Saturday, December 20, 2003


Victor Davis Hanson provides a cultural snapshot of Central Europe, which if accurate, provides a glance into the mid-21st century.

... there is also something of Calypso's island about them. For all their professed enjoyment of food, shelter, and lovemaking, the Europeans are bored silly with their listless routine and are increasingly timid -- this from a great people who should not, but really do, live in terror of their own past. Like Odysseus in his comfy subservience to Calypso, these mesmerized and complacent sensualists sometimes contemplate leaving the comfort of their fairyland atoll and in boredom weep nightly, gazing out at the seashore. But as yet they lack the hero's courage to finally build a raft and sail rough seas to confront suitors who are trying to crash their civilization.

The last Europeans stranded on Calypso's island found release in the Great War. Rupert Brooke caught the curious relief of his generation at the prospect of being relieved of the burden of domesticity and peace, free at last to roam a world without moral limits. It was in retrospect a species of madness no less than the orgy of violence that followed.

Now, God be thanked Who has matched us with His hour,
And caught our youth, and wakened us from sleeping,
With hand made sure, clear eye, and sharpened power,
To turn, as swimmers into cleanness leaping,
Glad from a world grown old and cold and weary,
Leave the sick hearts that honor could not move,
And half-men, and their dirty songs and dreary,
And all the little emptiness of love!

The truth may be that European passivity is the preliminary symptom of an impending seizure. All the signs are there: the curious abstraction, the fixation on the apparently trivial, the manic ordering of small details. The telltales that make one subtly aware that one's quiet companion in a room is a volcano waiting to explode. Hanson is aware of it, stopping just short of voicing his unease. In his imaginary dialogue between American and European, he says:

Europeans: Come on. You know that the animus is directed at Bush, not the American people.

Dumb American: No; I think the divide is even worse than that, I'm afraid. You see, the reaction over here is just the opposite -- we have nearly given up not so much on European governments but Europeans themselves, which we see as essentially the same.

At the end, Hanson is blunt. He warns: "So for now we should not lament that the Europeans are no longer real allies, but rather be thankful that they are still for a while longer neutrals rather than enemies -- these strange and brilliant people who somehow lost their way."  How much longer we can be thankful depends on whether the impulses that made the Old Continent synonymous with war have died away or are simply quiescent, waiting to emerge again. Albert Camus knew that the victory over Hitler was not final. The last lines in his allegorical The Plague were these:

...And, indeed, as he listened to the cries of joy rising from the town, Rieux remembered that such joy is always imperiled. He knew what these jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned by books: that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen-chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.

We should watch for the raft.