Greece: Beginning and Ends
Posted on May 11, 2010A little more than 2300 years ago, Alexander the Great rampaged out of Greece into Asia Minor, and Greek civilization reached its largest sphere of influence. A few centuries later, the Romans followed suit, and Western civilization would forever be formed in the minds of the Europeans and the world.
After Roman civilization declined, Europe went through some murky times in the Dark Ages, but soon the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the ideas of free market capitalism, industrialism, scientific progress, democracy and financial innovation made Western nations the most powerful in the world. The Spanish, the Portuguese, Dutch, the French, the English, the Germans and the Austro-Hungarians all took turns establishing different spheres of influence and empires of different sizes and shapes.
The 20th Century was tough on the Europeans. Two world wars decimated its wealth and vibrancy (and growth, especially population growth), and for the last half of the century, the continent was dominated by two non-European powers (the Americans and the Russians). The once dominant European powers were pawns in a Cold War chess match that featured a former colony squaring off against a backward, Communist behemoth.
For the last forty years, the European powers are in marked decline. They have a negative population growth rate. They can’t afford much of a military budget. They have to import most of their labor. They have high tax rates and staggering budget problems. They have persistently high unemployment rates. Their growth rates are relatively anemic. From an artistic perspective, the Europeans aren’t exactly killing it either. Sure, The Beatles were great, but most of the creative energy is coming from somewhere else.
Everybody wants to visit Europe on holiday, but nobody fears the Europeans anymore.
They are becoming a historic curiosity, a novelty, a civilization that time has passed by.
Nothing brings that home more than what has happened to Greece over the last couple of months. The Greeks can’t pay their debts, nor do most Greeks seem that interested in doing so. In fact, they are protesting vehemently against the whole idea.
What has happened to Greece is a symbol of a bigger disease that is afflicting Europe. It is not just the Greeks who don’t want to work hard and pay off their debts. The Portuguese don’t want to, the Irish don’t want to, the Spanish don’t want to do, and really, the Brits don’t want to, truth be told.
The English have been fighting a losing battle to keep their empire together even on their own island for a couple of decades now. The Welsh and the Scots want out, and pretty soon the Picts will want their own parliament. The Irish are already on their way out.
Some European intellectuals once thought that the only to make Europe a dominant power again was to have them join together in one big, super country. Well, now that the Greeks don’t want to pay their debts, that doesn’t seem like such a good deal, especially to the Germans.
It was always a dream for the Germans to some day dominate all of the Europe. Kaiser Wilhelm wanted to do that, Hitler wanted to do that, Bismark wanted to do that. But as the saying goes, be careful what you wish for. The Germans now dominate all of Europe, which they did by bringing together the European Union, but now that doesn’t seem like such good idea. Now, they realize they have to pick up the tab for the Greeks and just about everybody else.
Europe -- for close to four hundred years the dominant intellectual, economic, military continent -- is now officially on the way to the ash heap of history. Greece, the civilization that introduced Western European civilization to the world, is now letting us all know that Europe’s best days are well behind it.
For thirty years, liberal Democrats have held Europe up as somehow a shining example of efficiency and compassion. They remind me of how my mother used to always compare me and my brothers (unfavorably) to my supposedly smarter, more hard-working and more industrious cousins. The Europeans do this better….they have universal health care…they give 180 days of parental leave….blah, blah, blah.
But I don’t think we should look to the Europeans for inspiration. They are a declining, dying civilization, as much as I love French food, Irish beer, English rock and roll, Italian pasta, and all the rest.
But I doubt a European power will ever be dominant again. We shouldn’t follow in their footsteps. We should chart our own course.
The Greeks started this all more than a millennium ago. Now, they are a symbol of the end of it all for the European powers in the next millennium.