Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
Historian of science Thomas Kuhn famously argued that scientific progress comes not from an incremental, stepwise accumulation of knowledge, but rather from a “paradigm shift,” the relatively sudden collapse of an old paradigm under the weight of new evidence and new insights. Kuhn’s idea has implications beyond scientific research. Historical changes as well often reflect an abrupt shift, as the old received wisdom is no longer adequate for understanding new events.
For example, the collapse of the Soviet Union was anticipated by at most a handful of analysts and historians. Indeed, in 1984 esteemed economist J.K. Galbraith claimed, “The Russian system succeeds because, in contrast to the Western industrial economies, it makes full use of its manpower.” Yet in a few years looming economic collapse swept away the communist superpower that for half a century threatened liberal democracy. In an instant, the seemingly permanent Cold War geostrategical paradigm disappeared, taking with it the whole academic discipline of Sovietology.
Perhaps today we are witnessing the beginning of a similar paradigm shift: the end of the notion that universal progress driven by scientific and technological innovations will eventually improve human life and political order to the point where the tragic constants of human existence––conflict, violence, oppression, brutal autocracy, and violations of basic human rights––will disappear. Considering the current failures of the West both domestically and abroad, this faith seems on shaky ground.
In Europe, the EU has been the institutional manifestation of this optimistic paradigm. Ethnic particularism, nationalist loyalties, parochial religious beliefs were remnants of the unenlightened past. A transnational organization of technocrats would be better placed to manage the economy, promote social justice, tend to the disadvantaged through redistributionist welfare transfers, and establish non-violent institutions of conflict resolution that would make collective violence a thing of the past. In practice, this meant diminishing national identity and the Christian faith, embracing a multiculturalism predicated on Western guilt and sentimental Third-Worldism, and inviting non-Western immigrants into Europe. These immigrants theoretically would do the work Europeans scorned, compensating for the decline in birthrates that attended increasing affluence and secularist values.
This paradigm today is wobbly. The EU still hasn’t recovered from the 2008 economic crisis, nor repaired the fissures in the EU laid bare by the still-looming Grexit (the departure of Greece from the common currency), the sluggish economic growth, the high levels of unemployment, the high taxes, debt, and deficits, and the burdensome regulatory regime. The EU faith in technocratic expertise and powers of control has been exposed as hubristic, a failure to acknowledge the “irreducible complexity” of human behavior and social relations, and the reality of conflicting economic interests among 500 million people spread over 28 countries with different languages, customs, histories, and religions. The nasty feud between Germany and Greece over the latter’s threatened default on its debt reminded us that Germans are still Germans and Greeks are still Greeks.
The on-going immigration crisis has further split the EU. The Eurocrats and other elites enjoyed their freer travel and “citizen of the world” identity, but millions of others lacking those opportunities remain French or Italian or Hungarian or Greek. Yet for all their differences, Europeans still live in a civilization created by Athens, Rome, and Jerusalem, a civilization embracing freedom, equal rights, separation of church and state, and numerous other ideals.
For many Europeans even if that tradition has been weakened by secularism, their political and social institutions are very different from those of the Muslims they invited into their countries, making assimilation difficult. Thus rather than workers, many immigrants, especially the young, became part of a permanent underclass living on the dole, alienated from the host country’s culture, and shut out from labor markets by onerous employment regulations. Long before the Syrian refugee crisis and the terror attacks in London, Madrid, and Paris, these Muslim “youths,” as they’re delicately called, have been underemployed and overrepresented in prisons, committing crimes, particularly vandalism, assault, and rape, at a much higher rate than their proportion of the population. They crowd the welfare rolls, clustering in shabby neighborhoods beyond the reach of police control and ripe for recruitment into jihadist outfits. Meanwhile many Muslims practice the illiberal tenets of their faith––sex segregation, honor killings, stealth polygamy, aggressive public practice of their faith, intolerance of infidels, and waging or supporting violent jihad––contrary to the liberal democratic principles of their new homes.
