BOOK REVIEW: The Strange Death of Europe by Douglas Murray

There was once a man who predicted that the continent of Europe would die a strange death in the two centuries following his time. He beheld the looming storm clouds of nihilism on the horizon, an inevitable consequence of a gruesome act- the death of God at the hands of men enamoured by reason and progress. This act, he proclaimed, would lead to the highest values such as truth being devalued, the loss of all meaning, and the collapse of the very concept of morality. Thanks to this seminal event, all of European culture was moving as toward a catastrophe; a catastrophe that would come to fruition in the form of wars “the like of which have never been seen on earth before,” (Ecce Homo, 126-127).

Friedrich Nietzsche was right. The age of reason and progress that reached its zenith in the nineteenth century was merely an evanescent forerunner to the violence and moral and cultural decadence of the twentieth. Advancements and discoveries in science and technology did nothing to halt the blood that flowed on the battlefields or stifle the absurd nihilistic philosophies being concocted in France’s Café de Flore. Thanks to its jettisoning of the values that brought it so far, Europe had managed to sound its own death knell.

Yet, she managed to stay alive. She managed to stay alive because even though she had rejected the Judeo-Christian worldview on the outside, she continued to leech from it those parts she found attractive, all the while pretending like these were derived from a source based in ‘pure reason and logic’. And so she survived.

Two hundred years later, though, another man tells us that she won’t survive for long.

“Europe is committing suicide,” Douglas Murray writes in The Strange Death of Europe, “Or at least its leaders have decided to commit suicide. Whether the European people choose to go along with this is, naturally, another matter.” (1)

The Nietzsche/Murray parallels are quite uncanny. Both are atheists, yet both understand the important role that Christianity has played in shaping the Western World. They both write accounts that predict the ‘strange’ death of Europe at the hands of its self-loathing inhabitants, yet the angst reflected in their writings lets you know that they’re desperately hoping that their prophecies fail to come true. Their solutions couldn’t be any more different, with Nietzsche’s outlandish ideas of developing a new breed of men vis-à-vis Murray’s more realistic ‘what should’ve been done but wasn’t done and so possibly can’t be done.’ Perhaps the one major difference I see between the two is that Nietzsche predicted that Europe would die as a result of the death of religion at the hands of reason (a clear reference to the Enlightenment), while Murray predicts that the death of Europe will be a result of the jettisoning of both religion and the Enlightenment ‘values’ that allegedly replaced it.

Let’s put aside the ominous parallels for now, and focus on what we’re here to do (or what I’m here to do and you’re here to read). Let’s take a good look at Douglas Murray’s latest book The Strange Death of Europe and find out what we can take away from it.

The Overview

Allow me to do away with general commendations at the outset before proceeding to a more clinical examination of some of Murray’s deeper themes. The book as a whole is an incisive polemic against the current political elite of Europe and their lackeys in the media, who have put the culture that their fathers so painstakingly built into an irreparable nosedive, solely for the sake of appearing to be compassionate and quelling their pent-up guilt. Murray masterfully constructs an almost-Nietzschean genealogy (ugh, the parallels again) of the current European crisis, tracing it from its benign forms in its earliest days to the virulent and unstoppable forms today. Outside of detailed historical analysis, Murray also writes from his own experiences visiting various cities and speaking to all sorts of people, from German MPs to helpless refugees in camps, his journalistic chops on full display.  The book received critical acclaim from many on both sides of the political aisle for its powerful rhetoric, clarity, and sheer fearlessness in  calling out and launching a devastating attack on the powers that be.

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the specific contents of the book itself. Given the vast range of topics discussed in the book, I will not be able to review everything; nonetheless, I have selected a few themes that I consider more important than others, and perhaps of slightly more relevance to this blog and the topics generally discussed on it. For an unadulterated taste of what truly is a masterpiece, you will have to buy the book for yourself.

The Causes

Murray begins by pointing out that one cannot put one’s finger down on something specific as the cause of Europe’s strange death. Yet one cannot also say that “the culture produced by the tributaries of Judaeo-Christian culture, the Ancient Greeks and Romans, and the discoveries of the Enlightenment” has “been leveled by nothing,” (2). Thus, he delineates two major causes of Europe’s recent accelerated slide towards its own demise, examining them through the rest of the book.

The first, he says, is the unrestrained flow of immigrants into Europe; immigrants who wish to be treated as fellow Europeans but refuse to integrate into the European culture and continue to hold onto their native practices, no matter how barbaric those practices might be. The second is Europe’s loss of faith in its own “beliefs, traditions, and legitimacy” (2). The primary trigger for this is the guilt she is filled with and the self-abasement she engages in for the ‘sins’ of its past. These factors combined ensure a piece-by-piece removal of European culture, which is almost immediately replaced by the culture of those who come in. Murray compares this to the legendary ship of Theseus, except that the pieces that are being put in look nothing like the ones that were taken out, leaving no doubt that she isn’t the ship that she used to be.

