Is Europe Dying?

by George Weigel

[COMMENT:  (and..., is America to follow?)   The drum cadence for the death of Europe keeps beating.  See History and World Politics Libraries.   This article is, as said below, on target, I think.  

See The Empty Cradle Will Rock  --  Pat Buchanan.  Weigel points briefly to the spiritual aspects of the problem, but does not follow up on them.  Either the Judeo-Christian community recovers its intellectual, moral, and spiritual integrity, or something like what Weigel predicts will indeed happen.  There are only two options for any culture, as St. Augustine says in The City of God, "Do it God's way or perish."  Not because God will annihilate you, but because you will annihilate yourself (fully illustrated by the disaster of the 20th century).  

There are good signs, as Weigel notes, and God will eventually win.  The victory will become very evident when Christians learn how to take the offensive in the culture war -- which means, in large part, to take the intellectual offensive.  The question, dear reader, is: Where will you be?  E. Fox]

From a friend -

An interesting thesis by a member of the Foreign Policy Research Institute that I think may be of interest to you (some of you have likely received this directly, and if so, the "delete" key is handy).  In my opinion, Weigel is "on target" in addressing a serious political, cultural, social -- and demographic -- problem.  Europe's maliase is being caught here in the USA.  We share the "problems."
Forwarded Message:

Foreign Policy Research Institute
50 Years of Ideas in Service to Our Nation

By George Weigel

Volume 6, Number 2          June 2005

A Roman  Catholic theologian,  George  Weigel  is  a  Senior
Fellow of  the Ethics  and Public  Policy Center.   His book
"Witness to  Hope"  The  Biography  of  John  Paul  II"  was
published to  international  acclaim  in  1999  in  English,
French, Italian,  and Spanish.   It has since been published
in Polish,  Portuguese, Slovak,  Czech, Slovenian,  Russian,
and German.   This  essay is  reprinted with permission from
European  Outlook,  March  -April  2005,  published  by  the
American Enterprise  Institute.   The essay was the basis of
an FPRI  BookTalk delivered by George Weigel on May 19, 2005
on the  occasion of  the publication  of his  new book  "The
Cube  and  the  Cathedral:  Europe,  America,  and  Politics
Without God" (Basic Books, 2005).

                      IS EUROPE DYING?

                      By George Weigel

America's "Europe  problem" and  Europe's "America  problem"
have been staple topics of transatlantic debate for the past
several years.  Political leaders,  media commentators,  and
businessmen usually  discuss  those  problems  in  terms  of
policy differences:  differences over prosecuting the war on
terrorism, differences  over the  role of the United Nations
in world affairs, differences over the Kyoto Protocol on the
global  environment,   differences  over  Iraq.  The  policy
differences  are   real.  Attempts  to  understand  them  in
political,  strategic,   and  economic   terms  alone   will
ultimately fail,  however, because  such explanations do not
reach deeply  enough into  the human texture of contemporary

To put  the matter  directly: Europe, and especially western
Europe, is  in the  midst  of  a  crisis  of  civilizational
morale. The  most dramatic  manifestation of  that crisis is
not to  be  found  in  Europe's  fondness  for  governmental
bureaucracy or  its devotion  to fiscally  shaky health care
schemes and  pension plans,  in  Europe's  lagging  economic
productivity or  in  the  appeasement  mentality  that  some
European leaders  display toward Islamist terrorism. No, the
most  dramatic   manifestation   of   Europe's   crisis   of
civilizational morale  is the  brute  fact  that  Europe  is
depopulating itself.

