walter russell mead peter berger lilia shevtsova adam garfinkle andrew a. michta
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Published on: October 15, 2013
Europe Is Burning, Slowly
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  • S.C. Schwarz

    We are witnessing the end of Europe as a place of historical significance. Extinction-level fertility rates, military impotence, financial collapse, and political chaos are all signs of the end. Sad, and not at all good for us, but there is nothing we can do.

    • Corlyss

      “We are witnessing the end of Europe as a place of historical significance.”
      How can that even be possible as long as the heritage lives?

      • Andrew Allison

        Exactly. Europe will remain a great museum. What we are witnessing is the end of Europe as a place of geopolitical significance.

        • Corlyss

          One of the few Pollyanna-ish things you will ever hear from me: I hold out hope that both Europe and America will realize what a horrible blunder they have made trying to 1) destroy the nation state, and 2) put everyone on the dole in order to eliminate for all practical purposes all instincts and resources for defense and self-preservation.

          • Andrew Allison

            Abandon hope!

            History tells us that civilizations inevitably self-destruct. The future, I think, will show that democracies do the same.

            De Toqueville wrote, about 150 years ago, “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.” We’ve lasted a bit longer than that discovery, but the end is nigh.

          • Corlyss

            I hear ya, Andrew. Everything you say is true. I’m still hopeful. We have more capacity for self-correction than any other nation in the world.

          • Kavanna

            I don’t think Tocqueville actually wrote that. But it’s an appropriate sentiment, nonetheless.

          • Corlyss

            A quick google yields that the quote is attributed to him.

          • Kavanna

            Yes, I see the attribution. But I don’t think it’s correct. DiA is too long to just thumb, through :) I have the Reeve translation, which DeT didn’t like.

            DeT might have written something in a letter like that quote, however. There’s an extensive published letter collection available, but I’ve never read it.

          • Corlyss

            You appear to be right, according to John Pitney of Claremont McKenna as cited by Amy Fried here:

            http://pollways.bangordailynews.com/2012/01/14/other/misquoting-tocqueville-disdaining-democracy/

            Authorship is further disputed by this chap who seems to have done some diligent research, recounted here:

            http://cfaille.blogspot.com/2010/03/thought-from-macaulay-not-de.html

    • circleglider

      What a surprise… history, culture and geography triumph once again.

      But there is also “a great deal of ruin in a nation.”

      • Andrew Allison

        A great deal to be learned from the ruin of a Nation?

    • Herb Borkland

      Except not follow them down the same magic statist rabbit hole.

  • Andrew Allison

    Cliff Notes version:
    Italy: “The Germans made us do it!”
    France: “If we could just get rid of the Brits we could (in Prof. Mead’s words), add a couple of feet to out stature.”
    Germany: “We’re not going to bail out Club Med absent economic responsibility”

    The big risk is that the adjustment to economic reality in the south will feed the rise of Fascism, but Europe will muddle through. Speaking of economic reality, the US debt-to-GDP ratio is the same as that of Spain!

    • MCDuguesclin

      that’s just isn’t true, we’d rather like to get rid of the Germans

      oh and Marine Le Pen isn’t her father, she is just anti-euro and anti Brussels dictature

      • Andrew Allison

        Welcome to VM. Avec le très grand respect, please take what follows in the jocular sense in which it is offered. What isn’t true? That France is, metaphorically, four feet tall and suffering from delusions of grandeur (Prof. Mead’s assessment, not mine)? That Britain and France have been at war for about as long as the Sunnis and Shiites? That France suffers the same lack of competitiveness and ability to fix it (pace Hollande’s failure to address the pension crisis, etc.) as Italy, et al.?
        As a former Brit, I sympathize with the difficulty of adjustment to modern realities, but that’s what they are.

        • Kavanna

          The Sunni-Shiite comparison is funny. I think of Shakespeare’s amusing description of Britain as foggy, damp, and dull, put into the mouth of one of the French princes in Henry V.

          OTOH I see no French or British suicide bombers ….

          • Andrew Allison

            And what happened to those French Princes at Agincourt? Pardon my residual Britishness, but the outcome of Anglo-French conflict has been the same every time for over 1000 years [grin].
            Although both countries now conduct their battles at the conference table rather than on the battlefield, their Muslim citizens have, in fact, engaged in terrorism.

      • Kavanna

        On a trip to France in 2012, I detected a lot of barely concealed support for Marine Le Pen. She’s more like the British Tories than like her populist and cryptofascist father.

    • tex

      But the US has two very big advantages over Spain. (1) Its own money so it can just print its way out. (2) The $ is the world reserve currency so, kinda like your having outstanding checks that never clear, the US hasn’t had to pay for an enormous amount of stuff it imported.

