Semiduplex

A song for Europe

We have had a hard time writing about The Paris Statement—or is it called A Europe We Can Believe In?—since it was released. Signed by some fairly prominent European conservatives, including Robert Spaemann and Roger Scruton, the document is essentially a complaint about Muslim immigration and multiculturalism fused with a plea for post-1945 European liberalism. (Maybe. It’s not actually clear. The document is positively Athanasian in its negation of its propositions.) The document is written largely for English-speaking conservatives who spend a lot of time worrying about “European culture.” But not European culture as it exists and has existed largely since 1688. European culture as they imagine it exists. Happily for us, Matthew Walther, at the The Week, has written a delightful takedown of the manifesto.

While we certainly disagree with some of Walther’s points, we cannot but agree with his conclusion: Europe is the faith. That is, the faith of Jesus Christ, His Apostles, and the Church He founded, which is the Catholic Church. (Paul VI, in his Credo of the People of God, didn’t use any of this “subsists” business.) And Walther is correct when he says that the faith is not doing so hot in Europe right now. The Paris Statement chooses treat this Christian heritage as though it were just one part of a “Europ” kit from Ikea. No, you can’t finish the shelving without the Church, but, you know, maybe it looks okay without the shelving. Consider this:

The true Europe has been marked by Christianity. The universal spiritual empire of the Church brought cultural unity to Europe, but did so without political empire. This has allowed for particular civic loyalties to flourish within a shared European culture. The autonomy of what we call civil society became a characteristic feature of European life. Moreover, the Christian Gospel does not deliver a comprehensive divine law, and thus the diversity of the secular laws of the nations may be affirmed and honoured without threat to our European unity. It is no accident that the decline of Christian faith in Europe has been accompanied by renewed efforts to establish political unity—an empire of money and regulations, covered with sentiments of pseudo-religious universalism, that is being constructed by the European Union.

(Emphasis supplied.) To a Catholic thinking with Bl. Pius IX, Leo XIII, St. Pius X, and Pius XI, warning bells start to sound. The great passages from Quanta Cura and Syllabus start to resound. One sees selections from Immortale Dei and Libertas praestantissimum and Diuturnum illud surrounded by flashing lights. The signatories go on:

The true Europe affirms the equal dignity of every individual, regardless of sex, rank or race. This also arises from our Christian roots. Our gentle virtues are of an unmistakably Christian heritage: fairness, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, peace-making, charity. Christianity revolutionized the relationship between men and women, valuing love and mutual fidelity in an unprecedented way. The bond of marriage allows both men and women to flourish in communion. Most of the sacrifices we make are for the sake of our spouses and children. This spirit of self-giving is yet another Christian contribution to the Europe we love.

(Emphasis supplied.) One begins to reach for one’s copies of Quod apostolici muneris and Notre charge apostolique. One recalls bits of Arcanum and Casti connubii. And at no point does one get the sense that the authors of the manifesto have any intention of propounding the teachings of the popes. In sum, someone who has been formed by the authoritative pronouncements of the Church reacts with mounting horror to this sort of treatment of Christian doctrine.

The declaration goes on in this vein for some length. The upshot is that it is a liberal document that simply does not like certain features of modern European liberalism. Yet the signatories give no sign of having considered that the postwar European liberalism that they appear to yearn for—this is only a guess on our part, as it is bafflingly unclear when they think Europe exhibited the values they praise—degenerated within about one generation into the modern liberalism they lament. Indeed, it is unclear that the signatories see that there has been a consistent degeneration. Walther picks up on this:

What do the document’s signatories really want? To turn back the clock? How far? To 1945? Maybe 1989? When did this Europe they sob over exist and what was it like then? A place very much like what we see today except with people who were more “moral” and able to tell unspecified “truths” about Islam and who paid slightly less in taxes while still welcoming children? They are yearning for a past unafflicted by the maladies of the present, which makes about as much sense as wishing for a better 18th century in which iPhone batteries lasted longer.

But even if the signatories saw modernity as wholly rotten, it wouldn’t solve the problem of causality. The Europe the signatories appear to want became the Europe they detest, largely without major revolutionary change. Sure, you can say that the fall of the Soviet Union was a big change. But the culture of 1989 is not that different than the culture of 2017, especially in moral terms. And it certainly isn’t like libertines from the former Soviet bloc streamed into Europe demanding multiculturalism and Islamic immigration. Indeed, it has been the former Soviet bloc countries that have raised the biggest fuss about these things.

However, the document ignores the truth that liberalism only goes the one way. It is ordered, ultimately, toward individualism and the corrosion of the common good (that is, peace; that is, unity and good order). The liberalism they want—presuming they could tell you what kind of liberalism they do, in fact, want—will lead to the liberalism they lament. That is how liberalism works. This is why it is so disappointing that the signatories treat Christianity—more precisely, Catholicism—like one part among many of a successful state. The Church, which has a divine mandate to guard and interpret the natural law, has pronounced authoritatively on questions of the organization of the state. And the popes who did most of the heavy lifting in this regard were committed anti-liberals. Pius IX, Leo XIII, Pius X, and Pius XI sketched for us a vision of the modern state that does not rely on liberalism to solve all its woes.

A meaningful indictment of Europe—and a meaningful proposal for reform—begins and ends in the magisterium of these great anti-liberal popes. And such a proposal may well prevent some conservatives from praising the post-Enlightenment order. The Europeans who have tried to follow this line—including, for example, the drafters of the Austrian Constitution of 1934—have met with difficulties. And it seems likely that an attempt today would run into greater difficulties still. But without beginning and ending in the authoritative teaching of the Church, one is simply urging that the clock be turned back to the moment one liked the best, so that one can watch the same process play out one more time.

One is, as David Bowie would say, always crashing in the same car.