“All circumstances taken together, the French Revolution is the most astonishing that has hitherto happened in the world.” These words, spoken by the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, reflect his bewilderment over the French Revolution and its socio-political effects. He could not find anything else in history that resembled it.
These words come to mind when reflecting on the migrant crisis in Europe right now. Is there any other event in history comparable to the situation in Western Europe now? The parallels are striking: the liberal left’s desire to help those who are visibly suffering versus the conservative’s desire to maintain continuity and stability; the clash of cultures between Islam and the West; the natural rights of men versus the duties of European citizens; and nationalism versus globalization. The tenets of all these issues are present in the migrant crisis — and were similarly present at the forefront of the French Revolution.
The repetition of history may be surprising to some, but not to Burke. “People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors,” he said. Santayana said as much in his famous quote, “[t]hose who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
The revolution & the migrant crisis
The historical event that the current migrant crisis in Europe most resembles is the French Revolution. In fact, it is Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France that helps us to make the comparison between the two events apparent — and, ultimately, to vindicate his positions on human nature and government.
To Burke, the French Revolution and the Enlightenment philosophy leading up to it were a disaster. It was, to him, something that had “very much the complexion of a fraud.” The migrant crisis has a similar feeling because, despite what the media tells us, four out of five migrants are not from Syria, according to official EU figures. These migrants are coming from North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia, and they are able to enter Europe freely largely due to the leniency of the European Union — and, specifically, due to Germany’s exaggerated hospitality.
Essentially, Germany and other European nations are using an abstract principle of tolerance — of empathy coupled with an earnest desire to help the suffering of others. Burke, of course, detested governing people on abstract principles. “Circumstances,” he writes, “which with some gentlemen pass for nothing, give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing colour and discriminating effect. … [they] are what render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind.”
Thus, Europe’s open door and sheltering policies may certainly work for certain groups of people. But if the character and culture of the guest group clashes with that of the host group, then such abstract principles fail and, eventually, fall apart. Furthermore, it may even lead to risky or dangerous situations — something which we are seeing now, as ISIS admits that it has infiltrated Europe by taking advantage of good-natured and naïve European liberals and sent jihadists pretending to be refugees.
At first, Europeans welcomed the waves of refugees — in much the same way that people welcomed the promises of the French Revolution. But Burke was sceptical, saying: “I should therefore suspend my congratulations on the new liberty of France.” Burke was astutely aware of the ramifications of the removal of external authority and liberation of the individual from moral restraints. Knowing that the radical liberal philosophy would spread like wildfire across the population, Burke worried and said: “It looks to me as if I were in a great crisis, not of the affairs of France alone, perhaps of more than Europe.”
Accusations & phobia
Unfortunately, anyone adopting Burke’s conservative stance on the problem of mass immigration today can be immediately labelled an “Islamophobe”. President Donald Trump is one such example. He seems to share Burke’s view that it is “[b]etter to be despised for too anxious apprehensions than ruined by too confident a security.” In other words, both Burke and Trump agree that national security and stability, accompanied by external vitriol, are much more important than capricious generosity and popularity.
The liberals of both our day and Burke’s have been quick to label anyone who opposes unchecked Muslim immigration a “bigot”. Burke referred to them as “Sophisters” who “substitute a fictitious cause, and feigned personages, in whose favour they suppose you engaged, whenever you defend the inheritable nature of the crown.”
Burke here is defending the aristocracy, the hereditary nature of community that is not simply given by mere whimsy, and the importance of tradition against those who attack his beliefs speciously. These liberals, who defend the Revolution, are the same as those who are quick to accuse of Islamophobia anyone who points to evidence showing the problems and dangers of mass Islamic migration.
Destroying the old order
The pillars of the faith of European liberals are equity, autonomy, a devotion to the individual, social rights without their correspondent duties, and liberation from ancient ties. In the name of equality and autonomy, today’s liberals have opened their country’s doors. Three centuries ago, the revolutionary liberals destroyed the old order, which had been based on authority, community, and a sacred tradition based on equity and liberty, and replaced it with the foundations of the modern, globalist, borderless state.
According to German reports, 81% of migrants lack job qualifications, have high rates of illiteracy, import their social and political conflicts from home to Europe, freeride on government benefits, and treat women and children deplorably, including religiously sanctioning child marriages and paedophilia. What is the benefit of bringing people with such views to Europe?
