Can Europe Become Western Again?

For the first time in a millennium, Europe no longer plays a critical role in promoting Western civilization nor in world history at large.

Ostensibly it should. Some 750 million people live on the European subcontinent.

Europe still remains the most popular tourist spot on earth. Its hallowed architecture, art, infrastructure, and natural beauty still remind millions of visitors of the world’s once most dynamic and grandiose civilization.

Even now, European nations, in and out of the Europe Union, still produce a combined gross domestic product of $24 trillion, second only to the United States.

Europe’s exports are among the world’s most coveted cars, sophisticated technology, and valued industrial goods.

Yet since World War II, Europe has played an increasingly reduced role in world affairs, despite its membership in the NATO alliance and the growth of the European Union.


The twentieth-century traumas of World War I and II—in which some 70 million Europeans were killed—saw Europe commit near collective suicide. The ensuing Cold War hinged on protecting a relatively unarmed Europe from an aggressive nuclear Soviet empire on Europe’s borders.

But as World War II and the Cold War faded into memory, Europe did not snap back and assume its centuries-old role as a world leader and beacon of Western Civilization.

Instead, a weary Europe outsourced its security to the United States. It redefined itself as a postmodern, pacifist, socialist utopian project—most recently predicated on redistributionist entitlements, open borders, and radical green policies that have all inevitably ensured European decline.

Europeans grew louder and whinier the less relevant they became.

Although Europe has large sources of untapped hydroelectrical, nuclear, coal, and natural gas power, its green religion has all but shut down new nuclear and fossil fuel generation and closed existing plants. The result is that the cost of European energy is prohibitive for both the public and industry.

Recent economic growth was essentially zero throughout the Eurozone. The European cradle-to-grave social net, and its hyper government regulations and restrictions on economic activity increasingly are unsustainable.

Few European nations spend even a mere two-percent of their GDP on defense. And the result is that both Europe at large and its NATO members cannot defend their continent without the assistance of the United States.

Nor can Europe project power beyond its shores to preempt dangerous threats on its own horizon or to its allies.

Europe is also shrinking and aging. Its collective fertility rate of 1.5 is far below the rate of replacement. Most young people in Europe—the ancient home of Christendom—express neither belief in God nor any faith in organized religions.

In many European countries, foreign-born emigrants comprise twenty percent of the population. Most of them have arrived poor, without education, in mass, illegally, with little desire to fully integrate, from inimical countries, and holding political and religious views hostile to Europe.

The other half of the West is in little better condition.

The United States is reeling under $33 in national debt.

After embracing various bankrupt academic critical legal “theories,” major American cities are unsafe, unhealthy, and unsightly. The American southern border is wide open. Eight million illegal aliens have poured in just since January 2021, many of them hostile to the United States.

America is increasingly politically, racially, and tribally divided. It has mysteriously determined not to fully utilize its vast natural resources, especially gas, oil, and rare earth metals.

In this vacuum, the enemies of the West see only opportunity.

Russia invaded European Ukraine. Its ongoing aggression still terrifies frontline NATO nations.

China threatens periodically to storm Taiwan, as it bullies it neighbors, buzzes U.S. ships and planes, and manipulates currency, markets, and trade.

Iran has armed to the teeth anti-Western terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas.

Iran’s “Shiite Crescent” from Tehran to Damascus to Beirut to Palestine threatens both pro-Western Arab regimes and Israel.

Iran brags that its surrogates can destroy Israel and will soon be nuclear with a global reach to both the United States and Europe.

Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, presumably on the assumption that current generations of Westerners in Israel, the U.S., and Europe would not react too strongly to its precivilization barbarity if it entailed a subsequent messy war.

In sum, the world is safe only when a strong America, along side its European partner, secure their borders, protect the world’s sea- and air spaces, support constitutional and pro-Western nations, and deter thuggish belligerents.

Perhaps as war clouds gather and enemies multiply, Europe will rediscover its heritage and reawaken to its historical role.

Increasingly, a lonely U.S.—and the world at large—need the return of a sane and powerful European co-partner, one that emerges from its self-induced slumber, and resumes its ancient role in preserving civilization from its multiplying enemies.

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is an American military historian, columnist, a former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004, and is the 2023 Giles O'Malley Distinguished Visiting Professor at the School of Public Policy, Pepperdine University. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush, and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson is also a farmer (growing almonds on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author most recently of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, The Case for Trump and the recently released The Dying Citizen, and the forthcoming The End of Everything (May 7, 2024)..

Photo: Portrait of Prime Minister Winston Churchill showing his victory sign, circa 1941. (Photo by Fotosearch/Getty Images).