March 23, 2005

More On Europe's Decline

A good companion piece to the Mark Steyn article below is this AEI essay by George Weigel, in which he characterizes Europe as being in "a crisis of civilizational morale", and explains why Americans should care. Like Steyn, he references the depopulation of Europe as one symptom of this crisis, and as another, points to the refusal of the E.U. to acknowledge the role of Christianity in their civilization, as in...

...the drafting of the European Union’s new constitution--or, to be technically precise, a new European constitutional treaty. This process set off a raucous argument over whether the constitution’s preamble should acknowledge Christianity as a source of European civilization and of contemporary Europe’s commitments to human rights and democracy. The debate was sometimes silly and not infrequently bitter. Partisans of European secularism argued that mentioning Christianity as a source of European democracy would “exclude” Jews, Muslims, and those of no religious faith from the new Europe; yet these same partisans insisted on underscoring the Enlightenment as the principal source of contemporary European civilization, which would seem to “exclude” all those--including avant-garde European “postmodernists”--who think that Enlightenment rationalism got it wrong...

...J. H. H. Weiler, professor of international law and director of the Jean Monnet Center at New York University...argued that European "Christophobia"--a more pungent term than Taylor’s "exclusive humanism"--was the root of the refusal of so many Europeans to acknowledge what Weiler regarded as obvious: that Christian ideas and values were one of the principal sources of European civilization and of Europe’s contemporary commitment to human rights and democracy. This deliberate historical amnesia, Weiler suggested, was not only ignorant; it was constitutionally disabling. For in addition to defining the relationship between citizens and the state, and the relations among the various branches of government, constitutions are the repository, the safe-deposit box, of the ideas, values, and symbols that make a society what it is. Constitutions embody, Weiler proposed, the "ethos" and the "telos," the cultural foundations and moral aspirations, of a political community. To cut those aspirations out of the process of "constituting" Europe was to do grave damage to the entire project.

...Europe’s statesmen--or, at the least, too many of them--are denying the very roots from which today’s "Europe" was born. Is there any example in history of a successful political project that is so contemptuous of its own cultural and spiritual foundations? If so, I am unaware of it.

The demographics are unmistakable: Europe is dying. The wasting disease that has beset this once greatest of civilizations is not physical, however. It is a disease in the realm of the human spirit. David Hart, another theological analyst of contemporary history, calls it the disease of "metaphysical boredom"--boredom with the mystery, passion, and adventure of life itself. Europe, in Hart’s image, is boring itself to death.

Posted by dan at March 23, 2005 2:40 PM