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Book Review: The Strange Death of Europe (Douglas Murray)

Mass immigration to Europe is one of those topics about which there is little mainstream discussion, both in the United States and even more so (paradoxically) in Europe.  What discussion does happen is purely facile, on the “pro” side, or often lacking nuance, on the “anti” side.  Douglas Murray’s book, The Strange Death of Europe, sets out to remedy both faults.  The book is good, if a bit meandering; it offers historical and political analysis, along with relevant philosophical thoughts.  The difficulty, though, as Murray hints himself, is that properly viewed, the topic does not rate an analysis so much as a dirge.  To the extent there is a problem, it has no real solution, and in any case the problem only exists as a second-order problem, made possible by the pre-existing exhaustion of Europe, most obvious in its childlessness.  If Europe was not exhausted, this book would not exist.  Nonetheless, by offering clarity of thought about how Europe got to its current position, The Strange Death of Europe performs a valuable service.

The author begins with a narrow focus on the past fifteen years in the United Kingdom, with glances to the few decades before that.  He offers a variety of statistics on the incredibly rapid change in the composition of the UK, with immigrants (primarily non-Commonwealth Muslim) more than doubling in the past ten years, to several million.  The current flood began slowly somewhat earlier—after a thousand years in which there was extremely little immigration to the UK, following 1945 England began to import people, in part to fill demands for labor, and in part as a result of the end of the British Empire.  Massive majorities of the population always demanded much stricter controls and limitations on immigration, but they were ignored by the elites of all political stripes (except for outriders like Enoch Powell, whom Murray notes was primarily wrong because his famous 1968 “Rivers of Blood” speech grossly understated the actual future impacts of immigration).  In the 1980s and 1990s, immigration accelerated, in part due to a new ideological obeisance of the elites to “multiculturalism” (the doctrine that all cultures are equal, except Western culture, which is inferior and existentially guilty, worthy only of making reparations to other, supposedly oppressed, peoples), concluding in a deliberate attempt at the highest levels of government to create a social transformation.  Also contributing, unsurprisingly, was a desire by Labor to obtain more and more reliable voters, as well as European Union movement rules.  Throughout, politicians would often pay lip service to the public demand for limits—then crank the spigot open some more.  The result is today’s England, which the elites treat as a wonderful new England, Cool Britannia, while a majority of people hate these changes, but are told to “shut up, racist,” when they are not being threatened with arrest for “hate speech.”

Murray then opens up his analysis beyond England and, of more interest to me, parses the precise rationales offered by European elites for admitting these waves of migrants.  He points out, of course, that never does any proponent of increased or unrestricted immigration say with specificity what the actual benefits of immigration are, much less compare any supposed benefits with quantified costs, both out-of-pocket and costs such as the undesired change of what is good.  Postwar, the main need was for unskilled labor, most famously the Turkish “gastarbeiter” in Germany, but a phenomenon also in other countries.  The explicit, formal requirement was that all these workers would eventually return to their home countries, but of course only a negligible amount ever did, and none were ever forced to do so.  In later years, arguments were made that despite their tendency in every country to work little and receive massive amounts of benefits, migrants were a net economic positive.  This is, of course, silly—Murray notes a 2013 study done by University College London that concluded that from 1995 through 2011, the net cost of immigrants to the UK was in the range of $250 billion.  Naturally, that part of the study was not reported (it is a wonder it was even published), and the BBC heralded the study as a positive, because a minor element of the study showed, to nobody’s surprise, that a subset of highly-educated migrants from within the EU offered a small net economic benefit.  The rest of the study was ignored by the elites and all polite society, of course.

A variation on this pseudo-argument that immigrants provide a current economic benefit is the allegation, sometimes explicit and sometimes merely implied, that because Europeans have far fewer children than necessary even for mere replacement, migrants are necessary to produce children who can be taxed to provide the social services demanded by the graying European population.  Murray points out, correctly, that Europeans don’t want to have children because it’s expensive and they’re not optimistic about the future.  I think it’s more than that; it’s a spiritual malaise and a consequent obsessive focus on the autonomous self, closely related to what Murray later calls “tiredness.”  He doesn’t think the answer is importing immigrants—it has other costs, they also will age, and maybe we don’t need Europe to grow.  Perhaps.  But this is a real problem, and if there are no immigrants, it will still need a solution.  What is more, the economic need for children to support the welfare state, whether solved or not, leaves aside an even more important point Murray does not mention, that an aged society is a decrepit, fearful society that has dug its own grave.  No youth equals no dynamism (though not all dynamisms are created equal).  Nobody seems to make this point, though, and Murray is no exception.

