The Cold War ended in 1991, glasnost and perestroika were the new mots du jour. Totalitarianism, we were informed, had at last been vanquished and liberal democracy had won the great ideological battle of the 20th century. We all marched optimistically forward, believing that strong democratic arms would protect us. How wrong we all were. It seems an almost unwavering characteristic of humankind that if progress doesn’t get us, hubris will.
It’s becoming almost passé to assert that at this moment in history, it is democracy itself that finds itself battered and weakened. For the 12th consecutive year, according to Freedom in the World
, countries that suffered democratic setbacks outnumbered those that registered gains. States that a decade ago seemed like promising success stories—Turkey and Hungary, for example—are sliding into authoritarian rule, indeed Turkey was for some time knocking with some optimism on the door of the EU.
Once the world’s bastion of liberal, democratic values, Europe is suffering what Douglas Murray has called a “strange death
“, again having to confront demons it thought it had laid to rest. The old pathologies of anti-Semitism, populist nationalism, and territorial aggression are threatening to tear the European postwar consensus apart. The shallow disingenuousness of the leaders who pushed for the seismic upheaval known as “Brexit” is becoming more obvious daily as the British Government wallows in a quagmire of indecision largely of its own making while tens of thousands are still slipping illegally into Europe and many hover like bedraggled vultures around the Channel ports in hope of making passage to Eldorado, just across the water. How is it that a vast migrant wave is exacerbating tensions between Europeans and their Muslim minorities? Why is anti-Semitism rearing its monstrous head again, causing Jewish schools and synagogues in France and Germany to become fortresses? How have Russian imperial ambitions been so easily able to destabilise nations from Estonia to Ukraine? It has been many years since 9/11, the day the world shifted on its axis and we’ve all learned a few dangerous Qu’ranic verses. Even the American president with a simple mantra of “America First” is now threatening to abandon America’s traditional role as upholder of the liberal world order and guarantor of the continent’s security, Europe has grown rich and decadently fat and may be alone in dealing with these unprecedented challenges and unexpected crises.
Declining birth-rates, mass immigration and cultivated self-distrust have converged to make Europeans virtually incapable of arguing in their own best interests, instead kowtowing to the completely fictitious deity of political correctness. They have become incapable of resisting their own comprehensive change as a society, instead watching helplessly from the touch lines as the defeat of their hitherto unshakable certainties looks more and more likely. The unequivocal failure of multiculturalism, Angela Merkel’s collapse on migration, the lack of repatriation and the Western fixation on postcolonial guilt have caused some to redefine their priorities – in short – make a U-turn. Merkel herself made a significant speech in Davos at January’s meeting of the World Economic Forum, effectively back-pedalling on her previous open-door policy: “Polarisation is something we see in our country (as well), which we haven’t had for decades,” she said. She laid the blame on the lingering effects of the euro-zone debt crisis and migration and some German voters believe that other European countries were overly benefiting from Germany’s prosperity. Additionally, a “great influx” of migration made some Germans feel something was being taken away from them. When this is combined with unemployment, there is “a very poisonous mix” that creates social divisions, Merkel said. She didn’t go as far as to say she regretted that Germany welcomed the migrants, despite the toxic politics that followed. What she failed to offer were workable solutions – perhaps because there are very few to choose from, most being either unpalatable or unworkable.
, who had until recently been Britain’s foremost advocate of multiculturalism, recently remarked that “for a long time, I too thought that Europe’s Muslims would become like previous waves of migrants, gradually abandoning their ancestral ways, wearing their religious and cultural baggage lightly, and gradually blending into Britain’s diverse identity landscape. I should have known better.”
Yet, their very insistence on separateness may be their Achilles’ heel. Parallel societies are a poor short-term fix and almost certainly cause increased polarisation and the formation of undesirable, often violent ghettos. No immigrant population in the history of the world has succeeded in replacing the host’s culture with its own – unless by force of arms – so Europe may yet be safe, at least for a while. Thus far, we have the law on our side and it should be used effectively. One of the best outcomes of Brexit is it returns to us our ability to do just that. We should take comfort in the belief that the words of the prophets are still being written on the subway walls and their warnings should be heeded.