While I would not lay all the blame on these two causes (I, for one, think that theological liberalism combined with the rise of certain pernicious philosophies also played an important role in the continent’s intellectual decline), it is unquestionably true that they did play a massive part in Europe’s downfall, at least in the past decade or so. The second cause paved the way for the first to thrive, and the increase in the potency of the first caused the second to become more potent as well. In her desperation to to atone for her ‘sins’, Europe has opened her arms so wide, not realizing that she will strangle herself when she finally begins to close them.

The Origins

Murray begins the narrative that lasts through the whole book with the origination of the causes of Europe’s suicide.

Faced with a shortage of labour at the end of World War II, European nations formulated a temporary ‘guest-workers’ scheme, where workers would be brought over from various nations, mostly their former colonies. These guest-workers, however, did not go back home after their work was done; instead, they brought their families in and made Europe their home. Even after the need for guest-workers had died out, the influx of immigrants continued, with the numbers growing exponentially as the years went by. And most of these immigrants never opted to integrate to Western culture.

Noticing the large disparities that were brought about by these influxes over the years, the European public began to feel uneasy about the amount of immigration taking place. Yet this apprehension was shared by neither their political leaders nor the media; as a matter of fact, any political leader or media personality who shared the opinion of the public about restricting mass immigration was immediately labelled a bigot or a racist.  This ends up becoming a theme that punctuates the rest of the book- the public thinks one thing, the politicians and the media think another. And as we shall see, it leads to some very serious problems.

The Excuses

Murray then spends some time examining an important objection that was brought up and continues to be brought up in the immigration debate today. Most of the countries in Europe, they say, are countries of immigrants; that is, most of those we refer to as ‘native Europeans’ do not share their ancestry with those who originally belong to the countries they live in.

Murray begins by pointing out that Europe hasn’t had the same levels of immigration that other nations like the United States has had. Furthermore, none of the immigration that has occurred in the past is comparable to the quantity (the large numbers), quality (cultures that are absolutely foreign and impossible to integrate with European culture), and the consistency of the current state of immigration. Past immigration never posed challenges of the scale that the current state of immigration does.

Murray then moves on to to various justifications that European leaders and their acolytes in the media give to defend their refusal to place any restrictions on immigration. In each case, the justifications are given post-hoc in an attempt to make the problems caused by immigration seem inevitable.

The first excuse given is that the influx of immigrants and the cultural shift that follows leads to economic benefits for the countries that they settle in. This is far from true, as Murray points out. Instead, it is the case that many of these new immigrants largely depend on the welfare system that other Europeans pay into; they also lead to shortages in employment opportunities and school places.  Despite several ‘studies’ used to provide intellectual buoyancy to the left’s political agenda that claim to prove otherwise, mass immigration has been shown to do nothing to benefit a country economically.

The second excuse given is that Europe has an aging population, hence a mass movement of immigrants is necessary to ensure that the population levels do not drop. Murray acknowledges that it is true that Europe has an aging population, but not before pointing out that the left had been advocating for population control right until the migrant crisis became an issue. Nonetheless, this excuse is a fallacy because it is based on several false assumptions. Firstly, it assumes that it is good for a country’s population to continue rising, when it should in fact consider the population density of that nation prior to making that assumption. Secondly, it fails to ask the more important question of why people aren’t sufficiently reproducing in their own countries and why the government isn’t encouraging procreation. There are many such possible solutions to this issue, other than the “needlessly complex answer” of bringing in a large number of migrants to somehow make the overall population younger (49).

The most popular excuse given is that mass immigration makes society more diverse, and diversity, being a virtue, must be encouraged; after all, who will bring over the exotic languages and exquisite cuisines if there is no mass immigration? Murray, however, argues that this argument is also fallacious for multiple reasons. For one, who said that the best way to experience the ‘world’ is to make the world come to you rather than travelling around the world? Secondly, even if you want to experience someone else’s culture, it does not follow that you need to bring in as many of them as you can to fully experience that culture. Most of the immigrants coming en masse care little about diversity, whether cultural or social; they actively attempt to change the culture of their new home country to conform with the one of the country they just left.

The final excuse involves the claim that mass immigration shouldn’t be restricted because it can’t be restricted. Murray believes that this reasoning is also fallacious; many other countries that are economically successful rarely attract migrants in these numbers. Europe has made itself an attractive destination to the sorts of migrants it attracts, thanks to things like the easily available welfare system, and that isn’t something that cannot be controlled.

