Thursday, March 23, 2017

Europe Where the Right and Left Converge

Historian Perry Anderson is one of the luminaries of the so-called Western Marxists, that is, Marxist theoreticians who were based in Western and Central Europe, rather than the Soviet Union. He’s now a professor of history and sociology at UCLA. He used to be the editor of the New Left Review. This pedigree, I should think, would be sufficient for most on the traditional right to consider calling in an exorcist.
But I’m going to ask you to read him anyway. Just one essay, actually. It’s a piece about the EU in Le Monde Diplomatique, titled “Why the System Will Still Win,” in which he predicts that the European center will hold and the EU will survive. This is an outcome that as a revolutionary he deplores, of course.
What struck me reading it was how similar his arguments against the EU, and against Europe’s center-right and center-left parties and coalitions, are to those I’ve heard of late from the American right — another arena where many (not all) seem devoutly to hope “the system” will lose, too.
In some places, he uses a different vocabulary than Americans on the right would use. But I’m not sure he’s meaningfully describing different concepts. For example, he relies heavily on the word “neoliberalism,” which he defines this as “deregulated financial flows, privatised services and escalating social inequality.” But I don’t think this definition succeeds in distinguishing “neoliberalism” from “capitalism.” The word, it seems to me, has simply taken the place of “capitalism” in the left’s vocabulary because after the fall of the Soviet Union, it sounded antiquated — and clueless — to say that one was “against capitalism.”
When you read what he’s written, mentally replace the word “neoliberalism” in every case with “capitalism.” I’m not sure where, and how, his analysis substantively differs from the new right's. 
The whole article won’t take long to read, but I’ll point out some of the passages that struck me:
The term ‘anti-systemic movements’ was commonly used 25 years ago to characterise forces on the left in revolt against capitalism. Today, it has not lost relevance in the West, but its meaning has changed. The movements of revolt that have multiplied over the past decade no longer rebel against capitalism, but neoliberalism — deregulated financial flows, privatised services and escalating social inequality, that specific variant of the reign of capital set in place in Europe and America since the 1980s. The resultant economic and political order has been accepted all but indistinguishably by governments of the centre-right and centre-left, in accordance with the central tenet of la pensée unique, Margaret Thatcher’s dictum that ‘there is no alternative’. Two kinds of movement are now arrayed against this system; the established order stigmatises them, whether from the right or left, as the menace of populism.
These “movements of revolt” in Europe, I’ll add parenthetically, now receive financial and political support from both Russia and the United States. For example, the largest donors to Geert Wilders’ campaign, by far, were Americans.
Also parenthetically, while he’s right to say that financial deregulation and privatisation were policies championed by Margaret Thatcher, many people overestimate the extent of financial deregulation she championed, wrongly associating the kind of reforms she advocated with those that led to the 2007 financial crisis. As I argued in this piece for the Washington Post, that’s a myth.
Like many on the American right, including the president, Anderson believes the European Union to be an unaccountable, massive bureaucracy that robs national parliaments of their sovereignty and subordinates them to Germany’s will.
From monetary union (1990) to the Stability Pact (1997), then the Single Market Act (2011), the powers of national parliaments were voided in a supranational structure of bureaucratic authority shielded from popular will, just as the ultraliberal economist Friedrich Hayek had prophesied. With this machinery in place, draconian austerity could be imposed on helpless electorates, under the joint direction of the Commission and a reunified Germany, now the most powerful state in the union, where leading thinkers candidly announce its vocation as continental hegemon. Externally, over the same period, the EU and its members ceased to play any significant role in the world at variance with US directives, becoming the advance guard of neo-cold war policies towards Russia set by the US and paid for by Europe.
So it is no surprise that the ever more oligarchic cast of the EU, defying popular will in successive referendums and embedding budgetary diktats in constitutional law, should have generated so many movements of protest against it.
He reviews these forces in broad outline: In pre-enlargement Western Europe, protest movements of the far-right predominate. In post-enlargement Western Europe — Spain, Greece, and Ireland — protest movements of the far-left predominate. Italy has both.
He takes it as given that pooled sovereignty and the Continent’s domination by a peaceful, democratic Germany are undesirable. These are both points that I think need to be argued, not assumed; and I think they’re both wrong. But it’s his article, not mine.
All the significant movements of the far-right, he correctly notes, save Germany’s AfD, predate the economic crisis. Some have roots that date to the 1970s or earlier. But they grew in influence, he argues — and Syriza, M5S, Podemos and Momentum were born — as a direct result of the global financial crisis. This, in his view, is a reaction to “the structure of the neoliberal system,” which finds “its starkest, most concentrated expression in today’s EU,”
with its order founded on the reduction and privatisation of public services; the abrogation of democratic control and representation; and deregulation of the factors of production. All three are present at national level in Europe, as elsewhere, but they are of a higher degree of intensity at EU level, as the torture of Greece, trampling of referendums and scale of human trafficking attest. In the political arena, they are the overriding issues of popular concern, driving protests against the system over austerity, sovereignty and immigration. Anti-systemic movements are differentiated by the weight they attach to each — to which colour in the neoliberal palette they direct most hostility.
Movements of the far-right, he argues, now predominate because if their focus on immigration. But as he notes, and I agree, “this is typically linked (in France, Denmark, Sweden and Finland) not to denunciation but to defence of the welfare state; it is claimed the arrival of immigrants undermines this.”
In some countries, he argues, particularly France, the far-right has another advantage over the far-left:
