“The democratic social state,” Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, “comprises those like oneself.” The history of democratic society has been shaped by the questions embedded in this deceptively simple remark: How much alike must we be in order for democracy to work? How much can or should be done to abolish the things that divide us, such as differences in education, status, or wealth? And what do we do about those sources of diversity that seem impossible to erase, such as differences in religion, ethnicity, or gender? Are there some groups so unlike ourselves that they will never be members of our democratic social state? Efforts to answer this final question have generated many of modernity’s bitterest and most destructive conflicts as some people struggled to exclude or restrict those “others” who they were convinced were too different to belong: Catholics, Jews, blacks, and many more. The main purpose of Douglas Murray’s book is to add some new groups to this long and unhappy roster.
“The civilization we know as Europe,” Murray writes in his introduction, “is in the process or committing suicide…as a result, by the end of the lifespans of most people currently alive, Europe will not be Europe and the peoples of Europe will have lost the only place in the world we had to call home.” There are, he argues, two main reasons for Europe’s imminent demise: first, mass immigration, “the replacement of large parts of the European populations by other people,” and second, the steady erosion of those values and commitments that once shaped Europe’s identity. “The world is coming into Europe at precisely the moment that Europe has lost sight of what it is.”
The Strange Death of Europe is an untidy book, filled with repetitions and digressions. The relationship between the two parts of Murray’s argument—the crisis of immigration and the erosion of European identity—is implied but not clearly defined or persuasively demonstrated. The book’s disparate pieces are not held together by evidence or analysis, but rather by the author’s incandescent anger and righteous indignation. He is angry at the hordes of outsiders who have entered Europe in the recent past, changing the appearance and texture of urban neighborhoods, importing alien values and foreign languages, threatening to reduce the native-born inhabitants to an embattled minority in their own country. He is indignant about those intellectual apostles of multiculturalism, whose shallow platitudes about the value of diversity mask the real problems created by mass immigration. And above all, he is angry and indignant about Europe’s political elites, people like Barbara Roche (we are told twice that she is Jewish), Tony Blair’s minister of Asylum and Immigration, who have persistently failed to protect their societies from an invasion of these aliens.
Most of Murray’s book is devoted to anecdotes that illustrate the criminal activities of recent migrants, Islam’s inherent intolerance, the fatuous hypocrisy of Europe’s political leaders, and decline of the European tradition’s core values. Murray writes with eloquent urgency; he has a journalist’s eye for dramatic incidents and a skillful debater’s ability to anticipate his opponent’s objections.
Many of the problems that Murray describes are real enough. Some immigrants have indeed committed violent crimes; political elites have not always been honest with themselves and their constituents about the scale and costs of immigration; there has been a precipitous decline in traditional values and practices, especially those tied to Christianity. The “sea of faith,” whose retreat Matthew Arnold lamented in the middle of the nineteenth century, continues to ebb, leaving some unwholesome flotsam on the cultural shore.
Nevertheless, it seems to me that Murray vastly overstates the depth and severity of the current crisis. Even if we accept much of Murray’s overheated assessment of the European condition, can we really say that Europe’s deathwatch has begun? The most troubled parts of the continent—Russia and Ukraine, for instance—do not suffer from either excessive immigration or a crisis of cultural identity. The support for radical nationalist movements in Western Europe has apparently peaked. Moderates prevailed in the most recent French and German elections. Brexit, which might be taken as evidence for Murray’s argument, seems to have produced buyer’s remorse among important sectors of the British public. Almost everywhere, Europeans live better—and longer—than at any other time in their history. In sum, while hardly without serious problems, most of Europe remains peaceful and prosperous enough to provide the basis for a good life for its inhabitants and to attract a substantial number of those seeking better opportunities for themselves or their children. The fact of mass immigration, while surely a source of dissension and difficulty, is also a clear sign of Europe’s enduring attraction and compelling strength. Europe is certainly changing—and not always for the better. But Europe, however we want to define that elusive concept, is not dying.