Back in 1973, in his novel, The Camp of the Saints, Jean Raspail described a dystopic future early in the 21st century in which European civilization would be crushed under the weight of a million desperately poor immigrants. Raspail was wrong about the source of the migration,(1) but he was right in his timing and very close to being right on the scale of the problem.

So where is the modern-day equivalent of The Camp of the Saints? Where are the European savants, arguing about whether their civilization is worth saving, and if so, why and how? In the face of 500,000 refugees, and two million more behind them in camps in Turkey, what conversation is going on in Europe, what are the great debates of today?

Today’s conversation revolves around three themes:

Economics. Some argue that given the rapidly aging populations in Western Europe and the virtual certainty that those populations will soon plunge, a large influx of migrants is exactly what the doctor ordered. After all, America is only growing because of large-scale immigration from Latin America and Asia, so why shouldn’t Europe grow from large-scale immigration from the Middle East and the Balkans? Others point out, however, that many of the European economies are already on life support. Even Germany, the so-called “engine of Europe,” is only growing at 1.5% per annum. The very last thing Europe needs, they argue, is more unemployed people looking for jobs.

Politics. Angela Merkel received global approbation when she insisted that Europe needed to welcome the refugees and see to their care and comfort (she was short-listed for the Nobel Peace Prize). This wasn’t, Merkel was suggesting, your grandfather’s Germany, this was the new warm and cuddly Germany. But Merkel quickly discovered that her policy was anathema to the poorer EU countries on the eastern fringe of the Continent (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia had to be outvoted by the rich west). She next discovered that the policy was also anathema to some members of her own party and, especially, to the Social Democrats who are part of her governing coalition. Finally, she discovered that being “soft” on immigration was merely playing into the hands of extreme political parties on both the left and right in Germany, France and elsewhere. Being a skilled politician, Merkel said one thing and did another. When the details of Germany’s “welcome mat” leaked out, it turned out that true “war refugees” (i.e., from Syria) would be allowed to remain in Germany, but probably only until matters settled down back in their own country. It also turned out that so-called “economic refugees” (i.e., from  Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania and Montenegro) would be sent packing.(2) Meanwhile, Mrs. Merkel’s poll numbers are plunging.(3)

National security. There are fears, probably not unfounded, that among the hundreds of thousands of genuine refugees there may lurk hundreds or even thousands of ISIS and Al Qaeda sympathizers whose only interest in coming to Europe is to commit acts of terrorism. It’s obviously impossible, especially on such a large scale, to distinguish honest migrants from criminal ones. Add this to the fact that the European security agencies can’t even keep up with their existing, already-in-country terrorists, and perhaps adding a great many more isn’t that sound an idea. The fact that hundreds of thousands of migrants have entered Europe essentially unchecked is either a charming example of the EU’s principle of free movement of people or outright madness.(4)

And that’s pretty much it. Unlike back in 1973, when Europeans debated Great Issues, today Europe is debating small issues. No one is suggesting that the mass migration needs to be halted because it threatens to overwhelm one of the great civilizations in the history of the race. Everyone is merely arguing about the more mundane, workaday issues presented by the migrants.

It’s possible, of course, that Europe simply doesn’t feel threatened – yet. Dealing with 500,000 poor and desperate people is at least barely manageable for now, although arguing about the commonplace issues described above hardly positions Europe to deal with a much larger onslaught that could arrive at its borders any day.

Thus the question arises: why – before it’s too late – isn’t Europe debating the same big issues it debated enthusiastically forty years ago? Here’s a clue. In 1973, there were still alive in Europe men and women who remembered the glories of their own civilization and who valued those glories more than they valued their own lives. They had grown up studying the great literature, poetry, art, music, philosophy, science and mathematics that, beginning with the Renaissance, had astonished the world. All these sages were born and came of age before World War II. The dramatist, Jean Anouilh, for example, who lavished praise on The Camp of the Saints, was born in 1910.

But Europe today is populated and led by people who came of age after World War II. Angela Merkel, for example, was born in 1954, almost ten years after the war ended. So was François Hollande. Mariano Rajoy of Spain was born in 1955. David Cameron was born in 1966 and Matteo Renzi of Italy was born, God help us, in 1975.

Why might this matter? We’ll take that issue up next Friday.

(1) In 1973 India probably seemed to Raspail – and many others – to be a hopeless basket case. In fact, the World’s Biggest Democracy got its act together and in the not too distant future will likely surpass China as the world’s second largest economy. Today’s basket cases are the Middle East and the Balkans. But who knows where they might be forty years hence.

(2) A similar society, Australia, has avoided the mass migration problem both because it is a relatively isolated island nation and because it routinely interdicts migrant vessels and imprisons any migrants on isolated Pacific islands.

(3) When I say “plunging,” I don’t mean plunging in the François Hollandian sense (say, 10% approval), but in the Angela Merkelian sense (plunging to 54% approval).

(4) In Norway, the state intelligence service belittled the extremist threat, suggesting that a bigger threat to domestic tranquility was a possible violent reaction from Norwegian far-right groups. Could be. Or could be Nordic political correctness interfering with rational thought.

Next up: The Camp of the Saints, Part 

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