The single currency and central bank, designed at Maastricht, have made the imposition of austerity and denial of popular sovereignty into a single system. Movements of the left may attack these as vehemently as any movement of the right, if not more so. But the solutions they propose are less radical. On the right, the FN and the Lega have clear remedies to the strains of the single currency and immigration: exit the euro and stop the influx. On the left, with isolated exceptions, no such unambiguous demands have ever been made. At best, the substitutes are technical adjustments to the single currency, too complicated to have much popular purchase, and vague, embarrassed allusions to quotas; neither is as readily intelligible to voters as the straightforward propositions of the right.
Now, what I think I detect in his tone is a reluctant admiration of the far-right: They’re the only ones, he seems to be saying, who are really willing to tear the whole system down and to use whatever levers need to be used to do it. We’ve seen a lot of this, historically: the far-left has always been vulnerable to co-option by the far-right; the segment of the population that for temperamental or socioeconomic reasons is drawn to revolution tends to be drawn by the group that promises it more convincingly, rather than the one that’s ideologically most pure. Modern nationalism was one of the earliest leftist ideologies; it emerged in the French Revolution. National Socialism was called National Socialism because that’s what it was. And so forth.
But to Anderson’s dismay — and to my relief — he concludes that anti-systemic parties have no hope of succeeding in Europe:
Polls now post record levels of voter disaffection with the EU. But, right or left, the electoral weight of anti-systemic movements remains limited. In the last European elections, the three most successful results for the right — UKIP, the FN and the Danish People’s Party — were around 25% of the vote. In national elections, the average figure across western Europe for all such right and left forces combined is about 15%. That percentage of the electorate poses little threat to the system; 25% can represent a headache, but the ‘populist danger’ of media alarm remains to date very modest.
I hope so, although I worry he may be wrong.
Now, he attributes the lack of enthusiasm for anti-systemic movements (or in more traditional vocabulary, the Revolution), to the widespread fear (justified, in my view) that it would make things much worse, economically:
The socio-economic status quo is widely detested. But it is regularly ratified at the polls with the re-election of parties responsible for it, because of fears that to upset the status, alarming markets, would bring worse misery.
He seems to dismiss this fear of “alarming markets” as a form of cowardice, whereas I see it as common sense. His seem to be standard far-left assumptions: the capitalist (or neoliberal) system should be destroyed; “the markets” and their judgments are bad things, rather than the only tool humanity’s ever successfully employed, ever, anywhere, to achieve First World standards of living; and the preference of most Europeans for “less misery” is somehow vaguely contemptible, given that it’s at odds with the Revolution.
He then proceeds to write a paragraph that might have been written by a more articulate Trump-wing American:
Trump’s victory has thrown the European political class, centre-right and centre-left united, into outraged dismay. Breaking established conventions on immigration is bad enough. … [But] Trump’s lack of inhibition in these matters does not directly affect the union. What does, and is cause for far more serious concern, is his rejection of the ideology of free movement of the factors of production, and, even more so, his apparently cavalier disregard for NATO and his comments about a less belligerent attitude to Russia.
Whether Brexit or Trump succeed in tearing down the capitalist system that he so deplores, he writes, remains to be seen. But he concludes there’s little hope of revolution in the rest of Europe:
The established order is far from beaten … and, as Greece has shown, is capable of absorbing and neutralising revolts from whatever direction with impressive speed. Among the antibodies it has already generated are yuppie simulacra of populist breakthroughs (Albert Rivera in Spain, Emmanuel Macron in France), inveighing against the deadlocks and corruptions of the present, and promising a cleaner and more dynamic politics of the future, beyond the decaying parties.
There are some obvious differences between his view of Europe and that of the American populist right. He views Europe as the hellish apotheosis of capitalism, whereas many Americans seem persuaded it’s an exemplar of a socialism no less horrifying than the Soviet Union.
(It shouldn't need to be said, but I saw the Soviet Union with my own eyes, and I live in Europe: Europe is nothing like the Soviet Union.) 
Europe is tremendously capitalist and prosperous by comparison with most of the rest of the world. I think this is a good thing. There’s a lot of room for reform, but a revolution, anywhere in Europe, would be insane.
This, I’d say, is a key difference between a conservative view and the populist (or far-right) view. My view: Revolutions never deliver on their promises and usually result in something far worse than what preceded them. (If I thought that before, I think it twice as much since the Arab Spring.) Don’t tear down a fence until you know why it was built in the first place. It’s insane to dismiss as irrelevant the reasons the EU was built, and particularly to dismiss as irrelevant Europe’s history as the most bloodthirsty, aggressive and violent continent in human history. Changes to any political system, especially in an ecosystem as prone to war as Europe’s, should be made gradually and incrementally. If the EU is to be dismantled, it should be done as slowly as it was assembled.
Anderson concludes that the Left must become more radical if it’s to have any hope of destroying the system in Europe:
For anti-systemic movements of the left in Europe, the lesson of recent years is clear. If they are not to go on being outpaced by movements of the right, they cannot afford to be less radical in attacking the system, and must be more coherent in their opposition to it. That means facing the probability the EU is now so path-dependent as a neoliberal construction that reform of it is no longer seriously conceivable. It would have to be undone before anything better could be built, either by breaking out of the current EU, or by reconstructing Europe on another foundation, committing Maastricht to the flames. Unless there is a further, deeper economic crisis, there is little likelihood of either.
I don’t believe committing Maastricht (or anything, for that matter) “to the flames” is apt to result in “something better” being built. Ever.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Vertigo in Europe: Elections, the Tulip Crisis and the Crackup