Yet despite this long record of hostility and contempt towards the host countries, despite the recent massacre in Paris and disrupted plots in Belgium, Western European nations continue to profess their intent to let in as many as a million “refugees” from Syria. Most of them are seeking jobs and welfare, not fleeing persecution, from which they could find refuge in the neighboring Sunni nations of Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Worse, despite the fact that the ringleader of the Paris attack came from Syria, EU president Jean-Claude Juncker, fretting over the travails of the Syrian migrants, said, “There is no need for an overall review of the European policy on refugees.” Such a sentiment ignores, of course, the decades-long failure of Europe to assimilate the Muslims already there. Increasing their number likely means expanding the number of jihad-incubating Muslim ghettos, segregated from the culture and mores of the host countries and filled with obscene graffiti and the hulks of burned-out cars.
Elected national leaders and political parties across the EU, however, are increasingly more voluble in disagreeing with the EU president and Angela Merkel’s claim that “Islam belongs in Germany.” Hungarian president Viktor Orban has taken a hard line on the immigrants, building a steel fence on his country’s border, and frankly acknowledging the cultural differences between European and Islamic culture: “I think we have a right to decide that we do not want a large number of Muslim people in our country … We do not like the consequences,” he added, alluding to the Ottoman Muslim occupation of his country for 150 years. Slovenia, a victim of continual Ottoman raids in the 16th century, like Hungary has built a wall and imposed border controls. After the Paris attacks, other countries tightened their border controls as well, revising the 1985 Schengen agreement that opened up travel between EU states. The Dutch, meanwhile, have proposed creating a new Schengen-like confederation comprising the more ethnically homogenous Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, and Austria.
More significant is the increasing popularity of nationalist Euroskeptic parties. The more hawkish reaction, so far at least, in France to the Paris attacks on the part of President Hollande suggests that the old multiculturalist orthodoxy that demonized national pride might be weakening, as does the influx of people enlisting in the French Army, at a rate five times greater than before the attacks. These developments might portend an opening for nationalist parties that Europhiles scorn as “right-wing extremist,” “far right,” or even “neo-fascist.”
While a few show such tendencies, most are more accurately defined as populist or nationalist, calling for a return of pride in and loyalty to their unique national identities, customs, heritage, and mores that the EU establishment dismisses as quaint relics from the benighted past. In France, Marine le Pen’s National Front could dominate upcoming regional elections, according to recent polls, and could become France’s next president. Le Pen has called for an “immediate halt” to further immigration. Elsewhere, the Swedish Democrats, the Dutch Party of Freedom, and the German Alternative for Germany are increasing in popularity. And Viktor Orban, leader of the Fidesz-Hungarian Civic Alliance, whom many EU leaders and commentators have reviled as xenophobic neo-fascist, is gaining credibility and respect among those who recognize the suicidal self-abasement of EU immigration policies.
Are these developments the harbingers of a larger paradigm shift away from the transnational, technocratic, undemocratic institutions of the EU? We should be cautious, for a real reformation would require a widespread return to patriotic allegiance, something a peaceful Europe, its security guaranteed and subsidized by the U.S., hasn’t felt a need for. Even more terrorist attacks might not be enough to awaken Europe from its multicultural slumbers. As we saw in London and Madrid ten years ago, initial bravado like the signs in Paris shops claiming “You don’t scare me” lasts as long as the public memorials and collective mourning. Likewise, protests against immigration have energized nationalist political parties before. In 1999 Austria’s Jörge Haider’s nationalist Freedom Party won 27% of the vote. By 2002 that support had shrunk to around 7%. On the other hand, the reaction against the EU caused by increasing economic failure and terrorist violence could take more sinister and violent forms as genuinely extremist groups find opportunity for growth.
Finally, the decline of faith in Europe has undercut the Judeo-Christian tradition upon which the civilization of Europe was founded, and which will have to provide the unifying principles, virtues, and beliefs necessary for correcting the dysfunctions of the EU and putting steel into Europeans’ resolve to destroy jihadism. But what today can replace “the accumulated capital of [Europe’s] Christian past,” as Christopher Dawson called it, “from which it drew the moral and social idealism that inspired the humanitarian and liberal and democratic movement of the last two centuries”? That “capital” has been dwindling for decades. Before the paradigm can shift, Europeans will have to rediscover what they are willing to kill and die for, especially in the face of an enemy filled with passionate intensity and fierce certainty in their knowledge of what their god commands them to kill and die for. That is the question the Eurocrats in Brussels and Strasburg are incapable of answering.