In the last chapter of his autobiography The World of Yesterday: Memories of a European (1942), Stefan Zweig lamented a lost world of freedom:
Before 1914, the earth had belonged to all. People went where they wished and stayed as long as they pleased. There were no permits, no visas, and it always gives me pleasure to astonish the young by telling them that before 1914 I travelled to India and to America without passport and without ever having seen one. One embarked and alighted without questioning or being questioned… The frontiers which, with their customs officers, police and militia, have become wire barriers thanks to the pathological suspicion of everybody against everybody else, were nothing but symbolic lines which one crossed with as little thought as one crosses the Meridian of Greenwich… I, a case-hardened creature of an age of freedom and a citizen of the world-republic of my dreams, count every impression of a rubber stamp in my passport a stigma…
Zweig’s lamentation evokes a sympathetic echo in many liberals today, when borders are springing back into view across the world. For Zweig, freedom meant the Hapsburg empire, where people could live securely without needing any particular national identity. This was the world in which he grew up, and without it he was homeless. When he became convinced that the liberal Europe represented by the Hapsburg empire had “committed suicide”, as he put it in letters to friends, it was too much to bear. On 22 February 1942, the day after he posted the manuscript of his memoirs to his New York publisher from Brazil, where his flight from Nazi Europe had ended, Zweig and his wife, Lotte, killed themselves.
Three quarters of a century later, Douglas Murray also thinks Europe is destroying itself. In the first sentence of his best-selling The Strange Death of Europe, published in 2017 and now reissued in an updated paperback edition, he declares: “Europe is committing suicide.” But whereas for Zweig it was nationalism that destroyed Europe, for Murray it is Europe’s loss of belief in itself. Murray – associate editor of the Spectator and founder of the right-leaning Centre for Social Cohesion think tank – criticises liberals for denying or diminishing the problems that come with sudden large increases in immigration, when the migrants come from other cultures. But the real problem, he is convinced, is an influx of Muslims.
Discussing the public response to the migrant crisis, he writes: “What very few people saw or mentioned was that the racial background of the incomers was an insignificant matter alongside the far greater issue of creed.” The most important fact about the crisis, Murray asserts repeatedly, is that it involves the encounter of Islam with a hollowed-out, guilt-ridden, faithless Europe. The consequence will be the Islamisation of the continent and the end of European civilisation. Citing the work of the French novelist Michel Houellebecq approvingly, he comments that when the protagonist of his novel Submission (2015) finally converts to Islam “he will be part of a community of meaning for the first time… the logic of Islam is practical, and, in a society ripe for submission, irrefutable”.
Murray’s evident admiration for Houellebecq is telling. Much of The Strange Death of Europe reads more like a sensational novel than an exercise in analysis. [Continue reading…]