. Yet the nation overall does seem afflicted by a deep spiritual unease. A new YouGov poll shows that among the whole population, 46 percent claim no religion at all, up from 37 percent three years ago, while among those under forty the figure rises to 56 percent, with fewer than a third describing themselves as Christian.

The contrast with the Muslim community is stark. Whether or not they attend a mosque, British Muslims show little or no signs of abandoning their Islamic identity. On the contrary, conversion to Islam is a growing phenomenon, led by young non-Muslim women marrying Muslim men.

True, what is happening in Britain, as in the rest of Europe, is an experiment without precedent: never before have Muslims in such large proportions lived in a Western society. The sociologist Linda Woodhead, for one, claims that, like mixed-race Britons, Muslims will eventually follow the majority trend and leave their religion behind. For the foreseeable future, however, the evidence suggests otherwise: the combination of relative youth, high birthrates, mass immigration, and widespread conversion means that Muslim populations in Europe will continue to grow rapidly. Indeed, reliant as demographers are on official statistics that cannot keep pace with reality, the tendency has been to underestimate the speed of such growth.

That reality is certainly complicated. On a recent weekend I spent a couple of hours at the Westfield mall in Shepherd’s Bush, reputedly the largest of its kind in Europe. Even allowing for the large numbers of tourists among the thousands thronging this vast temple of Mammon, the proportion of Muslims—by my estimate, as many as half of both customers and staff—was striking. As practiced in the West, then, Islam would appear to have no aversion to the Western way of shopping. Young British Muslims, moreover, are often lively, ambitious, and well-educated.

And yet, so far, the British model of integration, which has worked well with other minorities, has not been nearly so successful with Muslims. Such hitherto unimaginable phenomena as the departure of at least 700 British Muslims to fight for Islamic State, or the steady stream of domestic-terrorism cases passing through the British courts, or the preference of many British Muslims for sharia over the common law in settling family disputes, are only the tip of an iceberg of disaffection. European liberals wring their hands over Muslim men who take women’s subordination for granted. But their concern is muted when the only women affected are either Muslims themselves or poor white girls groomed for prostitution by Muslim gangs—groups largely invisible to society at large. The Muslim girls subjected to female genital mutilation, forced marriage, or “honor crimes” are entirely off the radar. Only when educated non-Muslim women are victimized, as in the mass assaults in Cologne, do politicians sit up and take (mainly ineffectual) notice.

Such are the institutionalized fruits of multiculturalism. Writing in the current issue of Standpoint, Maryam Ahmed, now studying for a doctorate in engineering at Oxford, has expressed her frustration as a young Muslim with the British government’s fastidious failure to demand of her community much stronger steps toward integration. The only answer to further creeping radicalization, she proposes, lies through such moves as requiring imams in British mosques to speak English and to be trained in the UK. This may seem a modest enough standard, but it is shocking to realize how few British mosques currently meet it—and how unlikely that any member of the government would propose it.

Where, then, is David Cameron? After years of being in denial, the Conservative prime minister does seem to be finally paying attention. He has just announced a review of sharia courts and a package of measures to improve the integration of Muslims, particularly women. He is indignant that many Muslim women are prohibited from leaving their homes unless accompanied by a male relative, that some 190,000 British Muslim women speak little or no English, and that more than half of all women of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin (the majority of British Muslims) are economically inactive. He promises to end the sexual segregation that has been creeping into even official institutions like school governing bodies—and says he will be “much more demanding” of migrants arriving in the UK. We have responsibilities to them, “but they have responsibilities too”—for example, to learn to speak English fluently or be refused asylum.

Is it too late? On the part of many Muslims, the reaction to the prime minister’s initiative has been anger and charges of “demonization.” One can only imagine the storm of criticism, and hardly from Muslims alone, that would descend upon him if he were to mention Islam itself as part of the problem. Yet until Islam is reinterpreted and modernized, the core doctrines that are invoked to justify hatred of and jihad against the West will still pose a threat.

Although Britain has not suffered a major terrorist attack since the July 7 bombings in London more than a decade ago, that is only because of the vigilance of the intelligence services, which have thwarted dozens, perhaps hundreds of jihadist plots. But last November’s attack in Paris has forced London’s metropolitan police force, long accustomed to patrolling the streets unarmed, to double the number of heavily armed officers. Everyone is cognizant that London could be the next target of a spectacular onslaught by Islamic State, especially as that entity is now being pounded in Syria by the Royal Air Force alongside our American and French allies. It is also more than possible that the terrorists themselves would be British-born.

All of this means that, like other Europeans, we British must learn what it is to live with the hostility of a small but growing minority of our Muslim fellow citizens. We can only hope and pray that the majority are aware of the existential hazard this poses to the future of our shared country and continent.

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