The past few days have seen so much chaos in Europe that I can barely keep up with it. Three critical elections, or sets of elections, ahead: The Dutch go to the polls tomorrow; the Turks will vote on constitutional reform on Sunday; and the two-round French presidential election takes place in April and May.
As you probably heard, last week Erdoğan called the Germans Nazis. The Dutch then barred Turkish ministers from campaigning in favor of their referendum in Rotterdam — Turkish expats can vote in Turkish elections — ostensibly on the grounds that their visit would cause unrest in the days prior to the Dutch election. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoğlu insisted upon causing unrest anyway, daring the Dutch to stop him from coming, which they did, and for emphasis the Dutch sicced the dogs on rioting pro-AKP Turks. Erdoğan then called the Dutch Nazis. Everyone in Turkey and the Netherlands went nuts, which was precisely the point of this whole charade: On the Turkish side, the goal (clearly planned in advance, and announced) was to mobilize their shock troops in the Netherlands, stage those scenes, stir up nationalist passions in Turkey, use these to pass the referendum, and succeed in giving Erdoğan all the power, forever; on the Dutch side, the goal was to persuade the voters that Prime Minister Mark Rutte can be just as tough on Turks as Party-of-One Geert Wilders — though everyone’s a bit worried now that he overshot and just persuaded the Dutch to vote for Wilders.
If this explanation went by too fast for you, Aaron Stein, senior resident fellow of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, offered a running commentary as this unfolded: It should help with the details:
1. Govt X refuses to allow govt Y to hold a rally.
2. Govt Y changes rally location to a consulate, violating its own law.
3. Govt X then refuses to grant landing rights to FM from govt Y.
4. Govt Y calls govt X a Nazi and threatens sanctions.
5. Govt X gets offended.
6. Minister from Govt Y will drive to consulate in Govt X, violating own laws, but circumventing landing rights kerfuffle.
7. Govt X closes the road to consulate.
8.  (Will update as  developments in total insanity continue).
9. Minister from Govt Y is driving from Govt Z, which also blocked rally, but allowed Govt Y to break its own law to campaign at consulate.
10. Govt Y also called govt Z a Nazi, but had a phone call to smooth things over .
11. ! FM from govt Y reminds govt X that, were it not for goodwill from a now dead empire, it would not have tulips!
12. Govt Y trolls allied with party behind rally proposals trolling govt x’s president on twitter and, mistakenly, govt F’s president.
13. Govt F’s president has the same name as Govt X, resulting in trolling confusion.
14. : Minister from Govt Y traveling from Govt Z has been stopped by police forces in Govt X.
15. Govt X is calling the police blockade a quarantine, not a blockade, as the latter would be an act of war.
16. Confirmed contact along the contact line, RUMINT in govt X says a fine may be coming. Escalation ladder.
17. : Police forces from Govt X escorting govt minister from Y to the border with country Z.
18. Quarantine maintained, whilst remembering that adults run these two countries (allegedly).
19. Protests at quarantine line, with tensions now threatening to spark a new front in the .
20. President of country F still being trolled accidentally, threats coming to incorporate the wrong govt into long dead empire.
21. Govt X stops journalists from govt Y’s official agency at the border, betraying values of the union govt Y pretends to want to join.
22. FM from govt Y touches down in govt F for a speech. President of govt F still being trolled accidentally.
23. Govt Y basically kicks out Govt X’s ambassador.  deepens.
24. State backed journalists from govt Y defy govt X, back on the quarantine line giving updates.
25. Fog of war. Tweet #22 is partially incorrect. Trolling on-going, but trip to govt F will take place in future.
26. 2nd and 3rd quarantine lines open up in Govt y to protect/pressure Govt X diplomats, now 3 points of escalation in play .
27. Minister from Y returns from Z to X and now may be arrested in the latest farce that is the .
28. Update to #25. Tweet 22 was accurate
29. And an arrest.
30. Y’s bodyguards disarmed, were carrying without permission from X.
31: This is about a political party rally in a third country, held at a consulate that by law is not allowed to hold political rallies.
32. Minister is still in her car, raising prospect of being towed to Z.
33. Won’t be towed. Moved to a new vehicle and headed back to Z
34. RUMINT. Lek River Shield being discussed.
35. Minister from Y back in Z after X escorted her with cars and a helicopter.
(I think Aaron at that point he remembered he had research to do, and gave up.) Anyway, it got worse from there.
EU and NATO officials have been pleading for calm. Uninspired by these importunings, the Turkish government barred the Dutch ambassador, closed Turkish airspace to official Dutch flights, and called the Dutch Nazis a few more times for good measure.
Meanwhile the Turkish foreign minister visited Metz, in France, to campaign, where he called the Netherlands “the capital of fascism.” As far as I know — French journalists aren’t exactly jonesing to go to Metz, it’s middle of nowhere, so there wasn’t much reporting about what actually happened — the visit otherwise passed without incident. But it set off a round of pre-election competition among the French presidential candidates and pundits to see who could deplore in the most arduous and melodramatic terms the decision to let Cavusoğlu into France in the first place. A leading entry, from Nicolas Dupont-Aignan of Figaro:
I am ashamed of France today. I am ashamed that our government, our President of the Republic, is organizing a political meeting for a Turkish dictator who despises the Europeans, who threatens us and who treats Madame Merkel like a Nazi. I do not accept our treating a friendly country like Nazis, it is indecent. That France lies down in this way is pitiful.* This is the long continuation of a policy of national resignation. Away with Monsieur Hollande, urgently!**
*He said “se couche,” which can also means “get in bed,” so the phrase had a somewhat sexual implication. Tricky to translate.
**Mind you, Monsieur Hollande isn’t running.
Some quick thoughts. First, may I direct you to an excellent explainer on the Turkish referendum in question, which is now quite a bit more likely to pass? That outcome could not be less in the interests of anyone in Europe (not least the Turks themselves), so the lack of strategic foresight in the Netherlands is notable.
Second, let’s reflect on the way we arrived at this impasse. From 2002-2010, the Netherlands was the single largest source of foreign direct investment in Turkey, making it by far the largest source of FDI per capita. But these massive inflows of FDI played an extremely significant role in allowing Erdoğan to consolidate power. Few asked, back then, whether this was an outcome to be desired. That it wasn’t — and that it was an obvious strategic catastrophe for Europe in the making — was pretty clear to anyone paying attention.
During the same period, American and European politicians and pundits, the Dutch in particular, offered lavish support and encouragement to AKP, insisting Turkey was “liberalizing.” Now it was, in the sense that it became much more welcoming of FDI. Otherwise, it was not. To the contrary. The warning signs were ignored in a miasma of greed, wishful thinking, and intellectual laziness. If you don’t believe me when I say, “This was predictable long ago, but it was impossible to get anyone to pay attention,” check out my desperate attempts to get anyone’s attention, here on Ricochet. And if you think this international incident is about anything other than Turkish and Dutch domestic politics and their simultaneous races to the populist bottom, ask yourself why no one raised any objections then to that democracy-destroying constitutional referendum — or to the Turkish politicians who campaigned for it in Europe back then.
(ITYSYFF interlude over.)
But this isn’t even the biggest story that broke in the past few days. A hard Brexit is on: The UK plans to trigger Article 50 imminently. This has prompted Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to announce she’ll seek another Scottish independence referendum, this on the grounds that Britain is dragging Scotland out of the EU against its will and on terms it doesn’t want.
A horrified Theresa May reproached Sturgeon and her party: “The tunnel vision that the SNP has shown today is deeply regrettable. It sets Scotland on a course for more uncertainty and division, creating huge uncertainty,” she admonished.
So let’s recap: The British argument is that they must leave the EU to regain their sovereignty, but Scotland must remain in the UK lest it set Scotland on a course for division and uncertainty.
It doesn’t add up, alas, and everyone knows it.
Then it got worse: Sinn Fein then announced that it too wanted a referendum on Northern Ireland leaving the UK, this “as soon as possible.” Now, Scotland will be (reasonably) fine either way, if impoverished and diminished, but Northern Ireland is apt to pay the price of Brexit in blood. “The Ulstermen,” as a friend who doesn’t wish to be quoted wrote on Facebook yesterday, “will lose their minds. Everything that was supposedly over will reignite.” He’s right.
Spain, meanwhile, tried and banned from politics the former head of Catalonia from public office for staging an informal referendum on independence. “The case,” reports France24, “comes as separatist political parties in Catalonia, a wealthy region with its own language and distinct culture, are pushing to hold another vote on breaking away from Spain in September.”
(Is anyone seeing yet why I don’t welcome the fracturing of Europe or believe its dissolution will achieve the happy and peaceful end state its advocates claim? It’s okay if you don’t. Just file these thoughts away for future reference.)
Meanwhile, in a surprisingly little-noted news item, the Russian Duma is proposing a law to give citizenship to ethnic Russians the world around based on the “right of the soil,” as they put it (or as I understand it, from Google Translate). If you’re a blood kin of a Russian or speak Russian, you too can be a Russian! Those of you whose minds tend to dwell unpleasantly on historic precedent can easily imagine where that might go. And the British intelligence services called an emergency summit with Britain’s political parties to warn them they’re at risk of the next general election being disrupted by Russian cyber-attacks.
Russian cyber-attacks on Europe continued apace.
What else? Yesterday, Hungarian President János Áder, an ally of Reigning Authoritarian Loon Viktor Orbán, was re-elected. By a large majority.
And what else? Oh yes, the French election went full-on anti-Semitic, albeit only for a day, though that was enough to make quite a number of us here truly ill:

