In a world filled with political bunglers, German Chancellor Angela Merkel deserves special mention for outstanding achievement in recklessness. Her refugee policy puts all of Europe at risk, though continental elites may be too zealous in their devotion to humanitarian ideals to recognize it.
As French political philosopher Pierre Manent explains in an important interview translated in First Things, European elite culture is committed to a view of the world that abstracts from particular attachments — national attachments, ethnic attachments, religious attachments — and treats individuals as perfectly equal and interchangeable exemplars of capital-H Humanity. A Catholic Frenchman is just a human being. A secular German is just a human being. A devout Muslim refugee from the Syrian civil war is just a human being. Place of origin is politically irrelevant. So is religious affiliation. And age. And gender. The only form of belonging that matters is to the placeless human species.
Judged by that standard, Merkel is a secular saint who has done her solemn Kantian duty, treating every refugee as an end and never simply as a means, conforming her actions to the austere demands of an absolute, unconditional moral imperative, refusing to take concrete worldly consequences into account in determining What Must Be Done.
Normally a political leader who acts without regard for practical consequences is guilty of flagrant irresponsibility. But, to be fair, it's actually not entirely clear that Merkel failed to think about consequences when she decided last year to allow (so far) upwards of 1.3 million Middle Eastern, North African, and South Asian refugees and migrants to settle in Europe. On the contrary, it may well be that she did consider the consequences and simply refused to take seriously the possibility that any of them could be negative.
I'm unsure which is worse. But I'm quite certain both are bad.
Let's not obsess over the anecdotes — the spectacular massacres of recent weeks and months and years; or this summer's waves of smaller scale deadly attacks using bombs, axes, machetes, and other weapons, including the knife that was used to slit the throat of an elderly priest at the foot of the altar of his church in the French countryside; or the 1,000 or so women who were assaulted by large groups of rowdy young men during New Year’s Eve celebrations in Cologne, Germany, eight months ago. Some of these acts were committed by refugees and migrants themselves, while others were perpetrated by people of Middle Eastern, North African, or South Asian descent who've lived in Europe for all or most of their lives. Most were inspired by the Islamist ideology that animates ISIS and similar groups.
The reason we should look beyond the anecdotes is that focusing on them allows Merkel and her defenders to deflect — to suggest that all of these events are outliers, that they don't represent a portentous glimpse of the European future, and that those who oppose Merkel's refugee policy are guilty of racism, xenophobia, and other archaic forms of prejudice that all enlightened Europeans are duty-bound to reject out of hand as a precondition for participation in civilized conversation and debate.
That's why a new Pew Center study of the migrants streaming into Europe is so important — because it transports us beyond the daily drumbeat of sensational headlines to gaze upon the alarming demographic reality confronting the continent, and to extrapolate its likely political end point.
The study is filled with illuminating data — on the national origin of the migrants (the number of asylum seekers coming from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq more than quadrupled between 2013 and 2015); on the leading destinations of asylum seekers (Germany ranks first); on public attitudes toward the EU's asylum policies (overwhelmingly negative).
But the most ominous numbers can be found in a chart titled, "Young men make up 42 percent of all of Europe's asylum seekers in 2015." That's right: 42 percent of first-time asylum seekers in 2015 were men aged 18 to 34. And the percentage of asylum seekers who were women in that age cohort? Eleven percent.
That imbalance — much larger in some countries — points to a future in which considerable numbers of young men will find it extremely difficult to find spouses. And that's a serious problem. As a leading expert on the topic put it a few months ago in an important article for Politico:
[S]ocieties with extremely skewed sex ratios are more unstable even without jihadi ideologues in their midst. Numerous empirical studies have shown that sex ratios correlate significantly with violence and property crime — the higher the sex ratio, the worse the crime rate. [Politico]
"Even without jihadi ideologues in their midst."
When such ideologues are around, offering those unmarried, sexually frustrated, economically and culturally alienated young men the prospect of lashing out in vengeance at the world around them in acts of spectacular violence that supposedly contribute to a noble cause — well, let's just say it's unlikely to end well.
And then there are the political repercussions.
Recall those overwhelming majorities who say they are unhappy with how the EU has handled the refugee issue. Those are voters who helped pass the Brexit referendum in the U.K. And who nearly elected a far-right anti-EU and anti-immigrant party in Austria just four months ago. And who are now giving that same party the lead in the run-up to the re-run of the election scheduled for October. And who are contributing to a surge in the polls for the far-right National Front in France. And so on and so forth.
All of these developments are a product of growing unease among European voters, who believe (and not without reason) that their leaders are prone to pursue policies, without popular consultation, that will drastically and negatively affect the quality of life in — and the linguistic, ethnic, economic, and religious character of — their nations. This populist discontent began building long before Merkel instituted her well-meant but profoundly foolish refugee policy, but that policy more than any other in recent memory has galvanized it.
Having set out, with the best of moral intentions, to act like an extra-political citizen of a world without walls, Angela Merkel has ended up reaping a nationalist whirlwind.
And the storm has only just begun to gather.