Europe’s Malaise


Europeans have it good these days. Their life expectancy has never been higher. Benevolent state health care systems take care of their ailments from cradle to grave; working hours are short and vacations long; they are the wealthiest inhabitants of the continent in history, possessing an average continent-wide per captia income of $22,500.

Then why are they so damn miserable?  

The European impending sense of doom is addressed in Theodore Dalrymple’s  The New Vichy SyndromeWhy  European Intellectuals Surrender to Barbarism.

A fatalistic world view is certainly not new to Europe.  Since the First World War, French artists, Spanish writers, Italian politicians and British poets have predicting the demise of the West  and the collapse of  social order.  That grew, as Dalrymple points out, from a manifest disillusionment about a war that served  little purpose yet annihilated an entire generation. 

Dalrymple quickly puts to rest an argument offered by a host of other polemicists  such as Mark Steyn and Bruce Bawer, that Muslim population growth and declining European fertlity rates will soon enough result is a catastrophic demographic shift.  In fact, fertility rates are declining in the Muslim population almost as rapidly as they are in regular European society. In addition, Muslims are assimilating faster than either Bawer or Steyn would care to admit, even though what remains publicly apparent is the extremist version of Islam, represented by flailing Imams and rioting youth.

No, Europeans, according to The New Vichy, are undergoing a far more devastating internal existential crisis, one in which they can no longer see  much value in Europe’s  storied past or undoubted achievements and can’t see much of a future either. 

What are the symptoms that Dalymple, a retired physician, has diagnosed  in his patient?

The first is bitterness at the loss of  European power and significance.  Since the end of the Second World War, Europe has lagged behind the United States in both production and productivity while allowing the technological revolution to be centered in places like Silicon Valley and Herzilya  and not at the Sorbonne or the British Midlands.

Second, they bear limitless guilt  for having imposed upon the world colonialism, the Holocaust  and a raft of totalitarian ideologies which resulted in the mass murder of tens of millions. 

The Europeans can’t seem to forgive themselves for having ruined the world and for having  been tied to every malevolent development in world history since the beginning of the 20th century.

Third, is  the sense that the elites of Europe – the intellectuals, political class, media and entertainment communities have felt the loss their entitlements as leaders of social change.  And what better way to achive social change than the wholesale restructing of society to suit their own ends?   This underlines the reason the environmental movement and global governance movement has gained so much traction in Europe.   They offer these same elites a respository for their disillusion and a way forward for the reconsolidation of their power. 

It all adds up to an acute attack of miserablism, an orotund term that Dalrymple employs as a designation for the nihilistic disease which afflicts European elites today.

Well, that all could be.  But the author seems to skip over the most salient fact of all – Europeans have opted to live in the apparent comfort of a post-enlightenment world, where there is neither good nor evil, right nor wrong and where the benefits of democracy and the results of a hard won freedom are largely ignored in favor a politically relativist culture.  Europeans have forgotten what it means to be free and in the process, denuded their own culture and civlization of any moral purpose. 

Dalrymple might have developed this theme a little more forcefully by actually focusing on the writings of leading contemporary European intellectuals and revealing how morally spent they are.  Offering an examination, for example, of the writings of  Labévière, del Valle, Burgat or Gallois might have buttressed his argument with specific examples of the kind of intellectual, political and economic malaise he describes.

For all that, The New Vichy Syndrome is a powerful book  which raises some significant questions about the fate of  Europe and the bloated Union it has established.  At the very least the book furnishes proof  that there do exist Europeans who are still capable of understanding the mess continent is in and willing to state plainly how it got that way.

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