Monday, October 17, 2005

Tony Judt and the elephant in the living room

Tony Judt and the elephant in the living room
Fall has come to Washington. The leaves are falling after a hot summer, the squirrels in Rock Creek park make their preparations for the winter and the birds of passage are disappearing., The politicians have come back from their long summer holiday but nothing of overwhelming interest is happening in this field just now. There are some new books worth reading, one is Tony Judt”s Postwar-- a history of Europe since 1945. Judt, London born and educated, relocated to the United States and became famous when he suggested in an article that instead of Israel and the Palestinian authority there should be a binational state, an idea that did not strike everyone as brilliant or indeed practical.
Postwar is a huge book, it describes how bad, indeed desperate, the situation was as the second world war ended and how within a decade Europe recovered, how it became not only wealthier but more peaceful and civilized than ever before,..how if flowered culturally and how in the end the wall between west and east came down and Europe was reunited. It is a remarkable story and it is well told . Of course, like in almost every book, there are sections which are more competent or more profound than others, but as my old Latin teacher used to say In magnis voluisse sat est—in great endeavors it is enough to have wanted—and to write the history of Europe of the last sixty years is indeed a great endeavor.
Judt is on the whole very happy with the outcome . Europe as a social model is something for emulation for the whole world , its productivity is higher than America's ,its holidays longer, its values are universal, it is everything that America is not. Judt does not go quite as far as some recent authors who argued that the 21th century belongs to Europe but he comes pretty close to it. There are a few paragraphs of this book of 876 pages hinting at certain unresolved problems and difficulties but by and large this is a huge success story.
And yet, as the reader reaches the last pages he has the distinct feeling, there is something very essential missing in this book. Mr. Anatole Kaletsky, a leading contributor to the London Times said last week in an article that the nations of Europe are on the road to economic decline, political paralysis and global irrelevance. And the question arises whether Messrs Judt and Kaletsky are writing about the same continent.
The brief answer is that Judt's story about Europe's amazing recovery after world war two is quite correct. But he manages to ignore the elephant in the living room—every one knows about it but it is thought ill advised to draw attention to his presence. In other words, he does not mention that more recently the story of Europe has been one of economic stagnation and even decline and of lack of political will. He manages to ignore something which half an hours walk through the inner part of any major European city (or many of its suburbs) would have shown him, that the demographic constitution of Europe has radically changed and will change even more.--- the Europe he writes about no longer exists.
He says many times that Europe has become more cosmopolitan, but he does not mention that multiculturalism, how to put it cautiously?, has been less than a full success. He does not consider that the future of the European social model is in danger, and that the common European values are not perhaps as widely shared as they used to be. How much of Europe will there be left within a generation or two and what will it be like? The historian is not a prophet but nor can he afford to be oblivious of trends which are as obvious as the elephant in the living room.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Dennis Ram said...

"The historian is not a prophet but nor can he afford to be oblivious of trends which are as obvious as the elephant in the living room."
Off course it is good to be critical, but I think the metaphor is not correct. By lack of a better analogy: The living room is the elephant.
Tony Judt is looking in the living room at the nice furniture and Anatole Kaletsky is looking at the old foundation of living room and her new inhabitants. That is why Tony Judt and Anatole Kaletsky have different perspectives en conclusions.
It is the structure of the living room, which is leading to the economical and cultural stagnation of Europe or perhaps even better, the downfall of Western Europe.
If one thing has been proven the last 60 years in Europe is that cultural identity can’t be ignored. And if we want to succeed in Europe every country needs its own cultural identity, which had to be the leading culture in that society. The biggest factor or dilemma is our fear of racism, fascism and National Socialism, which was well founded and our cultural and universal values.
Multiculturalism and the welfare state, is leading Europe, how can I put this incautiously, to an economical and cultural apartheid with a big lower class from Arabic and African origin without hope, exactly the opposite result of the intentions of multiculturalism in the first place.
The lack of cultural integration, which is never the case in a multicultural society, is a big structural problem for Europe.
The only hope is that Europe becomes cultural more resistant to change and economical more dynamic to reduce the size of the lower class.
The similarity between the left wing liberals and the conservatives is, that they are both “fighting” against external influence of Europe. The liberals are fighting against the influence of foreign power America and the conservatives fighting against the foreign power of the old Islam. Europe has become unstable, because we are ignoring the biggest dilemma in Europe, how to be proud of our own values and customs without disrespecting other foreign cultures or feel threatened by those cultures, which have be humanized and integrated in the European tradition of universal values. Because we are an open and free society,because we are The Free West.

4:42 PM  

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