Europe's  below-replacement-level  birthrates  have  created
situations  that  would  have  been  unimaginable  when  the
institutions of European integration were formed in the late
1940s and  early 1950s.  By the  middle of  this century, if
present fertility  patterns  continue,  60  percent  of  the
Italian  people  will  have  no  personal  experience  of  a
brother, a  sister, an  aunt,  an  uncle,  or  a  cousin;[1]
Germany will  lose the  equivalent of  the population of the
former East  Germany; and Spain's population will decline by
almost one-quarter.  Europe is depopulating itself at a rate
unseen since  the Black  Death of the fourteenth century.[2]
And one  result of  that is  a Europe  that is  increasingly
"senescent" (as  British historian  Niall Ferguson  has  put

When an  entire continent,  healthier, wealthier,  and  more
secure than ever before, fails to create the human future in
the   most    elemental   sense-by    creating   the    next
generation-something very  serious is  afoot. I can think of
no better description for that "something" than to call it a
crisis of  civilizational morale.  Understanding its origins
is important  in itself, and important for Americans because
some of  the acids  that have eaten away at European culture
over the  past two  centuries are  at  work  in  the  United
States, and indeed throughout the democratic world.

Getting at  the roots  of Europe's  crisis of civilizational
morale requires  us to  think about "history" in a different
way. Europeans  and Americans  usually think of "history" as
the  product   of  politics  (the  struggle  for  power)  or
economics (the  production of  wealth).  The  first  way  of
thinking is  a by-product  of  the  French  Revolution;  the
second is one of the exhaust fumes of Marxism. Both "history
as politics" and "history as economics" take a partial truth
and try,  unsuccessfully, to  turn it  into a  comprehensive
truth. Understanding Europe's current situation, and what it
means for  America, requires  us to  look at  history  in  a
different way, through cultural lenses.

Europe began  the twentieth century with bright expectations
of new and unprecedented scientific, cultural, and political
achievements. Yet within fifty years, Europe, the undisputed
center of  world civilization in 1900,  produced two  world
wars, three totalitarian systems, a Cold War that threatened
global holocaust, oceans of blood, mountains of corpses, the
Gulag, and  Auschwitz.

What  happened? And,  perhaps more to
the point,  why had  what happened  happened? Political  and
economic analyses do not offer satisfactory answers to those
urgent questions.  Cultural-which is  to say spiritual, even
theological-answers might help.

Take, for  example, the  proposal made  by a  French Jesuit,
Henri de  Lubac, during  World War  II. De Lubac argued that
Europe's torments in the 1940s were the "real world" results
of defective  ideas, which  he summarized  under the  rubric
"atheistic humanism"-the  deliberate rejection of the God of
the Bible  in the  name of authentic human liberation. This,
de Lubac suggested, was something entirely new. Biblical man
had perceived his relationship to the God of Abraham, Moses,
and Jesus  as a  liberation: liberation  from the terrors of
gods who  demanded extortionate  sacrifice, liberation  from
the  whims  of  gods  who  played  games  with  human  lives
(remember the  Iliad and  the Odyssey),  liberation from the
vagaries of  Fate. The  God of  the Bible was different. And
because biblical  man believed  that he could have access to
the one  true God  through prayer  and worship, he believed
that he  could bend  history in  a human direction. Indeed,
biblical man believed that he was obliged to work toward the
humanization of  the world.  One of  European civilization's
deepest and most distinctive cultural characteristics is the
conviction that  life is  not  just  one  damn  thing  after
another; Europe  learned that  from its  faith in the God of
the Bible.

The  proponents  of  nineteenth-century  European  atheistic
humanism turned  this inside  out  and  upside  down.  Human
freedom, they argued, could not coexist with the God of Jews
and  Christians.  Human  greatness  required  rejecting  the
biblical  God,   according  to  such  avatars  of  atheistic
humanism as  Auguste Comte, Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx, and
Friedrich Nietzsche.  And here, Father de Lubac argued, were
ideas with  consequences-lethal consequences,  as it  turned
out. For  when you  marry modern  technology to the ideas of
atheistic humanism, what you get are the great mid-twentieth
century tyrannies-communism,  fascism, Nazism.  Let loose in
history, Father  de Lubac  concluded,  those  tyrannies  had
taught a  bitter lesson:  "It is  not true,  as is sometimes
said, that  man cannot  organize the world without God. What
is true  is that,  without God,  he  can  only  organize  it
against man.
"[4]  Atheistic humanism-ultramundane  humanism,
if you will-is inevitably inhuman humanism.

