The New Age of Anxiety: Navigating the European Wasteland

The Sibyl of Cumae is one of those mysterious figures from antiquity. She was a prophetess and priestess of the ancient world. In his Metamorphoses Ovid relates that the god Apollo offered the Sibyl any wish she desired. “I pointed to a heap of dust collected there,” the Sibyl later explains to Aeneas, “and foolishly replied, ‘As many birthdays must be given to me as there are particles of sand.’” While she asked for length of years, she failed to ask for eternal youth to accompany those years. Thus the priestess foresees the physical decay that will befall her: “My happier time has fled away, now comes with tottering step infirm old age, which I shall long endure…. The time will come, when long increase of days will so contract me from my present size and so far waste away my limbs with age that I shall dwindle to a trifling weight.”

The Cumean Sibyl is mentioned again in the Satyricon by Petronius. This time, the character Trimalchio boasts that he once encountered the Sibyl. However, by this point, the Sibyl has physically decayed to such an extent that now she has become no more than a voice hanging in a jar: “And as for the Sibyl, I saw her with my own eyes at Cumae, suspended in a bottle, and when boys asked her ‘Sibyl, what is your wish?’, she would reply ‘I want to die.’” Can a sadder change of fortune be imagined for the prophetess? She who was promised anything in the world erred in judgment by asking for eternal life without eternal youth to accompany it. Now the decrepit oracle hangs in an ampule wishing for death.

It is not a coincidence that the poet T.S. Eliot prefaced his 1922 magnum opus The Wasteland with Trimalchio’s account of his encounter with the Sibyl. Writing in the wake of the First World War, he no doubt detected decay in European culture and society. This decay would only be exacerbated with the horrors of the Second World War. In fact the postwar structures established by European nations have led directly to the moral, political, and societal decrepitude that exists in Europe today. At the heart of this shift in values is a desire for cultural and (as we have seen in the terrorist attacks of the past year) actual death. The analogy is obvious: Europe, who was once the prophet to the whole world expects to live forever. However, having rejected the “eternal youth” that the Christian faith provides, Europe risks becoming no more than the anemic voice in the jar suffering the indignity of children’s taunts.

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Setting the Stage for a Future Crisis
Setting their lands in order became Europe’s priority as its citizens limped from the smoldering ashes of the Second World War. How could these nations ensure that the horrors of war and extremism would never again engulf them? According to the historian Tony Judt, the generous application of social welfare programs by European nations ensured a contented populace that would never again be forced into desperately clutching at extremist ideologies: “The postwar social reforms in Europe were instituted in large measure as a barrier to the return of the sort of desperation and disaffection from which such extreme choices were thought to have arisen.”

Christopher Caldwell explains that the “dominant moral mood of postwar Europe was one of repentance for two historic misdeeds, colonialism and Nazism.” If European welfare programs ensured that the extremism of Nazism would never be repeated, it was through the opening of its borders to immigrants that Europe was able to atone for the sin of colonialism. This atonement has manifested itself through immigrants settling permanently in European countries. Thus, in 2010, Germany could claim more than 4.5 million Muslims comprising 5.8 percent of the population. Nearly 3 million lived in the United Kingdom, making up 4.8 percent of the population, and France’s Muslim population stood at 7.5 percent.

The gravity of these statistics is compounded by a 2010 Eurostat study, which revealed that Europe’s foreign-born population was nearly twice as likely to be born in a non-EU country than in an EU member state. On average European Muslims are also younger and have a higher fertility rate than their non-Muslim counterparts. These statistics point to a coming crisis because, in addition to a population influx, Muslims are also less likely than non-Muslims to assimilate to their adopted homeland. According to William Kilpatrick, this refusal of Muslims to assimilate is based on an innate sense of self-confidence: “Why assimilate when you believe that you have the superior culture and the superior religion and that you will soon be in control?”

Already this opening of its doors to Muslim immigrants has not been without its repercussions. While these consequences have been most obvious in the recent terrorist attacks in France and Belgium, they have also manifested themselves in other ways including through the sexual assault of more than 1000 women in Cologne, Germany on New Year’s Eve and the rape and sexual exploitation of more than 1400 children by a Pakistani rape gang between 1997-2013. In both cases, political correctness ensured that respective members of the German and British governments would downplay the extent of these horrendous crimes. In some instances, the media was no more helpful. In fact, the BBC managed to produce a 1,200 word article on the Rotherham rape gang in 2014 without once using the words “Muslim” or “Pakistan.”

In addition to criminal acts of terrorism and sexual violence, these immigrants have also been guilty of exploiting the munificent social welfare programs in various European countries. The 28 member states of the European Union already account for more than half of the world’s spending on social welfare programs. With a continued influx of immigrants to Europe, the collapse of the European welfare system is only a matter of time. The current situation in the Netherlands makes this clear. While 12 percent of Dutch people receive welfare benefits, about 30 percent of first generation Muslim immigrants from Morocco and Turkey receive some type of state assistance. This vastly surpasses the 13 percent of Western immigrants who receive assistance. Similarly, the largest immigrant group to claim welfare benefits in the United Kingdom comes from Asia (Britain’s Muslims are primarily from Pakistan and Bangladesh). While 23 percent of all male immigrants claim some sort of benefits, 31 percent of male immigrants from Asia have claimed state assistance. In a macabre twist of Great Britain subsidizing its own executioners, it was even revealed that the perpetrators of the 2005 London Underground bombings had been recipients of public housing and welfare benefits.