Finally, there are moral and cultural arguments in favor of immigration, a thin broth which boils down to “more diversity is good for us.”  Here, Murray hammers at a basic, yet totally ignored, truth—if we assume, for purposes of argument, that some cultural diversity is good, it does not follow that more is better.  That’s not to say that any diversity resulting from immigration is necessarily good, or that its benefits exceed its costs—those things may or may not be true, and no attempt is ever made to demonstrate either, other than by frequent references to new dining establishments.  Those who chant the magic word “diversity” do so in order to summon their inner Merlin, and thereby to create a magical zone of suspended rationality.  The truth is that the diversity offered by bringing large numbers of adherents of vastly inferior cultures, which is all the non-European immigrants to Europe, is worse than homogeneity.  Not all cultures offer anything worth having.  If you get a meal at a new, exciting, restaurant, along with a side order of child rape, finishing with dessert of murdered priest, you did not have a good dinner.

Of course, an honest debate about immigration is the one thing truly impossible in Europe, as Murray makes very clear.  We in the United States cannot comprehend how in most European countries speech is thoroughly controlled by the elites in order to overtly deny truths obvious to everyone.  The worst offender is Sweden, but England and Germany are not far behind.  This is accomplished by a pernicious combination of government functionaries coordinating with the press to aggressively suppress any publication of news that does not fit the positive narrative of immigration; combined with vicious, ruinous attacks on anyone who publicly or privately says otherwise; backed up with occasional selective criminal prosecution to encourage the common people to keep their mouths shut.

Thus, the mass sexual assaults on New Year’s Eve 2015/2016 in Germany, in Cologne and elsewhere, where thousands of women were assaulted on the street, including many rapes, were initially completely unreported (and if not for the Internet, would never have been reported).  Sweden now, and newly, has the highest rate of rape anywhere in the world other than Lesotho, yet it is not allowed for anyone to point out what everybody knows, that nearly 100%, if not 100%, of those rapes are committed by Muslim immigrants, who swarm all over Sweden.  Throughout the UK, for more than a decade, organized gangs of Muslim men groomed girl children for rape (always non-Muslim children, by deliberate and explicit choice), including gang rape, while the police, teachers, and social workers looked the other way, mortally afraid of being called racist, until finally there was an outcry, a few slaps on the wrist, and probably the practice has merely gone underground, not to be pursued.

Yet, if you ask a politically moderate American friend of mine who has traveled extensively in Germany and has many German friends, he’ll deny that Cologne happened, or if it did, says it was just pickpockets, because that’s what his friends all tell him.  You only have to read Wikipedia, which is continuously scrubbed by Muslim apologists and is therefore always biased regarding in such incidents, yet still largely reports the truth about the Cologne incidents, to see his viewpoint is totally false.  Either his friends are lying to him, or, more likely, they know what they are required to believe.  And my friend will never, ever, admit that he could be wrong in any way, because he has been brainwashed to believe that would mean he was racist.  There are none so blind as those who will not see.  Someday people will look back on this collective insanity with wonder, or more likely, with contempt.  I say that we in the United States cannot comprehend this, made more difficult here both by the First Amendment and by our culture—yet we should not pride ourselves overmuch, as free speech has been radically eroded over the past few years by the new malefactors of great wealth, gatekeepers of allowed truth such as Google and Facebook, along with others in their ecosystem.  But that is a topic for another day.

Murray intersperses the chapters of the book, which is heavy on the statistics and depressing philosophy, with accounts of his own travels to various key spots in the migrant saga.  These include Lampedusa (the southernmost point of Italy, where many North Africans arrive in Europe), and Lesbos, where many Middle Eastern (and African) immigrants show up.  Then he continues his march through the fecklessness of European leaders, of whom Angela Merkel is the worst, which makes the reader alternate between depression and anger.

