Those who hold the fate of Europe in their hands speak with the voice of Voltaire’s Dr. Pangloss, insisting that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Look here, Lithuania has just scrapped its currency in favor of the euro, that token of togetherness: a rare instance of people in a lifeboat scrambling to board the sinking ship. Outside observers like Mark Steyn, Christopher Caldwell, or Bruce Bawer have long since analyzed the slow-motion catastrophe which appears to be the continent’s goal, but Europeans who share this view are—how to put it?—unpopular, sidelined, ostracized, virtually certain to be exposing themselves to fanciful accusations of racism, Islamophobia, and the general derangement of their senses.

Thilo Sarrazin and Eric Zemmour have broken ranks in their countries, respectively Germany and France, through the tried and tested expedient of publishing their opinions regardless. Deutschland schafft sich ab, the title of Sarrazin’s book, might be translated as “Germany is deconstructing itself.” Since coming out in 2010, it has sold something in the order of two million copies. Published in 2014, Zemmour’s Le Suicide français already has sales of half a million. The copy I bought was one in an impressive pile in the bookshop of a provincial town in the Pas de Calais with a population of 2,000.

Born in the final shattering months of World War II, Thilo Sarrazin might well serve as a standing representative of the German public figures who have brought about their country’s peace and prosperity, with a claim on posterity for reuniting a divided Germany and helping to close the Cold War free from crisis. In the course of a virtuous career, he has been an economist, a civil servant, finance director of the city of Berlin, a Socialist politician, and on the board of the German national railroad. As might be expected, the tone of his book is neutral. Plenty of statistics and graphs substantiate themes that are familiar but critical. The birth rate is so low that the population of Germany is declining dramatically. Declining educational standards no longer provide the inventiveness and skills on which the German economy depends for selling products abroad.

Halfway through, Sarrazin comes to the point. In the post-war years Germany was the first country in Europe to recruit foreign labor, for the most part Turks and then Moroccans. In time these euphemistically described guest-workers acquired rights that put them on an equal footing with Germans. In concept and then in realization, this policy has been, in Sarrazin’s words, “a gigantic mistake.” The costs of Muslim immigration, he states outright, are far higher than any potential benefit. A census taken in 2007 gives the figure of 15.4 million with an immigrant background, or approximately a fifth of the population. A third of the children starting the school year in Berlin have origins other than German. “In the final analysis,” he concludes, “we are allowing our culture, civilization and national character to go in a direction we do not want. It will take only a few generations before we become a minority in our own land.”

Eric Zemmour is a journalist for whom provocation is a career choice. Le Suicide français hits its targets as energetically and indiscriminately as it misses them. Generalizations often rest on nothing much more than sprightliness. For effect, he goes in for sequential sentences of one word each, or just three or four words without a main verb. Zemmour’s hero is General de Gaulle, and he holds that nothing has gone right since that great man’s death. The adjective “American” in the vocabulary of this ersatz Gaullist is not a compliment. He resents that the unfavorable portrait drawn by the American historian Robert Paxton of Marshal Pétain’s wartime regime at Vichy is now generally accepted. In common with General de Gaulle, he thinks, Pétain wanted to finish up on the winning side and his only mistake was to pick the loser.

The quasi-uprising of May 1968 might have been a new beginning but instead proved a dead end. In every field involving the national interest, from politics and industry to filmmaking and pop music, those in charge have been self-promoting amateurs habitually acting in bad faith. One of his more sweeping statements is that political correctness and the legacy of the French Revolution have put such a clamp on freedom of speech that criticism isn’t possible.

The divide between this elite and the people, in Zemmour’s view, has destroyed France’s historic purpose, its culture, and standing in the world. Germany is by far the most powerful nation on the continent, and fear of what it might do has impelled the French elite to make common cause with them in the European Union. These same decision-makers have simultaneously consented to a mass immigration that is already putting in place a very different national identity. Censuses are unreliable, but the Arab minority amounts more or less to one in ten of the population, and the number is increasing. These strangers, as Zemmour calls them, first take over whole districts, and then towns and finally they will have departments. Himself Algerian-Jewish, he is accusing Arab immigrants of reversing in their favor the process of assimilation that made him French.

At least a thousand French Muslims have gone on jihad in the Middle East. On New Year’s Eve, the torching of 1,067 cars and trucks across France was treated as an expression of Muslim discontent that by now is almost traditional. The stakes were then raised by three days of unrelieved terror in or near Paris. In separate instances, gunmen shouting the Islamist war cry of “Allahu akhbar” shot and killed ten journalists on the staff of a publication that they held disrespectful of the Prophet Muhammad, as well as several policemen and hostages, before they were themselves shot by the police. Huge commemorative marches afterwards conveyed a sense of national tearfulness. In several major German cities, a movement with the slogan “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West,” or PEGIDA in its German acronym, has also been mounting large spontaneous demonstrations. It’s pure Pangloss that the German establishment is able to dismiss these people as “Nazis with pinstripes.”

The novelist Anthony Powell once had the insight that the indispensable element of a best-seller is self-pity. That may well explain why these two books are the publishing phenomenon of the moment. Sarrazin and Zemmour have both found words that encourage the European masses in their hundreds of thousands to feel sorry for themselves. Resenting the way that their nation-states and corresponding identities have been condemned to die the death without first making sure of their consent, they also have no choice but to tolerate people who may or may not tolerate them. And nobody has any idea how or when, or in what form, reality will catch up.

This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 33 Number 6, on page 58
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