Book Reviews

31 maio, 2007

109) Walter Laqueur sobre o declinio da Europa

Continental Drift
Europe shows signs of life, but Walter Laqueur argues that it's still dying.
The Wall Street journal, Thursday, May 31, 2007

on Walter Laqueur's: The Last Days of Europe

If you've heard the celebratory noises coming out of European capitals of late, you could be forgiven for thinking that, as with Mark Twain's prematurely recorded demise, reports of Europe's death may have been greatly exaggerated. For a continent in the supposed grip of demographic implosion, economic stagnation, political paralysis and existential anomie, the news has been oddly cheerful recently.

In the past year, the rate of economic growth in the eurozone has actually overtaken that of the U.S. The market capitalization of companies quoted on European stock exchanges has surpassed American corporate worth for the first time ever. London has edged ahead of New York in most categories as global financial capital. The euro, closely watched in Europe as a barometer of continental self-respect, is close to its highest level ever against the dollar.

Even Europe's infamous political stasis may be giving way to a hint of dynamism. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition government has defied the odds and pulled off small but important economic reforms. In Nicolas Sarkozy, the French have elected a man so committed to recasting the country's economy that he is widely viewed among the liberal elites as a dangerous radical.

All this could not have come at a more opportune moment. The European Union's leaders are in the midst of lengthy celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the European Communities. At the same time, the gloom that enveloped the EU after the French and Dutch rejected its beloved constitutional treaty two years ago has been replaced by a restrained optimism that the show might just be put back on the road this summer.

Is it possible, then, that the writers who have spent the past few years predicting Europe's collapse could be wrong? The short answer is: no. Even a corpse has been known to twitch once or twice before the rigor mortis sets in. The longer answer is provided by Walter Laqueur in "The Last Days of Europe," one of the more persuasive in a long line of volumes by authors on both sides of the Atlantic chronicling Europe's decline and foretelling its collapse.

Unlike the Euro-bashing polemics of a few of those authors, Mr. Laqueur's short book is measured, even sympathetic. It is mercifully free of references to cheese-eating surrender monkeys and misplaced historical analogies to appeasement. The tone is one of resigned dismay rather than grave-stomping glee. This temperate quality makes the book's theme--that Europe now faces potentially mortal challenges--all the more compelling.

The demographic problem is by now so familiar that it hardly bears restating. Mr. Laqueur notes that the average European family had five children in the 19th century; today it has fewer than two, a trend that will shrink the continent's population in the next century on a scale unprecedented in modern history.

The failure of Europeans to reproduce makes it vulnerable to internal schism. Too often Europe has reacted to the growing threat posed by extremists among its minorities with a tolerance and self-criticism that has bordered on capitulation. Meanwhile, social tensions increase, not least because of high emigration to Europe from Muslim countries and high birth rates among Muslim populations. No one has yet found a good way of integrating those populations into mainstream European society.

Even as the challenge from fanatical Islam has intensified, at home and abroad, Europeans have found new ways to abase themselves before it. Two years ago it was the Danish cartoons affair, in which too few politicians and opinion leaders defended the rights of the Danish newspaper that published them; last year it was the collective European cringe in the wake of the pope's mildly assertive remarks about the disconnect between Islam and reason; this year it has been the embarrassing spectacle of humiliated British servicemen fawning in front of their Iranian captors.

In the economic field, Europe is celebrating a growth rate of 2.5% annually; in the U.S. a similar pace is regarded as a crisis. Meanwhile unemployment remains brutally high and productivity stagnant. Mr. Laqueur notes that Europeans sometimes embrace their economic sluggishness as part of their "soft power" appeal: all those 35-hour weeks, long vacations and generous social benefits. But the long-term cost of their welfare states--and their confiscatory tax rates--may eventually make such luxuries unaffordable.

Mr. Laqueur ponders whether Europe will really surrender to these adverse trends or finally resist. He is not optimistic. Perhaps Europeans will find ways to bolster their birth rates. Perhaps they will stiffen in the face of an escalating terrorist threat. Perhaps Muslims will assimilate better into Europe's democratic and tolerant societies. Perhaps the pro-American sensibilities and the pro-growth nimbleness of Eastern European countries will drive the rest of the Continent out of the ditch of stagnation and pacifism. Perhaps.

But then again, as Mr. Laqueur observes, museums are filled with the remnants of vanished civilizations. Abroad, the U.S. has long surpassed Europe in power, influence and economic dynamism; Asia may do so before long. At home, a profound demoralization has set in, induced in part by the continent's ruinous past century.

It was a century in which unimaginable violence sapped the regenerative energies of a wearied people; in which the seductive falsehoods of twin totalitarian ideologies undermined moral self-confidence; in which a flaccid relativism replaced the firm ethical boundaries of religious belief. It was also a century, we now see, in which the luxuries of rapid economic growth produced a false sense of security that cannot be sustained in a global age.

Not dead yet, maybe. But even Mark Twain succumbed eventually to the obituary writers.

Mr. Baker is U.S. editor and an assistant editor of the Times of London. You can buy "The Last Days of Europe" from the OpinionJournal bookstore.


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