Walter Lacqueur on Europe's Decline

9 posts

Niccolo and Donkey
'An Anxious Continent': Walter Lacqueur on Europe's Decline

Der Spiegel

July 26, 2013


British-American historian Walter Laqueur experienced the demise of the old Europe and the rise of the new. In a SPIEGEL interview, he shares his gloomy forecast for a European Union gripped by debt crisis.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Laqueur, you experienced Europe and the Europeans in the best and the worst of times. Historical hot spots and the stations of your personal biography were closely and sometimes dramatically intertwined. Which conclusions have you reached today, at the advanced age of 92?

Laqueur: I became a historian of the postwar era in Europe, but the Europe I knew no longer exists. My book "Out of the Ruins of Europe," published in 1970, ended with an optimistic assessment of the future. Later, in 2008, "The Last Days of Europe: Epitaph for an Old Continent" was published. I returned to the subject in my latest book, "After the Fall: The End of the European Dream and the Decline of a Continent." The sequence of titles probably says it all.

SPIEGEL: The last two, at any rate, sound as if the demise of the Western world were imminent.

Laqueur: Europe will not be buried by ashes, like Pompeii or Herculaneum, but Europe is in decline. It's certainly horrifying to consider its helplessness in the face of the approaching storms. After being the center of world politics for so long, the old continent now runs the risk of becoming a pawn.

SPIEGEL: Fortunately, the European Union refrained from pursuing any imperial ambitions. Nevertheless, it remains an impressive entity, both politically and economically, despite the financial and debt crisis.

Laqueur: Europe will likely remain influential in the future as an economic power and trading partner. But the continent still isn't standing on its own feet politically and militarily today. This wouldn't be that important if power politics didn't play a role and conflicts were resolved peacefully by the United Nations or the International Court of Justice. But the conflicts have not decreased. Their inherent fanaticism and passions continue to burn, as we can now see, once again, in Syria and in Egypt. Under these circumstances, is it realistic to call for European independence in global politics?

SPIEGEL: Why shouldn't the EU be able to be a champion of soft power?

Laqueur: Freedom, human rights, social justice are all wonderful, and I don't want to minimize the achievements of European societies. But a role model? Europe is much too weak to play a civilizing or moral role in world politics. Nice speeches and well-intentioned admonitions carry little weight when made from a position of weakness. In fact, all they do is aggravate China and Russia. Such reproofs are presumptuous, insincere and, unfortunately, often ridiculous. Under the current circumstances, Europe would be well advised to keep a lower profile.

SPIEGEL: That's the kind of advice that another eminence grise (former German Chancellor) Helmut Schmidt, likes to dispense.

Laqueur: I'm afraid that Europe has largely squandered its moral credit. It shies away from imposing sanctions; it has a very hard time intervening in crises outside Europe; and it has even demonstrated its general impotence in wars in its own backyard. Most European governments, not least the German government, don't even have the guts to admit that they are playing a double game.

SPIEGEL: After two world wars, it goes without saying that Europe is in a post-heroic state.

Laqueur: Yes, but how will the postmodern age survive in a world in which, all too often, chaos prevails, rather than international law? The champions of postmodernism will have to act in accordance with two different methods: first, using those that regulate our treatment of one another, and second, using methods to deal with the bullies and thugs who have yet to achieve the enlightened condition of the postmodern age.

SPIEGEL: You seem to advocate a sort of liberal imperialism, which seems self-contradictory. No one believes the United States when it takes that approach, either.

Laqueur: That is, in fact, an unnecessarily provocative concept, which doesn't embody a realistic policy, either. An approach to international politics that involves two different codes of rules, values and standards doesn't just constitute discrimination, but also requires a cold-blooded decisiveness that Europe lacks. Europe is often motivated by fear, which both the bullies and those who need help recognize.

SPIEGEL: Nevertheless, the EU would be extremely welcome as a player in the global game in many parts of the world.

Laqueur: Certainly, but the European crisis is not primarily just a debt crisis. The real question is: Does Europe, in its apathy, even want to play a role in global politics? Arthur Schopenhauer, the great philosopher of pessimism, said that it's easy to want, but that "wanting to want" is virtually impossible. No matter how often European values are invoked and praised, a weak will, inertia, fatigue, self-doubt and lack of self-confidence all amount to the psychological diagnosis of a weak ego.

