What Troubles Europe?

Hint: It’s Not Islam

In the winter of 1964, Daedalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, published a collection of articles titled “A New Europe?”

The contributors assumed that the question was rhetorical. By the mid 1960s, it seemed obvious that a stable, prosperous new Europe had arisen from the ruins left by decades of war, political unrest, and economic upheaval. There were still problems to be faced, of course, but the most important fact about the Europe of 1964 was how it had managed to overcome the destructive violence of a still-very-recent past.

As we enter the twenty-first century’s second decade, questions about a new Europe have a very different valence. No longer a welcome escape from a terrible past, the possibility of a new Europe now suggests an uncertain, perhaps menacing future. At the same time, the weight of the question has shifted to the notion of Europe itself, to the survival of European culture and historical identity. Some have begun to wonder if “Europe” even has a future.

Let us begin thinking about this future with the problem of demography, which measures those millions of individual births and deaths and migrations that, taken together, define a population. Demography is not destiny, it does not determine the future, but it does reflect those deep social and cultural trends that limit the range of future possibility. In the middle of the eighteenth century, modern European history began with a dem-...

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About the Author

James J. Sheehan, professor emeritus of history at Stanford University, is the author of Where Have All the Soldiers Gone?: The Transformation of Modern Europe, among other books.