The issue of immigration has become the occasion for deciding the most practical and perennial of issues: who rules? Americans know that Europe’s un-sustainable socio-economic model—bureaucratized economies, social welfare, and demographic decline—is a warning to us.
Increasingly, we have imitated that model, assuming that the decline would be slow and graceful. But Europe’s crisis, and ours, has always been far less socio-economic than civilizational. That is why mass migration into Euro-American civilization—especially people from the Muslim world who neither share in nor sympathize with that civilization—is accelerating the crisis. Confidence in the future is being replaced by the sense that living as before will be impossible.
More and more, people have reacted by voting against the elites responsible for socio-economic management and for migration. But elites on both sides of the Atlantic have not changed course. They justify their resistance to popular sentiment by applying invidious labels to the voters who reject them. Each side’s denial of the other’s legitimacy is collapsing the socio-political legitimacy of modern democracy. This ensures that whatever changes in Euro-American civilization may take hold will include revolutionary political events.
What follows is a snapshot of Europe’s problems taken from a small city in northern Italy with which I have been intimately familiar all my 74 years. Far from identical, the place is not wholly dissimilar from the rest of Old Europe.
Traditionally a center of agriculture, smokestack industry, and railroading, by the 1950s the city had bounced back from the bombing of World War II. Crowds filled streets lined with cafes. By the 1990s, the few big factories had been replaced by countless small and mid-sized businesses doing high-quality manufacturing in the suburbs. The city had also become something of a bedroom community for metropolitan Milan. Year after year, the supermarkets approached and then surpassed the opulence of those in such places as Palo Alto, California and Weston, Massachusetts.
Meanwhile, economic hope was draining away. As the ratio of working-age people to retirees was falling and the government was running out of room to finance its deficits by borrowing, it resorted to raising taxes in myriad ways, and to making sure that every last Euro was paid. This crimped businesses. Many closed.
By the late ’90s, the hiring of young people had slowed to a crawl. Individuals, their lives further complicated, used up family resources to finance their lifestyles. The middle class suffered about a 50 percent loss of accumulated wealth. Fewer new families formed, fewer children were born. Fewer people are in the streets and cafes. For those well established, life is comfortable, but ever more somber.
People had never expected political leaders to raise life’s moral tone. But since the 1960s, political leaders have depressed it—first by their corruption and then by the repudiation of Christianity as European civilization’s core, as well as through the promotion of a vision of the good life that consists largely of obedience to squalid bureaucracy.
The churches themselves seem to have abdicated their role as civilizational guides. In Italy, some 84 percent of high school students choose to receive religious instruction. Nevertheless, church attendance has collapsed among the young. Overall, weekly attendance is down to about 7 percent. That is also the case in Germany, where the churches are financed by a special tax. Like established political leaders, the churches have been more keen to accommodate the customs and sentiments of Muslim migrants than those of practicing Christians.
Muslims and other Africans had neither asked nor (with the exception of prostitutes recruited by the Mafia) been asked to come. They came through the European Union’s porous borders with neither the means nor the intention of taking part in a crumbling civilization. The people among whom the migrants live hear from their leaders—in whose midst the migrants do not live—that their concerns are evidence of racism.
This little city is gripped not by any abstract fear of terrorism but by the changes that the Muslims and the Africans are imposing on daily life. On September 24, the local news carried yet another story from the security cameras about life on the commuter rail line. A number of young Africans had boarded the train and, when the conductor demanded that they pay the fare and refused to be intimidated, they beat him senseless. The passengers waited, intimidated, until it was over.
align=”right” Muslims and other Africans had neither asked nor (with the exception of prostitutes recruited by the Mafia) been asked to come. They came through the European Union’s porous borders with neither the means nor the intention of taking part in a crumbling civilization. The people among whom the migrants live hear from their leaders—in whose midst the migrants do not live—that their concerns are evidence of racism.
A friend who has ridden that train to work for the past 20 years had seen it before. Though incidents such as these happen only sporadically, it remains that every day, she and many others must now walk across the tracks, going around the station’s underpass, because the underpass is now a sleeping area and toilet for such people. Back in town, the city paved over the little fountains that had served neighborhoods as sources of water for three centuries, because the migrants had appropriated them as campsites, garbage dumps, and toilets. Only a few migrants are violent, most acting as insistent peddlers. But all are intimidating, and take evident pleasure in intimidation.