The first  lethal explosion  of what  Henri de  Lubac  would
later call  "the drama  of atheistic humanism" was World War
I.  For   whatever  else   it  was,  the  "Great  War"  was,
ultimately,  the  product  of  a  crisis  of  civilizational
morality, a  failure of  moral reason  in a culture that had
given the  world the  very concept  of "moral  reason." That
crisis of  moral reason  led to the crisis of civilizational
morale that  is much  with us,  and especially  with Europe,

This crisis  has only  become fully visible since the end of
the Cold  War. Its effects were first masked by the illusory
peace between World War I and World War II; then by the rise
of totalitarianism  and the  Great Depression;  then by  the
Second World  War itself;  then by the Cold War. It was only
after  1991, when  the  seventy-seven-year-long  political-
military crisis that began in 1914 had ended, that the long-
term effects  of  Europe's  "rage  of  self-mutilation"  (as
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn  called it) could come to the surface
of history  and be seen for what they were-and for what they
are. Europe  is  experiencing  a  crisis  of  civilizational
morale today because of what happened in Europe ninety years
ago. That  crisis could  not be  seen in  its full and grave
dimensions then  (although the  German general  Helmuth  von
Moltke, one of the chief instigators of the slaughter, wrote
in late  July 1914 that the coming war would "annihilate the
civilization of  almost the  whole of  Europe for decades to
"[5]). The damage done to the fabric of European culture
and civilization  in the  Great War could  only  been  seen
clearly when  the Great  War's political  effects  had  been
cleared from the board in 1991.

Contemporary European  culture is not bedeviled by atheistic
humanism in its most raw forms; the Second World War and the
Cold War  settled that.  Europe today  is profoundly shaped,
however, by  a kinder,  gentler cousin,  what  the  Canadian
philosopher   Charles    Taylor   has    termed   "exclusive
humanism"[6]: a set of ideas that, in the name of democracy,
human rights,  tolerance, and  civility,  demands  that  all
transcendent religious or spiritual reference points must be
kept out  of European public life-especially the life of the
newly expanded  European Union.  This conviction  led to two
recent episodes  that tell us a lot about Europe's crisis of
civilizational  morale   and   where   that   crisis   leads

The first  episode involved  the drafting  of  the  European
Union's new  constitution-or, to  be technically  precise, a
new European  constitutional treaty.  This process set off a
raucous argument  over whether  the constitution's  preamble
should acknowledge  Christianity as  a  source  of  European
civilization and  of contemporary  Europe's  commitments  to
human rights  and democracy.  The debate was sometimes silly
and  not   infrequently  bitter.   Partisans   of   European
secularism argued  that mentioning  Christianity as a source
of European  democracy would  "exclude" Jews,  Muslims,  and
those of  no religious  faith from the new Europe; yet these
same partisans insisted on underscoring the Enlightenment as
the principal  source of contemporary European civilization,
which would  seem to  "exclude" all  those-including  avant-
garde European "postmodernists"-who think that Enlightenment
rationalism got it wrong.

The debate  was  finally  resolved  in  favor  of  exclusive
humanism: a  treaty of  some 70,000  words (ten times longer
than the  U.S. Constitution!)  could not  find room  for one
word, "Christianity." Yet while following this debate, I had
the gnawing  sense that  the real argument was not about the
past but  about the  future-would religiously informed moral
argument have  a place in the newly expanded European public

