book review

Menace in Europe:
Why the Continent's Crisis is America's, Too
Claire Berlinski
Crown Forum, 2006, 271 pages
Reviewed By

T his book is not so much an analysis of the situation in Europe as a cataloging of the self-destructiveness that Western Europeans have engaged in over the past decade, mixed with a little Euro-bashing. Such books are easy to write, and Claire Berlinski, an American author who has spent most of her adult life in Europe, does an excellent job at placing the current problems in Europe in a historical context. But it falls short of being an example of Kaganesque (or even Fukuyamaesque) analysis.

On the other hand, anyone who gets their news from the mainstream media (the BBC, American, British and European newspapers, and CNN, all of which have become so inaccurate they are only marginally useful as sources of information), may be unaware of many of the events described in this book. For these people, this book is essential reading.

Claire Berlinski is a rarity: a left-liberal (or at least a closet liberal) who has nice things to say about America and the free market system, and not only hates terrorism but thinks something should be done about it, including fighting it if necessary. Some other commentators have insisted that if only America would turn the other cheek, the Europeans would "like" us as they supposedly did after 9/11. No doubt many Europeans would enjoy once again seeing America as a victim; but just as our sympathy with New Orleans morphed into a mixture of pity and contempt after their leaders complained bitterly about not getting handouts from the Federal government fast enough, so too would Europe's "sympathy" for America after the inevitable second hit. There is none of this nonsense from Claire Berlinski.

The struggle for Europe looks to be one of the major themes of the 21st century. Anyone with an Internet connection can learn of the problems afflicting Europe--the endless riots by Muslims in France, the countless acts of appeasement, and the pro-terrorist, anti-Semitic, and anti-American sentiment. Claire Berlinski makes a convincing case that Continental Europe, under the surface, is a termite-riddled house ready to collapse. Yet as Europe continues to decline, its inhabitants profess unconcern more and more loudly.

But what about our closest ally, Britain? Claire Berlinski's advice to the British is simple and insightful: "If al Qaeda is disturbed by the presence of British troops in Iraq, this is a sign that the troops are where they should be."

Claire Berlinski's analysis can be broken down into five main points:

  1. Europe, says Claire Berlinski, "is--as it has always been--the breeding ground of the world's most dangerous ideologies...Europeans are behaving now as Europeans have always behaved." By this she means bargaining with depravity and allowing toxic ideologies such as Islamism to flourish. This criticism seems a little unfair. Yes, Communism was invented in Europe. Yes, Europe has been a world center for genocide. But somehow Western Europe withstood the Communist threat, albeit with a lot of help from America. And I suspect that Europeans are probably starting to tire of being hammered about Hitler.
  2. Muslims in Europe feel alienated because their European hosts aren't being nice enough to them. Claire Berlinski quotes a Pakistani living in Britain as saying, "If any [immigration] official here had ever, ever, even once said ["welcome home"] to me, I would have died for England on the spot."

    This is just rationalization. European personal attitudes are not the problem, even if we were to accept that they include the Left's Big Four Causes Of All Discontent: "racism", "poverty", "discrimination" and "greed". The problem with Europe is its weakness, its paralysis, and its abject spinelessness in the face of an existential threat. Where there is weakness, power and destructiveness will automatically be exercised against it, as inevitably as water flowing downhill. By the same token, when people lie to themselves about their situation (even if perhaps for very good reasons), the truth will inevitably sneak up on them and bite them.

    It could just as well be argued that Europe is in fact being too nice to their Muslims. A little tough love--adopt our cultural mores or leave--might do wonders.
  3. Europe's chief weapon will be the enormous seductiveness of its material culture. The desire for toasters and VCRs, says Claire Berlinski, not the desire for freedom, was the driving force behind the fall of Communism. Indeed, she makes it sound like the collapse of the Berlin Wall was caused by a big sale at Macy's.
  4. Church attendance is low in Europe, and popular sentiment discourages religious fervor; therefore, Claire Berlinski says, Muslims feel alienated. Claire Berlinski contends that the wars of the 20th century were an attempt to fill their spiritual emptiness, left by the loss of religious faith, with nationalism. Partly because of this, Europeans are preoccupied with personal fulfillment and are abandoning family life.
  5. The declining birthrates in Europe are a catastrophe. Italy, Claire Berlinski points out, is the first country in human history with more people over the age of sixty than under the age of twenty. This means that Europe will soon be facing economic collapse. Left unsaid are the likely consequences of such a collapse: social unrest and quite possibly, a takeover by Islamic extremists. Most Europeans are in denial and ridicule claims such as these as "apocalyptic."

Because this tendency to low birthrates is strongest in former Axis countries Italy, Germany, Japan, and the de facto Axis ally Spain, Claire Berlinski concludes that the low birthrates are Europeans' way of punishing themselves for World War II, when Fascists encouraged population growth. I think Claire is quite wrong here. Although Claire Berlinski doesn't discuss Russia much, the situation in Russia is even worse than in Western Europe. The low birthrate in Russia cannot be explained by guilt. Guilt in any case is more often than not an illusion held by outsiders miffed about some supposed injustice. The capability of people to lie to themselves is boundless. If European women wanted to reproduce, they could easily find an ideology that would accommodate them and allow them to assuage their guilt. And, as Mark Steyn pointed out in America Alone , it looks likely that they will: more and more European women are starting to convert to Islam.

Poverty (which seems to be the Cause of Everything in some circles) also cannot explain the low birthrates, even in Russia. Russia is resource-rich, and many countries far poorer than Russia have expanding growth rates. For whatever reason, all these countries have lost the will to grow and survive.

In Russia, about two thirds of all pregnancies end in abortion. Without abortion, Russia would not be declining in population, but expanding, despite their shorter life expectancy. The huge abortion rates cannot be the result of poverty, but represent a type of self-hatred on a massive scale. It is the continuing legacy of communism, which crushed the spirit of the Russian people for over seventy years.

Claire Berlinski ignores the elephant standing in the corner: what social change has taken place in the West, as well as in Russia and Japan, that most directly affects birth rates? Feminism. It may not be politically correct to say so, but by making women think that having babies is just another lifestyle choice and that having a career and personal fulfillment are the most important goals in life, feminists may have set Europe, and all of Western civilization, on an unstoppable course for calamity.

Another theory that is overlooked the role of sex education in causing low birth rates. What better way to make young people think that something is boring than to teach it in school?

Claire Berlinski's analysis has the causes of Europe's troubles exactly backwards. Although there are many things to criticize about those disaster-prone Europeans and their culture, the problems facing Europe today are not caused by the Europeans, but by their invaders. On this point, Oriana Fallaci (whom Claire Berlinski mentions) was much closer to the truth. The fact that the Europeans wanted to try Oriana Fallaci for (literally) the crime of blasphemy proves that Oriana Fallaci had indeed struck a nerve. Claire Berlinski's book, in contrast, is far more polite and accommodating; unfortunately, this means that it will be more easily ignored by most Europeans.