Bruce Anderson: We are destroying the very values which could save us in our battle against Islam

Europe has immense strengths. The resources of civilisation are not exhausted

Related Topics

In 1683, a Turkish army reached the suburbs of Vienna. The outcome trembled in the balance until Jan Sobieski of Poland arrived with his army, threw back the Ottomans and finally freed western Europe from the threat of Muslim domination, thus completing the work begun by Charles Martel at Poitiers in 732.

Or did he? Today, there are plenty of Europeans who would say: "Charles Martel, Jan Sobieski, you are needed at this hour." There are widespread fears that Muslim immigrants, reinforced by political pressure and, ultimately, by terrorism, will succeed where Islamic armies failed and change irrevocably the character of European civilisation.

I was in Vienna for a conference on post-Christian Europe and resurgent Islam. The history of all important cities is a duet for grandeur and original sin but, even by those standards, Vienna is a masterpiece of complexity and ambivalence. An imperial city which has diminished into the capital of a gemütlich little republic, it was the nursery for so many of the glories of German culture – and for so much of the foulness of mid-20th century German history. So it was an appropriate setting for a pessimistic agenda.

In contemporary Britain, there are many grounds for anxiety. Even so, we cannot rival the continental Europeans when it comes to pessimism. Our home-grown product is shallow and pallid in comparison to the length, depth and sophistication of its continental rival. This is hardly surprising. The pessimism of the European mainland is the product of shattered hopes and a failed century. The first half of the 20th century was the most disastrous epoch in history. The Channel spared us from the worst of the ravages and savageries, but those whose nations experienced them or inflicted them can be forgiven for their distrust of the human condition. After such knowledge, what forgiveness, especially as recent events have added fresh inspissation to the gloom.

By 1990, it seemed as if whatever brute or blackguard made the world had decided to forgive mankind for the 20th century. The Cold War was won. George Bush celebrated a new world order. Francis Fukuyama announced the end of history. But history disagreed.

There is a basic difference between our circumstances now and the Cold War order. In the first place, it was an order. The threat was terrible but it was also predictable. We could analyse our enemies, understand them, even compromise with them. In the grimmest paradox of all, peace and stability had found a secure footing, upon the rock of mutual, assured destruction. Then, the enemy had a name, a capability, an order of battle. We had insights into his intentions, diplomatic means of mitigation, geopolitical concepts. Now, we do not even have a map of our ignorance. We are blundering in the dark, wrestling with unknown unknowns.

Europe has immense strengths. The resources of civilisation are not exhausted. Yet many of my conference colleagues were defeatists who believed that those strengths could never be mobilised. Some even argued that Islam would inevitably prevail and, within a few decades, Europe would decline into Eurabia.

It is easy to make the pessimists' case. In essence, Europe has become the victim of one of its undoubted successes. Over the last century, despite the destruction of so much human and economic capital, Western Europe has made a decisive break with scarcity, that mighty constraint which had overshadowed all earlier societies. Europeans no longer needed to fear starvation.

As a result, however, they have thrown off two other constraints which marched in step with scarcity: religion and family life. Much of Europe is post-religious, post-familial – and also post-reproductive. With average child-bearing rates of 1.5 per female, many countries are condemned to declining populations. Unless they import immigrants to produce the wealth to sustain an ageing population, they might even rediscover hunger.

Yet immigration is not cost-free. As the Romans were the first to discover with their barbarian legions, you decide that you need manpower but you end up by importing people. People bring problems. Large-scale immigration would change the character of the host societies.So would population decline. In Mark Steyn's words, the future belongs to those who show up.

Cultural and religious decline could reinforce population decline. A Europe without God and without the civilising disciplines of family is condemned to the devaluation of all values. This is exacerbated by the cultural self-hatred of many European elites, at least outside France. Under the guise of cultural relativism, they enforce their contempt for European traditions, using their control of the educational system to ensure that youngsters are brought up in cultural and historical darkness.

Even those who do not feel cultural self-hatred often lack cultural self-confidence. There was an example of this in Vienna. Last Friday evening, many churches were holding concerts. I heard a Haydn symphony in the Stephansdom. Haydn in St Stephen's Cathedral: the resources of civilisation did not appear to be exhausted. But the cathedral authorities were not on civilisation's side. The columns were festooned with photographs; the choir was obscured by a fatuous plastic montage. If not quite desecration, it was certainly de-sacralisation.

Over the centuries, the cathedral has been a place for prayer and worship, a conduit between the streets and the skies. Its pillars and its vaulting have humbled the faithful and exulted the faith. Stones, sermons and singing have joined in harmony to proclaim the eternal message: ad maiorem Dei gloriam.

So one might have thought that those who are now in charge of the cathedral would use the music as an enticement, hoping that some passers-by who dropped in for a symphony would return for a service. On the contrary: it was as if the ecclesiastics, desperate to spare the sensitivities of any visiting atheist or pagan, had done everything possible to distance the proceedings from historical Christianity. No wonder some of the Christians at the conference wondered whether their faith still had the vitality to resist Islam.

Others insisted that this was absurdly one-sided. Imagine a similar conference in the Islamic world. How many participants would be happily luxuriate in the complacency of resurgent Islam? The West's problems with Islam do not arise from the confident aggression of resurgent nations. They are caused by the embittered victims of failed societies. For any one argument we could provide to justify a lack of confidence in our countries' institutions, the average Muslim could find ten.

Now that the neo-conservative attempt to reconstruct the Middle East has failed, containment and crisis management are the only options. Although this will be harder than it was during the Cold War, the attempt we must try and cultural neurasthenia is of little help. Yet one conclusion is obvious. For much of its history, Vienna was the capital and fortress of the Ostmark: the frontier of western civilisation. Today, the whole of Europe is in the Ostmark.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Etch, a Sketch

Jane Merrick

Something wrong with the Conservative Party’s game plan

John Rentoul
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing