[This book review appeared in the Spring 2010 issue of The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies, pp. 109-115.]


Book Review 

Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West

Christopher Caldwell

Doubleday, 2009 


          Christopher Caldwell is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.  With this book, he has added his voice to the literature discussing and warning against the on-going change occurring in the identity of Europe as its native population shrinks and as an immigrant population, mostly Islamic, establishes within it a growing parallel society.  This journal has reviewed three of the earlier books: Walter Laqueur’s The Last Days of Europe (in our Winter 2007 issue, pp. 519-522), Tony Blankley’s The West’s Last Chance (Winter 2005, pp. 524-531), and Patrick J. Buchanan’s The Death of the West (Spring 2002, pp. 126-130).[1]

          Even though they deal with the same theme, each of these books, including Caldwell’s, has much to say that keeps it from being a mere repetition of the others.  Caldwell’s contribution consists largely of his emphasis on Islam and his dissection of shibboleths that have long ruled the thinking within Europe, especially within Europe’s governing class.  This isn’t to say that he doesn’t have a good deal else to tell.

          His work with The Weekly Standard makes clear his identification with American “neo-conservatism”; and, among the authors just mentioned, this puts him closest to Blankley.  He avoids, however, the extremes of which we were so critical in Blankley’s book.  Caldwell does not join Blankley in calling for a testosterone-ladened ruthlessness in response to jihadism.  Caldwell mostly limits himself to factual explication and conceptual analysis, leaving policy prescriptions to others.  If he agrees with Blankley’s extremes, he gives no indication of it. 

          It is surprising that Caldwell writes about the demographic threat to Europe without showing an awareness of (or giving a nod of recognition to) the other books.  He does, at least, tell about Jean Raspail’s haunting 1973 novel The Camp of the Saints; but neither the bibliography nor the index mentions Blankley, Buchanan or Laqueur.  The surprise at these omissions is lessened, of course, because we know that many authors say very little about the contributions of others.  This fashion would seem to stem in part from the incivilities imposed by publishers’ and authors’ frequent insistence upon an overly-constricted interpretation of the “fair use” doctrine, which has long made it legally uncomfortable to bring in other authors.

          Caldwell’s book gives informative details about the history of Islamic immigration into Europe.   During the decade immediately following World War II, a prostrate Europe desperately needed manpower, and brought in large numbers of immigrants for what Europeans thought would be short stays.  But then, when “the economic benefits [that] immigration brought [proved] marginal and temporary,” most of Europe (except for France until 2006) shifted to a more selective type of immigration.   It found it difficult, however, to find highly skilled people. Despite this and “generously financed repatriation programs” in the late 1970s, the flood of immigration continued, at which time the rationale changed from “labor immigration… to refugee immigration” (also spoken of as “political asylum”), to which was added the bringing in of relatives for “family unification.”  The new rationale converted the welcoming of immigration into a moral duty, as distinct from an economic necessity. 

          It eventuated that the refugees didn’t return to their home countries after the exigencies that had forced them to flee to Europe dissipated.  In fact, there proved to be a vast overhang of population in the Third World that yearned to be in Europe.  Some Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia, spent large sums to support the immigration, aiding Islam in Europe and financing the building of mosques.  In the meantime, the European Union adopted the principle of internal openness that permits free movement within Europe.  This has had the effect of taking from national governments the ability to limit immigration into their respective countries.  “It meant,” Caldwell says, “that the immigration policy for the whole of Western Europe was set, at any given time, by whichever member state happened to be the most soft-hearted, lax, corrupt, or sanctimonious.”  A leader in this category has been Spain, which amnestied 700,000 illegal immigrants in 2005 after a succession of five previous amnesties.  The upshot is that Europe sees a net influx of about 1.7 million new faces every year, and in 2000 there were in the neighborhood of “15 to 17 million Muslims in Western Europe.”

          The book devotes considerable attention to Islam itself.  Caldwell says the resurgence of political Islam began at about the same time as the post-World War II influx into Europe, and that this marked “not just the resurgence of a doctrine but the resurgence of a people” (his emphasis).  Although Muslims are highly diverse among themselves, and come from widely varied countries and cultures all the way from west Africa to Indonesia and the Philippines, they are converging in Europe into a common Islamic culture.  Caldwell compares them to Latin American immigrants into the United States, who are also quite diverse – migrating from Mexico or Nicaragua, Puerto Rico or Bolivia, say – but have nevertheless formed a collective “Hispanic (or Latino) identity.”

