Chronicling the suicide of Western civilization

Douglas Murray’s The Strange Death of Europe provides a brave and important, if not complete, assessment of the West’s dire situation.

(us.fotolia.com/Romolo Tavani)

The thesis developed by Douglas Murray in The Strange Death of Europe is that “the civilization we know as Europe is in the process of committing suicide and that neither Britain nor any other Western European country can avoid that fate because we all appear to suffer from the same symptoms and maladies.” More specifically, “Europe today has little desire to reproduce itself, fight for itself or even take its own side in an argument.” Indeed, European elites “seem persuaded that it would not matter if the people and culture of Europe were lost to the world.” So as to dispel any doubt about the gravity of his prognosis, Murray asserts that Europeans currently alive will have lost the only place in the world they call home “by the end of [their] lifespan”.

This dire situation came about as a result of two simultaneous sets of events: first, the mass movement over the past few decades of millions of people into Europe, a movement which has resulted in “the home of the European peoples” becoming “a home for the entire world”; and second, the loss by Europeans of their “beliefs, traditions and legitimacy”, a loss which has brought about an “existential civilizational tiredness” – a pervasive feeling that Europe has run out of steam. Although not unique to that continent, this existential tiredness has occurred at precisely the moment when millions of non-European migrants began to move in. And although large migrations into a society confident about its identity might well have positive results, “the movement of millions of people into a guilty, jaded and dying culture cannot”, especially when many of the millions in question have a strong religious faith and culture, the history of which is characterized by relentless and prolonged conflicts with Christendom.

If Europe is to become a home for the world, says Murray, it must define itself on the basis of criteria that are vague enough to encompass the world. That can only be achieved through the erosion of elements traditionally associated with European identity: the rule of law, separation of Church and State, freedom of speech and religion, equality between the sexes, and so forth.

This cultural and moral erosion is already well advanced, as attested by the fact that European leaders nowadays speak as if the entire ethics and beliefs of Europe could be reduced to the broad notions of “respect”, “tolerance”, and especially “diversity”. According to Murray, “such shallow self-definitions may get us through a few more years, but they have no chance at all of being able to call on the deeper loyalties that societies must be able to reach if they are going to survive for long.”

This moral shallowness is largely due to the fact that most Europeans, while acknowledging that the culture of human rights derives from the Christian tradition, show little interest in renewing with the latter. Murray mentions a recent survey showing that affiliation to Christianity in the UK by 2050 will have fallen by a third, from almost two-thirds in 2010, and will thus become a minority affiliation. The same trend can be observed in other European countries. In France, the Eurobarometer Poll conducted in 2010 indicated that 27% of French citizens responded that “they believed there is a God”, 33% answered that “they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force”, and 40% answered that “they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force”. It is no wonder then that new mosques are popping up in every major French city while the French Observatory of Religious Heritage states that France could lose “5,000 to 10,000 religious buildings by 2030.”

Muslims migrating to Europe show little to no desire to join in this secularist momentum. Whether it be in Paris, Birmingham, Berlin, Amsterdam, Rome or Malmo, they are building theirs mosques and worshipping as they did in their countries of origin. In the Paris arrondissement of Seine Saint Denis alone, there are some 230 mosques. At Friday prayers, worshippers spill out onto the streets and several mosques are seeking larger facilities to meet the demand. The result is that the neighborhoods where the immigrants live bear little resemblance to those where the locals live. In many cases, they have become “no go” areas where authorities have simply lost control due to the high number of immigrants. There are now more than 1,000 such areas in Europe.

All this perhaps explains Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan recent exhortation to Turkey’s citizens in Europe to step up their rates of procreation and have five children each so as to counter the European Union’s “vulgarism, antagonism, and injustice”. What most people in the West fail to recognize is that there are essential ideological and political aspects to Islam that cannot be treated separately from religious aspects. Many Western historians and intellectuals (Bertrand Russell, Arthur Koestler, Bernard Lewis) as well as prominent Islamic theorists of the twentieth century (Hassan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb and Maulana Mauduni) have emphasized the similarities between Islam and communism.

