Public Comment

Commentary: Karl Marx Was Right By Alan Christie Swain

Friday January 27, 2006

Karl Marx was right; he only had to wait a little longer. Marxists once claimed that European capitalism was advancing into its final stages, decadence would overwhelm the West and capitalism’s contradictions would cause the system to collapse. Today, demographic collapse and cultural decadence may finally usher in the end stage of the ancient culture we share with Europe. 

Many people wonder why the United States needs Europe at all any more. From the stifling anti-democratic bureaucracy of the European Union, to its secular, post religious societies, to the stagnant, sluggish and statist economies of France, Germany and the rest, what does Europe offer the United States? Consider also the lily-livered foreign policy that dreams of a utopian post conflict world dominated by laws and diplomats that somehow reach “consensus” or “compromise” on all difficult questions and no one ever says anything nasty to anybody else. The corollary to this foreign policy consists of leaving to the United States the nasty, dirty and dangerous work of ensuring the stability of the world economic and political system and dealing with real and dangerous nations such as Iran, North Korea, Sudan and others past and present that have always existed in the international system. 

The answer to why the U.S. needs Europe is because we share a common culture with “old Europe” 1,500 years of western civilization, 2,500 years if we go all the way back to the Greeks. While displaying certain bloody tendencies, Europe produced many of the most important cultural advances in history in terms of science, economics, politics and human rights, now demographic collapse and a failure of cultural will seem to suggest that Europe as we know it may cease to exist by the time our grandchildren are grown. Europe is relying on immigration from North Africa to cover up the fact that its demographic trends have cratered.  

The birth rate per woman in Germany is 1.3, Italy 1.2, Spain 1.1; rates like this suggest a population falling by nearly half each generation. One doesn’t require a Ph.D. from Cal to see that this is an extremely perilous trend. In another two generations there may be very few “old Europeans” left. Meanwhile the immigrants from North Africa with their muscular Islamic faith and high birth rates fill the void. The problem with this scenario is that Islamic immigrants to Europe don’t seem to want to adopt the cultural traits of liberal, western culture, but instead desire to, and most likely will, create an Islamicized Europe. The problem here is that the Islamic culture of Europe’s immigrants is one that does not accept political pluralism, freedom of religion, rights for gays or women, etc. Now, trend lines can’t usually be projected in a linear fashion into the future and it may be possible that Europe can summon the cultural will to force its new populations to adopt a philosophy of the melting pot by which immigrants adopt and adapt to the new culture, bringing their own sensibilities to it but not changing its fundamental tenets. On current trends, however, this seems unlikely as European societies and their dithering, multicultural, relativist mumbo-jumbo attitudes just don’t seem like they will be able to summon the strength to defend their age old culture. 

The locus of western culture has been moving westward for 100 years or at least since 1914 and the US has clearly been the cultural leader of the west since 1945. It seems clear now that a coalition led by the United States, Canada and Mexico and hopefully South America, plus Australia and New Zealand will most likely have the burden of carrying forward the traditions of economic freedom, political openness, pursuit of liberty, equal rights under law and individual freedom. It is not necessary to see ourselves as under siege, but to recognize what seems a great opportunity our generation has to bring out the best in America as we develop a new civilization with a greater role for different cultures living in freedom under the rule of law. American leadership in the coming decades could produce the flowering of a new culture that would include a greater role for the groups that have contributed so much: Africans, Asians, indigenous people and the obviously significant role that Latin America will play in the future of our culture. If America has the cultural will power to accomplish this then we will certainly we will prevail in the clash of ideas and of competing visions of the future that looms before us.  


Alan Christie Swain is a UC Berkeley graduate student.›