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Book Review: The Last Days of Europe

[ 13 ] July 11, 2010 |

This is the fifth installment of an eight part series on the Patterson School’s Summer Reading List.

  1. Hide and Seek, Charles Duelfer
  2. The Accidental Guerrilla, David Kilcullen
  3. The Limits of Power, Andrew Bacevich
  4. Huang Yasheng, Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics
  5. Walter Laqueur, The Last Days of Europe

In the past, the Patterson School has included some truly terrible books on its Summer Reading List. The most notably awful, to my recollection, was Parag Khanna’s Second World, a manifestly reprehensible pile of garbage that should have embarrassed its publisher. I suspect, however, that Walter Laqueuer’s The Last Days of Europe is even worse.

As a scholar, Laqueur has always been a bit all over the place. He wrote several books about central Europe in the 20th century, a volume about fascism, did some work on the Holocaust, and more recently has focused on terrorism and Middle Eastern politics. Unfortunately, in The Last Days of Europe he expresses no interest in any historical method beyond the cranky, unmeasured rant. Despite making wide ranging empirical claims (and basing his policy recommendations on those claims) he cites no actual evidence, and gives readers no clue as to where he mines the “data” that he purports to provide. Footnotes don’t necessarily indicate serious scholarship (see Ann Coulter), but their absence contra-indicates it.

Laqueur’s story is very simple. Europe, or at least the part of Europe inhabited by well-behaved white folks, is in terminal decline. In short order it will effectively be replaced by uncouth, poorly educated, thuggish Middle Easterners. These Middle Easterners hate the West for some reason with a burning hatred than knows no hateful hatey limits, except for those Middle Easterners who don’t hate the West and want to continue living there. Moreover, because Polite White People are unwilling to breed in sufficient numbers, these uncouthy surly “Muslims” (he regularly argues that European Muslims actually know nothing of their faith) will soon sap and impurify Europe’s bodily fluids. Moreover, the EU sucks, and European is both militarily weak and anti-American.

To be excruciatingly fair, Laqueur’s alarm about European demographics is in the neighborhood of elements of truth (for a much more sensible take, see here), and his contention that the EU is fatally disconnected from popular European preferences could be made to make sense by a much better author. The rest is a waste; it says far more about Laqueur’s particular prejudices, and the paranoia of the contemporary American right, than about Europe.

A sampling:

In Germany the sharp decline began with the Genera-tion of 1968 and the Frankfurt School, with its Critical Theory, which belittled the function of the family from both a social and an economic point of view. But the family declined also in other societies in which the year 1968 was not an important turning point.

Really? So the claim that the sharp demographic decline began with the Frankfurt School and its Critical Theory is demonstrably empirically false?
We also get more than a dose of what really irritates Walter Laqueur; surly, dark-skinned teenagers:

Muslim youth culture varies to a certain extent from country to country. Common to them is the street sports gear (hooded sweatshirts, sneakers, etc.) and the machismo; their body language expresses aggression. They want respect, though it is not clear how they think such respect is earned; perhaps it is based on the belief that “this street (quarter) is ours.” In France and the United Kingdom hip-hop culture plays a central role; the texts of their songs express strong violence, often sadism.

We learn that these thugs commit lots of crimes, and that European cities are now as unsafe as American (except for the murder rate, of course, which remains more than triple that of any country that Laqueur discusses).

Unfortunately, he feels the need to make comparisons between European muslims and African-Americans:

Socioeconomic factors have been blamed, and in this respect there have been interesting similarities to young black males in the United States: If only more jobs would be offered, it is often maintained, everything would change for the better. But many studies have shown that when such jobs were offered (as in the Clinton years in the United States), the takers were predominantly immigrants from Latin America and the Far East.

It’s hard to know where to start with this. It would have been nice if Laqueur had actually cited a study, rather than say “studies have shown,” but that’s really not the point; African-American unemployment at the beginning of the Clinton administration was 14.1%, and at the end was 7.3%. When the jobs were “offered” (and it’s unclear how exactly he thinks Clinton produced jobs), many of the takers appear to have been African-American. Either Laqueur doesn’t know this and doesn’t care, or he’s simply lying; I report, you decide.