The first thing that might be said about The Strange Death of Europe is that it is a courageous book. Murray sheds light on the failure of European countries to assimilate Muslim immigrants. In doing so, he exposes himself to the scourge of political correctness and has indeed been accused of “gentrified xenophobia” and racism by the leftist commentariat. In a typical case of dereliction of duty, the latter refuses to address the problems raised by massive inflows of migrants for fear of being stigmatized. Murray’s greatest merit is to have shown beyond doubt that the concerns of the vast majority of Europeans about the surge of immigration in recent years are well founded, and to have done so while at the same time emphasizing the need to accommodate the needs of important numbers of asylum seekers.

For Christians, and particularly Catholics, Murray’s book has the additional merit of raising some big questions about the future of the faith. While Murray limits his prognosis to Europe, and particularly to Western Europe, it should not be ignored by North Americans. Although neither Canada nor the U.S. are likely to experience the massive inflows of Middle East migrants registered recently by Europe, they do share a very significant decline in religious practice, especially among younger generations. It is hard, perhaps impossible, to imagine how the current trend towards ever increasing secularization might be slowed down, let alone reversed, in the short or medium term. Murray’s analysis is thus relevant to those of us in North America, although we can take some small solace in the fact that we appear to lag behind in terms of dechristianization.

A second observation is that the idea of European or Western decline is not entirely new. Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West (1918) or Patrick Buchanan’s The Death of the West (2001) immediately come to mind. The most thorough study of civilizational decline, however, might well be Arnold Toynbee’s 12-volume A Study of History (1934-1961), which surveys twenty-one world civilizations, reaching as far back as the Babylonian and Roman empires. Toynbee famously said that “civilizations die from suicide, not by murder”, by which he meant that, instead of being destroyed by outside forces, they suffer a kind of “schism of the soul” that results in some form of cultural disintegration. Societies begin to disintegrate, he argued, when people believe that they are no longer bound by the moral law and allow themselves to be led by their impulses at the expense of their creativity. They also yield to a sense of drift, which brings them to believe that they have no control over their lives and that there is no point in resisting emerging forces threatening the world in which they live. Toynbee describes this tendency, which he names promiscuity, as “an act of self-surrender to the melting pot … in Religion and Literature and Language and Art as well as … in Manners and Customs” (emphasis added). In other words, the surest sign of a civilization nearing its end is its uncritical acceptance that, socially and morally speaking, anything goes. (The postmodernist flavor of the foregoing should come as no surprise, Toynbee having been one of the first scholars to use that word.)

Thus Toynbee’s theory of civilizational decline appears to enhance the validity and credibility of Murray’s analysis. But should we then conclude that such is the end of our story? Are we condemned to a life of spiritual and cultural vacuum such as that described in French writer Michel Houellebeck’s best-selling novels? (His latest, titled Submission, portrays a situation where a Muslim party upholding traditional and patriarchal values wins the 2022 presidential election in France with the support of the Socialist Party.) Our liberal secularist intelligentsia certainly appears to think so and, in fact, is actively engaged in the development of such a future. Yet things are unlikely to evolve in that sort of tranquil manner. A civilizational collapse never happens peacefully. When people suffer what Toynbee calls a “schism of the soul”, events become unpredictable. In 1920, Hilaire Belloc put it as follows in Europe and the Faith: “The isolation of the soul releases in a society a furious new accession of force. The break-up of any stable system, in physics as in society, makes actual a prodigious reserve of potential energy. It transforms the power that was keeping things together into a power driving separately each component part: the effect of an explosion.”

Christians who take their faith seriously are likely to feel in tune with Belloc’s vision. What distinguishes them from fashionable secularists is that, without disputing the value of Murray’s analysis, they do not ignore God’s role in history. They are well aware, for example, that the current state of what used to be called Christendom is not unlike that of the Jewish people in the years preceding the Babylonian exile – a time when God’s chosen people had “forsaken the fountain of living water and provoked the Lord to anger by its idolatry… the sacrifice of children, desecration of the Sabbath, and false weights”.  The prophet Jeremiah reminded his brothers in exile that their fate had been determined by God, not by Babylon rulers, the latter being merely instruments of his punishment for their sins, and that they would one day return to the land God had given them. Since Christians view themselves as the new people of God and have largely committed the same type of sins as their Jewish ancestors, they know that, whatever the future has in store for them, they are not doomed to the life of spiritual and cultural vacuum foreseen by liberal secularists. Whatever punishment they might have to incur, they know that there will be a return to the faith. In the words of Hilaire Belloc, “The Faith is Europe, And Europe is the Faith.”

