Can Europe Save Itself? What I Saw in Paris

Bookworm recently asked, “is Europe trying to save itself?” To that question, I can only offer anecdotal evidence from family and business visits made to France and Belgium this summer, shortly after the Greece-precipitated financial crisis.

Europe (witness the EU) is an uber-bureacracy. For centuries, Europe’s forms of governance have devolved into top-down, centralized governments that control virtually every aspect of individual life while disenfranchising the connections between citizenry and the ruling classes.  These trends metastasized under the EU and, following adoption of the Treaty of Lisbon in May, a treaty that cemented the supra-national power of the unelected EU authority. “Europe” effectively ceased being democratic. In tandem with this trend, European citizens have been conditioned to think less as “citizens” and more as “subjects” of their governments. Today, the only real power of dissent left to them has been to riot destructively in the streets or to paralyze their countries in strikes (France maintains a separate police force 100% dedicated to dealing with social disturbances). Setting parked cars on fire (car-b-cues) is a charming French tradition of civic protest that is now spreading to other European countries.

In this Bismarkian state model, the trade-off for political disenfranchisement has been a guarantee that the social welfare state would take care of all its citizens’ needs: retirement pensions, joblessness benefits at a high fraction of one’s previous salary, “free” education, public safety and health care. In France, this compact is proudly referred to in Orwellian terminology as “Solidarity”.  The EU compact also offered an end to Europe’s perpetual war and tribalism. As one of my elderly relatives put it to me, “my grandparents lived through three wars, my parents live through two and I lived through one. With the EU, I could hope that my children would never know war”. It’s an appealing vision.

Thus, for the greater perceived good, the vaste majority of citizens in France and other EU countries passively accepted what was handed to them, be it political correctness, Islamic migration, or economic and tax policy: why waste time worrying about what one cannot change? Such issues were best left for the ruling elites to address. Unfortunately, such also generated a toxic blend of cynicism, pacifism and lassitude laced with a nihilistic hedonism. Europeans stopped caring, partied on and stopped having babies. When government strips life of meaning, what’s the point of meaningful living, right? The Euros lost pride in self and pride in their own nations and cultures. They also lost their sense of civic responsibility. Whenever disaster struck in Europe (floods, heat waves, violence), I could not help but notice how passively Europeans deferred to authorities for help, rather than helping themselves. Rampant theft and vandalism is accepted as part of normal life: car windows are routinely smashed. In the nicest neighborhoods of Paris, the bottom floor windows of homes are paned in bullet-proof glass to discourage home invasions, which are accepted as quite normal occurrences…even in daytime. The cops seldom respond. In Europe, the victim is often treated as the perp while the criminal is perceived as the victim. One seldom if ever sees ordinary citizens sandbagging during floods the way we do in the U.S., for example – everyone looks out for themselves and leaves the heavy lifting to the “authorities”. Pacifism and passivity go hand-in-hand.

When visiting my relatives in France in the past, I could be assured that most (not all) had only vague ideas about what was happening in their country, their economy and the world. Most accepted the dispositions of the (mostly government controlled) media at face value. Moreover, why worry about the present and future (e.g., why save for retirement) when the government’s “Solidarity” will take care of it for you? And, while my focus in this discourse is on France, be assured that these observations apply also to Europe in toto.

All this has changed.

The Greek crisis, which closely followed the international banking crisis, caused a severe crisis of confidence and with it, an awakening. As a Dutch business associate remarked to me, “how can it be that we must work hard to pay taxes in the North until the age of 68 so that people in Greece can work hardly at all, pay no taxes and retire at the age of 60?”. Europe, like the U.S., is broken and broke.

The Greek crisis forced average Europeans to realize that the entire economic and political structures upon which their “solidarity” depended was about to collapse as the economic and political contradictions of the EU socialist state came to a head. An elderly gentleman I know – a world renown attorney, a member of the French Resistance, a former advisor to French prime ministers as well as to a U.S. president and an ardent supporter of the EU – looked at me and said, “it’s all finished, now”. I asked him “what”, exactly, was finished. He replied, “The EU, our peace and our prosperity”. The people, for the first time, were realizing that there was no money to pay for it all. For the first time ever, I saw fear and doubt in my relatives’ eyes. For the first time, I saw graffiti (most European towns are plastered with graffiti) and posted flyers denouncing the EU along with EU policies toward immigration. For the first time, I saw a steely flintiness in peoples’ eyes (not just in France) when the subject of Islamic immigration into Europe was raised. I saw also a new appreciation by Europeans of their heritage and values. Nationalism is on the rise. I saw more pride in France and its history, especially among the young. My daughter, who had been studying in France on an exchange program, remarked that many of the college students with whom she studied were returning to the Church and expressed a new-found resolve and pride in their country and heritage.