This statement, and statements like it, are depressingly common in the book:

It was not just a case of rejecting France and its values but of hating French society and its institutions, as spokesman of the young generation repeatedly declared.

Really? How were these spokesman selected by the young generation? Were they representative? Were there other “spokesman” who made counter-claims? Maybe, maybe, and maybe, but I have no idea, because Laqueur doesn’t provide any citation to any spokesman saying anything about anything. Nevertheless, Laqueur knows that these swarthy young men with the hoodies and the hip hop HATE FRANCE AND ITS INSTITUTIONS AND ITS WELL BEHAVED WHITE PEOPLE.

On the danger of Angry Swarthy Turkish People in Germany:

According to German officials, their [the Islamists] number is not formidable- 3600 in Berlin- and it has not grown significantly over the years. But this refers to militants, professionals, or semiprofessionals, and seen from this perspective they are stronger than any other group. Milli Goerues, which has been categorized by German officials as “extremist,” has hundreds of groups based in its mosques. It aims (without mincing words) to replace the secular order in the country in which they live by an order based on the sharia, first in the regions in which Muslims are the majority, or a signficant minority, and subsequently in the areas in which their space has expanded.

Well, I guess we’re fortunate then that there are 5 million people in the Berlin metropolitan area; otherwise that 3600 number (not growing, by the way) would be cause for concern.

On European anti-terror laws:

In most European countries (as well as in the United States, Russia, and India), antiterrorist legislation was somewhat strengthened after 9/11 and subsequent terrorist attacks in other countries. But even then the authorities were largely powerless to arrest of sentence suspected terrorists. If they did so, they were denounced as acting illegally by no only local human rights watch organizations, Amnesty International, and so on, but also European political institutions- usually with reference to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Again, some citation of actual cases would have been helpful; I suspect that Amnesty has at some point complained about something that’s happened in Europe, but I certainly wouldn’t have the faintest idea what that was from reading Laqueur. More to the point, Laqueur’s contention about the insufficiency of anti-terrorist law enforcement in Europe is almost surreal. Every country that Laqueur mentions give vastly greater powers to its police apparatus than is enjoyed by their US counterparts; Patriot Act notwithstanding, the average Briton, German, and Frenchman is subject to considerably greater scrutiny than the average American. This is the legacy not only of the strong security states that emerged in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but also of the anti-terror campaigns that the major European states waged in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Laqueur doesn’t bother to grapple with this, because he wants to describe weak anti-terror laws as a peculiarly European problem, with the namby pamby and the EU and the Amnesty and the welfare state et al.

And then he messes with political science:

There are more no-go zones in France than in Britain, and political scientists believe that France faces balkanization in the not too distant future.

Really? Which political scientists? Are there other political scientists who disagree? How would you characterize the argument? I dunno, I dunno, and I dunno, because Laqueur simply invokes the majesty of political science in support of his hypothesis that France is disintegrating, without telling us which political scientists he’s citing.

I could go on. He rambles nonsensically about the perilous weakness of the European military establishment, without mentioning that two of the top five, four of the top ten, and seven of the top twenty in defense spending belong to the EU. He rants about “pundits” and “think tanks” that keep arguing about European predominance, without citing precisely who makes these arguments, in what context, or with what caveats.

In a sane and just world, the editor, publisher, and author of this volume would be permanently excluded from polite society; to call this book pernicious, dishonest, ill-informed dreck is to do a disservice to genuine, quality dreck. Unfortunately, Laqueur suffers no sanction; the book exists in the alternate reality of right wing hackery, in which no argument can be so stupid, so poorly supported, and so dishonest to earn general reproach, as long as it expresses concern about the darkies and the welfare and the foreign policy weakness.