The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam
by Douglas Murray
Bloomsbury, London, 2017
Hardcover, 343 pages

About Richard Bastien 3 Articles

Richard Bastien is Vice-President of Justin Press and the director of the Catholic Civil Rights League for the Ottawa area.

16 Comments

  1. We know the truth yet we ignore it. In the words of Al Gore, and within a different context, it is a most inconvenient truth.

  2. The French Revolution is the catalyst for the shaping of the European man. Rousseau’s Emile. Conceptual Liberty Equality Fraternity we oft overlook emerged from a very Catholic culture. Authors Murray and Bastien correctly associate the demise of Europe with loss of faith in God. A highly nationalistic France with a politically liberating agenda forced its will and changed Europe forever. A lifetime of speculation can be spent on the causes for lack of faith. Suffice to say it’s a worldwide phenomenon motivated by self interest. We’ve tasted the sweetness of God for 2000 yrs and now find it bitter. Great upheavals wars death and little gained disillusion. Except for resurgent Islam seizing an opportunity. Erdogan a new Selim II. Why not turn migrants back? Why not expel? Either strikes at the heart of a new world order basic on unprincipled liberty, absolute equality of right for all inclusive of your potential murderer, fraternity with the implacable enemy of faith in Christ be he Muslim fanatic or secular humanist. The beacon of Light for the West during trial, the Vatican is now Dark. What will bring us light but Christ the Light of the World.

    • Reform in the Church has never arisen from the Vatican, but it has sometimes belatedly endorsed it as was the case of Pope Paul III (Alessandro Farnese), who was no saint, but he approved the foundation of the Jesuit Order and convoked the Council of Trent. Another strange case is the fact that the charter of the Monastery of Cluny (which, by the way, destroyed during the French Revolution), was approved by Pope John XII, who is easily in the running for being one of the worst, if not the worst, Popes in history.

  3. The last few sentences are founded on a false premiss. The Jewish people and the Church are indestructible. Europe is not. I would go further. The entire space on the European continent to the west of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary is already lost to Islam. Western Europe has abandoned Christianity, and this condition is permanent.

    • Europe is not just a territorial reality. It is also a cultural and spiritual reality created by Christianity.
      Whilst Europe is involved in cultural and demographic suicide, few realize that the Arab world and also Iran, even more so, is just a little behind Europe in the matter of eventual demographic suicide. The Muslim world is very fragile and it may well be that it will explode. Violence is inherent to Islam.

    • Good point, Michael. Any Hebrew Scripture scholar will be able to expand on the nature of the Covenant God made with Abraham: it’s holy nature, permanence for all of history, explicit ligation to geographical territory, binding all of Abraham’s descendants to particular acts and beliefs, etc.This can be done because it is part of Hebrew Scripture, publicly accessible to all who can read. These Scriptures are accepted by the Catholic Church as binding on the hearts and minds of the faithful (when, of course, interpreted as the Church has received them).

      Now, the European affiliation with the Catholic Church is at best only part of the broader story of the Catholic Church’s universal mission. So, while yes, Europe is a cultural and spiritual reality that was created under the influence of the Catholic Church, so were the Crusader kingdoms, so was St. Augustine’s North Africa prior to the Muslim invasion, etc. As St. Augustine well noted in Civitas Dei there is no eternal covenant between the Catholic Church any Earthly City. This goes for Europe, Canada, Latin America and the U.S.A. as well.

      Belloc’s “The Faith is Europe, And Europe is the Faith.” was written not in the context of congratulating Europe on refuting St. Augustine, but as a warning that if Europe lost the faith, it would lose itself. It would cease to exist. It was a prophecy of doom, not a congratulation.