The fact of the matter is that the politicians who made it so easy for the migrants to enter wrongly assumed that they would automatically integrate. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t, and so to save face, they had to come up with these excuses.

The Experiences

Murray doesn’t just give second-hand historical accounts of the aftereffects of the current migrant crisis. He spends a significant part of the book describing his journalistic experiences in various parts of the world that are affected by the crisis, including Lampedusa in Italy, an arrival point for thousands of North African migrants every day, and Lesbos in Greece, a similar entry point for those from the Middle East and Africa. The scenes he records are those of utter chaos and confusion, with everything from overpopulated refugee camps to bloody fights and riots among the migrants themselves. In the middle of all this, Murray spends a significant amount of time interacting with the refugees themselves, asking them about their backgrounds and listening to stories about the horrifying places they came from and the things they had to do to get to Europe.

What is most interesting (and admirable) about these sections of the book is the compassion and empathy that Murray shows for the refugees themselves. His willingness to listen to them shows that he doesn’t blame them for wanting to move to greener pastures, no matter what the after-effects of that movement are; his beef is with the political leaders who have turned a blind eye to these after-effects and do nothing to either restrict immigration or actively encourage integration. It also puts Murray’s human side on display, showing that he is not merely an angry polemicist with an agenda, but a man who sees both sides of the issue and has given careful thought as to which side he wants to be on.

The Clash of Cultures/The Backlash

As has been mentioned, the mass movement of foreigners into Europe has led to an incongruence between the actions of the politicians and the opinion of the public. Murray dedicates a set of chapters to discussing this phenomenon.

He begins to talk about the notion of multiculturalism, which, once encouraged as a uniting force, has now turned into the greatest divider of people. Aggravated by the fact that the immigrants who came in were not at all on board with the idea of tolerating any culture other than their own (which mostly turns out to be radical Islamism), multiculturalism came at the cost of massive cultural shifts. The host countries were now expected to bend to the whims of the immigrants, criticisms of even the worst aspects of their culture like female genital mutilation and honour killings was considered taboo, and history itself was being rewritten in an attempt to whitewash the cultures that European residents had begun to realize was pernicious to them.

As the numbers coming in grew (with Germany reaching up to 1.5 million migrants in a year), the attitude towards dissidents continued to increase. All who spoke out against the Islamization of Europe were accused of racism and bigotry by their own governments, and were often slaughtered by the Islamists themselves. Victims included the homosexual leftist professor Pim Fortuyn, filmmaker Theo van Gogh, and employees of the Charlie Hebdo newspaper. Other dissidents like Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Michel Huellebecq, and Maajid Nawaz continue to live with numerous threats and fatwas against them for speaking out against Islamism into the deaf ears of their political leaders.

This indifference on the part of the governments managed to stir a massive anti-immigrant sentiment among the public, leading to a rise in popularity for far-right organizations and political parties. This only political polarization only added fuel to the racial tensions blazing across the continent.

The Emotions

Given that we’ve discovered the ‘reasons’ given by European leaders to be no more than fallacious post-hoc justifications for the immigration debacle at their hands, Murray begins to postulate what the real reasons for their laxness towards mass immigration might be. He puts his finger on two such reasons.

The first is what he calls a “unique, abiding, and perhaps fatal sense of, and obsession with guilt,” (158). Citing the cases of countries like Germany (involved in the Holocaust), Britain (involved in colonization), and Australia (involved in displacement of indigenous peoples), Murray argues that there is a deep sense of guilt among the political leaders of these countries that they then act out by allowing their policies to be as malleable as possible to the needs of outsiders. This can result in everything from a ‘National Sorry Day’ (which is a real thing in Australia), to ‘No Borders’ groups funded by people like George Soros, to the actual cover up of serial rapes, stabbings, bombings, shootings, vehicular attacks, etc. by the government in an alleged attempt to combat racism. In short, the government is willing to compromise on the safety of their own citizens to avoid offending the feelings of these migrants. In a chapter titled, “We’re Stuck With This,” Murray goes over the utter helplessness of the citizens in response to the rapid Islamization of Europe and the government and the media colluding to cover its effects up. Dissidents who attempted to expose the havoc caused by these migrants, which included grooming gangs that targeted several young girls, were harassed by the government and often arrested and imprisoned.

The second is what he calls an “existential tiredness” or a lack of meaning and purpose among Europeans. The death of Christianity at the hands of scientific and technological advances, he says, has led people into the depths of nihilism (cue the Nietzsche parallels?), and attempts to find this meaning in other places like philosophy and art have failed miserably. In the end, Europeans have no idea where their values and purpose came from, and without this knowledge, these values become worthless and easy to abandon.

