Good Intentions Gone Bad

Victor Davis Hanson reports from Europe, and finds that continent in the summer of its discontent:

The European countryside is as beautiful as ever. Hotels in the cities are as packed as they are high-priced. Tourists fill Rome. The same bustle is evident from Lisbon to Frankfurt. Everywhere European stewards welcome in millions of sightseers to enjoy the treasures of Western civilization. Never has life seemed so good.

Yet beneath the veneer of the good life, there is also a detectable air of uncertainty in Europe this summer, one perhaps similar to that of 1914 or the late 1930s.

The enemies of Europe’s past – responsible for everything from Verdun and Dresden to a constant threat of mutually assured destruction – were identified as nationalism and militarism. Meanwhile, at home, Europeans cited cutthroat competition and unbridled individualism as additional contributory causes of the prior strife and unhappiness.

So in response to the errors of the past, Europeans systematically expanded the welfare state. They welcomed in immigrants. Politicians slashed defense spending, lowered the retirement age and cut the workweek. Voters demanded trade barriers to protect the public from the ravages of globalization. Either to enjoy the good life or to save the planet, couples forswore children.

But instead of utopia, unintended consequences ensued. Unemployment soared. Dismal economic growth, shrinking populations and a scarier world outside their borders followed.

Among other problems, Europe’s porous-border policy has led to waves of Muslim immigration that have left the continent volatile and frightened:

Frontline Spain clamors impatiently for the European Union to clamp down on illegal immigrants streaming across the Mediterranean. The utopian vision of a continent with porous borders is, for the time being, on hold – at least as it pertains to Africa.

The Dutch, the French and the Danes are petrified about unassimilated Muslim radicals in their countries who have killed or threatened the most liberal of Europeans. Churches are almost empty. Mosques are being built; Italians wrangle over plans for one of the largest in Italy – to be plopped amid the vineyards and olive groves of Tuscany.

A majority of polled Germans now believe that the pacifist Europeans are in a “clash of civilizations” with the Islamic world.

For a generation after World War II, America’s liberals wanted this country to follow in Europe’s path. They regarded American conservatives (and, more broadly, the American people) as uncouth dinosaurs who were too unsophisticated to understand that the future lay with Europe’s semi-socialist and pacifist approach. Thankfully, the United States took a different road. But Europe’s problems may soon be ours once again, even though some Americans say they aren’t going back.

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