      The Chinese are working on taking advantage #2 away, but it’ll take awhile even if they eventually succeed. US fiscal irresponsibility is, of course, aiding Chinese efforts.

      • Andrew Allison

        Let me give you a concrete example of the benefits of owning a printing press: Berkshire Hathaway stock priced in gold is worth only what it was 15 years ago. Printing money in excess of the growth of the economy can only have one outcome. If you don’t like the Wizard of Omaha example, consider that the price of, to pick just one product, chicken has increased 50% in the past few years. Ditto for flour and milk. Beans have doubled in price. This has as much to do with the stealth devaluation of the dollar as it does to the lunacy of diverting corn to produce ethanol.

        • tex

          Examples unnecessary. Effects well known. Ethanol same.

          The point was US can operate w/ debt ratios = Spain w/o the same pain. French economist Rueff said of the US w/ its $ being the reserve currency, “… they can give without taking, lend without borrowing, and purchase without paying.”

          As the reserve currency the $’s devaluation applies not just to Americans but to all nations. The US gets to stiff everybody. And I don’t think it is stealthy. Everybody knows but its tough for them to do much about it.

          The US stiffed the world when it unilaterally reneged on its Bretton Woods agreement to back the $ w/ gold. Not much the world could do as their reserves were $ so they continued on with US fiat money. Grumbling, I’m sure. Now comes Germany which placed ~70T of gold w/ US Fed for safe keeping. They asked for its return & the US told them. . .well, No. The US won’t even let the Germans see it much less count it. Not much the Germans can do.

          One soln for Spain, possibly the best for its people, is to quit the EU, print their own currency, stiff everybody and start fresh.

  • tarentius

    And so Professor, America is to pursue its legitimate strategic interests, in a very hostile world, by depending on a “flabby, indecisive Europe”; but that’s ok because Europe’s “heart is in the right place.” Give me a break!

  • Pete

    I think two of the main reasons the Euro-elite who Mead mingled with loath the American Tea Party are these.

    First, the Tea Party is for a smaller, decentralized government which is the antithesis of the path the Euro states follow. Fact..

    Second, with a smaller government in the U.S. America might at long last finally pull the plug on bearing nearly the full cost of protecting Europe and its interests.

    If the Euro states are squabbling now, imagine how they’d behave if their defense welfare blanket was pulled from them. It would leave Hans, Pierre, Vito, Zorba and the rest of them totally naked.

    And these guys aren’t exactly buffed and ready to tackle any challenge; they’re 90 pound weaklings who, without Uncle Sap standing behind them, are afraid of their own shadow.

    • Andrew Allison

      It might have more to do with their fear of Fascism, and their failure to recognize that it’s the left, which knows what’s good for you and insists that you swallow it, is intrinsically fascist.

      • ThomasD

        For almost seventy years now the Euros have self deluded themselves into believing that Fascism is an aberration, not something that is intrinsic to their socialistic tendencies.

        • Andrew Allison

          The roots of Fascism go back rather further than you suggest. Might I recommend Goldberg’s “Liberal Fascism” as a starting point.

          • ThomasD

            I’m well aware that the roots of Fascism go well back in Euro history – through the Hegelians all the way to the French Enlightenment.

            What changed about seventy years ago was the rise of a moody little Austrian and the carnage that followed.

            Prior to that Fascism was just fine with all manner of Europeans and also US progressives.

          • Andrew Allison

            We need to be careful about capitalization — as you write, generic fascism has been around for a very long time. Benito Mussolini founded the Fascist Party, the
            Fascio di Combattimento, in March 1919, well before that deranged Austrian appeared on the scene and gave the word a bad name.

    • ThomasD

      It might also be that they are immersed in a media that is far, far left by American standards. I doubt few, if any really understand the roots of the TEA party (TARP, etc.)

      If the TEA party used the term ‘oligarchs'; rather than ‘ruling class’ or ‘Beltway elite’ some Euro’s might get a better gist of the situation.

      • Pete

        Thomas D, you make a good point on the media — both here and abroad.

        The older one gets, the more obvious it become of just how influential the one-sided mainstream media is in forming public opinion.

        That the Tea Party grew in spite of a constant barrage of media negativity is a testament to the Tea Party’s appeal & legitimacy.

        No wonder the Left loathes and hates this grassroots movement.

        • werewife

          This. Thisthisthisthisthis.

  • lukelea

    Like the Italians, I like the idea of an Atlantic free trade zone. I would combine it with new tariffs on imports from low-wage countries in Asia absent measures to reverse the redistribution of income between labor and capital due to those imports. For instance, I would favor wage subsidies financed by a graduated expenditure tax (GET). In bumper sticker terms, GET for GATT

    • Andrew Allison

      I’d prefer, “When will you get Galt?”. Protectionism doesn’t work in the long, or even medium, term; never has, never will.