Other portions of the book are taken up with more philosophical reflections.  Murray points out that the European elites who drive this project of mass migration uniformly claim to hold the moral high ground.  But they fail to balance between, or even advert to, two competing virtues, justice and mercy.   Mercy is always easier, “with the swiftest short-term benefits and the [virtue] more admired in the society in which those benefits are received.”  Justice, giving to each his due, both current inhabitants and migrants, is never mentioned and no attempt is made to offer it to anybody.  The bulk of the philosophy, though, is taken up by Murray trying to figure out why the European elites act in a calculated fashion to destroy Europe as it has existed to date.   He chalks it up to two basic emotions:  guilt and tiredness.  Guilt over the supposed sins of Europe, where purportedly Europe has done wrong for centuries and must atone, while the much greater wrongs done by others, including most emphatically in the countries of origin of the migrants, are ignored or denied outright (I’ll have a helping of Armenian genocide!).  Plus, of course, guilt for the very real sins of Nazism, somehow imputed beyond the German nation to Europe as a whole.

Murray asks whether guilt might be a one-generation phenomenon, to be replaced by something else, but I doubt it, since I think the Europeans are very far gone—as shown by the second emotion, tiredness, or “Geschichtsmüde,” weariness of history.  Yes, decline is a perennial obsession of the West, certainly for the past two hundred years—but that does not mean decline is not occurring.  In fact, the surprise would be if decline were not occurring, since it is the fate of all great civilizations.  The certainties that characterized modern Europe for the past 150 years have all failed miserably, and maybe everyone is just tired of chasing certainty.  Perhaps, Murray says, citing the modern French philosopher Chantal Delsol, Europeans are in the position that Icarus would have been had he survived—surrounded by wreckage, wondering why he was still alive, and bereft of the grand goals to which he had set himself, with no focus or way to move onwards.  Europeans just want a break from history.  “We sometimes behave as though we had the certainties of our ancestors, yet we have none of them, and none of their consolations.”  “The vastness of the gap between them and us strikes us at sudden moments.  Consider Izaak Walton’s life of John Donne.  At the end of this brief work Walton speaks of his friend’s last days and describes his body ‘which once was a temple of the Holy Ghost and is now become a small quantity of Christian dust.’  And then the last line:  ‘But I shall see it reanimated.’”  Who among our elite would write that line now?

However, Murray tries to have his own personal atheist cake and eat it too.  He emphasizes the importance of Christianity to Europe, citing the (also atheist) theologian Don Cupitt, “Nobody in the West can be wholly non-Christian.  You may call yourself non-Christian, but the dreams you dream are still Christian dreams.”  He mourns the lost Christian certainty, and its effects on eroding resistance to the migrant tide, but at the same time frequently refers to the desirability of religious doubt.  He intends to contrast modern Christian doubt to the religious fervor, shading often to fanaticism, that characterizes many Muslim immigrants.  But religious doubt did not create Europe, and all of the glories of Europe were achieved in a fervid Christian environment (and the glories of Islam, though much longer ago, in a fervid Muslim environment).  Such doubt is only valuable to Europe to the extent that it eats into Muslim belief and thereby erodes the Muslim drive toward dominance that is part and parcel of the religion.  But Murray doesn’t want to say that, so he doesn’t.

In several points in the book, Murray also discusses those few and villainized public opponents of unfettered immigration, not just those sometimes barely tolerated such as UKIP, but also those suppressed and persecuted parties collectively often referred to as “right-wing,” which are often not really right-wing at all, and are never given any credit when they purge actual racists from their ranks.  (Murray notes in more than one place that the hatred and ostracism directed at any challenge to the dominant narrative tends to result in actual racists trying to attach themselves to these parties, since they’re told that’s where they fit in, even when the parties don’t want anything to do with them.)  These include AfD in Germany (and the pressure group Pegida), the National Front in France, Vlaams Belang in Belgium, the English Defence League, and the Sweden Democrats.  In like vein, Murray discusses key individuals in the pro-indigenous European movement, mostly murdered already or under violent threat, such as the assassinated Pim Fortuyn in Holland (a homosexual left-winger) and the Somali immigrant Ayaan Hirsi Ali, forced out of Holland by threats of a similar fate.  (Although he does not mention it, he is also under violent threat.)  So far, at least, these parties (other than the Sweden Democrats) have gotten little traction.  Next month’s election in Germany will be telling—although the wave of migrants has slowed, and the controlled press is uniformly pushing the “nothing to see here; move along” line.  Murray also points out that Eastern Europe, the Visegrad countries, are not nearly as susceptible to the deliberate insanity about immigration that characterizes Western Europe, and they have so far resisted the torrent of pressure and abuse directed their way for rejecting unfettered immigration and exalting Christian Europe (which intransigence has been a large part of the reason for slowing immigration).

