I am reading Mark Steyn’s brilliant After America: Get Ready for Armageddon.
Readers in the USA, this is a good book. I suggest you read it. There are reasons for people on the other side of the Atlantic to read this book. Steyn analyzes the state of Europe’s economy and culture and prospects for the future in tandem with what is going on the USA. He is brutally clear, but his prose and sense of dark humor are rich, the word play so far ranging, that you can’t help turning page after page in anticipation of the next witty turn of phrase. His skill is, in itself, a reason to read it.
One of the important things he tackles is the falling birth rate in nations with vast debt being shoved along to future shrinking generations. He looks at the issue not only from point of view of economic implications but also social, cultural.
He is talking about the death of a civilization, not just problems in the USA or Europe.
In this, it seems to me that he is giving voice, from another point of view, to Pope Benedict’s concerns for the identity of Europe and, of course, the West.
Here is a sample of the end of one of Steyn’s chapters.
I was struck by this little section because I had just read a story on Roma Sette about vandalism of the Trevi Fountain and also a fountain in the Piazza Navona.
Here is Steyn on the defacing of monuments, et al., with my emphases:
Europe is already dead—in the short run. Linger awhile, how fair thou art. It’s nice to linger at the brasserie, have a second café au lait, and watch the world go by. At the Munich Security Conference, President Sarkozy demanded of his fellow Continentals, “Does Europe want peace, or do we want to be left in peace?” To pose the question is to answer it. But it only works for a generation or two, and then, as the gay bar owners are discovering in a fast Islamifying Amsterdam, reality reasserts itself.
We began this book with some thoughts from Bertie Wooster and Jonathan Swift regarding Belshazzar’s feast and “the writing on the wall.” But sometimes there’s so much writing you can barely see the wall. On my last brief visit, Athens was a visibly decrepit dump: a town with a handful of splendid ancient ruins surrounded by a multitude of hideous graffiti covered contemporary ruins. Sit at an elegant café in Florence, Barcelona, Lisbon, Brussels, almost any Continental city. If you’re an American tourist, what do you notice? Beautiful buildings, designer stores, modern bus and streetcar shelters…and all covered in graffiti from top to toe. The grander the city, the more profuse the desecration. Go to Rome, the imperial capital, the heart of Christendom: the entire city is daubed like a giant New York subway car from the Seventies. Look at your souvenir snaps: here’s me and the missus standing by the graffiti at the Trevi Fountain; there we are admiring the graffiti at the Coliseum.
A New York Times feature on Berlin graffiti reported it as an art event, a story about “an integral component of Berliner Strassenkultur.” But it’s actually a tale of civic death, of public space claimed in perpetuity by the vandals (like graffiti, another word Italy gave the world, as it were). At the sidewalk cafés, Europeans no longer notice it. But it is in a small, aesthetically painful way a surrender to barbarism—and one made even more pathetic by the cultural commentators desperate to pass it off as “art.” And it sends a signal to predators of less artistic bent: if you’re unwilling to defend the civic space from these coarse provocations, what others will you give in to?
It’s strange and unsettling to walk through cities with so much writing on the wall, and yet whose citizens see everything but. Bertie Wooster’s Aunt Dahlia is right: once upon a time, you were certainly an ass if you didn’t know where “the writing on the wall” came from. It was part of the accumulated cultural inheritance: in the old Europe, Handel and William Walton wrote oratorios about it. Rembrandt’s painting of Belshazzar’s Feast hangs in the National Gallery in a London all but oblivious to its significance. Instead of paintings and oratorios and other great art about the writing on the wall, Europeans have walls covered in writing, and pretend that it’s art. Today, I doubt one in a thousand high-school students would have a clue whence the expression derives. And one sign that the writing’s on the wall is when society no longer knows what “the writing on the wall” means. (p. 124)
Turn to any page in the book and you find stark commentary on what we face in the not distant future.
I hope a perfectly sane Steyn is more successful than poor Cassandra. We had better start listening and doing something soon. If it is not too late already, it is nearly too late.