That stuff, those ideas, these images, just will not die. And they’re reborn in chaos, so let’s hope this all settles down after these elections, and hope for the election of politicians who don’t themselves long for more chaos.
Anyway, that’s the news. (tl;dr: No statesmen, no foresight, no vision, no adults in charge, everything spinning apart.) All I can say is that if the world keeps dragging itself toward hell so effortfully, it will probably succeed in getting there.
I sure hope everyone sobers up.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Dictators, Demagogues, and the Coming Dark Age in Europe

Recently I reviewed Jamie Kirchick's new book about Europe for National Review. What I wrote was much too long for them, though, so it had to be severely condensed. I thought I'd post what I originally wrote here. (National Review kindly gave me permission to reprint the parts of this that they own.)

When I re-read this, I thought perhaps it sounded too critical. It wasn't meant to be; I meant to give the book a good review. My criticisms are mostly a matter of detail and emphasis. Clearly, I found the book thought-provoking, and I do recommend it.


James Kirchick
Yale University Press, March 2017, $17.78

Journalist James Kirchick’s first book is about Europe, not America, but throughout the reader will sense that it rests upon unvoiced axioms about America and its role in the world. These are axioms upon which no argument can rest confidently in the age of Donald Trump. As a consequence, although the book contains no obvious anachronisms, it feels as if it was written in another era, for a reader who no longer exists.  
            Kirchick was based in Prague and Berlin for much of the past decade, sending dispatches back to America about Europe and the former Soviet Union. During most of those years I did the same thing from Istanbul and Paris. Every writer imagines his readers; Kirchick’s imaginary readers seem to be much like mine. Call them Postwar Americans. Americans who feel it important to take a lively interest in the rest of the world, ones who are familiar, roughly, with the history of the First World War, the Great Depression, and the Second World War, ones who instinctively feel the lessons of these catastrophes. Americans who elected such presidents as Eisenhower and George H.W. Bush; who understood that the relative global order in which Americans flourished for some seventy years did not emerge in sua sponte but was created, deliberately, by great postwar statesmen and maintained by American power, hard and soft.
            The United States was at the center of a system designed to promote peaceful trade among reasonably decent and democratic people, and for the most part, it did. Those readers knew this system to be imperfect, but better than the alternatives. And they believed – wrongly, as it happened – that their country was sufficiently exceptional that such things as happened in Europe could not happen to them.
            To the extent spectral qualities may be assigned to Donald Trump, there is a specter haunting this book, making a mockery of Kirchick and his imaginary readers. Trump is mentioned only four times, each time in passing. Clearly, Kirchick underestimated his significance and dismissed the prospect of his election. This is not a reproach. I didn’t see it coming, either.
            Kirchick was, however, fully aware that the old order was dangerously frayed, and that something was wrong with America. This is reflected in his exasperation with the Obama Administration’s passivity in the face of Russian aggression and its unwillingness to reprise America’s traditional, deeply involved role in Europe.
            But he was unable or unwilling to see how frayed it truly was: His tone suggests that he considered Obama’s detachment in foreign policy an aberration, rather than the warning it was that Postwar Americans had become too few in number, or had ceased to believe in their ideals, and the Pax Americana itself was on the verge of collapse. Had he known, presumably, he would have written another book: not The End of Europe, but The End.
            That he missed the big picture doesn’t vitiate his warnings of the dangers Europe confronts; he is right to say they are profound. But under the circumstances, the book seems fraught with unintended irony. He explains, for example, that it emerged in part from his six years of writing for Radio Free Liberty/Radio Europe in Prague. “I was familiar,” he writes, “with RFE/RL’s gallant past of ‘broadcasting freedom’ behind the Iron Curtain. But like most of the people I later told about my new employer, I was unaware that the institution still existed.” In retrospect, isn’t that pregnant with menace? No one in the West even knows that RFE/RL, one of our most successful Cold War policy instruments, still exists. But everyone sure knows its competitor:

Wildly popular on the Internet, particularly among young people, [Russia Today] can be viewed in English, French, German, Spanish and Arabic. It “informs” its viewers that Ukrainians are neo-Nazi fascists and also, paradoxically, gay-loving degenerates; that the CIA shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17; and that Germany is a “failed state.” … Russian disinformation has found a receptive audience on the web, which, unable to control, the Kremlin has tried to render a cesspool.