          He recognizes that Muslims do differ among themselves about many things (sexual customs, for example – such things as female circumcision, honor killings, stress on virginity, arranged marriages, and marriage between cousins), but just the same he is able to think unfavorably of the “diversity” of Muslims as “a treasured myth among well-meaning Europeans.”  He sees the areas of agreement among Muslims as more meaningful than their differences.  To his eye, “a respect for constitutional rights” is “known to be anathema in almost every part of the Muslim world.”   He says that “by overwhelming numbers, British Muslims oppose all intervention in the Arab and Muslim world.”  Further, “among Muslim immigrants, dislike (to put it mildly) of Jews is endemic.”  They are finding it easy to assume a “victim” posture in Europe and to harbor “a growing sense of shared suffering.”  Since 9/11, many in the West have hoped there is a predominant mass of “moderate Muslims,” with the jihadists on the extreme; but Caldwell is skeptical, considering it somewhat wishful thinking.

          Readers will be well advised to read Caldwell’s discussion of Islam with the same circumspection they would bring to any serious subject.  He clearly has a point of view (which is not to suggest that it is for that reason wrong); his neo-conservative orientation is a position decidedly favorable to Israel and to Jews and that brooks little criticism of them.  Since the conflict between Israel and Islam occupies a central role in today’s world, the views of any partisan, however thoughtful as Caldwell is, should simultaneously be given both respectful consideration and less-than-automatic acceptance.  Who is right, say, between Caldwell, who sees younger immigrants as among those most ready to embrace traditional Islam, and Walter Laqueur, who says Islam in Europe is threatened by a loss of its younger generation as that generation absorbs with glee the enticements of street gangs, gangsta rap, drugs, hip-hop culture, and “the lingo of the underworld”?[2]  And it is perhaps because of his preoccupation with Jew-versus-Muslim that he sees the supplanting of European culture by Islam as a bad thing while at the same time he sees the historically rapid supplanting of non-Hispanic whites in the United States by the Latino invasion as rather unexceptional.

          There is considerable value in what Caldwell tells us about the mindscape of the European governing class, how it differs from the thinking of the average European, and how much it has indulged in serial sophistries to justify the demographic overturning of the old Europe.  Caldwell speaks of “a consensus among its political and commercial elites,” a consensus joined in for the most part by the media, academia, the professions, and international organizations.  It is the same cosmopolitan, globalist consensus that governs the United States regardless of which political party is in power.  Nowhere is the division between the population at large and the elite more apparent than with regard to immigration (and, what is the same thing, the problematic continued existence of a distinctive European civilization).  Caldwell tells us that “there was long a consensus among political leaders that immigration strengthens the economy… It is still the argument most commonly encountered in newspapers, magazines, and popular books.”  By contrast, “decade in, decade out, the sentiment of Western European publics, as measured by opinion polls, has been resolutely opposed to mass immigration.”  The influx of non-European immigrants “is unpopular.  In no country in Europe does the bulk of the population aspire to live in a bazaar of world cultures.”

          As is also true in the United States, what is appropriately called “the silent majority” has been drawn in to acquiescing by default.  Speaking generally (since the polls tell of widespread opposition to the immigration), Caldwell says “the European masses did come to accept the views of European opinion makers,” largely because of the psychological overhang from “the wounds of racism and fascism.”  The problem has been that “postwar Europe felt a sense of moral illegitimacy,” producing a “new, guilt-based moral order.”  This is the context in which “the Holocaust has in recent decades been the cornerstone of the European moral order.”  Beyond guilt, however, there is very little affirmative content: “There is no consensus, not even the beginning of a consensus, about what European values are… It is a civilization in decline” that has rejected its “old religion-based cultures” and become “spiritually tawdry.”  Life is marked by “the shopping mall, the pierced navel, online gambling, a 50 percent divorce rate, and a high rate of anomie and self-loathing.”

          We have seen, of course, that there is a consensus among the governing elite, although certainly not in support of anything that could be described as “European values” as they have been known in the past.  It is worth noting, too, that the otherwise prevailing cultural relativism isn’t total.  Caldwell says Europeans are decidedly not relativistic about feminism and sexual liberation.  “Adapting to European styles of sexuality and gender relations is the only non-negotiable demand that Europe makes of its immigrants.”  He reports that “public approval of sexual liberation appears almost compulsory.”

          Throughout the book, Caldwell discusses the pretexts that the governing elite has put forward in serial fashion to justify the mass immigration.  He mentions, too, the measures that have been taken to suppress criticism and to prevent reversals of the policy.  Here are some of the points he mentions:

          .  Recall that Caldwell believes the Holocaust to have been central to the guilt and self-doubt that have set the tone in Europe since World War II.  We cannot be surprised, then, that laws have been passed such as France’s Gayssot Law criminalizing any denial of or “minimizing the seriousness of” the almost universally accepted account of the Holocaust.  If historical “revisionism” is allowed, the moral certitude is threatened.