A disturbingly  negative answer  to that  question came four
months after  the final  Euro-constitution  negotiation.  In
October 2004,  Rocco Buttiglione,  a  distinguished  Italian
philosopher and minister for European affairs in the Italian
government, was  chosen by  the incoming  president  of  the
European Commission,  Portugal's Jos‚  Manuel Dur_o Barroso,
to be  commissioner of  justice. Professor  Buttiglione, who
would  have   been  considered  an  adornment  of  any  sane
government since  Cato the  Elder, was  then subjected  to a
nasty inquisition  by the  justice committee of the European
Parliament.  His  convictions  concerning  the  morality  of
homosexual acts  and the  nature of  marriage were deemed by
Euro-parliamentarians to  disqualify him  from holding  high
office  on  the  European  Commission-despite  Buttiglione's
clear distinction  in his  testimony  between  what  he,  an
intellectually sophisticated  Catholic, regarded  as immoral
behavior and what the law regarded as criminal behavior, and
despite his sworn commitment, substantiated by a lifetime of
work, to uphold and defend the civil rights of all. This did
not satisfy  many members  of the  European Parliament,  who
evidently agreed  with one of their number in his claim that
Buttiglione's  moral  convictions-not  any  actions  he  had
undertaken,   and    would   likely   undertake,   but   his
convictions-were "in direct contradiction of European law."

Buttiglione described  this to  a British  newspaper as  the
"new  totalitarianism,"   which   is   not,   I   fear,   an
exaggeration. That  this new totalitarianism flies under the
flag of "tolerance" only makes matters worse. But where does
it come from?

One of  the most  perceptive commentators  on  the  European
constitutional debate was neither a European nor a Christian
but an  Orthodox Jew  born in  South Africa-J. H. H. Weiler,
professor of  international law  and director  of  the  Jean
Monnet Center  at New  York University.  Weiler argued  that
European "Christophobia"-a  more pungent  term than Taylor's
"exclusive humanism"-was  the root of the refusal of so many
Europeans to  acknowledge what  Weiler regarded  as obvious:
that Christian  ideas and  values were  one of the principal
sources   of   European   civilization   and   of   Europe's
contemporary commitment  to human rights and democracy. This
deliberate historical  amnesia, Weiler  suggested,  was  not
only ignorant;  it was  constitutionally disabling.  For  in
addition to  defining the  relationship between citizens and
the state,  and the  relations among the various branches of
government, constitutions  are  the  repository,  the  safe-
deposit box,  of the  ideas, values, and symbols that make a
society what  it is.  Constitutions embody, Weiler proposed,
the "ethos"  and the  "telos," the  cultural foundations and
moral aspirations,  of a  political community.  To cut those
aspirations out  of the process of "constituting" Europe was
to do grave damage to the entire project.[7]

Whether that  happens remains to be seen, as it is not clear
that the  European constitutional treaty will be ratified by
E.U. member  states. But  what is  unhappily clear  at  this
juncture is  that Europe  has produced  a constitution  that
denies the  vision of  three of  its most prominent founding
fathers-Konrad  Adenauer,  Alcide  de  Gasperi,  and  Robert
Schuman, serious  Christians to a man, all of them convinced
that the  integrated and  free Europe they sought was, in no
small part, a project of Christian civilization.[8] Europe's
contemporary crisis of civilizational morale thus comes into
sharper focus: Europe's statesmen-or, at the least, too many
of them-are  denying  the  very  roots  from  which  today's
"Europe" was  born. Is  there any  example in  history of  a
successful political  project that is so contemptuous of its
own cultural  and spiritual foundations? If so, I am unaware
of it.

The demographics  are unmistakable:  Europe  is  dying.  The
wasting  disease  that  has  beset  this  once  greatest  of
civilizations is  not physical,  however. It is a disease in
the  realm   of  the   human  spirit.  David  Hart,  another
theological analyst  of contemporary  history, calls  it the
disease of  "metaphysical boredom"-boredom with the mystery,
passion, and  adventure of  life itself.  Europe, in  Hart's
image, is boring itself to death.

