I think it is sometimes good to read books by people who come from a very different perspective, different political slant and academic, even generational, background. It was in such a spirit that I picked up After the Fall: The End of the European Dream and the Decline of a Continent by Walter Lacqueur, former director of the Institute for Contemporary History in London.
But I nearly regretted it – because I nearly did myself an injury falling off my chair laughing. It wasn’t the whole book that did it – I found its perspective on Islam and Muslims deeply disturbing (as did the Economist) rather than laughable, but one phrase about France and Sweden: “family-friendly legislation (providing long holidays after childbirth)” (p. 234). Come on, really, “holidays” … this is a man clearly utterly unattached to the physical realities of life.
Indeed his whole perspective is stuck in some idea of 1950s great power politics – indeed often 19th-century great power politics. A declining population is a terrible thing because it reduces a nation’s power, which can only be measured by raw, brute military and economic clout. What he wants is a Nietzschean will to power – he complains even Europe’s fascists have lost it. (p276) The First World War broke Europe’s confidence, he explains – and such a pity that desire to colonise and dominate was lost, he seems to be saying. (p. 150)
He’s concerned about oil and gas supplies – but only in the way that he thinks another power could cut supplies. The environment as an issue, peak oil, the security of food supplies for a growing population, has entirely, wholly, passed him by. Military might and economic muscles are not simply the major issues, but the only ones, together with He regards “small is beautiful” as a now-past, “frequently discussed fad” (p. 276). Climate change – what’s that?
I might put this down to a couple of wasted hours and move on, except that I wonder how much of a grip such perspectives still have. He found a publisher for this work that is apparently unaware of the past 40 years of scholarship after all, and his CV suggests he’s the sort of emeritus professor type likely to still have the ear of current policymakers.