The Problem of European Guilt

France has understandably encountered a shake-up in its international outlook following the terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13th. A quick note on the European global legacy may be appropriate here.

Europe, the cradle of Western civilization, has prospered much by the political and economic ideas and systems that its history has borne. This has undoubtedly given it — and its former colonial counterparts, such as the United States, Canada, and Australia — both great power and great responsibility. Time and time again, the eyes of the world are upon it.

Two nations reliably at center stage are the United Kingdom and Germany, the long-run familial history of which is wonderfully detailed in Miranda Seymour’s 2013 book Noble Endeavours. It is a legendary relationship that, although bound by centuries of marriage and shared blood, did not prevent the two from taking opposing sides of both World Wars.

Incidentally, Germany and the UK differ on current refugee policy as well,  with notable regard to the crisis in Syria. On the one hand, Germany expects to take in over one million asylum-seekers this year alone. The British government, on the other hand, stated that by the year 2020 it will accept 20,000. (The US has committed to only 10,000.)

To the typical humanitarian, Germany is the shining example here. But for those who value culture — wherever it stands unique — there’s no denying that Europe may never be the same.

When asked about the coming transition and possible threats posed by opening the floodgates of Syrian refugees, among whom ISIS has promised to embed extremists, German Chancellor Angela Merkel replied:

“Sure, one has to prepare against the terrorist danger, but let us all also not forget just how rich European history is of dramatic and gruesome conflict and war. We should be really careful when we complain if somewhere else something bad is happening. Sure, we have to stand up against that, but we have absolutely no ground to stand on, to show haughty arrogance towards others, and I have to say that as the Chancellor of Germany.”

The not-so-subtle appeal to German guilt over Nazi atrocities was quickly noted. But whether one agrees with Merkel’s open-door policy or not, her point was illogical; the act of hypocrisy (supposing “European history” itself can be condemned of such) does not necessarily make the hypocrite wrong — especially if the main concern is preventing great atrocities in the future. And caught between apologetic politicians and rabid right-wing nationalists, the respect and preservation of German culture will probably not receive a fair shake in this generation.

In the case of the United Kingdom, there is little to fear of foreigners scrubbing out its national identity, because much of this has been done on its own. Perhaps owing to guilt for not the Holocaust but rather centuries of colonialism (“the sun never sets on the British Empire”), and just being thought too stodgy in general, our friend across the pond seems to suffer intensely the mindset that it owes the rest of the world — if not the EU — a severe penitence, despite all the good it has done otherwise.

Indeed, the particular haste of Britain’s fall from its world-renowned civility and prestige has been a strange observance to many on the outside. One can sample it simply by tuning in to the irreverent conduct of America’s favorite token British comedian, John Oliver; or the embarrassing rhetoric sustained on the BBC’s discussion show “The Big Questions” regarding whether (for example) society needs even more feminism, interracial adoption is racist, and free speech excludes the right to offend.

Perhaps the seeds of this dismal process were sown during Britain’s extended rendezvous with hard-left socialism in the 1970s, mere decades after voting its greatest hero, Winston Churchill, out of its leading office as immediate thanks for helping win World War II. Perhaps the UK, like Germany, is a nation not fully prepared for what the “Third World” may bring today — but it’s doubtful that, in spite of its policies, it has any real say in the matter.

The fundamental problem with Europe being the refugee center of the world is this: it is “the Old World” and “the home country” to many citizens of the West, and its intricacies, whether good or bad, are unique products of unique origins. They are not something we wish to lose.

If it may be said, the role of “melting pot” is far more suited to the United States, a young and populous country with no definite “culture” beyond its history as an immigrant power and, most importantly, the rights and duties impressed by its Constitution. The steadfastness of the latter tempers the extremities of the former, and a united people emerges, regardless of race, sex, color, or creed. America was, in other words, born for this.

Now, what will become of our family?

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