And in  the process, it is allowing radicalized twenty-first
century  Muslims-who  think  of  their  forebears'  military
defeats at  Poitiers in  732, Lepanto in 1571, and Vienna in
1683 (as  well as  their expulsion  from Spain  in 1492), as
temporary reversals  en route  to Islam's  final triumph  in
Europe-to imagine  that the  day of  victory is not far off.
Not because  Europe will  be conquered  by an  invading army
marching under  the Prophet's  banners, but  because Europe,
having depopulated  itself out  of  boredom  and  culturally
disarmed itself  in the process, will have handed the future
over to  those Islamic  immigrants who will create what some
scholars call "Eurabia"-the European continent as a cultural
and political  extension of  the Arab-Islamic  world. Should
that happen,  the irony  would be unmistakable: the drama of
atheistic humanism,  emptying Europe of its soul, would have
played  itself   out  in   the  triumph   of  a   thoroughly
nonhumanistic  theism.   Europe's  contemporary   crisis  of
civilizational morale would reach its bitter conclusion when
Notre-Dame becomes  Hagia Sophia  on the Seine-another great
Christian church  become an  Islamic museum. At which point,
we may  be sure, the human rights proclaimed by those narrow
secularists  who   insist   that   a   culture's   spiritual
aspirations have nothing to do with its politics would be in
the gravest danger.

It need  not  happen:  there  are  signs  of  spiritual  and
cultural renewal  in Europe,  especially among young people;
the  Buttiglione   affair  raised   alarms  about   the  new
intolerance that masquerades in the name of "tolerance;" the
brutal murder of Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh by a middle-
class Moroccan-Dutch  has  reminded  Europeans  that  "roots
causes"  do  not  really  explain  Islamist  terrorism.  The
question on this side of the Atlantic, though, is why should
Americans care  about the  European future?  I can  think of
three very good reasons.

The first  involves pietas,  an ancient  Roman  virtue  that
teaches us  reverence  and  gratitude  for  those  on  whose
shoulders we stand.

A lot  of what  has crossed the Atlantic in the past several
centuries has been improved in the process, from the English
language to  the  forms  of  constitutional  democracy.  Yet
pietas demands  that Americans  remember  where  those  good
things came from. A United States indifferent to the fate of
Europe  is   a  United  States  indifferent  to  its  roots.
Americans learned  about the  dignity of  the human  person,
about  limited  and  constitutional  government,  about  the
principle of  consent, and  about the transcendent standards
of justice  to which  the state is accountable in the school
of freedom  called "Europe." Americans should remember that,
with pietas.  We have  seen what  historical  amnesia  about
civilizational roots has done to Europe. Americans ought not
want that to happen in the United States.

The second  reason we  can and  must care has to do with the
threat to  American security  posed by  Europe's demographic
meltdown.    Demographic     vacuums    do     not    remain
unfilled-especially when  the demographic vacuum in question
is a  continent possessed of immense economic resources. One
can already  see  the  effects  of  Europe's  self-inflicted
depopulation in the tensions experienced in France, Germany,
and elsewhere  by rising  tides of  immigration  from  North
Africa, Turkey,  and other parts of the Islamic world. Since
1970, which  is not  all that  long  ago,  some  20  million
(legal) Islamic  immigrants- the  equivalent of  three  E.U.
countries, Ireland,  Belgium, and  Denmark-have  settled  in
Europe. And  while, in  the most  optimistic  of  scenarios,
these  immigrants   may  become   good  European  democrats,
practicing civility  and tolerance, there is another and far
grimmer alternative,  as I  have suggested  above.  Europe's
current   demographic    trendlines,   coupled    with   the
radicalization of  Islam that  seems to  be a  by-product of
some  Muslims'   encounter  with  contemporary,  secularized
Europe, could eventually produce a twenty-second century, or
even  late   twenty-first   century,   Europe   increasingly
influenced by,  and  perhaps  even  dominated  by,  militant
Islamic  populations,   convinced  that  their  long-delayed
triumph in the European heartland is at hand.