What will become of us? We can’t go on like this. Who will put a stop to this? Such questions are well-nigh universal—as are the answers from above: Pope Francis speaks of the migrants as “the warriors of hope.”
The locals ask: Against whom are the migrants are fighting if not us? What have we done to deserve having this war waged against us? Meanwhile, Italy’s ruling Left coalition signals its superior virtue by sponsoring a law to grant citizenship—and voting rights—to the migrants. That is one reason why the polls show it losing the 2018 elections—badly.
But, in Italy as elsewhere, what difference do elections make? In 2013, Italian voters had given the Left only 33 percent at the polls. But the old-line conservative party of Silvio Berlusconi broke its campaign promises and governs as the Left’s junior partner. Thus, like just about everywhere else in Europe—and in the United States as well—the traditional Right and Left function as a uniparty in contempt of the voters. Hence, throughout Europe—and the United States—voters look for vehicles to escape the uniparty’s grip, while the establishment hangs on to slipping power by hook, crook, and inertia.
Consider the elections in 2017, and the Catalan referendum on October 1 in particular. In France, the populist alternatives on both right and left, and the disgusted no-shows dwarfed the numbers who united behind Macron only to stanch popular disaffection one more time. In Germany, the voters reduced both establishment parties to historic lows, fleeing to the fringe Libertarian and anti-immigrant parties. But as in France, the establishment let it be known that changes in words would suffice to deal with the voters’ dissatisfaction. The same happened in the Netherlands and Sweden. In Austria, the populists of the Right won outright, as they had in Poland and Hungary, and are about to do in the Czech Republic. The European Union’s unelected leaders, however, by hectoring voters lest they elect people whom they dislike, as well as by using their powers to thwart them, arguably have become the European establishment’s last redoubt against democracy.
align=”left” Thus, like just about everywhere else in Europe—and in the United States as well—the traditional Right and Left function as a uniparty in contempt of the voters. Hence, throughout Europe—and the United States—voters look for vehicles to escape the uniparty’s grip, while the establishment hangs on to slipping power by hook, crook, and inertia.
Which is why the referendum in Catalonia was so interesting. Barcelona and vicinity are Spain’s most productive region, are exceptionally attached to their distinctive language, and appreciate the difference between their culture and way of life and anybody else’s. Muslim and African immigration are a small part of the Catalans’ complaints. They want to assert control over their own lives, and live the way they want to live, period. Both of Spain’s establishment parties have been deaf to their concerns. The Catalans decided to express their commitment to themselves by peaceful referendum. An overwhelming majority voted for independence.
Spain’s traditional parties of the Right and Left said this resort to the ballot box was “undemocratic,” and answered with administrative and police violence. The European Union and the governments of Europe that chose to speak supported Spain’s interpretation of “democracy.” President Trump was advised to call the Catalan vote “foolish.” In short, the Euro-American ruling class will not loosen its deadening grip until it is utterly broken.
align=”right” In the United States, red states and blue states differ increasingly about immigration as well as everything else. Perhaps salvaging civilization is possible only as pieces that care to do it win autonomy from others that do not.
Throughout Europe, and America as well, the desire to break out of that grip is unevenly spread and manifests itself in different ways.
In Germany, Catholic Bavaria voted differently from the secular east, where the extreme Right and Left rose.
In Italy, the only part of the body politic that is committed unequivocally to cultural identity is the Northern League, which tries to represent the regions north of the Apennines.
In the United States, red states and blue states differ increasingly about immigration as well as everything else. Perhaps salvaging civilization is possible only as pieces that care to do it win autonomy from others that do not.
The issue of immigration is the quintessentially democratic issue because it is all about “who we are, who we want to be, and how we want to live.” Though the choice of who shall and shall not be among us, in what number, never mind of who shall and shall not be part of our body politic, is far from the only one that affects a civilization’s viability, it has become the proxy for all the other choices that do.