Holmes on Caldwell

If you look across the Atlantic to Europe, there’s no question that some real problems exist with the social exclusion of immigrant communities that’s leading, in the particular case of Muslim immigrant communities, to the rise of some extremist ideologies. You might think of it as comparable to the situation in African-American ghettos in the 1960s except smaller in scale and less severe. But the American right is obsessed with the idea that this is not “a problem that people will have to deal with” (people who, thankfully, don’t need to deal with such problems as mass child poverty or sky-high murder rates) but rather “the imminent collapse of European civilization.” Now Christopher Caldwell, one of the right’s most skilled writers, has produced a whole book of absurdly overblown claims along these lines titled, bombastically, Reflections on the Revolution In Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West.

Steven Holmes as an excellent review of the book in The American Prospect. Part of what’s interesting about this is how life in Europe makes the American conservative sympathetic to the Islamists:

This is why Caldwell refers to poverty-stricken Muslim enclaves as “the strongest communities in Europe” — strong, that is, in the context of a pitifully weak post-religious and post-nationalist Europe. “Islam is not the second religion of Europe but the first,” he says, because it has maintained its “vital energy,” while there is nothing left to European Christianity but a superficial “lifestyle.” He even ends up agreeing with Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, that Europe’s “materialist civilization” is “on the verge of collapse.” Caldwell feels more at home with Muslim values than with the values of contemporary Europe — as, he says, would Dante. And Caldwell also values women’s chastity more than women’s autonomy because chastity (not to mention virginity) “can further dignity, responsibility, and self-respect.” You may think that burqas and niquabs demean women, he ironizes, but what about “jeans that cinch halfway down the bum crack”?

Running through a lot of contemporary conservative thought is the right’s staggering lack of faith in the power of western civilization’s achievements. Liberal democracy has brought us a great deal of peace and prosperity, and time and again liberal societies have proved stronger than our autocratic rivals. But the right seems obsessed with the idea that impoverished and backward social values, or else dictatorial political institutions, offer the key to world-historical success. Thus Europe, supposedly, would be stronger if it re-embraced fratricidal violence and the United States would be more secure if we embraced the methods of the KGB.