Friday, February 10, 2006

The decline of Europe

Theodore Dalrymple gives a pessimistic view of Europe's future, which is sadly well-rooted in current realities.

The principal motor of Europe’s current decline is, in my view, its obsession with social security, which has created rigid social and economic systems that are extremely resistant to change. And this obsession with social security is in turn connected with a fear of the future: for the future has now brought Europe catastrophe and relative decline for more than a century.

What exactly is it that Europeans fear, given that their decline has been accompanied by an unprecedented increase in absolute material well-being? An open economy holds out more threat to them than promise: they believe that the outside world will bring them not trade and wealth, but unemployment and a loss of comfort. They therefore are inclined to retire into their shell and succumb to protectionist temptation, both internally with regard to the job market, and externally with regard to other nations. And the more those other nations advance relative to themselves, the more necessary does protection seem to them. A vicious circle is thus set up.

In the process of course, the state is either granted or arrogates to itself (or, of course, both) ever-greater powers. A bureaucratic monster is created that takes on a life of its own, that is not only uneconomic but anti-economic, and that can be reformed only at the cost of social unrest that politicians naturally wish to avoid. Inertia intermittently punctuated by explosion is therefore the most likely outcome.
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But there are other threats to Europe. The miserabilist view of the European past, in which achievement on a truly stupendous scale is disregarded in favor of massacre, oppression and injustice, deprives the population of any sense of pride or tradition to which it might contribute or which might be worth preserving. This loss of cultural confidence is particularly important at a time of mass immigration from very alien cultures, an immigration that can be successfully negotiated (as it has been in the past, or in the United States up to the era of multiculturalism) only if the host nations believe themselves to be the bearers of cultures into which immigrants wish, or ought to wish, to integrate, assimilate, and make their own.

In the absence of any such belief, there is a risk that the only way in which people inhabiting a country will have anything in common is geographical; and civil conflict is the method in which they will resolve their very different and entrenched conceptions about the way life should be lived. This is particularly true when immigrants are in possession, as they believe, of a unique and universal truth, such as Islam in its various forms often claims to be. If the host nation is so lacking in cultural confidence that it does not even make familiarity with the national language a condition of citizenship (as has been until recently the case in Great Britain), it is hardly surprising that integration does not proceed very far.

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