            A host of assumptions went into the creation of RFE/RL: that émigrés and refugees were a vast pool of talent who could be mobilized to serve the American cause, that the Cold War was a war of ideas, that we could win it by broadcasting truthful news reports into captive lands. No one assumes these things now.
            “Traveling extensively across Europe and throughout the former Soviet Union,” Kirchick reports,

I came to understand that history had not ended, that Europe was not in a ‘post-ideological’ age, and that optimistic assumptions about the inevitable triumph of liberal democracy, regulated market capitalism, peaceful coexistence, and political pluralism were premature even on the very continent that so prided itself in having founded and exported these values to the world.

All of this is true, but it suggests a question Kirchick doesn’t ask: How did we ever convince ourselves history had ended? Variants on these beliefs were indeed widespread, and often completely unexamined, throughout America in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall. What kind of widespread intellectual weakness allowed us to believe something so implausible in the first place?
            But let us take The End of Europe on its own terms, its intended terms – as a book for people concerned about the future of liberal democracy in Europe. As Kirchick reports, Europe is imperiled again by Russian imperialism. Converging vectors of chaos are on the verge of leaving the Continent in “precisely the enervated state that Vladimir Putin seeks.”
            Kirchick recounts the now-familiar story of Europe’s economic torpor, its alienated immigrants, and its demographically unsustainable welfare states. Europe is reeling, too, from the effects of the greatest wave of human migration since the Second World War, a series of deadly attacks by ISIS, Britain’s abandonment of the European Union, and eight years of neglect by the Obama Administration.
            His description of this is in places excellent. His chapter about Brexit is well-written, fair-minded, and painful with the same unintended irony that pervades the rest of the book. He is scathing about UK Independence Party head Nigel Farage and the type of American conservative to whom he for some reason appeals. He recounts with dismay watching Farage address “a half-empty lecture hall at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC” in 2015:

At the end of his speech, I rose to ask the uncrowned king of British Euroskepticism what he made of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. Although I was prepared for something unconventional, I did not expect what came out of Farage’s mouth.

War in Ukraine, he said, was the result of a “democratically elected leader brought down by a street-staged coup d’état by people waving EU flags.” Russian president Vladimir Putin could hardly be blamed for thinking that the “message” behind the Maidan protests was “we want Ukraine to join NATO.” Invading and annexing Crimea were perfectly understandable reactions to European imperialism. Ukraine’s dismemberment, the thousands of deaths in its eastern provinces, more than a million displaced people, and heightened tensions between Russia and the West—all of it, Farage told me, was “something we have provoked.” A Kremlin spokesperson could not have scripted the response better himself.

Farage and those like him, Kirchick carefully argues, live in a morally inverted world where the bumbling and bureaucratic (but benign) EU is likened to the Soviet Union and Vladimir Putin is respected as the Moral Custodian of the West, even as Russia – relying on largely unreconstructed Soviet organs of statecraft – literally invades Europe.
            “If Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea was the first external assault on the post–Cold War European political order,” Kirchick writes, “Britain’s rash decision to depart the EU was the first self-inflicted wound.” He marvels at this spectacle of self-destruction. “It is incredible to behold Great Britain, which once occupied more than 20 percent of the earth’s landmass, moving ever closer to the brink of its own disintegration.” The sentiment is right but its expression is a bit garbled; it was not Great Britain but the British Empire that spanned the globe; at its height, it occupied a full quarter of the world’s land mass. Here one wonders if Kirchick is holding at bay, perhaps at the cost of some mental energy, a premonition of the truly incredible spectacle of imperial self-destruction ahead.
            Kirchick is contemptuous of American conservatives who through naiveté or malice cheer Europe’s disintegration. He is absolutely right to say there is nothing in Europe’s past to support the idea that the EU, if destroyed, would be replaced by a democratic and cooperative collection of sovereign nation-states. The view is historically illiterate. The long postwar peace is unique and fragile. “Those who claim that the EU has failed,” Kirchick writes, “must answer the following question: In comparison to what? The Europe of the Thirty Years War? The Napoleonic Empire? Hitlerite Europe?”
            He is also right to warn that Europe’s social cohesion is at risk from its “failure to devise a common approach to asylum and migration, its propensity to adopt nationalist solutions in response to this shared problem, and its sorry record in assimilating Muslim residents.” This is obviously true. In places, though, he overstates the case or gets the details wrong, even to the point of echoing the populists and Russian propagandists he rightly deplores. “The rude facts of demography also matter,” he insists before asserting that eight percent of France is Muslim and a quarter of teenagers identify as Muslims. But these are not facts, let alone rude ones. We don’t know how much of France is Muslim because the French government is forbidden from asking, by law. A recent and credible private survey found that self-identified Muslims constitute only 5.6 percent of the metropolitan population in France. Kirchick also seems to have confused an article about a survey of teenagers in Bouches-du-Rhône (which would presumably be heavily skewed by the immigrant-heavy population of Marseille) with a national survey.
            The chapter on France, generally, which is meant to stand for the problem of European anti-Semitism, is misconceived and shallow. For example, he gives no source for his assertion that “[t]he number of anti-Semitic attacks in France doubled to more than 850 in 2014,” but I would guess from the year and the number that the figures come from the 2014 report on anti-Semitism in France compiled by the Service de Protection de la Communauté Juive. This in turn is based on data from the Interior Ministry. They don't support the idea that Jews are leaving France in response to anti-Semitic crime; or at least, if they are, they are very bad at appraising risk. The number comprises a range of crimes from homicide to “insults.” The latter would not be counted as a crime at all in the United States. (By these standards, to judge from Kirchick’s Twitter account and mine, we have both been the victims of at least 850 anti-Semitic attacks each in the past year alone, most, unfortunately, coming from Americans.)
            Homicide rates tend to be robust -- and significant. So it is more meaningful to track the number of homicides in France judged by the Interior Ministry to have been committed with specifically anti-Semitic intent. In the year in question, this figure rose from 0 to 1. This is not statistically significant, and moreover suggests that France is a safer place to be a Jew than the places to which Jews are emigrating.
            I point this out not to trivialize the problem of anti-Semitism in France, which is real, but to note that that there has been a great deal of exaggeration in reports of it, and something less than academic rigor in the studying of it. In 2015, the ADL found a dramatic decline in anti-Semitic attitudes in France. Both sets of statistics tell us something less than they purport.
            It is true that many Jews have left France in recent years, but they are not the only ones to leave France, in record numbers, since the beginning of the Eurozone crisis. According to the chair of a 2014 French Parliamentary commission on emigration, the French are leaving because of “an anti-work mentality, absurd fiscal pressure, a lack of promotion prospects, and the burden of debt hanging over future generations.” None of this augurs well for Europe's future, either, but had the chapter focused on this, it would have yielded a more insightful account of the problem with France.
            Nor does it seem to me quite accurate to write of Germany, as he does, that “Historical guilt for the crimes of Nazism inspired an open-door refugee policy as ill considered as it was well intentioned, the negative consequences of which will be felt for generations.” I couldn’t know the extent to which Germany’s policy was inspired by guilt for the crimes of Nazism – no one could – but the authors of the policy say they were inspired by the Geneva Convention on Refugees, to which Germany is a signatory. It is probably also true that the decision was made easier because Germany has a large, ageing workforce and a low birth rate; without immigration, its population will decline, with disastrous economic effects.
            Kirchick is right to say that “German industry’s want for skilled young labor could far more easily be met by hiring some of the millions of unemployed Spanish, French, and Italians than importing untold numbers of difficult-to-assimilate and poorly skilled.” But this misses the point: These difficult-to-assimilate and poorly skilled men and women have hiked overland to Germany from Afghanistan with all their possessions on their backs, sailed the Mediterranean on rubber dinghies, fled war and forced conscription into armies such as Assad’s (where they would have been pressed into committing war crimes), ISIS, the Taliban, and other horrors that not only entitle them to protection under the terms of an international covenant to which Germany was a signatory, but entitle them to the compassion of decent and civilized people. Unemployed Spaniards, French, and Italians, by contrast, live in safe countries and are not refugees. Germany did not open its doors simply to see what would happen if it admitted a million migrants; it did so in the context of the greatest humanitarian challenge of this century, a series of crises that have displaced more desperate refugees than at any other time in recorded history, 60 million in all, on the march in numbers not seen since World War II.
            As Kirchick says, they are a rebuke to the West’s failure to stabilize these failed states, unending wars, and intractable conflicts. And if we could do it over and stop these conflicts from breaking out and these states from failing, one hopes that we would. But it’s now too late: They’re here. Short of tossing them back into the Mediterranean in dinghies again, what does he suggest?
            Kirchick writes that the prolongation of the crisis “is a damning verdict against Europe’s lack of a coherent foreign policy.”