Before one can solve a problem, one must first recognize and define the problem. Europeans are still far from ready to take charge of their destiny. I just don’t know if average EU citizens have the wherewithal to resist and upend the uber-State and its entrenched ruling classes. A Tea Party movement would be inconceivable to Europeans, for example.  However, I do believe that average Europeans are waking up to the crisis and beginning to define the problems…all problems, including the one of Islamicization. This trend will continue, especially as new economic and political crises inevitably appear. In Europe, as in the U.S., the entire “solidarity” compact between State and Subject is about to go humpty-dumpty as reality sunders its foundations.  I suspect that the consequences will be very, very ugly. I saw evidence of this on my visit to Flanders, but that will have to await another post.

I do know that what eventually happens in Europe will have profound consequences for our country as well. This is not a crisis of European civilization but of Western civilization. We all face the same abyss.

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  • Charles Martel

    Danny, thanks for a beautifully written and informative piece. Book is lucky to have you as a correspondent.

    I agree that our civilization is in a fight for its very life. Considering how easily the Europeans fall into the habit of oppression and mass murder, I don’t think they know how to defend the West. Perceiving that something is wrong and knowing what to do about it are vastly different things.

    So, it will be up to us, and November 2 will tell us if there’s still a chance. Even then, the Obamas, and Ayerses, and Dohrns of the world will still be ready to do whatever vile things they think are necessary to complete the destruction.

    I’m enough of a student of history to know that there is no such thing as an eternal culture or an eternal nation. The best we can hope for is an eternal concept or ideal—in our case, freedom, enterprise and the rule of law—that somehow survives what the horrors of Islam and Marxism lie ready to inflict upon it. I am prepared to see the breakup of the United States of America, or its diminution to the lowly status of a France or Canada, just so long as there is a Texas somewhere, a citadel that is armed to the teeth with nukes and populated by free men.

  • Charles

    Danny; That’s a really terrfic post – thanks!  I do have a follow up question which will probably be answered in your next post.  You’ve mentioned that Nationalism is on the rise and that your daughter has mentioned that young people are returning to the Church and that they have a new-found resolve and pride in their country and heritage.  Do you think that this will morph into even more anti-Semitism? (Are you hinting at it in the end of your post – something about Flanders?)

    I’ve have found in my experience with Europeans that they seem to have trouble keeping true patriotism and xenophobic nationalism separate.  Most visiting Europeans whom I have met here in the US (East Coast) have always remarked about the numerous US flags outside people’s homes.  They seem to think that it is something akin to Nazism. Europeans who have lived here a while seem to understand that it is not. So, is my stereotype of Europeans correct?  That is, can they have a true love of one’s country and culture without smashing the “other”?  I do hope that I am wrong; but it would be interesting to hear your take on this.

    P.S.  On a somewhat different topic I just finished reading Carol Gould’s “Don’t Tread on Me.”  It is a rather frightening account of her years in the UK and the anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism that she has encountered and the reason for her to return to the US.  She does come across as someone who is a bit thin-skinned; but some of the accounts are events to be really concerned about.  I think it is well worth the read.

    Looking forward to your next “European” post, Danny.

  • Tonestaple

    It’s good that EUites wake up and realize what a horrible system they have consented to, but it makes me nervous too.  I think it makes a difference that we let anyone become an American, and European countries don’t have that mindset.  And I think it makes a difference that we were founded on an idea and European countries were founded on language and territory and the feudal system.  I just don’t have high expectations for a re-awakened Germany or France or even Luxembourg.

  • Danny Lemieux

    Excellent and on-the-point question, Charles. Yes…I will make a point to address this in the “Flanders” post.


    Danny, your daughter is blessed to have such an extraordinary father. So glad, you are willing to share your observations and wisdom with the rest of us as well.
    Ditto to all the other comments here. I’ll inject one small observation in Hyde Park, speakers corner circa 1964 – there was no shortage of anti-Americanism then accusing the United States of ‘killing’ the president. Not Lee Harvey Oswald, but the entire country. I was shocked – blame it on my youth. Americans in Europe in those days were, in my view, still eyed as a curiosity with a side helping of distrust and disdain.
    And now? Maybe, you can speak to that question in your next post.