      • ThomasD

        Protectionism? It’s neo Mercantilism.

    • Kavanna

      I see a bumper sticker in your future.

  • john lance

    If you want to truly understand why Italy is in the mess they are currently in, check out this 2009 article from Michael Totten:

    http://www.michaeltotten.com/archives/2009/03/the-worst-airli.php

    • Andrew Allison

      Might I suggest that the indifference of government employees to those who pay their salaries is neither unique to Italy nor the issue to hand, and that the reason that the Latin EU countries are in the mess they are is that their governments lack the integrity to institute reforms which would cost them their jobs. This, as evidenced by the latest irresponsibility on the part of our reprehensatives, is exactly the problem with which we are faced in the USA. Term limits now!

  • Anthony

    “I can imagine a future in which the EU resumes a steady progress toward an ever closer union, but it seems more likely at this point that we can expect it to look more and more like the Holy Roman Empire in its prime: a complicated assemblage of many different kinds of states … and a great many offices and authorities that work in their own way and time.”

    WRM, Eurozone has 27 members and historic centrifugal forces assailing disparate member nations; a question ought to be is Eurozone worth being a part of and that answer for both elites and citizens may provide guidance. Remember, Europe’s old political order had been based on mistrust, competition, power rivalries, and war in some cases. Now, sovereign states (27) operate on compromise, mutual trust, solidarity, rule of law, etc.

    Can EU maintain that system as unified body or must system revert to sovereign states sans union operating in contradistinction of Maastricht Treaty (three pillars)? Your essay superimposes an EU grappling with said form.

    • Andrew Allison

      Anthony, you make the same mistake that WRM did in confusing the (28-memeber) EU with the (17-member) eurozone. The former must find a way to deal with the nationalistic issues you suggest. That makes Prof. Mead’s Holy Roman Empire (or perhaps even more appropriately, the Byzantine Empire) both of which consisted of semi-autonomous states. The eurozone has a quite different problem, namely that a common currency can’t work work absent a true monetary union.

      As an aside, the damage done to the Club Med economies can be addressed in two way: austerity or exiting the erozone and devaluing which, guess what, results in austerity. In the long run, no nation (including ours) can live indefinitely on borrowed money.

      • Anthony

        My man, no mistake; I know 17 members make of zone and I was conflating both with Europe historically. So, thanks and ….

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    I read nothing in this article that changes my opinion that the EU and the Euro are going to fly apart just like the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact did. All it is going to take is for one nation to withdraw, and a domino effect will take place as each country tries to take as much out of the system as it can while it withdraws. In my opinion the French desire here, that Great Britain leave the Union, could very well be the first domino to fall.
    Mead’s comparison of the EU to the Holy Roman Empire is inferior to mine of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact, even if the geography is better. While the Political Elites of the EU see opportunities for greater power in the large European Union, those up and coming will see more opportunities for advancement in pandering to the populist desires to stick it to the foreigners. Remember, the European Union was never able to implement a constitution and so there isn’t any common legal contract holding the EU together.

    • MCDuguesclin

      dream, the French have solid banks, the richest patrimony of the planet, and the 5th reserve of gold, just that thing you will need after the 17th

      The French don’t care if the Brits are or aren’t in EU, as we make separate policies, and usually we are allies on geopolicies

  • Something, Something

    With all this endless talk of the EU I hear nothing of the Southern European countries doing anything to reform their economies so that they can begin to pay down their debts and become self sustaining again. This needs to happen if the EU really wishes to be a reality instead of a slowly fading fantasy. Yet the politicians would rather talk about other things then accept what I am saying.

    • Andrew Allison

      You hit the nail on the head. None of the Latin nations are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to put their houses in order (witness today’s news that Hollande recognized that increasing the retirement age from 60 would have unpalatable consequences).

      • ThomasD

        The Latin nations view their bad debt as if the Germans made a bad bet at the Baccarat table and nothing more.

        Nobody is going to come marching over the Alps and repo their art or family jewels, so why should they care?

        • Andrew Allison

          Ask the Greeks!

          • ThomasD

            Exactly why the Latins cannot sympathize with the Greeks, they cannot fathom how the Greeks let themselves be ‘punished’ for the sins of the Nords.

        • SineWaveII

          I wouldn’t be so certain about that. It’s not like it has never happened before.

  • ThomasD

    ” In spite of their differences and their quarrels most Europeans—and especially most of the elites in those countries—are much too committed to the “European Project” to let it break up.”

    “I can imagine a future in which the EU resumes a steady progress toward an “ever closer union,” but it seems more likely at this point that we can expect it to look more and more like the Holy Roman Empire in its prime…”

    Speaking of the HRE, the Thirty Years War sure solved the problem of all those peasants getting in the way of the elites re-shaping the contours of the continent.