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Comments (13)

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  1. Vance Maverick says:

    in which no argument can be so stupid, so poorly supported, and so dishonest * to earn general reproach

    Calls for an “as” or some such, I think. Plus perhaps you pull your punches a bit in this conclusion.

  2. Vance Maverick says:

    Ugh, apologies for the unclosed italic tag.

  3. Turbulence says:

    How exactly did this awful book end up on the reading list? I mean, didn’t anyone read the book before putting it on the list? Is there some fascinating story about institutional politics behind this decision?

  4. davenoon says:

    I’m trying to think of a single work associated with the Institute for Social Research that had fuck-all to do with the family….

    Why oh why can’t we have better straw men?

  5. Will says:

    If anyone is looking for a good quick read, I would suggest checking out Sebastian Junger’s new book “War.” He embedded with the 82nd Airborne in eastern Afghanistan in 2008, and gets some good stories out of it. This book also covers the same topics as the documentary “Restrepo” that Junger directed and just released. Ya know, just in case you’d rather watch the movie instead of reading the book…

  6. Stitch says:

    hating French society and its institutions

    Isn’t that what we Americans are supposed to do?

  7. Aaron Baker says:

    Laqueur, it appears, is in his dotage. Several years ago, he published a book on post-WWII Europe that seemed pretty good to me (does anyone here have an opinion on it?)

  8. EJ says:

    Europeans sure are anti-family. What with their free comprehensive pre-natal care, months of paid maternity and paternity leave, heavily subsidized child care – yep, nothing pro-family about that at all.

    The other thing I find amusing about rants like this is that of all my European family and friends, the only group of people they seem to generally fear and go out of their way to avoid are lower class unemployed white males.

  9. Alex says:

    Also, what he imagines to be “Muslim youth culture” seems to be identical to “black youth culture in the US”, which can hardly be a pure coincidence.

  10. Halloween Jack says:

    Muslim youth culture varies to a certain extent from country to country. Common to them is the street sports gear (hooded sweatshirts, sneakers, etc.) and the machismo; their body language expresses aggression. They want respect, though it is not clear how they think such respect is earned; perhaps it is based on the belief that “this street (quarter) is ours.” In France and the United Kingdom hip-hop culture plays a central role; the texts of their songs express strong violence, often sadism.

    Damnit, you kids! Europe is my lawn.

  11. Hogan says:

    Oh no! Young adolescent males wanting to look like badasses? Surely the last days are upon us.

  12. ExMuslim says:

    I am a former Muslim and happy to hear that this book is being read. It may exaggerate VERY slightly, but it shows the direction in which things are going in the West. I am not a right winger nor paranoid. It’s just that I’ve actually read the Quran, and studied the life and atrocious example of Mohammed. Since I used to be Muslim, I knew a lot of Muslims from various countries and I have seen the common Muslim attitude when their guard goes down and the polite mask comes off: surly, full of false pride and arrogant sense of entitlement, incapable of rational debate, deeply misogynist, as prejudiced against Jews as any Nazi, and most of all: deceptive. I noticed that many Muslims would tell lots of “little” lies, even about each other, and they were quite smooth about it. Yes, I know other peopes also lie and gossip and make up stories, but it seemed to be a cultural norm for too many Muslims I have known. Now, of course, some non-Muslims will claim that they know lots of nice Muslims. They are seeing the polite social mask of the Muslim community. Dig a little deeper. Read the Quran. Read a few biographies of Mohammed. The terrorists are not radicals,; they are dedicated Muslims who follow in the example of Mohammed himself. Read a little and you’ll be shocked by how peaceful Islam is not! I applaud any book which overrides the current “politically correct” and “factually incorrect” fairy tales about Islam. I hope all the commentators live to see the days of the Muslim majority. See if they treat you with velvet gloves and kindnesses, as the “infidels” (that’s all non-Muslims and it’s an insult) treat them in modern Europe and America. Keep up the wishful thinking and enjoy your Islamic future.

  13. George says:

    Bet you wish you could disappear this down the memory hole after the London riots.

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