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March 4, 2016 4:52 pm

Bernard-Henri Lévy: A Fateful Choice for Europe

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European Union headquarters in Brussels. Photo: Amio Cajander via Wikimedia Commons.

European Union headquarters in Brussels. Photo: Amio Cajander via Wikimedia Commons.

One country of the European Union recalls its ambassador from another country of the Union. Another, or the same, becomes, in defiance of every rule of solidarity among member states, a dumping ground for refugees that, once full, will fall under a ban, becoming a banlieue, similar to the vast and isolated leper colonies of the Middle Ages.

The Schengen Zone is shattering.

Official summits follow on other official summits, the decisions of which are made to look ridiculous by illegitimate, illegal regional sub-summits, such as the one that took place last week in Austria.

It is every man for himself, with the resulting risk of anarchy. It is national egoism on the rebound: the real law of the jungle, much more frightening that what we saw in Calais. In short, it is Europe itself that the so-called migrant crisis is tearing apart.

It is the very spirit of Europe that, left in the hands of timid officials without a plan, is succumbing to catalepsy.

And we may well be witnessing something that neither last year’s crisis in Greece nor the financial disaster of 2008 nor even the machinations of Vladimir Putin could bring about: the death of the beautiful dream of Dante Alighieri, Edmund Husserl and Robert Schuman.

The developments are not wholly surprising to those who, like me (as expressed in my 2014 play, Hotel Europe), have watched and worried as the Brussels government has become an increasingly obese, immobile bureaucracy staffed with the “crowned pen-pushers” that Paul Morand lampooned in his portrait of Emperor Franz Joseph and that another writer, witnessing the same disintegration, described as princes of standards and kings of weights, measures, and statistics for whom the idea of confronting history writ large or even real politics had become unimaginable — new Cacania, a new realm of the absurd, like Robert Musil’s fictional country, rotten from routine and wasting away from lack of spirit, lack of a plan, lack of a guiding star; a second “laboratory of twilight,” in the phrase of Milan Kundera, where sleepwalking leaders repeat, in blissful but morbid rapture, all of the mistakes of their forebears.

And, if things coast along on their present course, the catastrophe will be along the lines of the great error that some of us have warned about for decades: Europe is not a self-evident and inevitable fact inscribed in the nature of things or of history; no more so than Italy, as the King of Sardinia said in his famous response to Lamartine, will Europe build itself in the absence of positive action. If we forget that principle and rely instead on luck and lazy progressivism, our own Europe will go the way of Roman Europe, the Europe of Charlemagne and Charles V, the Europe of the Holy Roman Empire, of the Habsburg Empire, and of Napoleonic Europe, all of which were full-blown Europes, just as real as our own, Europes that their contemporaries believed, just as we do today, to be firmly established, rock solid, graven in the marble of reigns that appeared eternal but that crumbled soon enough.

The worst outcome is not a sure thing, of course.

There is still time—there is always time until time runs out—to bring about a political and moral awakening that embodies the lessons of the past and reflects the realization that without the stubborn, counter-intuitive, and seemingly insensate will of its best leaders Europe has always had all sorts of reasons to break apart. Only such an awakening, I fear, will spare us the frightening conclusion that now seems inevitable.

We cannot have it both ways.

Either we do nothing and let ourselves be overtaken by the widespread and shameful spirit of every man for himself, in which case rabid nationalism will win out for good over the European dream, reducing it to the gains offered by a large single market. While that outcome might still serve the purposes of globalized business, it certainly will not serve those of the masses of Europeans who aspire toward greater peace, democracy, and rule of law.

Either that, or the 28 nations of Europe pull themselves together and resolve to follow, first, the course laid out by Angela Merkel on the question of the reception to be given to our brothers and sisters in humanity who are knocking at the door of the house we share, a reception that should be morally infinite if necessarily conditioned by the politics of the possible; and, second, the course laid out by François Hollande on the question of Syria and the double-barreled barbarity that, by emptying the country of its residents and casting them by the millions onto the roads of exile, is the true source of the present tragedy. The two leaders, gratifyingly, are taking care to hear and absorb each other’s view of the situation, knowing that only a combined and coordinated approach can give body and soul to the Franco-German axis without which nothing is possible.

If we make the second choice, then and only then will Europe, with its back to the wall, obtain a reprieve and, with the addition of a little courage, gain a chance to survive and, just possibly, emerge stronger than it is today.