    I doubt a similar approach would take nearly so long this time around, although the death toll could very well be near identical.

  • gooms

    Let em’ burn. And this time we won’t come and save them. They hate the tea party because we represent policies that are the antithesis of their quasi-socialistic policies. F$#@ em’

  • Ilpalazzo

    It’s not burning. It’s eroding like cancer thanks to Islam. After Europe, it’ll hit America.

  • Mike

    I don’t give it shyt about the Europeans, whatever the outcome is they did it to themselves. I just hope we don’t get drag into it like WW1 and WW2. Plus, we are a mess too so we need to take care of ourselves first.

  • claymore

    that was a very long article…it must have meant something…

  • Rich K

    The Euro Project will never work as long as you have 26, or however many there are this week Tribes, fighting over who sells what,gets what and does what. A disjointed and fractured mess is really the best bet for this old group of sovereigns who all want to be top dog but have no leverage to make that happen.And if the Germans make too big a play to walk on top of all the rest, well, we know how that will be seen from the edges.

  • Arminius

    It’s almost as if Europe is an internally divided, poorly governed mess, characterized by greed and regional intolerance.
    CLEARLY a striking departure from the Europe of the 20th Century, and the 18th, and 17th, and 15th, and 12, and 9th….

  • Dagnabbit_42

    The problem, in the end, is that “Europe” isn’t.

    It never was, actually.

    In the past, I grant that there was a sort of pan-European je ne sais quoi; it just never added up to a unity of culture or of social cohesion. Even then, “Europe” as a single thing was a myth, a chimera along the lines of pan-Arabism.

    But nowadays the single culture that can be found holding consistency and coherence across Europe — the thing about Europe which can be said to be one thing rather than a mere aggregation of disparate things — is the experience and attitudes of its Muslim recent immigrants. I can’t call that “Islam” exactly; it’s a very specific experience and set of attitudes which are not coterminous with Islam worldwide. But it’s a distinctive thing uniting these groups across different experiences in different member-nations in the EU.

    The upshot is that “Europe” may yet become a single thing if it becomes a Muslim thing. But barring that, it simply is not a unity.

    And this is a good thing. Germans are good at being Germans, and Italians are good at being Italian. The current approach by EU-advocates seems to be that everyone should be shamed into being everyone else other than who they are. Is it any surprise that Italians suck at being German, and Germans suck at being Italian? The attempt to homogenize is, in the end, an attempt to mediocritize.

    Or to use the old joke: They thought the EU would give us British administrators, French cuisine, Italian lovers, and German engineers. It ended up giving us British cuisine, French engineers, Italian administrators, and German lovers.

  • MoReport

    (barring external shocks)…..they always do
    and there always, sooner rather than later,
    comes one; How about a nice NE war ?

  • Atanu Maulik

    I find the case of France very funny. Fighting the spread of the Anglo-American virus since 1700 A.D. (not with great success I must add). I really admire their tenacity. Keep at it guys. Best of luck.

  • Kavanna

    It’s similar to the broad denial here after the mortgage bubble collapse. People blamed reckless borrowers, or greedy banks, but fail to remember that it was government and its appendages (Congress, Fannie/Freddie, the Fed, the Clinton and Bush administrations) that wanted it so. Those policies called into being an officially sponsored loan shark industry with the transformation of subprime lending by securitization and the incomprehensible derivatives that would supposedly hedge the risk away. These were all conscious policies of the political class, esp. Rubin, Greenspan, and so on. Rubin’s gophers (like Jack Lew and Peter Orzsag) are still with us. Bernanke and Yellen have transformed Greenspan’s slimy implicit alliance of the Fed with Wall Street into a fancy (and fanciful) academic theory of the “wealth effect.”

    With regard to Europe, the EU officials, in the 1990s, wanted it so: they knew strong countries like Germany would develop large surpluses that could be lent out to the deficit countries to keep the party going. That was supposed to “cement” the EU. Now, no one wants to admit that the slow collapse of the EU is a result of policies consciously embraced by the political elite. It wasn’t because bank regulators “looked the other way,” or “were asleep at the switch,” or some other silly cliché, no more than here. It was politically willed to be thus.

  • http://www.iongrosu.com Ion Grosu

    „Algeria’s President Bouteflika is older and sicker than ever”

    Any human being in every single moment is older than ever :)

  • Līga Rozentāle

    Regarding:
    “…the eastern fringes of the EU are a long way off and frankly not very interesting. Latvia and Moldova don’t figure largely into the fashion industry’s expansion plans.”
    Thanks for lumping an EU/NATO member state in with Moldova. Small details reflect the quality and professionalism of a journalist as a whole.

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