Here in the U.S., it's hard to imagine that Europe could go back to its old muscular and expansive ways. But the Continent is turning in that direction — and it's a move that carries huge and unsettling implications.
In all likelihood, what happens to Europe in this regard will freak us Americans out. It will make us painfully, perhaps angrily, aware of our differences. It will throw our similarities into doubt. But if it happens, we'll be stuck with it. We'll have to figure out how to deal.
Because here's the thing: Europe is on track to rediscover what looks to us like a highly unsettling form of white pride.
The demographic tale is straightforward. As of 2010, Pew has noted, 13 million Muslim immigrants resided in the European Union. That year, their median age was 32, eight years younger than the median for all Europeans. According to Pew, "the Muslim share of the population throughout Europe grew about 1 percentage point a decade, from 4 percent in 1990 to 6 percent in 2010. This pattern is expected to continue through 2030, when Muslims are projected to make up 8 percent of Europe's population."
Native Europeans fear these changes are far more dramatic than the numbers say. As The Economist reported, "European publics wildly overestimate the proportion of their populations that is Muslim: an Ipsos-Mori poll in 2014 found that on average French respondents thought 31 percent of their compatriots were Muslim, against an actual figure closer to 8 percent." The pattern is repeated in Italy, Belgium, Britain, and across the EU.
One path to Europe's troubling destination is already being carved out by Europe's far-right parties, many of which are implicitly or explicitly ethnocentric. At a gathering last year, France24 observed, Dutch party chief Geert Wilders captured the mood. "'Just like you, we don't want foreigners to tell us they are masters in our country. We say: Kick the criminals, the jihadists, the illegal migrants out,' he told the entirely Caucasian audience to rapturous applause."
In some countries, racism has become even more overt. Hungary's far right, for instance, has pushed to create a national registry of Jews. Rather than self-marginalizing, however, some groups are broadening their appeal. In France, the National Front has rapidly transformed from a backwater for old reactionaries into a category-scrambling destination for citizens who want what the EU can't and won't provide.
The shift has not been neat and tidy. Any European political organization that intentionally evokes fascism is certain to set off the racism alarm, among fellow Europeans most of all. The transition is also far from complete. But it reflects a sweeping shift in Europe away from the bland, safe ideology of post-Cold War officialdom, and toward something much more assertive and proud.
Inevitably, in Europe, assertive pride carries ethnic and national overtones. What's remarkable is that even Europe's instinctively meddlesome technocrats have begun to rediscover the political significance of demographics. After decades of favoring smaller families and privileging individual autonomy, they've caught on that, if current trends hold, there will soon be nobody to meddle with.
As The New York Times reports, they're switching — with a true sense of urgency — from pushing safe sex to pushing reproductive sex:
The Italian health minister described Italy as a "dying country" in February. Germany has spent heavily on family subsidies but has little to show for it. Greece's depression has further stalled its birthrate. And in Denmark, the birthrate has been below the so-called replacement rate needed to keep a population from declining — just over two children per woman — since the early 1970s.
"For many, many years, we only talked about safe sex, how to prevent getting pregnant," said Marianne Lomholt, the national director of [Danish nonprofit group] Sex and Society. "Suddenly we just thought, maybe we should actually also tell them about how to get pregnant." [The New York Times]
These epiphanies mark the beginnings of a European exodus across a huge psychological and cultural bridge. From an American standpoint, it's a spectacle of European governments and nongovernmental organizations working together to encourage white Europeans to be fruitful and multiply. After all, they're the ones who need the motivation. In countries like Britain, immigrant birth rates have been the only demographic bright spot. The disparity in birth rates is so clear that in other European nations, like Italy, when immigration dips, the birth rate sags apace.
Seeing politicians open the door to the return of history's most frightening prejudices makes Americans not just queasy but angry.
We have a hard enough time tolerating the persistence of Confederate memory here at home. What could be more offensive and unnerving than seeing the Old World half of Western democracies slip back into the ancient pattern of demographic expansionism?
True, Europe could boost its national populations just enough to keep their willfully bland and impressively meaningless social democracy trundling along without breaking the bank of its welfare superstate. But the more likely possibility, given what we know about European civilization and its long tradition of "extremism," plays right into our worst fears. Europe will very probably rediscover Eurocentrism — not just as an abstract idea, but as an imperative for survival.
Some analysts will observe that, in a way, this is actually good news. Fact is, the U.S. really is in trouble if Europe withers away as a cultural and political force. We just can't compensate all on our own, and the American people would never accept such a deeply uncharacteristic mission even if we could.
But regardless of that important silver lining, it's going to get scary for us to watch the world's longest-running white societies get more prideful, assertive, and, from our standpoint, statist.
Those are our alarms, and here in the New World, they're good ones. They've served us well, morally and politically. They'll continue to do so. But in Europe, the alarms are now of a much different nature. And they're on track to push the West's democracies a lot further apart — unless we can find a way to get radically pluralistic about Western civilization.