  4. There will be a psychological surrender in Europe before the demographic collapse. Perhaps a lot sooner.
    The current pontiff has no problem with this. He encourages the enemies of Europe and the enemies of the Faith.
    He never defends, always a compromise so that he may call others ‘rigid’.
    I could be wrong but Poland & Hungary might survive….barely.

  5. “Take away the supernatural and what remains is the unnatural.” – G.K. Chesterton

    “Whoever does not hate error, does not love the truth”.  – G.K. Chesterton

    “It is not that when men cease to believe in God they will believe in nothing, they will believe in anything” – G.K. Chesterton

  6. Unbridled pride sinks all nations. Proverbs 16:18 Solomon got that one right.
    Unfortunately he also lost his divine connection. So alluring is re-creation.

  7. “… traditionally associated with European identity: the rule of law, separation of Church and State, freedom of speech and religion, equality between the sexes, and so forth.”
    ***
    From the enlightenment so the erosion is not necessarily a bad thing. Revelation indicates what follows is worse, and that is, the rule of the Antichrist.

  8. You omitted one crucial detail there, brother Richard Bastien, when you wrote, “‘The movement … of (non-European) people into a guilty, jaded and dying culture'” of Europeans comprise “millions (who) have a strong religious faith and culture, the history of which is characterized by relentless and prolonged conflicts with Christendom.” Don’t you mean their “prolonged conflicts with” Imperialistic Colonialists from “Christendom”, who stand “guilty” not from “show(ing) little interest in renewing with … Christendom” under the domain of the Catholic Mother Church, but from inflicting Imperialistic Colonialism on them over there back in their own homeland? What twisted irony of justice that over there as Imperialistic Colonialists from “Christendom”, the success to “assimilate Muslim” natives was all theirs to enjoy. But now over here in Europe, “the failure of European countries to assimilate Muslim immigrants” is all because Europeans “show little interest in renewing with … Christendom”!

    Well now, since that’s the case, how is it even possible, then, that, according to you, “they are not doomed to the life of spiritual and cultural vacuum foreseen by liberal secularists”, because “there will be a return to the faith” because “The Faith is Europe, And Europe is the Faith”?

    WHAT?! That makes no sense at all!

  9. Following is John Henry Cardinal Newman’s prophetic view on the demise of Europe.

    John Henry Cardinal Newman
    Advent Sermon, 1835

    “There will be a time of affliction, such as never happened since there was a nation upon the earth till that time. The fearful monster, the great serpent, the unconquerable enemy of mankind, ready to devour……The LORD knowing the greatness of the enemy, in mercy to the religious, says, ‘Let those that are in Judaea flee to the mountains.’ However, if any feel within him a strong heart to wrestle with Satan, let him remain (for I do not despair of the Church’s strength of nerve), let him remain, and let him say, ‘Who shall separate us from the love of CHRIST?’. . . .Thanks to GOD, who limits the greatness of the affliction to a few days, for the elect’s sake those days shall be cut short. Antichrist shall reign only three years and a half,” a time, times, and the dividing of time . . . .” Blessed surely he who then shall be a martyr for CHRIST! I consider that the martyrs at that season will be greater than all martyrs; for the former ones wrestled with man only, but these, in the time of Antichrist, will battle with Satan himself personally. Persecuting emperors slaughtered the former; but they did not pretend to raise the dead, nor made show of signs and wonders: but here there will be the persuasion both of force and of fraud, so as to deceive, if possible, even the elect. Let no one at that day say in his heart, ‘What could CHRIST do more than this by what virtue worketh he these things? Unless GOD willed it, He would not have permitted it.’ No: the Apostle forewarns you, saying beforehand, ‘GOD shall send them a strong delusion,’—not that they may be excused, but condemned; those, who believe not in the Truth, that is, the true CHRIST, but take pleasure in unrighteousness, that is, in Antichrist . . . . . Prepare thyself, therefore, O man! thou hearest the signs of Antichrist; nor remind only thyself of them, but communicate them liberally to all around thee. If thou hast a child according to the flesh, delay not to instruct him. If thou art a teacher, prepare also thy spiritual children, lest they take the false for the True. For ‘the mystery of iniquity doth already work.’ I fear the wars of the nations; I fear the divisions among Christians; I fear the hatred among brethren. Enough; but GOD forbid that it should be fulfilled in our day. However, let us be prepared.”