SPIEGEL: After the horrors of the 20th century and Germany's two attempts to secure global power, both of which failed miserably, is depression a part of the European state of mind?

Laqueur: Pharmacologists have yet to develop a drug to treat the collective depression of entire nations and generations. Keeping a low profile is easier for most Europeans than coming up with the political will to become a major political power once again.

SPIEGEL: It's also not as risky.

Laqueur: I'm not so sure about that. Only time will tell. The Europeans haven't quite understood that trying to stay out of the fray offers no protection against the consequences of global policy. Retreat offers no security against the consequences. Perhaps exaggerated caution is sometimes appropriate, but inaction can also prove to be disastrous. During his recent visit to Berlin, President Barack Obama said that remembering history should not lead to our withdrawing from history. I don't think that the economic, political and military problems Europe faces are insurmountable by any means. Nevertheless, a strange "abulia" has taken hold. French psychologists coined the term in the late 19th century to describe an inexplicable lack of will, which some now interpret as a symptom of aging in prosperity.

SPIEGEL: Isn't it a little facile to accuse Europe of decadence? Europe has always moved forward from one crisis to the next.

Laqueur: A 19th century cynic once said that a crisis is the period between two other crises. Historians are probably conservative by nature, and they tend to be skeptical. (Former German Chancellor) Konrad Adenauer once said something to the effect that there are countless ways to do something wrong, but only one way to do it right. I'm sticking to my diagnosis that Europe is in decline, especially when measured against the expectations that arose after the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Iron Curtain.

SPIEGEL: At the time, optimism surrounding the euro went so far that even in the United States, predictions were made, in books, lectures and essays, that the 21st century would be the European century.

Laqueur: Around the turn of the millennium, European leaders seemed convinced, at their summit meetings, that Europe was in the process of becoming a shining example, a role model for other nations, with its international virtues, its shared values, its model of the social welfare state and its system of intergovernmental relations. Anyone who questioned that was not only branded as a pessimist, but also as a reactionary. This euphoria probably has more to with a disappointment over America, especially the America of (former US President) George W. Bush, than with actual circumstances in Europe. Thanks to the short-sighted, arrogant and aggressive US foreign policy of those years, a European anti-Americanism flared up, which has remained latent on both the left and the right, and it distorted Europeans' views of their own weaknesses.

SPIEGEL: Is Europe experiencing a moment of truth in the current crisis?

Laqueur: I'd have to answer that question with another question. What are the prospects for a reversal of the process? The decline is relative, and it's taking place gradually. The situation is bad, even very bad in Greece, Spain and Portugal, but it isn't devastating. Europeans are making every effort to prevent a crash and achieve a soft landing. The collapse of the monetary union is not unavoidable. In fact, if one considers the consequential costs, I think it's somewhat unlikely in the foreseeable future. Perhaps a rapid decline would be even better, because it would raise awareness of the need for a general overhaul of the European structure. Crises bring about solidarity, as Jean Monnet, one of Europe's founding fathers, knew all too well.

SPIEGEL: People now recognize that the EU is both a community of solidarity and a community of fate. This is symbolized by the creation of a bailout and stability mechanism.

Laqueur: But, as a result, Europeans have lost the sense of clear and present danger. Once again, European leaders believe that they are out of the woods. Well, miracles happen. But it's my impression that the formula is being applied that promises the least amount of success in the longer term and is the least painful -- a little reform here, a little tinkering there, and a dose of business as usual.

SPIEGEL: One could also say, less caustically, that this is simply pragmatic crisis management, as practiced by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Laqueur: It's a policy based on persistence. It appears that there is a hidden law in history, where institutions, once they are established, become self-propelling and continue to exist, contrary to all expectations or fears, or at least much longer than expected. There is always a retarding, persevering moment before the collapse arrives.

SPIEGEL: So we end up with a rude awakening, after all?

Laqueur: The rise and fall of empires are constants in history. Historians have been searching for explanations since antiquity. Is it, as Oswald Spengler said after World War I, an unavoidable consequence of the aging process, an older person's desire for a quiet and undisturbed life? Has material prosperity created a timid society, one that avoids all conflicts and tries to ignore all warning signs that it sees as detrimental to its hedonism?

SPIEGEL: Spengler's theory explained nothing. It was merely an expression of a mood in 1918. And doesn't a saturated society have its advantages, too, such as a reduced propensity to violence?

