Civilizational ennui

June 3, 2006 | 5 comments

Mark Steyn on atheist Europe:

As [Henri] de Lubac wrote, “It is not true, as is sometimes said, that man cannot organize the world without God. What is true is that, without God, he can only organize it against man.”

Which is why there are no examples of sustained atheist civilizations. “Atheistic humanism” became inhumanism in the hands of the Fascists and Communists and, in its more benign form in today’s European Union, a kind of dehumanism. Last year The New York Times ran a column by the eminent Princeton economist Paul Krugman. The headline was “French Family Values, ” and the thesis was that, while parochial American conservatives drone on about “family values, ” the Europeans live it, enacting policies that are more “family friendly.” On the Continent, claimed Professor Krugman, “government regulations actually allow people to make a desirable tradeoff–to modestly lower income in return for more time with friends and family.”

How can an economist make that case without noticing that the upshot of all these “family friendly” policies is that nobody has any families? Isn’t the first test of a “family friendly” regime its impact on families? On present demographic trends, by 2050 60% of Italians will have no brother, no sister, no aunt, no uncle, no cousins. The last surviving big bountiful Italian mamma will have no one to dole out the pasta to. “Funiculi, funicular, funic yourself, ” as Noel Coward remarked in another context.

As for that “desirable tradeoff” and all the extra time, what happened? Continentals work fewer hours than Americans, they don’t have to pay for their own health care, they don’t go to church and they don’t contribute to other civic groups, they don’t marry and they don’t have kids to take to school and basketball and the 4-H stand at the county fair.

So what do they do with all the time? Where’s the great European art? Where are Europe’s men of science? A present tense culture amuses itself to extinction. Post-Christian European culture is already post-cultural and, with the present surging Muslim populations, it will soon be post-European. An entire continent is expiring from civilizational ennui.

I don’t know whether a society can recover its faith, or even recover the lip service to faith of, say, social Anglicanism. But it should at minimum be able to end its disdain for the public expression of faith. Separation of church and state is one thing, but the modern social democratic West’s belief in the state-as-church has been a disaster.


  1. knit_tgz

    I will try to answer you. On Monday. As an European. As a believer. As a frustrated single believer who wishes she could already have a family. And who is confused a lot of times.

  2. Jennifer F.

    knit_tgz – I really look forward to hearing your thoughts.

  3. knit_tgz

    Here I am. Not Monday, but still here I am.

    In fact, that’s true, our laws are more family-friendly, as far as I know, than American laws. There is a longer maternity leave, and a paternity leave in some countries as well, there are paid holidays, there’s a lot of social benefits you can receive to help your family.

    [Warning: sweeping generalizations ahead. I tried to argue my point without detailing about exceptions, which should be accounted for, of course. We would be already dead were it not for the exceptions].

    Still, we Europeans seem to have decided to extinguish ourselves. Why? Because of selfishness, that’s the only reason I can imagine.

    I don’t believe this is happening because of the “family-friendly” policies, as the author of the article seems to imply, but in spite of them. I believe this is happening because of our general cosmovision. We are no longer faithfully religious, we are no longer fiercely atheist. We have become the worse we could be: lukewarm. We, Europeans, are lukewarm. We despise the notion of sacrificing ourselves to get a higher result. Our children, our fewer and fewer children, are well-fed, well-dressed and have better schools than I and my friends had (and I’m not THAT old), and they’re worse students, more problematic ones, more violent ones.

    What’s the difference? The difference is in the parents. My parents, and all the parents in my generation, whether believers or communists or whatever, they had a common point: people need to make sacrifices to achieve greatness. Children need guidance and authority. Nowadays, parents are called to school to know their kid bit the teacher, and they say “the kid must have had his reasons”. Children are seen as fragile porcelain dolls, instead of human beings in growing. They must not receive any form of punishment, for fear they become traumatized. So, teachers can no longer make children understand that every action has consequences, every choice has consequences.

    This has been the result of several things, in my humble opinion. On no particular order, I can think of: 1) the media, who in the recent years started focusing a lot in the whining persons and less on the ones who truly suffer injustice, and who have made taboo the mere mention of sacrifice, honour, bettering ourselves, responsability and consequences; 2) the general disillusionment of the population, who no longer believes in anything (nor religion, nor atheism, nor ideologies); 3) the specific generation of the parents of our present children (persons 5-10 years my elders, as over here we start having children on our 30s, alas!), who, for some reason I cannot understand, behave as spoiled brats instead of as responsible parents. I am not exaggerating; 4) the education reforms. I know several teachers who have always loved teaching and they all say that when the reforms were made (which, in my country, made very difficult to have a child fail a subject or be suspended for bad behaviour at school), children started behaving worse, and parents started to come complain for their lower grades, even though the kids were obviously not studying nor doing their homework.

    A society that makes children believe they are inimputable, that whatever they do, right or wrong, they will not be held responsible, nor will their parents, is a society that raises spoiled brats who demand unreasonable things from everyone. Spoiled brats who make the disillusioned young adults from my generation think twice before having children. Because it is politically incorrect to think about punishing a child (I’m not talking about beating, mind you!), to say that a child who doesn’t study should fail the year, to say that kids need to learn obedience, responsability, sacrifice.

    A close friend of mine once commented, while we were talking about this matter, that nowadays the only context in which we can talk of sacrifice to better oneself, of punishment for the ones who don’t behave well, of responsability, is the context of football (soccer). Unfortunately, it is mostly true. Maybe that’s why people still care so much for it.

    People no longer trust the ideologies to free them. They saw politicians of every kind of ideology go to power and use the power to care for themselves. People no longer fiercely adhere to a religion or to atheism.

    The problem is not in our family laws. Our family laws are good. The problem is everywhere else. In our media, in our p.c. language, in the present parent generation who don’t want to be held accountable to their responsabilities, so they don’t hold their children accountable to their responsabilities too.

    [End of sweeping generalizations].

    Of course there are still lots of good parents. Of course there are still people who believe in effort, in merit, in working hard, and teach these values to their children. Still, while all the “opinion makers” (media commenters, soap operas, serials) keep saying that children are a hindrance to one’s future, something that you should avoid until you are well-settled to “take the blow” of having kids, instead of being an asset, a guarantee of a future generation, and also a motivation to work hard, it’s no use that the governments try to make people want to have more children. A lot of people have been convinced that children are something to be avoided.

    This is a hard issue for me. Since my teen years I know I want to be a mother. Of several children. At least four, though I would really want to have six kids. I am still single, and I know time is not on my side. I am almost 30. I have prayed over this a lot of times, and some times got angry with God because we, over here in Europe, are dying without children*, and I would love to have children, and would try to love them and teach them to be noble, upright, hard-working, thinking persons who have a conscience of right and wrong. And I don’t have the chance to try. And I feel sad that no couple I know wants to have more than one or two kids.

    * many of the ones who are born, unfortunately, due to the politics of “if the immigrants don’t want to integrate themselves, it’s OK”, will be educated in fundamentalist Muslim views and closed from the rest of society. I know I am not being P.C., but when the 2nd generation cannot speak well the tongue of the country they live in and do not wish to mix with no-one else, and seem to hate the country where they were born, we have a problem.

    (This issue makes me sad).

  4. Ecclesia Militans

    When women begin to dress immodestly, and men to make fun of religion, it is the beginning of the end.

    — Seneca

  5. PhilosopherKing

    Our own evil inclinations are far more dangerous than any external enemies.

    — St Ambrose

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