    To these observations I will add only two remarks: first, that it is quite certain, that if such a persecution has been foretold, it has not yet come, and therefore is to come. We may be wrong in thinking that Scripture foretels it, though it has been the common belief, I may say, of all ages; but if there be, it is still future. So that every generation of Christians should be on the watch-tower, looking out, —nay, the more and more, as time goes on.

    Next, I observe that signs do occur from time to time, not to enable us to fix the day, for that is hidden, but to show us it is coming. The world grows old—the earth is crumbling away—the night is far spent—the day is at hand. The shadows begin to move—the old forms of empire which have lasted ever since CHRIST was with us, heave and tremble before our eyes, and nod to their fall. They are they which keep CHRIST from us— He is behind them. When they go, Antichrist will be released from that which letteth, and after his short but fearful season CHRIST will come.

    For instance: one sign is the present state of the Roman Empire, if it may be said to exist, though it does exist; but it is like a man on his death-bed, who after many throes and pangs, at last goes off when you least expect, or perhaps you know not when. You watch the sick man, and you say every day will be the last; yet day after day goes on—you know not when the end will come —he lingers on—gets better—relapses,—yet you are sure after all he must die—it is a mere matter of time, you call it a matter of time: so is it with the old Roman Empire, which now lies so still and helpless. It is not dead, but it is on its death-bed.
    We suppose indeed that it will not die without some violence even yet, without convulsions. Antichrist is to head it; yet in another sense it dies to make way for Antichrist, and this latter form of death is surely hastening on, whether it comes a few years sooner or later. It may outlast our time, and the time of our children; for we are creatures of a day, and a generation is like the striking of a clock; but it tends to dissolution, and its hours are numbered.

  10. It sad that we are living in such an age of unbelief as we are. And I don’t get why we’re told to keep letting in all the followers of the false prophet? Why do we act surprised when a snake bites you once you brought it into your home? Pray the rosary, we need a lepanto victory.

  11. For myself, I have had a bellyful of this sort of analysis, a lifetime of it really, beginning with a letter to the editor of the Glen Ellyn News by Miss Patterson, the Latin teacher at Glenbard H.S. sixty years ago, in which she compared life in the West to the dynamic that led to the fall of Rome. One could produce a very sizeable bibliography of this sort of literature, all of it impotent to change anything. Similarly one might carefully observe the decay of a corpse, keep copious notes, structure them, and produce an analysis that speaks with revulsion of maggots and stench and of the trend toward total dissolution.

    We have no command to analyze anything, but to take up our cross and follow Jesus Christ, to preach the gospel to all nations, to keep ourselves free of all defilement, to be Holy as He is Holy.

    Did he not say, “And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils: freely ye received, freely give.”

    Moreover, he completely delivers us from anything more extensive in the way of analysis by saying, “Your eyes have only to look to see how the wicked are repaid.” How is anything more than this not subject to the prohibition against idle words (Mt. 12:36)?

    As some people talk beyond their brains, even in saying this much I am very aware of talking beyond my spirituality, yet my wife and I have just finished reading a life of St. Anthony Maria Claret. Such a life throws into very stark relief the utter sterility and futility of our analysis, analysis that is in fact a co-operation our own spiritual suffocation, for it is not a preaching of the gospel, but merely an account of what happens when the gospel is not preached.

    Claret preached the gospel incessantly. If on a ship he preached to the sailors. if in a town, he held catechism classes, preached to priests, exhorted nuns, held missions and on and on. He was incessant, and probably even more incessant than St. Paul in preaching the gospel in season and out of season. He wrote and published books and pamphlets, handing them out to strangers on his way to his next venue. One would not have thought such a life possible.

    But apropos of the current discussion, he founded what later became known as the Claretians and forbade his priests to read newspapers. Of course, our mantra is that we must “keep informed,” “keep in touch with what is going on.” And so we justify our distractions. St. Anthony Claret did not need to read what was going on, for he was what was going on– in the name of Jesus Christ, with the weapons of righteousness on the right and and the left.

    We, on the other hand, observe, take notes, analyze.

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