    Danny, this is for you and anyone else that would like to read it.
    -snip –
    “The people of most nations have a natural tendency to believe themselves superior because of their culture, religion and way of life. Such a belief not only makes for a healthy dose of national pride, but also serves as an immune system rallying the people to fight off invasions and maintain their way of life against the winds of change”.

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  • ckrcsmith

    Book, I’m putting this in a comment, because your email link has not been working for many months. It consistently gives a server error.

  • garyp

    Danny, Very interesting post.
    I noticed some of the things you mentioned when I worked briefly in Belgium several years ago.  Even though I was in a mid-sized city that seemed very nice, on a Sunday morning walk in the main commercial road, I noticed that several shop front windows had been broken out and the stores looted.  There was no sign of a police presence, no store manager boarding up the store, etc.  It was a little weird to see that apparently no one cared enough to respond.
    Everyone, I worked with in Belgium removed the front face of their car stereo every time they got out of the car.  Crime was not seen as something to control and combat but as something just to accept and avoid (more of an act of God than a social evil).
    This atmosphere of helplessness extended to the workplace.  European workers were incredibly passive.  They seemed to be afraid to have opinions, to make suggestions, or to expect to have any input on decisions.  It was very much an “us versus them”  atmosphere where management thought of workers as “mules to be driven” and workers saw management as the whip to be avoided.  Very unpleasant work atmosphere and very inefficient as the talents and knowledge of the majority of the company were completely ignored.
    Also, I think Sadie’s observation about the importance of  group feeling is spot on.  Fear (and sometime hatred) of the “other” has always been a characteristic of humankind.  This came about naturally as, in a world of limited food, water, and desirable land, those people not cooperating with you to ensure your (and their) survival were competitors.  While, we can, hopefully move beyond automatic hostility to other cultures, we cannot let our guard down as other groups may be hostile.  That our “elites” cannot understand this concept shows how immature and protected they have become.  Competition does not require violent conflict but it does require keeping up your guard and being wary of, as well as, polite to your neighbors.

  • Gringo

    From what I have read about the European reaction to the Islamic influx, it somewhat parallels the European reaction to Amis. The elite find good things to say about Islamic immigrants, while the common folk who have to deal more with the crime and such from Islamic immigrants, do not have such a sanguine view as the elite. Similarly, the common [nearly a curse word in the UK!] folk in Europe tend to have a positive view of Americans, while the elite sneer at us at the first- and last- opportunity.
    Given the greater passivity of the European populace, I do not know if they will be able to bestir themselves in time to the Islamic influx and to the collapse of the Euro welfare state. But if they do, I fear that it will not be pleasant. I am reminded of Tom Wolfe’s line that the shadow of Fascism is always descending on the US, but it always lands on Europe.
    I have never been to Europe, but I had a lot of contact with Europeans in Latin America, both as fellow tourists and as co-workers.  I spent 2-3 weeks with some French in Colombia and Ecuador. Got along with them OK- if  we hadn’t gotten along we wouldn’t have spent so much time together.
    One French woman informed me that some of her countrymen had hitched around the US. This was common at the time. I had also hitched around the US. She informed me that Americans who had picked up her hitchhiking countrymen had often invited them into their homes and had them stay the night.  That was also my experience when hitching, though probably not so often, because I was usually trying to keep up a 1000 mile  day pace. My French friend informed me that there was something VERY SICK ABOUT AMERICANS, that they would be so friendly to strangers.
    I made no attempt to reply to that. It was one of my first insights that there was a distinct difference between America and Europe. I say America, because as a tourist in Latin America, I have on occasion been invited to stay the night.

  • Ymarsakar

    Gringo, only the strong are allowed the luxury of generosity and magnanimity. It’s hard to have such traits when the master commands all resources and gives orders not to dispense with his property or thou shall face the whip.

    Coming from a weak, insecure, xenophobic culture, it will always be foreign and alien to them that there are free and independent people who can make such decisions as part of their normal day of life. Part of European normal day of life is not getting punished for being late on cleaning the master’s shoes. Whenever one has subordinates, you just make the shat flow downhill.

    It’s a fundamentally different concept of leadership and the source of authority.

    Hospitality arrived from various tribes around the world as a way to deal with native hostility and fear of the other. Given a choice, people would board up their homes and close themselves off from the scary foreign. But that’s bad for the economy and tends to produce mob attacks, thus disrupting social hierarchy and empire building. Europe has had a very long history of not being able to deal with hostility.