The New Vichy Syndrome: Why European Intellectuals Surrender To Barbarism, by Timothy Dalrymple
I found this book to be deeply interesting and thought-provoking, as it is written from the point of view of someone who understands history and politics and the way that Europe has tragically lost its self-confidence in the face of self-inflicted disaster during the course of the 20th century. That Europeans are simultaneously arrogant bureaucrats (as can be seen by their group think when it comes to issues of regulations and climate change) and also craven cowards who it would be insulting to poultry to compare to chickens, is something that is easy enough to recognize. Yet uncovering the implications and ramifications of this is not something that is always done, and without praising America completely the author manages to engage in this task quite well, pointing out what separates the United States from Europe and what common malaise afflicts them both, especially among the leftists of the United States’ political spectrum. There was a lot to enjoy and appreciate here, and the author’s conclusions and analysis are both dryly humorous as well as darkly relevant in an age where barbarism is a great threat that many political leaders are simply unequipped to handle.
In this short but powerful expose of European weakness, the author makes his point in about 150 pages. After a short preface, the author discusses what is rotten in the European Union, what everyone acknowledges to be weakness and corruption and bloated bureaucracy (1). After that the author talks about the demographic worries of Muslim takeover (2), a look at declining fertility and various other explorations of this demography (3), and some summary conclusions thus far (4). After that, the author critiques the relativism that is so common in European thinking and behavior (5) and spends seven chapters asking why Europeans are like this (6-12), spending a great deal of time looking at the catastrophes of World War I and II that crippled European colonial power as well as self-confidence. The author looks at the influence of defeatist intellectuals as well as corrupt political leaders (especially in France) on the inability of European nations to deal with their own historical sins and face up to their situation. Of particular interest and humor is when the author notes that dividing up nations by ethnicity only meant that nation-states were afflicted by new minority problems, which can be seen in other parts of the world like the Near East. Finally, the author concludes with a look at the consequences of European weakness and folly (13).
What would it take for Europe to revive in a form that is likely to please anyone? While it is possible that continued European weakness could lead to the search for scapegoats and the rise of right-wing groups, as happened during the interwar period, it is also possible that an insecure bureaucracy could lead to oppression through socialistic means by seeking to provide people with security in the face of an insecure world. Both fear and loss could trigger Europe to see a way out of its weakness through projecting more strength than it in fact possesses. It is hard to see a way that European cultures can become more dynamic without coming to terms with their own past and changing their values and indeed engaging in some sort of revival with ideas of progress and ultimate truth that are more than simply material in nature. The author, wisely, does not attempt to predict what will happen, given the difficulties of that task, but he does a good job at explaining what has happened to Europe to bring it to the point where it now is, and he reminds Americans that we are not that far behind if we continue to suffer from the same malaise that afflicts our left.