Ultimately, Europe’s desire to ensure a lasting peace within its borders was one of the major factors in providing social programs to its people. The tragedy of history is that these payouts have coincided with the influx of Muslim immigrants who have more than taken advantage of these welfare handouts. By allowing both of these problems to persevere unchecked, Europe has contributed to its own debasement and decay. “An atmosphere of renunciation has replaced the euphoria of triumph,” Pascal Bruckner writes, “the whole world is knocking at the door of Europe, wants to gain a foothold in it at the time when it is wallowing in shame and self-loathing.”

How Can European Decay Be Stopped?
If Europe as we know it is in decay, what can be done to stop it? It should come as no surprise that the decay of Europe has coincided with the decline of the Christian faith among its citizens. Just as Europe attempted to throw out what was perceived as a colonialist and extremist past in the wake of the Second World War, it seemed as if any other institutions linked to the past were just as easily discarded. It was argued that postwar Europe’s past is what had given birth to history’s most horrific events, and only a rejection of this past identity would allow for the world to be forged anew.

The hubris of such a concept is staggering. Writing between the two World Wars, Hilaire Belloc, that great man of letters, recognized Europe’s only hope for a future: “Europe will return to the Faith, or she will perish. The Faith is Europe. And Europe is the Faith.” For Belloc, Europe’s history, culture, and scholarship were intertwined with the Christian faith. In his 2003 Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Europa Pope John Paul II presented the same argument: “The Christian faith has shaped the culture of the Continent and is inextricably bound up with its history, to the extent that Europe’s history would be incomprehensible without reference to the events which marked first the great period of evangelization and then the long centuries when Christianity . . . came to be the religion of the European peoples.” It was Christianity that fostered Europe’s greatest philosophers, artists, composers, and architects; and it was only when Europe began to reject its Christian roots that it became capable of the most heinous crimes in human history.

At the heart of Europe’s attempt to reject its Christian roots is the false idea of multiculturalism that it has propagated since the end of the Second World War. According to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, this multiculturalism “is sometimes little more than the abandonment and denial of what is one’s own, flight from one’s own heritage.” It is this idea that has apologized for the colonialism of the past and been so welcoming to foreign migrants. In the midst of their constant apologies and welfare handouts, the nations of Europe admit that they no longer have anything of worth to offer the world. Ratzinger acknowledged this startling reality more than a decade ago:

Here we notice a self-hatred in the Western world that is strange and that can be considered pathological … [the West] no longer loves itself; from now on it sees   in its own history only what is blameworthy and destructive, whereas it is no longer capable of perceiving what is great and pure. In order to survive, Europe   needs a new—and certainly a critical and humble—acceptance of itself, that is, if it wants to survive.

The West’s hatred of itself has caused a spiritual and moral vacuum to form in Europe. Proving Belloc’s dictum true that “Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,/ There’s always laughter and good red wine,” it shouldn’t surprise us that as soon as the Christian faith is pushed to the periphery, a society loses its joie de vivre and seeks a substitution in sexual gratification, drug abuse, and consumerism. Unfortunately, none of these things will be able to adequately fill this spiritual void, and if Europe refuses to return to the faith of its past, there is the very real danger that Islam will become the faith of its future.

Will an Exit from Europe Save Britain?
On May 6, Sadiq Khan was elected mayor of London. Born in England to Pakistani immigrant parents, Khan has the distinction of being the “first directly elected Muslim mayor of a western capital city.” After his election he spoke of the “millions of Muslims in [Britain], who love being British, love being Western.” However a recent poll in Britain has indicated how out of touch Muslims are with the culture of their adopted homeland. According to the poll, 23 percent of British Muslims support the introduction of Sharia law in certain areas of Britain; more than 30 percent of Muslims polled consider it acceptable for a man to have more than one wife; and only 34 percent of those polled said that they would inform the police if they suspected someone they knew to be supporting terrorism in Syria. These staggering statistics show that instead of conforming to Western values, a significant percentage of European Muslims are intent on transforming them. Christopher Caldwell explains that this is the natural conclusion of the current crisis of culture: “When an insecure, malleable, relativistic culture meets a culture that is anchored, confident, and strengthened by common doctrines, it is generally the former that changes to suit the latter.”

In the midst of this current crisis, Great Britain has a unique opportunity to take a first step toward halting the current madness in Europe. Making good on a 2015 campaign promise, Prime Minister David Cameron has called for a referendum to be held on June 23. This referendum will decide whether Britain leaves or remains in the European Union. Those opposing a “Brexit” have overrun the airwaves with warnings of an economic apocalypse, while those supporting a departure foresee a further descent into chaos if nothing is done. A leave vote would be a vote in favor of national sovereignty and culture. It would be a resounding call to the world that the multiculturalist, relativistic, nihilistic experiment that is the European Union has been rejected by at least one major European nation.

While British subjects vote on June 23 for the opportunity to exit the European Union, the rest of Europe remains huddled in the dark recesses and corners of what they have created. The rest of Europe will continue to wonder where and when the next terrorist attack will take place and they will wonder how much longer they can sacrifice their own citizens for the sake of multiculturalism and political correctness. The British can either choose to retreat to those recesses again, further entrenching themselves in the current age of anxiety, or they can shine a light onto Europe’s darkest corners encouraging Europeans to take control of their destiny once again by recognizing their past and securing their future.

(Photo credit: AFP Photo / Leon Neal)


  • Fr. Brandon O'Brien

    Fr. Brandon O’Brien is a priest for the Diocese of Rockville Centre in New York. He served as the 2012-2013 Editor-in-Chief of The Dunwoodie Review, the academic journal published by students of St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, New York, before his ordination to the priesthood in 2013. He earned an M. Div and an M.A. in Theology from the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, New York.

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