More than ever the choice is plain: either Europe or barbarism; either Europe or chaos, poverty, political and social regression; either a meaningful step in the direction of political integration, which is the only feasible way to meet today’s terrible challenges, or certain decline, expulsion from history, and the possibility, eventually, of war.

Bernard-Henri Lévy is one of France’s most famed philosophers, a journalist, and a bestselling writer. He is considered a founder of the New Philosophy movement and is a leading thinker on religious issues, genocide, and international affairs. His 2013 book, Les Aventures de la vérité—Peinture et philosophie: un récit, explores the historical interplay of philosophy and art. His new play, “Hotel Europe,” which premiered in Sarajevo on June 27, 2014, and in Paris on September 9, is a cry of alarm about the crisis facing the European project and the dream behind it.

This article was translated from the French by Steven B. Kennedy.

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  • Tamara van Utens

    I agree with Cultural Anthropologist. I would guess that in no more than fifty years large parts of Europe will be divided into Sharia and non-Sharia zones. The least Europe can do now is to inform the refugees that when peace is reached in Syria they will be sent home with start-up
    money to start a new life.

  • Trevor Eccles

    Bernard-Henri Lévy is a writer who always makes me think. Each time I read him, I ask myself, “How did he ever become known as an intellectual? How does he continue to get published?” Is it the open-neck shirt? The flowing hair? The fact that he sort of looks like a ‘thinker’, thereby saving the incurious of actually seeing his plays, reading his books? Perhaps it’s his habit of praising and sucking up to those in power, or his ability to state very little in very long words? His readiness to offer a solution to the problem du jour?
    But I think, above, it’s his god-awful, name-dropping, humorless, limitless pretentiousness, as displayed in his description of the European Union as… “the beautiful dream of Dante Alighieri, Edmund Husserl and Robert Schuman.”
    Yeah… right.

  • jakob wasi

    BHL is ready for the old-age home. It’s well time for him to take him out of the public realm and dust off a rocking chair for this old fool. We don’t forget the chaos in Libya lies squarely at his feet since he went around banging pots and pans for Qaddafi’s ouster.

  • Brandon Boggs

    If you think this invasion by young Muslim men has not been created on purpose your either part of the Jewish elite or your just crazy. It’s called the Claudenhoven-Kalergi plan and its soul purpose is the most racist thing ever imagined. This plan shows just how insane liberals are and how hopeless things are for Europe that they are intentionally allowing their women to be raped by these scumbags so they can mix everybody by force if necessary in order to kill off white people its happening here in the U.S too its a White genocide project.

    • j

      Shouldn’t you put your tinfoil hat back on? At least take your meds.

  • Brilliant piece of leftist garbage. He says the ” choice is Europe or barbarism”. No sir, the choice is Europe with or without barbarism ! The majority of refugees flooding into Europe form an invading force of medieval- minded, Sharia- loving , barbaric, mysoginistic, homophobic, decapitating, mutilating horde, who have no intention of even trying to fit into European culture , but rather to have European culture fit into theirs ! Blind Freddy can see that…but not the naive leftist philosophers and ideologues.

  • Paul Caplan

    Writing is so bad and sentences so long that is is impossible to understand what you are talking about.

  • Yoel Nitzarim

    It appears that integration of the millions that have come to Europe have created such a crucible of fomenting tension that no manner of planned acculturation will satisfy the wantonly abandoned throes of an incalculable chaos unseen and unmeasured in ilk since prevail times.

  • SteveHC

    As a Jew I could care less what happens to Europe or the EU; at this point all I care about is how events there affect us Jews and Israel. Beyond that, most of Europe and non-Jewish Europeans do not deserve our consideration for they have made their own bed.

  • Cultural Anthropologist

    B. H. Levy is enthusiastic about “the reception to be given to our brothers and sisters in humanity who are knocking at the door of the house we share, a reception that should be morally infinite.”
    We shall see how enhancing to European “humanity” it will be to import the Middle East to Europe. Unfortunately, the millions and millions of Middle Eastern refugees and those seeking a safer, richer life carry with them Middle Eastern tribal and Islamic culture which has made the Middle East what it is, and which is inimical to enlightened European values. It is not state nationalism that will be the problem, but civil war between Islamist jihadis and European “infidels.” Don’t say you weren’t warned.

    • Sharon

      KARMA!! Europe did not want the 6 million jews and G-d replaced them with millions of moslems. ENJOY!!