          Although this enforced agreement is of pivotal importance, Caldwell’s treatment of it differs in part from the other points he mentions in that he agrees with its main point.  He joins with those who say there is not “the slightest scholarly value” in “pretending the Holocaust hadn’t happened.”  His criticism of such “hate speech” laws is not to defend critiques of the Holocaust, but because he believes they can easily lead to a slippery slope, “an endless criminalization of opinion” on other matters.

          .  An idea that has been embraced with ”almost religious faith” is a “theory of demographic transition.”  This seeks to rebut the worry that the immigrants will become an ever-larger portion of the population because of the disparity in birth rates between native Europeans and the newcomers.  According to this theory, the immigrants’ birth rates can be expected to fall as the Muslims come to enjoy a higher standard of living.    

          Caldwell argues that although “sometimes this actually happens,” it is also true that “sometimes there is no such convergence.”  He points out that “Muslim culture is unusually full of messages laying out the practical advantages of procreation.”  He reminds his readers that “the late Yassir Arafat… called the wombs of Palestinian women the ‘secret weapon’ of his cause.”

          .  Another concept intended to assuage the public’s concerns is that “there is a diversity of Islams.”   This suggests that the cultural challenge is fragmented.  To Caldwell, this view is “perhaps to stave off discussing the possibility that the various, similar-looking immigrant problems in all Western European countries might merely be facets of a single larger clash.”

          .   It may surprise some that, as in the United States, the argument is made among “intellectuals in every Western European country” that their respective countries have “always been ‘countries of immigrants.’”  Caldwell argues that this is demonstrably false.  He observes how thin the evidence for it is with regard to Sweden, and cites genetic studies that show that the “British ‘stock’ has changed little.”  He says that until recently there have never been masses of religious and ethnic minorities in Europe.

          .  Caldwell challenges the “consensus [mentioned earlier] among political leaders that immigration strengthens the economy unproblematically, without doing much harm to productivity and without doing any harm to native wages.”  He cites an author who argues that if 14 million more immigrant workers were admitted, the “natives in rich countries [would gain] $139 billion.”  He puts this figure into perspective when he compares it with the $40 trillion dollar gross domestic product of the advanced economies in 2008.  The projected gain, Caldwell points out, is miniscule when seen in that context..

          .  Another argument that resonates with what Americans hear is that “immigrants do the jobs that no European wants.”  Caldwell says that “of course, what is really meant is jobs no European wants to do at a particular wage.”  He observes that the effort to bring in highly skilled immigrants is inconsistent with this “undesirable jobs” justification.

          .  An argument that seeks to explain the immigration by referring to Europe’s colonial past says that “the immigrants are here because we were there.”  Caldwell says this argument could be applied to Pakistanis vis-à-vis the British, or Surinamese vis-à-vis the Dutch.  But he says it is “demonstrably false” as an explanation of why Sudanese are in Norway or Bosnians in Ireland.

          .  Double standards are, of course, the stock in trade of ideological sophistries.  Caldwell points to a major one – perhaps, we might think, “the mother of all” current ethnic double standards in the world today – when he observes that non-white “ethnic pride” is seen as noble while any concern about “white identity” is condemned as bigoted.   (Again, we see how much elite opinion within Europe and the United States parallel each other.)  A second double standard has to do with how Christianity and Islam are treated: whereas “the reasonableness of Christianity… continues to be attacked…, no acceptable way has yet emerged for attacking the reasonableness of Islam in any way at all.”

          .  Ayn Rand wrote about “moral counterfeiting” (giving someone more credit than he deserves) and “moral embezzlement” (giving less credit than deserved).  Caldwell doesn’t refer to Rand’s insights, but he illustrates them well when he tells about how elite opinion in France put the blame on the native French rather than on the rioters themselves for the 2005 banlieue-based riots.  “Most observers sought an explanation for the riots that did not involve Islam.”  Rather, the premise was “that ethnic violence is always the result of social unfairness or native racism.”  He reports that “Europeans almost instinctually reach for depraved-on-accounta-I’m-deprived explanations of terrorism and, for that matter, any shortcomings in Muslim communities.”

          Reflections on the Revolution in Europe addresses the issue of whether European civilization will long continue.  It would be hard to imagine an issue of greater importance.  The book deserves every reader’s serious attention.

                                                                                                                                                                                      Dwight D. Murphey




 1.  All of these reviews are available online at www.dwightmurphey-collectedwritings.info

 2.  Walter Laqueur, The Last Days of Europe (New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2007), pp. 45, 207, 212-3.