Reflections on the Revolution in Europe

Christopher Caldwell’s Reflections on the Revolution in Europe is an ambitious analysis of the demographic transformation of Europe that has resulted from decades of immigration from the Islamic world. Caldwell’s treatise is modeled on Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). Burke’s great meditation on the French Revolution was published years before the Terror gave the upheaval in France the sinister face of the guillotine. His analysis was premised on a conviction that already, in the relatively peaceful days of 1790, steps had been taken in France that would bear bitter fruit. Arguing from first principles, Burke was convinced that the French Revolution would lead to social and political disaster, and he lived long enough to see the worst of his expectations fulfilled. His book remains a classic of conservative thought.

Caldwell’s book is similar to Burke’s in its seriousness, the high caliber of its argumentation, and its air of ruefully retrospective premonition. Caldwell argues that, as was true of the French Revolution by 1790, the rise of Islam in Europe constitutes an emergent and overpowering reality that promises to change the course of history. The full consequences of the massive Islamic migration to Europe are difficult to comprehend fully, but Caldwell doubts that they will be happy for Europeans. At the heart of Caldwell’s analysis is the conviction that, while Islam is a great religion and culture, it is not Europe’s religion and culture. The influx of Muslims is therefore changing the human topography of Europe, something that Europeans are just beginning to realize. Opinion polls have begun to register European discomfort with the results of this immigration. However, Caldwell argues that such concern has come too late. The facts on the ground have already been established, and an earlier Europe cannot be wished back into existence. As Caldwell sees it, all that is left is to ponder the meaning of the new revolution that has taken place in Europe.

Caldwell predicts that future historians may see World Wars I and II as representing the collective suicide of European civilization. In addition to the horrendous death and destruction inflicted by Europeans on one another in these wars, the conflicts brought a profound loss of confidence in the institutions and ideals that had shaped Europe. History seemed to have culminated and ended with the Nazi concentration camps such as Auschwitz. The robust sense of civilizational superiority that had led Europeans to build empires stretching around the world disappeared.

Caldwell writes that, after World War II, Europeans were determined to eradicate the nationalism and ethnic chauvinisms that had inspired so much bloodshed. Traditional appeals to patriotism no longer resonated. The European nations retreated from their empires with remarkable speed. Within a quarter century, most of their former colonies had become independent. At home, the goal of a European Union, transcending age-old borders and boundaries, steadily became a reality. The military shield erected by the United States during the Cold War allowed the Western European countries to build generous welfare states that provided cradle-to-grave benefits to their citizens. Europeans entered a comfortable period of prosperity and social security.

Caldwell asserts that at this time Europeans readily embraced a cultural relativism that refused to privilege any belief system over another. He sees this as the inevitable ethic of a civilization that had lost faith in the past and valued peace and accommodation in the present. Left out of consideration, in his estimation, was the future. Church attendance declined precipitously across Europe. The birthrate plummeted until, in most European countries at the turn of the twenty-first century, it was well below replacement levels. This decline in birthrates posed a fundamental threat to the long-term viability of the European project, as European society inexorably grayed. Still, had all other things been equal, Europeans might have met their demographic challenge with equanimity, hoping for relief from technology or medical advances. Life was pleasant in “posthistorical” Europe, but all other things were not equal. The growing vacuum in European society was filled by outsiders from the Islamic world.

Caldwell emphasizes that it was only the peculiar circumstances of postwar Europe, with its resolute relativism and determination to move beyond its racist and colonialist past, that made possible the immigration of millions of Muslims. Such an influx from developing nations would have been inconceivable in the past. As European governments rebuilt and expanded their industries after the war, they met perceived labor...

(The entire section is 1955 words.)