In his new book, “The Strange Death of Europe,” British author, editor and political commentator Douglas Murray relates a remarkable account of Edward Pusey, an Anglican priest and a founder of the Oxford Movement, who encountered for the first time the works of Gottfried Eichhorn and other German scholars that challenged many of the historical accounts of the Bible.
Not surprisingly, Pusey came away profoundly disquieted by these discoveries, observing later in life to his biographer that the British people were scarcely prepared their long-term implications: “I can remember the room in Gottingen in which I was sitting when the real condition of religious thought in Germany flashed upon me. I said to myself, ‘This will come upon us in England; and how utterly unprepared for it we are!'”
His forebodings were confirmed over time. Two centuries later, Britain and the rest of the continent of Europe are still recovering from the psychic shock that settled in over time. And the effects have been felt here in America, too, though not as acutely.
Sometime thereafter, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche would write about the “death of God” and its implications for Western civilization.
European demographic decline is one of the more tangible effects of this shock. One of the many advantages orthodox Christianity conferred on the continent and Western culture as a whole was a sort of civilizational confidence and sense of focus and purpose. And as more than one scholar has observed, this sense of focus and purpose was reflected in Europe’s high fertility rates. Indeed, these high fertility rates were a major factor behind Europe’s conquest and colonization of much of the world and the Westernization that followed in its wake.
The case could be made that no civilization can be built or sustained without high fertility rates.
One rather remarkable effect that has followed the decline of orthodox Christianity is the rise of the consumer culture and the Western welfare state. Westerners seem to have concluded that if there is no afterlife, no effort or expense should be spared to enhance the choices and material quality of our mortal lives. But as we have learned over the last few decades, the material benefits and entitlements of this lifestyle simply can’t be sustained without adequate birthrates.
And one of the unintended effects of rising educational and income levels within the 70 years following the end of World War II has been a steady decline in replacement births.
This has presented the West with an acute threat, perhaps the greatest one it has faced since the Battle of Tours in 732: America, Europe and Japan all are dealing with “perfect demographic storms.” They either must find a way to compensate for this demographic decline or face a rollback of the material benefits that have distinguished these countries from much of the rest of the world.
With the exception of Japan, governments have fostered high rates of immigration within the last few decades to fill this gap. But increasingly, the demographic transformation of the West has sewn deep divisions as whites have begun to reflect on the long-term cultural, social and political implications associated with newcomers who share little cultural affinity with historic Western values.
As Derek Thompson, senior editor of The Atlantic, related recently, these new realities present an especially acute challenge to liberalism, which has supplied the ideological foundations for Western consumerism and the welfare state over the last century. Post-war liberalism, particularly as it has developed within the United States, has been expressed as pluralistic social democracy, resting on the twin pillars of diversity and equality. Indeed, American and European political elites not only have affirmed that both values are essential to the West’s future but have also insisted that they be inculcated in emerging generations throughout primary, middle, secondary and even post-secondary education.
Recently, though, growing numbers of ordinary Westerners increasingly are calling these values into question. Some even regard these two concepts as mutually antagonistic. And this raises the question: If this post-war liberal fusionism is no longer tenable, what does this portend for the future of the West? Equally important, what will ultimately emerge to replace it?