Burke raised the same concerns and asked the liberal radicals of his day to ask similar questions: “Compute your gains: see what is got by those extravagant presumptuous speculations.” He warned that “[b]y following those false lights, France has bought undignified calamities at a higher price than any nation has purchased.” The Europeans should have seen the writing on the wall.
At the same time, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates have not participated in any effort to help with the migrant crisis. They have not taken in any refugees, citing reasons of national security. These Gulf States, which are well equipped for military conflict, are also doing little to fight ISIS.
Burke knew about the dangers of implementing change recklessly, without a method for conservation. He quoted Alexander Pope when he said: “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” In our day, Europe has rushed in — all the while ignoring the enormous red flag the Arab nations have waved in their refusal to accept any of what, by all accounts are, refugees from more culturally congruent neighbouring countries.
The ideology of political correctness
The French Revolution was speciously enacted in the name of equality; today’s migrant crisis has taken place in the name of the other ideology of our day: political correctness. Burke, like all conservatives, knew that life contains natural and just inequalities — and that any attempt to equalize people is just a fool’s errand.
Due to political correctness, no one today can admit that allowing migrants who bring crime, conflict, and misogyny — and, to a certain degree, a dependence on the European welfare state — is wrong. Political correctness disables anyone’s ability to create hierarchies, prioritize, or criticize anything. Under political correctness, we are all equal at all things at all times.
This concept, to Burke, is based on another specious and faulty premise. With regards to equality, he said: “In this you think you are combating prejudice, but you are at war with nature.” To the liberals, everything is equal; to the conservatives, it is a denial of reality and human nature.
To reiterate, liberals base their positions on more than just equality or equity; they base them on social rights which they want to extend to all people everywhere. While this is a generous sentiment, the Burkean conservative knows that “rights” must only be given in fulfilment of a correspondent duty. The migrants have been given the full rights and privileges of European citizens without any duty, labour, or communal inheritance. And how have they reacted? They have complained about the food, criticized the free shelter they’ve been given, bemoaned the lack of amenities, and rioted against the modest size of their free government allowances. Is this the “injustice” Burke spoke of?
The legitimacy of refugees
While it may seem that Islamic migrants have been painted in an overly negative light, it is necessary to add that some migrants are legitimate refugees. In a similar way, Burke also knew that not all the claims of the radical liberals were false: “In denying their false claims of right, I do not mean to injure those which are real,” he writes.
Burke further shows a soft spot — later echoed by J.S. Mill in On Liberty — when he says, “Whatever each man can separately do, without trespassing upon others, he has a right to do for himself.” However, Burke believed in this freedom only in moderation. When the revolutionaries removed moderation and moral restraint from this pursuit, trespassing on others occurred.
This is the case with, for example, the Muslim demand for the removal of pork products from all restaurants because it is offensive to Muslims (whereas most Jews, who are also forbidden to eat pork, would simply say “no, thank you” if offered pork). The demand for equality and an appeal to political correctness are now “trespassing upon others.”
Burke repeats that he is aware that not all the revolutionaries are bad; but, this time, he adds a caveat — that extremists who, “under the name of religion teach little else than wild and dangerous politics,” are a problem. In the context of today, this means that not all Muslims are “bad” and, in fact, some are heroes (like Lassana Bathily, the Malian Muslim who risked his life to save the Jewish customers of the Kosher restaurant that was the victim of a jihad attack in France).
Today, the religious “wild and dangerous politics” Burke spoke of is today called shari’a law. Burke spoke of the destruction of the ‘old order’, which had been based on kinship, community, duty, moral restraint and religion; it has to be said: This strongly resembles shari’a and the Jihadist agenda in Europe and in the rest of the world.
The role of women
One especially problematic aspect of shari’a law is the treatment and view of non-Muslim women. Essentially, non-Muslim women are seen as infidels, captives, and/or slaves in times of jihad, male Muslim authorities often condone their rape. A shocking number of European countries are now dealing with a “rape epidemic”. And, as has been widely reported after the fact, on New Year’s Eve 2016, the Western world was introduced to something called Taharrush. This is the Muslim cultural practice of gang-rape.
In fact, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Germany, and other European countries are actually dealing with a rape epidemic — as if it were a contagious disease. But liberalism and political correctness have been guiding European authorities into staging mass cover-ups of migrant rape and other crimes.
