Europe’s de­cline now fu­eled by ab­sence of re­li­gion, democ­racy

The Mercury News Weekend - - OTHER VIEWS - By Vic­tor Davis Han­son Vic­tor Davis Han­son is a syn­di­cated colum­nist.

AVIGNON, FRANCE » France’s Rhone River Valley is a sto­ry­book mar­riage of high tech­nol­ogy, tra­di­tional vine­yards and an­ces­tral vil­lages. High- speed trains criss­cross ma­jes­tic cathe­drals, cas­tles and chateaus.

There’s a Ro­man Em­pire-like same­ness through­out Europe in fash­ion, pop­u­lar cul­ture and gov­ern­ment pro­to­col — a wel­come change from the deadly fault lines of 1914 and 1939.

Yet, as in the wan­ing days of Rome, there’s a grow­ing un­cer­tainly be­neath the European calm.

The present gen­er­a­tion has in­her­ited the phys­i­cal ar­chi­tec­ture and art of a once-great West. But it seems to lack the con­fi­dence that it could ever cre­ate the con­di­tions to match, much less ex­ceed, such achieve­ment.

The sense of de­pres­sion in Europe re­minds one of novelist J.R.R. Tolkien’s myth­i­cal land of Gon­dor in “The Lord of the Rings,” which once served as bul­wark of a hu­mane Mid­dle-earth.

But by the novel’s time, the peo­ple of Gon­dor had be­come mil­i­tar­ily and spir­i­tu­ally en­fee­bled by self-doubt, decades of poor gov­er­nance, de­pop­u­la­tion and in­dif­fer­ence, para­dox­i­cally brought on by wealth and af­flu­ence.

Euro­peans are sim­i­larly con­fused. They claim to be build­ing a new demo­cratic cul­ture. But the gov­ern­ing elites of the European Union are ter­ri­fied of pop­u­lar protest move­ments. And they think vot­ers can­not be prop­erly taught what’s good for them. Free speech is in­creas­ing prob­lem­atic. It’s more dan­ger­ous for a European ci­ti­zen to pub­licly ob­ject to il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion than for a for­eigner to en­ter Europe il­le­gally.

Oddly, less wealthy Cen­tral and East­ern Euro­peans are more as­tutely skep­ti­cal of mass im­mi­gra­tion than wealth­ier but less ra­tio­nal Western Euro­peans.

Ger­many wishes to be the good leader that can live down its past by virtue-sig­nal­ing its tol­er­ance. Yet it rams down the throat of its neigh­bors its po­lit­i­cally cor­rect poli­cies on Mid­dle East­ern im­mi­gra­tion, manda­tory green en­ergy, vir­tual dis­ar­ma­ment, mer­can­tilist trade and financial bail- outs. Rarely has such a so­cial­ist na­tion been so hy­per-cap­i­tal­ist and chau­vin­ist in pil­ing up trade sur­pluses.

The world as­sumes that the rich European Union won’t do much about un­scrupu­lous Chi­nese trade prac­tices, radical Is­lamic ter­ror­ism, or Ira­nian and North Korean nu­clear pro­lif­er­a­tion.

Such prob­lems are left to the more un­couth Amer­i­cans. That ex­plains why many Euro­peans con­cede that the hated Don­ald Trump’s de­ter­rent for­eign pol­icy and his eco­nomic growth pro­to­cols could prove in the long term a bet­ter deal for Europe than were the beloved Barack Obama’s lead-from-be­hind and re­dis­tri­bu­tion­ist agen­das.

The European Union’s sole rea­son to be is to avoid a re­peat of the dis­as­trous 20th cen­tury, in which many mil­lions of Euro­peans were slaugh­tered in world wars, death camps and the great com­mu­nist ter­ror in Rus­sia.

Yet para­dox­i­cally, the European re­ac­tion to the gory past of­ten re­sults in an ex­treme Western sybaritic life­style that in it­self leads to de­cline.

European re­li­gion has been re­cal­i­brated into a po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness. Buy­ing a home and get­ting a job de­pend more on gov­ern­ment min­istries than on in­di­vid­ual dar­ing and initiative.

Yet the more cred­i­ble European lesson from the last cen­tury’s catas­tro­phes is that too few 20th-cen­tury European democ­ra­cies stayed mil­i­tar­ily vig­i­lant. In the 1930s, too few of them felt con­fi­dent enough in Western demo­cratic val­ues to con­front ex­is­ten­tial dan­gers in their in­fancy like Hitler and Stalin.

Athe­is­tic ni­hilism and a soul­less mod­ernism — not re­li­gious piety and a rev­er­ence for cus­tom and tra­di­tion — fu­eled Ger­man and Ital­ian fas­cism and Rus­sian com­mu­nism.

Con­trary to po­lit­i­cally cor­rect dogma, Chris­tian­ity, mil­i­tary de­ter­rence, democ­racy and ven­er­a­tion of a unique past did not de­stroy Europe.

In­stead, the cul­prit of European de­cline was the very ab­sence of such an­cient val­ues — both then and now.

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