Had Europe (as well as the United States) decided to act as something other than a passive bystander in Syria—by assisting the moderate opposition, creating safe zones, and destroying President Bashar al- Assad’s air force in the early months of the rebellion, years before Iranian and Russian troops hit the ground—there was a chance that the conflict might not have dragged on for so long. Reflexively citing the Iraq experience as a counter argument to any and all methods of military intervention is not sufficient, because in both Libya and Syria—unlike Iraq—war against civilian populations was ongoing and the prospect of impending genocide was apparent.

But so allergic are Europeans to the use of military force, and so anemic are their resources, that the thought of picking a side and seeing it through to victory was unimaginable. .... Maybe Europeans are more comfortable playing the role of altruistic humanitarians, caring for refugees after they’ve fled, than that of global power players ready to intervene overseas in pursuit of national (and supranational) interests. If that is the case, then they will be dealing with an unending wave of migrants and instability on their borders for years to come as the Middle Eastern political order continues to disintegrate.
Quite possible. But not necessarily more ignoble and irrational than the American approach to these problems, which does not seem to have brought stability to Iraq, Afghanistan, or Libya – to the contrary. If the United States, overwhelmingly the world’s strongest and most experienced military power, operating under a single and unified command, was unable to produce a result that protected civilians in these lands, even at the cost of some five trillion dollars, how realistic is it that fractured Europe, with its unintegrated command structure and inexperienced militaries, could have succeeded? And what difference does this reproach make to these refugees now?
            It is also an exaggeration to write, as he does, that “Of the 1.5 million asylum seekers who came to Europe in 2015, 73 percent were male.” His source is The Economist, but that is not quite what the Economist wrote:

currently there are 106 male 14- to 17-year-olds for every 100 women. If all asylum applications are granted [my emphasis], this will change to 116 men to 100 women, while for those aged between 18 and 34 the male-to-female ratio will go from 105:100 to 107:100. … But the example of Sweden does not reflect what will happen across the whole of Europe. … The countries that will be most affected are small, with populations under 10m. Sweden, Hungary, Austria and Norway would see the biggest sex-ratio changes (and only if they accepted all the asylum-seekers who applied). Germany has less to worry about. If it accepted all the young males who sought asylum in the year to October 2015, its sex ratios would go from 106:100 to 107:100 for 14- to 17-year-olds and from 105:100 to 106:100 for 18- to 34-year-olds. Europe does not have a man problem. Sweden may have.

It may be problem, in other words, but hardly so much of one as alarmists represent it to be, particularly because there is no chance all asylum applications will be granted. In 2016, for example, Hungary granted asylum to only 425 out of 29,432 applicants. 
            Nor is it true, as he says, that Germany practices an “open-door immigration policy.” In fact, it is not easy to establish one’s status as a refugee in Germany at all. Following the initial influx of 2015, incoming migrant numbers were swiftly and drastically reduced. The Balkan countries, Morocco, and Tunisia were declared safe states; their citizens are no longer eligible for asylum. Merkel brokered a deal with Turkey to prevent onward migration into the EU, almost entirely shutting down the refugee influx from Greece. Austria shut its borders, cutting off the so-called Balkan route. Last October, the EU and Afghanistan signed a deal that permits member states to deport an unlimited number of Afghan migrants. In December alone, some 11,900 were sent back. So almost as soon as the numbers of asylum-seekers in Germany reached record highs, deportations, too, soared to match. If 2015 was the year Germany opened its doors to refugees, 2016 was the year it slammed them shut. Almost 300,000 of the 700,000 asylum requests it received that year were denied, and 80,000 asylum-seekers deported. 
            Kirchick is quite right to say, though, that Europe’s inability to develop “a coherent and robust foreign policy that would tackle the migrant crisis at its source” has left it at the mercy of the autocrats on Europe’s periphery:

Europe finds itself in hock to autocrats like Vladimir Putin and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan — the former offering himself as a “partner” against ISIS while bombing Western-backed opponents of Russia’s client Assad (whom the vast majority of refugees are fleeing), and the latter demanding political concessions in exchange for reducing the outflow of migrants languishing in Turkish refugee camps. By entertaining Putin’s cynical proposal of an “anti-ISIS coalition,” Western leaders willfully ignore how Moscow’s Syrian intervention is fueling the very migrant wave they supplicate him to help plug. Russia’s interest is very clear: In exchange for its supposed help in fighting ISIS, the West would lift sanctions on Moscow and effectively give a green light to its ongoing subversion of Ukraine. Astonishingly, many in the West apparently support this idea. A late 2015 survey of seventy-six diplomats, elected leaders, and advisors from across Europe and the United States found 53 percent supporting cooperation with Russia in Syria, while listing migration, Islamist terrorism, and the rise of populist parties as the most critical threats to Europe—three problems Moscow is actively aggravating by its intervention in Syria. Maintaining Bashar al-Assad in power will only prolong Syria’s misery by driving the Sunni majority that detests him even more into the arms of ISIS, therefore prolonging the conflict as well as the stream of refugees whose presence in Europe is driving up support for the far-right politicians Russia abets in numerous other ways. While the Russians have repeatedly demonstrated their overreliance on hard power to achieve their aims, Europe’s overconfidence on soft power, far from keeping the world’s problems at bay, has imported them into Elysium.

This is precisely the right diagnosis, alas. Once, recently, Americans would have suggested that the cure for this strategic confusion was “American leadership.” But now our hopes are more modest. We just pray our leadership stops tweeting.
            As Kirchick notes, Russia has exploited the refugee crisis to serve its disinformation objectives. The impression many Americans have of a Europe simply overrun by migrant hordes has its origins in Russian agitprop, which is full of thrilling but often fictional stories of migrant rapes and rampages. It offers a platform and legitimization to Europe’s most extreme nationalist and anti-immigrant figures, all with the transparent goal of furthering European division.
            Kirchick is too exculpatory of Europe's far right. It isn't true, as he writes, that decent people with reasonable concerns have been forced into the arms of the far-right by taboos against the rational discussion of Islam and immigration. "One accepts unrestricted immigration, the nostrums of multiculturalism, and the claim that Muslims integrate just as well as any other group, or one risks being branded an incorrigible bigot," he writes, but this isn't so; there is no mainstream European politician who advocates unrestricted immigration from the Islamic world, and if there is a taboo against discussing the failure of Muslims to integrate, it doesn't impede politicians -- of both the mainstream right and the left -- from doing it. Europe's far right is shunned because it is, in fact, incorrigibly bigoted. There have been 1,200 attacks on refugee shelters in Germany since the beginning of 2015, including some 100 arsons. More than 2,500 refugees there have been violently assaulted, beaten, or firebombed. Some have been clubbed with bats by Nazis chanting "Sieg Hail." Asylum-seekers in Hungary have been herded into concentration camps. Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban has said that "ethnic homogeneity" is key to economic success and "too much mixing" causes trouble. The lure of Europe's far-right is, truly, incorrigible bigotry. 
           It is true, as Kirchick writes, that German police were stunningly unprepared on New Year’s Eve 2015 for the mass assault on women by North African assailants, and also true that the media failed to report this for fear of ginning up hatred toward immigrants. But it is also true that this story has now been reported so many times, in such hysterical detail, that a good many Americans believe this happens every night in Germany. It doesn’t. The long-term effects of the migrant influx are still unclear, but a recent Centre for European Research study found “no association between the number of refugees and the number of street crimes in Germany” beyond small increases in drug offenses and fare-dodging. 
            The End of Europe is strongest when it treats the self-defeating Brexit vote, the contagious authoritarianism of Hungary, and, especially, Russia’s revanchists, who are clenching Europe in a vice. While Americans have been encouraged to expect “great deals” and “getting along” with Putin, Russians are being readied for something quite different. The Russian playwright and former delegate to the Congress of People’s Deputies, Aleksander Gelman, tells Kirchick that Russian society “is being prepared for the idea that we might have to fight” a world war.
            Putin has superintended over a campaign of historic revisionism in Russia; Stalin’s reputation has been rehabilitated, and the liberation of central and Eastern Europe from the Soviet Union have been recast as an amputation. Russia has been building and upgrading underground nuclear bunkers around Moscow, which officials claim are big enough to house the whole city's population. “In reality there are no real reasons for a world war at present, except for our own insane ideas,” Gelman tells Kirchick. “But we have to remember that insane ideas can be made real.”
            These “insane ideas” comprise the new-but-old doctrine of Russian imperialism, known as Eurasianism, explicated, Kirchick writes, in such government documents as Foundations of State Cultural Politics,

A 2014 Russian Culture Ministry report outlining the “Foundations of State Cultural Politics” defines the country’s identity only in negation to the West: “Russia is not Europe.” By that it means that Russia is illiberal, authoritarian, nationalistic, illiberal, authoritarian, nationalistic, Orthodox Christian, and economically autarkic,” morally and materially opposed to what it views as a West mired in depravity, decadent materialism, and “globalism.”

(As far as I can tell, the use of “globalism,” as opposed to “globalization,” entered the English language only recently and as an artefact of Russian propaganda.) Russia’s faux-traditional values, Kirchick laments, along with its widely-publicized campaigns against homosexuality, have proven attractive to European populists and far-right parties such as UKIP in Britain, Jobbik in Hungary, Golden Dawn in Greece, the Northern League in Italy and France’s Front National Front. The Kremlin cultivates and finances these and other kooks, far-leftists, and blood-and-soil nationalists. They in turn feed on the Eurozone’s stagnation and the refugee crisis.  
            The whole crew of misfits is on display in Greece, a country for which Kirchick exhibits a broad contempt. He is unsympathetic to arguments that the Eurozone and the Troika immiserated that country; his perspective is broadly that of the German bankers: Greece had it coming; it produced nothing; it undertook massive debts to live lavishly; and it lied. What’s more, he argues, the Greeks exhibit a susceptibility to populist politics that derives from their traumatic civil war. “Polarization nurtured an emotive, resentment-based politics with little room for compromise,” he writes. Syriza, Kirchick says,

portends the rise of a European hard left exuding the same authoritarian populism of the extreme right. From French Poujadism, the rural movement of farmers and shopkeepers that arose in early opposition to European integration, to today’s National Front, Law & Justice, and Fidesz, postwar European nationalism has typically been a reactionary right-wing phenomenon. But in the form of Syriza, the reigning Corbynite wing of British Labor, and Spanish PODEMOS, illiberal populism is becoming a bipartisan affair. All three of these parties advocate greater state control over the economy, are deeply suspicious of markets, and seek greater ties with Russia at the expense of the Atlantic alliance.

