The End of Europe

By Robbin Laird

James Kirchik in his book entitled The End of Europe reflects on his experiences while living and working in Europe since 2010 to provide a sense of the dynamics of change in Europe and the impact of those dynamics on the European order which has emerged from the post Cold-War world.

He highlights the forces which in his view could thrust Europe into a new dark ages and the forces that are destroying the kind of multi-cultural and multi-national liberal order which has been the historical achievement of West Europeans through 1989.

But as those institutions created for the post-War period and underwritten by American defense, trade and economic institutions have been challenged in the post-Cold War period, how will the European order evolve, survive, mutate or collapse?

The book contains several chapters which look at individual countries and the challenges which these countries are facing, and works from the individual to the general to highlight ways in which the inherited order is cracking and perhaps collapsing.

The style is very readable and the examples very clear and certainly poignant.

It is a very good catalogue of the pressures dismembering the inherited European order.

I would have put the analysis a bit differently from the author in that the challenge to the West European order underwritten by the United States was changed dramatically with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the German-lead expansion of the EU eastward and the American led expansion of NATO eastward.

Was this an example of projecting institutions onto new actors and players who were themselves not easily integrated into the inherited institutions?

And has there simply been a significant leadership failure on the part of the West Europeans who became the German-led Europeans after unification?

And of the American Administrations as well to recognize the lack of fit between what was built before and what needed to be built to accommodate the new actors in Europe?

It must be realized that any of the new old European states have no long tradition of democratic experiences or commitment to liberal values.

Much of the material in the book suggest that this is so.

There is an interesting tension between his clear focus on the need to maintain the liberal democratic order and believing there is something inherently rooted in the initial post-Cold War period which would facilitate progress.

Trends in East Central Europe complicate the thesis famously advanced by Francis Fukuyama in his seminal 1992 work, The End of History and the Last Man.

In our post-communist, post-ideological age, Fukuyama argued, no viable alternative exists to a liberal democratic political system married to regulated free-market capitalism; the only foreseeable political disputes concern how best to manage this arrangement.

While the past two decades have proved Fukuyama’s thesis to be premature when applied to less developed parts of the world, recent trends in Europe show that not even Western democracies are immune to serious regression.1.

I would argue that it was not premature; it was and is dead wrong and reflected the misguided approach to simply adding members to the EU and NATO clubs without seriously considering the consequences for those institutions themselves.

And when he discusses Poland and Hungary and their crises of democracy, this misses the core point, namely, that they simply do not have democracy as experienced by Western Europe for the fifty years following World War II.

It was not that long ago — the 1960s to be precise — when analysts were concerned with whether West Germany could really become democratic,

History and culture have their own dynamics and reality and institutions built by the Americans with European state building in the West have proven not easily adaptable to the new entrants to the club.

And the Europeans clearly have NOT been able to deliver what the 1950s Americans could with regard to fundamental institutional change in the newly incorporated states,

European leaders who are the inheritors of the Western liberal democratic tradition need to focus on the adaptations necessary in Europe to keep that tradition viable in the decade ahead.

Rather than using Brexit as a blunt instrument to enforce continued commitment to the Brussels led European order, it is time to recover enlightened nationalism to salvage the liberal democratic order and to provide for a viable defense effort.

The author comes a conclusion which certainly makes sense to me:

“More Europe,” the mantra of federalists in response to every setback for their project, need not mean the investiture of more power in Brussels.

“The paradigm for further European integration should more often than not be greater cooperation cooperation along the lines of De Gaulle’s “Europe of nation-states,” not the strengthening of the Brussels bureaucracy.

“Practically, this would translate into shifting some powers from the unelected European Commission to the EU Council, composed of the ministers of the national governments. “Ever closer union,” a clause in the Preamble to the 1957 treaty establishing the European Community which became a major sticking point in the Brexit debate, need not be a religion.

“Forging greater consensus on a common external policy is the most important aspect of integration, as it holds the key to Europe’s wielding influence alongside the United States as a liberal world power.2

Even though the direct defense of Europe to deal with the threat of the authoritarianism is not the subject of his book, many of the challenges facing Europe which he highlights do raise the question of how the inherited approach to multilateralism and Article V can survive the kind of fragmented Europe he describes.

What role will shaping a new approach to direct defense play within Europe and who will be the key players as Europe is recast and redefined?

It is notable that the Nordics are considerably more serious about their direct defense than is Germany and can such a gap really sustain European integration or will that work at cross-purposes?

That is a subject for another book for sure, indeed one which I am writing with Murielle Delaporte and Chloe Laird.



  1. Kirchick, James. The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues, and the Coming Dark Age (p. 66). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition
  2. Kirchick, James. The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues, and the Coming Dark Age (p. 227). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.