Of course, one possible way to square the circle is integration.  If all the migrants would just become European, there would be no problem.  But that, of course, is a dodge.  What does it mean to be a “European”?  It can’t be just a person in Europe.  So what does it mean?  Murray talks often about the “core values,” the “absolute bases,” the “good things” of Western civilization.  But he doesn’t really say what those are.  It can’t be “liberal democracy,” which is neither liberal, because it oppresses any wrongthink, nor democratic, as shown by, among other things, the imposition of tens of millions of migrants upon an unwilling European population.  Is it human rights of some kind?  If so, what are those, and from where do they come?  (Pro tip:  “The European Convention on Human Rights” is an incoherent answer, not that Murray offers it.)  Is it freedom of religion?  The rule of law?  The reader gets the sneaking suspicion that what Murray means is “pretty much everything about Europe that’s antithetical to Islam,” but doesn’t want to say that.  Now, that’s a perfectly respectable and defensible intellectual position, though it lumps incompatible things into one bucket, but it’d be nice if Murray would just say so.  Not to mention, why would anyone want to integrate into a dying culture, full of self-doubt, self-distrust, and self-hatred—more than that, of self-negation, a society that embodies the cry of Mephistopheles, “Ich bin der Geist der stets verneint!”

Thus, maybe Europe’s story has just run out.  Certainly, “nothing in modern European culture applies itself to offering an answer. . . . Instead, a voice at best says ‘Find your meaning where you will.’”  European art, to take just one example, offers neither beauty nor ambition; at best, it points us to that suffering and death exist, which we already knew.  In particular, “it has given up that desire to connect us to something like the spirit of religion or that thrill of recognition—what Aristotle termed anagnorisis—which grants you the sense of having just caught up with a truth that was always waiting for you.”  What does Europe offer itself or the world?  Not much, that I can see.  I did make a Simnel cake this weekend, though, and it was very tasty—but that is an ancient offering, and Damien Hirst’s “art” is a poor successor.

What should Europe do?  Murray doesn’t really offer much hope; he muses on what might have been had European elites approached immigration with a more balanced touch and more acknowledgement of what their people’s desired.  But that’s not what actually happened.  Europe could cut off immigration, or restrict it to those who bring proven value.  But that’s not going to happen.  At the end, Murray thinks that mostly Europe will muddle onward, presumably ending in total transformation—unless, he implies, an economic downturn brings to power darker forces that take a more aggressive approach to immigration (since the wealth of Europe today makes averting one’s eyes from the problems easy).  Of course, if you asked many Europeans, they would claim, and maybe even believe, that Murray’s analysis, and mine, of European decay exacerbated by mass immigration, is insane.  They would say that Europe is strong and vibrant, in better shape than ever before, at peace and covered with cloth of gold.  They would say that the future is bright, and that the 21st Century will be the European century.  Maybe it will.  But I’m betting not—or if so, not in a good way.

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  1. Not to detract from the thrust of the book, its arguments or your analysis, but my wife and I are expecting our first. I grow tired of hearing the question raised, even here in America, “How can you bring a child into THIS world?” I have never understood this logic, and I think it stems from this same concept of “tiredness” that you and the author mention. My reply is only, “How can I NOT?” Who else will have the fortitude, personal strength and civic responsibility to be dutiful to their families and communities in the next generation if we do not intentionally raise our children to be exactly so?

    • Charles Charles

      I totally agree. If a society insists on doing cost-benefit analysis to determine whether to have children, it is lost.

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