Laqueur: Of course, life doesn't just take place at the top. Being eliminated from the Champions League isn't the end. But then it might be advisable to somewhat limit the generous distribution of good advice to other countries and not to invoke one's own achievements as enthusiastically. Constant self-praise could easily become counterproductive, because one's achievements should never be taken for granted. The EU may survive the current crisis, but what about the next one and the one after that? It is no longer a given that the majority of Europeans want to continue to the end of the path to a political union. The first stabs at moving away from that concept are unmistakable. Nothing is without an alternative in history and politics.

SPIEGEL: In that case, would what remained of Europe consist of more than a geographical concept and a cultural memory?

Laqueur: What will Europe turn out to be? Europe needs the world, and the world needs Europe. These are august words that people like to hear, and to some extent they are also true. Who couldn't agree with that? But does the world feel the same way? The possibility that Europe will become a museum or a cultural amusement park for the nouveau riche of globalization is not completely out of the question. Ten years ago, 900,000 Chinese came to Western Europe as tourists. Now it's several million.

SPIEGEL: Does that bother you, as an old European?

Laqueur: I think I've traveled to every European country, except Norway and Albania. My father never made it to France or Great Britain, and my mother never left her native country. My first station in Europe, after returning from Israel in the early 1950s, was Paris, the second one was Berlin, and the third was London, where I was director of the Wiener Library for 30 years. I can almost see the grave of Karl Marx from my apartment in London. London has become less interesting than it used to be, and yet I'm not deeply sentimental. Yes, I feel a certain regret that Europe hasn't come as far as one could have hoped. But I haven't lost any sleep over it, either.

SPIEGEL: You once wrote that you would have preferred to live at the end of the 19th century instead of in the horrible 20th century. That was the old Europe to a T.

Laqueur: (laughing) Especially in Paris! The fin de siècle, with its Belle Époque, was an incredibly optimistic time. Even the socialists felt that things were improving and that they would soon come to power, for the good of mankind. This brings us to an interesting insight: The years after the French defeat of 1870 and 1871 were years of depression, when Paul Verlaine wrote in a poem: "I am the Empire at the end of decadent days." Thirty years later, Paris was a city filled with energy and joie de vivre, with theaters, dance halls, cabaret, the Impressionists' salon, the 1889 World's Fair, the construction of the Eiffel Tower and Louis Blériot's flight across the English Channel. The French had rediscovered their optimism, and no one knows exactly why.

SPIEGEL: But that spells hope for Europe.

Laqueur: (laughing) Hope springs eternal. It's one of the most frequently quoted verses of English poetry. The poet was Alexander Pope, a decidedly cautious man. He had many enemies, and we know from his sister that he never went out into the street without his large, aggressive dog, and always with two loaded pistols in his bag.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Laqueur, we thank you for this interview.
Niccolo and Donkey

It's always nice to know who you're reading.

Wikipedia says:

A Jew born in Germany who spends fifteen years in Palestine/Israel is described as a British-American and American? Par for the course, I guess. He has gotten around the American university circuit, and notably was chairman of the Jew-heavy Center for Strategic and International Studies , a heavy-duty think-tank that has Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Michael Ledeen as members.

As for the interview itself:
Europe needs to get more involved in the Middle East? To what end would a former kibbutz dweller want Europe embroiled there, I wonder.

Europe has squandered its "moral credit" because it shies away from sanctions--certainly Iran is the reference here.

Why should it? The former kibbutz dweller doesn't tell us. At this point, it's reasonable to conclude that Laqueur wants to see a form of neo-conservatism for Europe, where muscles are flexed ostensibly as a way to strengthen the nation, but the real agenda is about making the world safe for Israel.

There's no drug to treat Jewish chutzpah, either.

What, Europe is too passive and Bush's Iraq invasion was too aggressive? I can't puzzle out the golden mean that Lacqueur is looking for, but even if I could, I wouldn't trust his advice farther than I could throw the guy, either.

For all the Ashkenazi's intellectual cunning, they can't turn around Jewish demographics.
We get to witness the elite of the Jews struggle to make vassals of gentile nations, putting their brains to the task...and winning many battles by them, while their own wombs lose the war. The low IQ, low income, breeding Jews depend on the military, politics, and finance of the high IQ, high income, nonbreeding Jews. When the later are gone to intermarriage, secularization, and simple death-by-aging... the breeders who currently harrass goat herders in the Judean Hills will be devoured by Arabs.
And we are fortunate to live in this time, just to see it.