“Where are the men of Germany?” you may ask. Burke has an answer: “[T]he age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is now extinguished forever.” To Burke, the same ideology made the men of France soft. This is a parallel to what is going on in Europe today. Liberal progressivism has hen-pecked Western men, making them appear weak and soft to traditional Muslims and their male-oriented societies.
The threat to Western societies
Burke knew the goal of the radical revolutionary’s machinations was to subject all people to some abstract, radical ideal. This is eerily similar to the manipulative tactics of today’s European politicians. Towards the end of his Reflections, Burke quotes M. de la Tour du Pin, who describes the consequences of a military state, saying it “is a species of political monster, which has always ended by devouring those who have produced it.”
Seeing constant headlines about the world on the brink of World War II in the 1930s is one thing; reading a headline saying that the “German Army [is] to train ‘refugees’ before sending them back to Syria” is quite another. This should be particularly alarming to people, given the long history of some Germans allying with the Muslim world — siding with Turkey in the Thirty Years’ War; with the Ottoman Empire during WWI and support for the Turks during the Armenian Genocide; and the anti-Semitic “bond” that seemed to exist between Nazis and some Muslims during World War II. And as the corporatist and technocratic German elite has risen to power again, this time through monetary authority and the power to sanction or penalize smaller countries in the European Union. And it is this power has given them the ability to impose “legal action against EU countries ignoring quota” for migrants.
As the rise of “no-go zones” across Europe seems to continue — for example, in Sweden — the allure of a military (or militarized) society seems to grow stronger. Robert Nisbet says that two things precipitate the rise of the military society: military socialism and the growing threat of terrorism. Europe finds itself in just such a spot now — and political authorities seem powerless to do anything.
What redress do the people of Europe have? It appears that some are responding with vigilantism. Headlines like “German vigilante group vows to protect women from migrant attackers as 34 suspects are arrested — including three for gang-raping two teenagers” may be the inevitable outcome under the current circumstances. But it is a worrying trend, if it continues, and threatens to undermine the very foundations of liberty on which the West was built.
To Burke, liberty “is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tuition or restrain.” He knew that “[t]o make a government requires no great prudence;” however, to make a government that works, one that is a “free government; that is, to temper together these opposite elements of liberty and restraint in one consistent work, requires much thought, deep reflection, a sagacious, powerful, and combining mind.”
Burke believed in change, knowing that a nation unwilling or unable to change would collapse. However, he believed in prudence, moderation, moral restraint, and gradual implementation with reflective assessment. Had European leaders today believed in the same things, had they been inspired by the kind of enduring values of which Burke spoke, then perhaps European countries might not be in the predicament in which they find themselves now.
Equity, political correctness, and the suppression of free speech are threatening to thrust Europeans into a cultural and religious civil war. This will only be the beginning. Their only recourse in the short term is to take hard-line positions against radical Islam, as French Mayor Robert Chardon has done, by calling for the banning of Islam from France after the Bataclan Massacre. Furthermore, European countries must take conservative views on immigration — perhaps inspired by the likes of Garrett Hardin, who came up with the idea decades ago of “Lifeboat Ethics”.
The metaphor Hardin created was, of course, that of a ship that capsizes (like the Titanic) and which has a limited number of lifeboats capable of only accommodating ten people per raft. If an 11th person is brought on board, all ten people and the 11th person will die. But if the passengers in the raft take a conservative approach and emphasize in-group loyalty and say “no” to any more additional passengers, the ten passengers will survive.
Europeans need to take similar conservative approaches. They need to abandon the ideology of political correctness and talk openly about how to ensure that their societies, and the civilization they represent, survive. This requires a sober look at themselves and at foreign societies. Not all things are equal, not all people are equal, and not all cultures are equal.
Russell Kirk believed that there is, in fact, an enduring moral order — meaning that right and wrong are absolute. A firm firm voice is necessary to say that crimes such as sexual assault and violence are unacceptable; and a courageous stand needs to be taken in defence of our societies and against the disrespect for local customs and traditions so often shown by newcomers.
Only if the governments of European nation-states and their citizens unite will Europe survive. Through prudence, restraint, and Burkean insights we can all work towards the realization of a bright future — one in which the values and principles that sustained European culture and Western civilization over the centuries are strengthened.