The crisis of Western civilization

Having just spent a day with a good friend from Europe, the historical material I have been reading came home to me in a very personal way: Europeans today do not know who they are. To be German, Dutch, French, Spanish, and so on is an embarrassment: adherence to those identities resulted in two horrific world wars. The EU has been an attempt to substitute "European" for those national identities. But that attempt founders on the presence of so many Arabs, Turks, Africans, Indians, Chinese, Filipinos, and other non-Europeans in European polities. To declare a unique European identity would be to exclude vast numbers of people from civil society.

So what is left? My perception is that, for most Europeans, it is being "liberal." The problem here is that liberalism is not an identity: instead, it is a way of balancing the claims of competing identities. As Gertrude Stein said of Oakland, in liberalism, "there is no there there."

Two important notes about this post:

1) Americans should not take comfort in the above observations: we are merely trailing Europe by a few decades in fully feeling this crisis of identity.

2) European "nativist" movements are not a solution to this problem: instead, they are a symptom of the problem. If I am secure about my identity, the presence of others with a different identity might be a matter of curiosity or indifference for me, but the need to attack others with a different identity is a sure sign of insecurity about my own identity.


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