Is a  European future  dominated by an appeasement mentality
toward radical  Islamism in the best interests of the United
States? That  seems very  unlikely. Neither is a Europe that
is a  breeding ground  for Islamic radicalism; remember that
the experience  of life  in  Hamburg  was  decisive  in  the
evolution of  both Mohammed  Atta, leader of the 9/11 "death
pilots," and of the pilot of the "fourth plane" of that grim
day, the  plane forced down in Shanksville, Pennsylvania-the
one intended to hit the Capitol or the White House.

The third reason why the "Europe problem" is ours as well as
theirs has  to do with the future of the democratic project,
in the  United States  and indeed  throughout the world. The
strange debate  over  the  mere  mention  of  Christianity's
contributions  to  European  civilization  in  the  proposed
European constitution  was especially disturbing because the
amnesiacs  who   wanted  to   rewrite  European  history  by
airbrushing Christianity  from the  picture were doing so in
service to  a thin, proceduralist idea of democracy. To deny
that Christianity  had anything  to do with the evolution of
free, law-governed, and prosperous European societies is, to
repeat, more  than a  question of falsifying the past; it is
also a  matter of creating a future in which moral truth has
no role  in  governance,  in  the  determination  of  public
policy, in  understandings of justice, and in the definition
of that freedom which democracy is intended to embody.

Were these  ideas to  prevail in  Europe, that  would be bad
news for  Europe; but  it would  also be  bad news  for  the
United States,  for their triumph would inevitably reinforce
similar tendencies  in our  own high culture, and ultimately
in our  law. The judicial redefinition of "freedom" as sheer
personal willfulness,  manifest in  the 2003  Supreme  Court
decision, Lawrence  v. Texas,  was buttressed  by  citations
from European  courts.  And  what  would  it  mean  for  the
democratic project  around the  world  if  the  notion  that
democracy has  nothing to  do with  moral truth  is exported
from western  Europe to  central and  eastern Europe via the
expanded European Union, and thence to other new democracies
around the world?

So Americans should, and must, care. We sever ourselves from
our civilizational  roots if  we ignore  Europe in  a fit of
aggravation or pique. Our security will be further imperiled
in a  post-9/11 world  if Europe's  demographics continue to
give advantage  to the dynamism of radical Islamism in world
politics.  The   American  democratic   experiment  will  be
weakened  if   Europe's  legal   definition  of  freedom  as
willfulness reinforces similar tendencies here in the United
States-and so will the democratic project in the world.

EDITOR'S NOTE:   In  2000, Weigel delivered FPRI's Templeton
Lecture on Religion and World Affairs, speaking on Pope John
Paul II and the Dynamics of History."  His lecture is posted
on our website at:

For a  complete listing  of FPRI's  Templeton  Lectures  and
links to them (1996-2004), visit:

The 2005  Templeton Lecture  on Religion  and World  Affairs
will be  delivered on  September 20  by David  Rosen, former
Chief Rabbi  of  Ireland  and  Director  of  Inter-religious
Affairs, American Jewish Committee, Israel.

Of  related   interest  on   our  website  is  "Religion  in
Diplomatic History,"  by Walter  A.  McDougall,  FPRI  Wire,
March 1998:

[1] Nicholas  Eberstadt, "What  If It's  a World  Population
Implosion? Speculations  about  Global  De-population,"  The
Global Reproductive  Health Forum (Harvard University, 1998;
available at

[2] Niall  Ferguson, "Eurabia?"  New  York  Times  Magazine,
April 4, 2004.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Henri  de Lubac,  The Drama  of  Atheist  Humanism  (San
Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), 14.

[5] David  Fromkin, Europe's  Last Summer:  Who Started  the
Great War in 1914? (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004), 224.

[6] Charles  Taylor, Sources  of the Self: The Making of the
Modern Identity (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,

[7]  J.  H.  H.  Weiler,  Un  Europa  cristiana:  Un  saggio
esplorativo (Milan: Biblioteca Universale Rizzoli, 2003).
[8] See  Robert  Wendelin  Keyserlingk,  Fathers  of  Europe
(Montreal: Palm Publishers, 1972).

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