- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 2, 2005

The French and Dutch rebuffs of the European Union constitution will soon be followed by other rejections. Millions of proud, educated Europeans are tired of being told by unelected grandees that the mess they see is abstract art.

The EU constitution — and its promise of a new Europe — supposedly offered a corrective to the Anglo-American strain of Western civilization. More government, higher taxes, richer entitlements, pacifism, statism and atheism would make a more humane and powerful new Continent of more than 400 million to outpace a retrograde United States.

Instead, Europe faces a declining population, unassimilated minorities, low growth, high unemployment and an inability to defend itself, militarily or morally. Somehow the directorate of the European Union has figured out how to have too few citizens while having too many of them out of work.

The only question that remains is just how low will the 100,000 bureaucrats of the European Union go in shrieking to their defiant electorates as they stampede for the exits.

In fact, 2005 is a culmination of dying ideas. Despite the boasts and threats, almost every political alternative to Western liberalism over the last quarter-century is crashing or already in flames.

China’s red-hot economy — something like America’s of 1870, before unionization, environmentalism and federal regulation — shows just how dead communism is. Will Vietnam, North Korea and Cuba go out with a bang or a whimper? If North Korea’s nutty communiques, Hugo Chavez’s shouting about oil boycotts and Fidel Castro’s harangues sound desperate, it is because they all are.

Fascism has long vacated its birthplace in Europe. The fragments of the former Soviet autocracy are democratizing. The caudillos are gone from Latin America. The last enclave of dictators is the Middle East. Yet after Saddam’s capture in a cesspool, their hold is slipping, too. There will probably not be an Assad III or a second Mubarak.

The real suspense is whether the Gulf royals can make good on their promises of reform and elections. Will they end up like pampered Windsors or go the ignominious way of Iran’s former shah? In desperation, the apparatchik journalists in the state-controlled Arab press damn the United States, the avatar of change. Syria breaks all relations with America, even as it leaves Lebanon, and is terrified of the Iraqi experiment.

Then there is bankrupt Islamic fundamentalism. The zealots can always tape a beheading or turn out a few thousand to burn an American flag. But the Taliban are gone from power. Iran faces popular disgust at home, while its desperate nuclear plots are awakening even a comatose Europe. And the promise of a return to the eighth century has always had an appeal limited to a few thousand pampered elites, like Osama bin Laden, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri or Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi. These losers figured they might become Saladins if they convinced an Arab populace the Jews and America, not their own corrupt regimes, kept them poor. Now they are reduced to ranting about the evils of freedom and democracy.

Oil, terror, anti-Semitism and hating America gave the fundamentalists some resonance, but there were never any ideas. The Islamicists offered nothing to galvanize the Arab masses other than nihilism. That doctrine feeds and employs no one. Instead, we witness the creepy threats and the pyrotechnics of a lunatic ideology going the way of bushido and the kamikazes.

Why all these upheavals?

Global communications now reveal hourly to people abroad how much better life is in Europe than in the Middle East and Asia — and how in America, Australia and Britain the standard of living is even better than in most of Europe.

The removal of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein and their replacement with democracies proved the United States after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, was neither weak nor cynical. In fact, it was the utopian United Nations, with its oil-for-food, snoozing in Darfur and scandals about peacekeepers, that proved corrupt and unreliable.

The mass mourning of the pope’s death revealed a renewed desire for spirituality. Two billion in India and China quietly keep copying the West. Car bombs, fist-shaking mobs and beheadings dispel all the old romance about the Third-World postcolonial “other.”

What are we left with then?

Democracy, open markets, personal freedom, individual rights, pride in national traditions, worry about big government — which is what we see in the United States, Britain, Australia and their allies in Japan and the breakaway countries in Europe. Elections in Ethiopia, France, Iraq, Lebanon and Ukraine all point to a desire for more freedom from central state control.

Embers of communism, fascism, theocracy and socialism, of course, will always flare up if we become complacent or arrogant. Wounded beasts like Iran, North Korea and bin Laden are most dangerous before they expire. Expect discredited EU bureaucrats to conjure up the specter of the American bogeyman before they pension out.

Still, the racket and clamor from all these antidemocratic ideas in 2005 are not birth pangs, but the bitter death throes of those whose time has nearly passed.

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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