BreakPoint Blog

Europe Syndrome

What's happening? Call it the Europe syndrome. Last April I had occasion to speak in Zurich, where I made some of these same points. After the speech, a few of the twenty-something members of the audience approached and said plainly that the phrase "a life well-lived" did not have meaning for them. They were having a great time with their current sex partner and new BMW and the vacation home in Majorca, and saw no voids in their lives that needed filling.

~ Charles Murray, The 2009 Irving Kristol Lecture, March 12, 2009

Author and political scientist Charles Murray recently delivered the address at the American Enterprise Institute's annual dinner. His talk was entitled "The Happiness of the People" and is posted on AEI's website.

Murray's lecture is a great worldview read. What he calls the "Europe Syndrome" is a way of thinking ... in other words, a worldview. Though Murray admires Europe in some ways, he unpacks some of the core beliefs of the modern worldview that has shaped Western Europe -- a worldview that is spreading like the swine flu among many of America's elites and current leaders. Murray describes a core belief of this worldview in the following way.

Human beings are a collection of chemicals that activate and, after a period of time, deactivate. The purpose of life is to while away the intervening time as pleasantly as possible.

If that's the purpose of life, then work is not a vocation, but something that interferes with the higher good of leisure. If that's the purpose of life, why have a child, when children are so much trouble--and, after all, what good are they, really? If that's the purpose of life, why spend it worrying about neighbors? If that's the purpose of life, what could possibly be the attraction of a religion that says otherwise?

Government's job, therefore, is to minimize unpleasantness so that we can while away the intervening time between our activation and deactivation. European-style social democracies are quite successful toward this end. This line of thinking also explains current European trends such as below-replacement birthrates, increased leisure time, fewer hours spent working, and lots of beautiful but empty cathedrals and churches.


To be fair that is nothing new. For a long time in Europe a measure of one's importance was one's freedom from labor. I suppose it is not supprising though it is ironic that it is thought that the true proof that the Ancient Regime is gone is that serfs get to act like decadant courtiers. As for the criticism of finding transcendentalism in Human achievement, that is something like criticizing the moon because it is not the sun. Europeans have always found transcendentalism(glory is a more old-fashioned and more evocative word) in human achievement. They simply didn't always see it as the ultimate transcendentalism.
Another article that might be of interest that highlights the morally truncated view of Murray can be found here: I saw Murray's reaction to this piece at NRO's The Corner, and he said there was nothing he could do to challenge it. Priceless.