The Possible Solution

In a chapter titled, “What Might Have Been”, Murray goes over possible actions that could have been taken in order to prevent what is happening today. He asks that Europeans take seriously the question of whether they were right in opening their doors so wide, and whether there was another way of showing mercy to the outsider without being unjust to their own citizens. He also brings up several policy suggestions, including temporary asylum, foreign aid for non-European asylums, and sitting down with individuals on the other end of the political spectrum to discuss common solutions and resolve the issue of political polarization.

Most importantly, he reminds us that it is important to acknowledge and value the Christianity that shaped the West, lest we leave a vacuum that can be usurped by other cultures. He says that this can only be done if both the religious and the secular branches come together under a set of common values from a common source, temporarily setting aside their differences for the sake of the survival of the West.

The Probable End

Yet, he does not think that such changes are likely or that it is possible to save Europe at this point. Due to mass immigration, the population of Europe is shifting largely against any form of immigration restriction, and the line between legal and illegal immigration continues to blur. If we were to go back to the analogy of the ship of Theseus, the old pieces are being replaced with pieces that don’t fit, thereby rendering it to be a totally different (and quite leaky) ship. It has also severely affected the foreign policies of European nations, for they are no longer as free to criticize the actions of other nations as they used to be, out of fear of offending migrants from those nations. Political polarization continues to grow, and extreme measures are taken by both sides to suppress the other.

It was interesting to read the contrast that Murray posed between the last two chapters. The first was full of hope about what Europe could do, and a large part of it sounded like a lot of it could still be done. Yet the latter came along and demolished all hope of those things saving the day. Yet the fact that those things can still be done reminds us that things can still be made better before they end; and who knows, things could even be reversed, although that looks like it would require a literal act of God.

The Afterword

I know for a fact that there will be some who dismiss this book as a remarkably smart man’s attempt at fear-mongering. It was probably for this reason that Murray tossed in an afterword in the 2018 edition of his book; a perfect ‘I told you so’ that chronicles several attacks perpetrated by Islamic terrorists since the publishing of the book. What is more shocking, however, is that the politicians and the media continue to revel in their delusions, unwilling to admit that there is something seriously wrong with the direction that things are headed in; a fact perfectly encapsulated by the words of a newspaper that Murray quotes, published the day after an act of vehicular jihad in London, “London was, if not quite back to normal, then certainly back in business.”

Europe is in her death throes. She is hurtling towards the edge of a cliff after having pulled out the brakes. What can stop her? God only knows.

The Questions You Might Have

After reading this review, I’m sure that a number of questions might be buzzing through your mind. Allow me to anticipate at least a couple of them as I close.

Your first question might be, why is an immigrant praising a book that outright condemns immigration? Yes, it is true that I am an immigrant, and it would be absurd for me to believe that all immigration is a bad thing. But Murray didn’t write this book as a polemic against immigration, period. Instead, it is meant to be a polemic against illegal immigration, unrestricted immigration, mass immigration, and immigration without integration. I do not see it as inconsistent for one to be an immigrant and to be against these notions of immigration. As a matter of fact, it would be wrong of me as an immigrant to support forms of immigration that harm the country that was so gracious to offer me a home (via fair, legal, and restricted procedures).

A second question might arise as to why a Christian blogger is reviewing a secular book with purely political themes on a blog aimed at philosophy and apologetics. The answer to that question is also simple. As Christians, we hold that we are not of the world, but are still in the world. It is imperative that we be aware of the changing culture around us, for it affects everything we do, including our ability to practice and propagate our faith in the public square, thereby fulfilling the great commission. Furthermore, whether we like to admit it or not, radical Islamism is one of the great barriers that stands in the way of the Gospel, both in how it restricts the Gospel from being shared and in how it unapologetically admits that one of its goals is to wipe out Christianity. Thus, a book like The Strange Death of Europe provides us with a cultural awareness that is essential to our evangelism and apologetics, and with a burden to pray for our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted or will be persecuted as the tides turn against Christ’s Church. It also serves as a wake-up call for us to pray for our political leaders, that God grant them the wisdom to lead their respective countries through these trials, rather than speeding down a one-way street to destruction.

In closing, then, The Strange Death of Europe is a powerful polemic against the current political and media elites. Let us hope it is widely read, both by those who are the cause of the problem that they might change, and by those who are unaware of the problem, that they might rise up and fight back.


Special thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing USA who were gracious enough to send me a free copy of the book in exchange for a detailed and honest review.

 

 

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