Russia is only too eager to provide. “Syriza has found admirers in unlikely places,” he writes.

“It’s fantastic to see the courage of the Greek people in the face of political and economic bullying from Brussels,” says United Kingdom Independence Party leader Nigel Farage. Similarly enthused by its effrontery toward the EU, leaders of the French National Front and the Hungarian Jobbik have also lavished praise on Syriza, accolades one hopes the proudly antifascist Greeks find at least slightly worrying.

Kirchick could have spelled out the connections more clearly still. In January 2015, The Financial Times published a detailed analysis of the links between Syriza and Putin’s circle. Titled “Alarm bells ring over Syriza’s Russian links,” it reported the association between Nikos Kotzias, the Syriza-appointed Greek foreign minister, and Aleksandr Dugin, the prominent Russian ultra-nationalist, a proponent of Christian Orthodox domination over Eurasia from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The day after he was elected prime minister, Alexis Tsipras made known his objection to sanctioning Russia for the rising violence in Ukraine.
            The book begins and ends with Russian hybrid warfare. In the first scene, Kirchick describes the so-called Bronze Night in Tallinn, when in 2007, the Estonian parliament irritated Moscow by proposing to move the Bronze Soldier to the outskirts of the city. The Soviet-era war memorial was seen by ethnic Estonians as a symbol of Soviet occupation. Russia took fantastic umbrage. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov deplored the move as “blasphemous.” Protests, instigated by Estonia’s ethnic-Russian minority, turned into two nights of deadly riots and a three-week wave of DDOS attacks on Estonia’s institutions. These were of a previously unseen sophistication. Everyone knew who was to blame, but NATO in the end claimed to be unable to find proof of Moscow’s involvement. It was the world’s first cyber-war.
            Russia next invaded Georgia. Six months later, the newly inaugurated Obama administration declared its intention to reset relations with Moscow. Kirchick is infuriated by what he identifies as a “recurring feature” of the Obama Administration’s diplomacy: Eager to smooth the path to the New START treaty, the administration averted its eyes to evidence of Russia’s growing external aggression and internal repression. Russia, meanwhile, undertook the military modernization upon which it would rely for its warfare in Ukraine and Syria.
            Having fed the crocodile well, Obama was eaten next. Infamously, during the United States’ 2016 election campaign, Russian hackers attacked the Democratic National Committee’s computer servers and delivered their content to Wikileaks. Kirchick joins a growingly alarmed cohort warning that Moscow may soon try to “neuter NATO with an attack on alliance territory that will prove the worthlessness of Article 5,” and failing that, may go “the institutional route, diluting the West’s alliance structure, legal norms, and political cohesiveness from within through bribery, coercion, subversion, and disinformation.” It certainly seems that way.  
            The chapter on Hungary and historic memory is particularly useful. In a pattern characteristic of the far right, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán has presided over a campaign to obscure “both the specifically anti-Jewish nature of the Holocaust and the Hungarian state’s active collaboration in mass murder,” writes Kirchick, one that features “government-sponsored historical institutes, publicly funded documentaries, revisions to school curricula, bestowal of state honors to extreme right-wing figures, and erections of public monuments and museum exhibitions,” all functioning to obscure Jewish victimhood.
            Kirchick describes a Hungary awash in “maps, post-cards, posters, bumper stickers, and other ephemera” displaying the Greater Hungary of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, complete with Slovakia (in whole) and parts of present-day Romania, Serbia, and Croatia. A government-funded website describes the Treaty of Trianon as “20th-century Hungary’s greatest tragedy, the wounds of which remain unhealed even today.” Upon assuming power, Orbán quickly declared the anniversary of the treaty’s signing a day for mourning “the unjust and unfair dismemberment of the Hungarian nation by foreign powers.” No day was devoted, by contrast, to considering “the reasons why Hungary lost two-thirds of its territory— namely, its membership in the belligerent axes of both world wars.”
            As the historian Lewis Namier observed, there is a morphology of politics; certain forms occur and reoccur. Historical revisionism appears to be intrinsic to the form that Kirchick terms Orbánism. You could also call it Putinism or Erdoğanism. Contemporary political scientists describe it as illiberal democracypartial democracylow intensity democracyempty democracy, and hybrid democracy. Namier called it plebiscitary Caesarism. The cultivation of nostalgia for an authoritarian past, Kirchick warns, tends to presage an authoritarian future: Orbán’s government “has rewritten the constitution, centralized power in the executive, weakened checks and balances, empowered an oligarchic class, dispensed state awards and ceded cultural policy to extreme right-wing figures, rendered parliament a rubber stamp, overhauled public media institutions into partisan outlets, harassed civil society, and reoriented Hungary’s traditionally Atlanticist and pro-European foreign policy toward Russia and other authoritarian regimes.”
            The End of Europe concludes with a warning that Europe’s collapse would be a catastrophe. “A Europe unmoored from the Enlightenment values it brought to the world, ignorant of and unwilling to protect its civilizational achievements, captive to chauvinist demagogues, indisposed to defend itself, bereft of its Jews, estranged from America, cowed before Russia, and reverted to its traditional state of nature with nations pursuing mercenary self-interest at the expense of unity would not only spell the end of Europe as we know it,” he concludes. “Such a collapse would usher in nothing less than a new dark age.”
            Kirchick never confronts the possibility that by the time this book went to print, the United States would be led by an unstable Putinversteher and committed trade protectionist who views the architecture of the West’s postwar peace and freedom as obsolete, leaving an unsteady Angela Merkel the de facto leader of the Free World. He can’t really be criticized for this; it is so incredible that even now I have trouble believing it. But it does give the book a strange, alternate-universe aspect. It will perhaps one day enjoy pride of place in a thick Chinese volume titled, An Anthology of Hubristic Things Americans Wrote about Europe, while Oblivious to the Disaster Awaiting them at Home.


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