Niccolo and Donkey

Too much Jew talk on this topic :thumbsdown:

The way I analyzed it is the way I saw it, Nic.

The interviewee says nothing about European demographic decline or the liberalization of the culture except for the sentimental quip that "Freedom, human rights, social justice are all wonderful". He says nothing about the internecine trauma of the Second World War except for the flippant remark that "Pharmacologists have yet to develop a drug to treat the collective depression of entire nations and generations". Never mind that the war was precipitated by the threat of Bolshevism and by Anglosphere bankers and, of course, never mind that his tribe had a major role in these things and in the mass media's anti-German agitation (starting with the Balfour Agreement). If modern European countries didn't want to get involved in Yugoslavia's breakup, who could rationally blame them? Last time Germany took a real interest in matters outside its borders it got bombed into ruins and partitioned and has not been forgiven since.

But the real give-away is that "Europe is in decline" and "runs the risk of becoming a pawn" because it isn't "self-confident" enough to confront Israel's perceived enemies via sanctions and other meddling. He doesn't say it exactly this way, but the code-worded gist is that Europeans should overcome "a weak will, inertia, fatigue, self-doubt" and become good modern global citizens by standing up for Jewish interests. Funny how it always works out that way.

If you think I'm being unfair to the interviewee, feel free to explain why.

Europe's hands are way too bloodied and the memories too raw for it to ever exert true soft power.

Can the French or Belgians do anything in Africa without their colonial history being friont and centre?

Same with the Brits pretty much everywhere.

Ze Germans have their own obvious issues.

Spiegel is intellectually rigorous as compared to American or British media, but it betrays a certain ivory tower disconnectedness when it invokes these kinds of cliches. What sort of ''imperialism'' would the EU pursue? Would France and Italy invade and conquer Burma to capture the rubber market? Would England invade the Caucausus to frustrate the glory ambitions of some Czar? Its difficult to consider the musings of people in serious terms who toss about phraseology like ''imperialism'' in the 21st century.

Germany isn't playing a ''double game''. Its occupied by America - albeit the Germans are complicit in this continuing state of affairs - and its Constitution essentially forbids the Executive from engaging in meaningful power-political activity. France, the UK, and Italy indeed play a ''double game'', but the entire world political system (juristically, ethically, and militarily) at present is based on the Nuremberg Consensus (to coin Norman Davies' term). If the system encourages duplicitous behavior, its because the system is based on duplicity - the trouble isn't that the states within the system are somehow morally errant or not living up to demands, expectations, ideals, etc.

The end of the Cold War placed Europe in a 'post-heroic' state - political passions (especially in German territory) and the mythology of political violence remained alive and well in Europe until the Berlin Wall came tumbling down. John O. Kohler noted in his book on the DDR that Erich Mielke was trading fraternal letters with the Sandinistas as late as October, 1989 - the topic of which was (unfailingly) how to best continue to wage war against American imperialism in Latin America. In some respects, the Communists were keeping politics and ''heroism'' alive. Perhaps this was their only redeeming trait.

This is incorrect. Spengler's theory was/is not falsifiable (which was Popper's criticism), but it 'explained' history very concisely. In Spenglerian theory, Europe is unique - compared to both great and splendid civilizations like Rome and Athens as well as to the most primitive cultures such as that of the Hottentot or Comanche - because European man set about to apprehend and capture (so to speak) the essence of time. He did this through metaphysics and mathematics, and his efforts were bolstered by the advent of the Christian faith; the complexity of which complimented his already inquisitive and restless nature, and the narrative of which substantiated his understanding that time has a beginning and an end. All other cultures exist and have existed in stasis - without an understanding of beginning and end. Thus, the Egyptian believed that the kingdom of the living and that of the dead were perennial, the Greek sculptor carved bodies into stone that conveyed sensuous physical presence amidst an empty horizon. European man in contrast became 'Faustian' - he knows his world will end, thus his cultural activity is a frenzied effort to strive for infinity all the while knowing this is impossible.
That's a weak criticism if it is the case. It's just not possible to control all the variables in a society or social experiment to treat it as a lab room experiment. This means we don't have "scientific" theories of how society works, but not that we don't have valid theories as far as history/the social sciences goes. Just because something can't be explained by science, it doesn't make the thing inexplicable.