Postwar Europe was built on an intolerance of intolerance and a downplaying of national tradition—a mindset praised as anti-racism and ridiculed as political correctness. It has often made integrating newcomers hardby Christopher Caldwell / May 4, 2009 / Leave a comment
Published in May 2009 issue of Prospect Magazine
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A central problem in welcoming people from poor countries is that Europeans have lost faith in parts of the civilisation to which migrants were drawn in the ?rst place. ”Europeans would like to exit from history, from la grande histoire, from the history that is written in letters of blood,” wrote the French political scientist Raymond Aron in the 1970s. ”Others, by their hundreds of millions, wish to enter it.” It is hard to follow Europe’s rules and embrace Europe’s values, as newcomers are sometimes told they must, when Europeans themselves are rewriting those rules and reassessing those values.
The Europe into which immigrants began arriving in the 1950s was reeling in horror from the second world war and preoccupied with building the institutions to forestall any repetition of it. Nato was the most important of these institutions. The EU was the most ambitious. The war supplied European thinkers with all their moral categories and benchmarks. Avoiding another explosion meant purging Europe’s individual countries of nationalism, with ”nationalism” understood to include all vestiges of racism, militarism, and cultural chauvinism—but also patriotism, pride, and unseemly competitiveness. The singing of national anthems and the waving of national ?ags became, in some countries, the province only of skinheads and soccer hooligans.
Prompted by the US, which was addressing its own race problem at the time, and with the threat of communism concentrating their minds, Europeans began to articulate a code of ”European values” such as individualism, democracy, freedom, and human rights. These values were never de?ned with much precision. Yet they seemed to permit social cohesion, and their embrace coincided with 60 years of peace.