On the “Dying” of Europe
James V. Schall, S.J.
The Catholic Thing
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2015
The striking opening sentence of an essay by Bret Stephens in the October 19, Wall Street Journal reads: “The death of Europe is in sight.” But what precisely is dying? We recall Belloc’s famous “Europe is the faith and the faith is Europe,” except that most of Europe has lost that faith that made Europe. “Re-evangelization” and the “New” Evangelization have had little impact. So is it still “Europe”?
Eric Voegelin, in Science, Politics, and Gnosticism, remarked that the origin of modern ideology lies in a lack of courage, in a loss of faith of Christian men in the reality of the transcendent order as presented in that faith. This subsequent ideology causes the death of an Europe unwilling to preserve what it is.
A prosperous Europe, in its own confusion, is literally “invaded,” predominantly by Muslims from various failed states. We look at the pathetic decline in European birthrate, itself a sign of serious spiritual disorder.
What replaced the old European nations, Christendom, was a secular humanism devoted to a “universalism” that sought to downplay or rid itself of its Christian heritage. In many ways, it has “peacefully” accomplished this purging. The Church itself in old European lands seems confused and open to the doctrines of this humanism, as the recent Synod on the Family often demonstrated.
In a remarkable essay, “The Love of One’s Own and the Importance of Place,” George Friedman wrote: “Dying for a regime dedicated to the pursuit of happiness makes no sense. Dying for the love of one’s own makes a great deal of sense. But the modern understanding of man has difficulty dealing with this idea. Instead it wants to abolish war, banish war as an atavism or at least brand war as primitive and unnatural. This may all be true, but it should be noted that war simply won’t go away. Neither will the love of one’s own and all that follows from it.” We might say that war continues because its Kantian abolition ultimately implies that there is no distinction between good and evil in our lives. It is against this latter doctrine that good men will still fight – if they can.
What Friedman recalls here is that the modern state is built on the centralization of power and the absorption of all “lesser” communities, including religion, into its orbit. It ends with an absolute “diversity,” a no-hate-speech doctrine that no longer allows the most fundamental human questions even to be broached within its projected worldwide confines.
In Seeing Things Politically, Pierre Manent wrote: “The political body that was proper to Europe was the nation, the nation as mediator of universals – the Church and then humanity….European democratic universalism shades into nihilism; it is the fulfillment of nihilism. It consists in saying: Europe is nothing other and wants to be nothing other than pure universal humanism.”
Such universal “humanism” sees itself as existing above all national, cultural, or religious differences. Hence, it does not allow their expression, as that would “offend” the purity of “humanity.” This “humanity” is a logical concept. Only particular and different things actually exist and have life.
Benedict XVI, in his conversation with Peter Sewald (The Light of the World ), put it this way: “People say for the sake of negative tolerance [i.e. “not offending anyone”] there must be no crucifix in public buildings. With that we are basically experiencing the abolition of tolerance, for it means, after all, that religion, that the Catholic faith is no longer allowed to express itself visibly.” This is the Averroist position.
Europe has now also built itself on a “proposition”: The state coercively denies any presence in the public order of a “private” realm. Articles of peace require the state to deny speech or organization of any view that might cause unsettlement in any citizen’s soul. Instead of a continent of different nations and peoples, we are left with a soul-less state that cares for little else but to be left undisturbed in its prosperity by any “transcendent” issues that might undermine individual souls or civic peace.
What is particularly heinous in Europe is “fundamentalism.” This latter is mainly a code word for anyone still unenlightened enough to maintain the distinction between good and evil. Such people are “rigid,” that is, they think it makes a difference what one believes. This is the one group that will not be “tolerated.”
Obviously, this approach postulates new “rights” that guarantee the purpose of the abstract state’s “humanism.” The new “European” man is cleansed of all the variety that made him worthy of interest. But this new man, since he is an abstraction, is incapable of dying. Only men and women die. Likewise, only men and women beget. Bad ideas do not “die.” Either they are seen as erroneous and rejected or as enticing and put into the world. Of the “dying Europe,” requiescat in pace.