Outside of politics, sports, and popular entertainment, how many living Germans, or French, or Austrians, or even Brits can you name?
Even well-informed people who love art and literature and who follow developments in science and medicine would be hard pressed to come up with many, more often any, names. In terms of greatness in literature, art, music, the sciences, philosophy, and medical breakthroughs, Europe has virtually fallen off the radar screen.
This is particularly meaningful given how different the answer would have been had you asked anyone the same question between just 80 and 120 years ago -- and certainly before that. A plethora of world-renowned names would have flowed.
Obvious examples would include (in alphabetical order): Brecht, Buber, Cezanne, Chekhov, Curie, Debussy, Eiffel, Einstein, Freud, Hesse, Kafka, Mahler, Mann, Marconi, Pasteur, Porsche, Proust, Somerset Maugham, Strauss, Stravinsky, Tolstoy, Zeppelin, Zola.
Not to mention the European immortals who lived within the century before them: Mozart, Beethoven, Dostoevsky, Darwin, Kierkegaard, Manet, Monet, Hugo and Van Gogh, to name only a few.
What has happened?
What has happened is that Europe, with a few exceptions, has lost its creativity, intellectual excitement, industrial innovation, and risk taking. Europe’s creative energy has been sapped. There are many lovely Europeans; but there aren’t many creative, dynamic, or entrepreneurial ones.
The issues that preoccupy most Europeans are overwhelmingly material ones: How many hours per week will I have to work? How much annual vacation time will I have? How many social benefits can I preserve (or increase)? How can my country avoid fighting against anyone or for anyone?
Why has this happened?
There are two reasons: secularism and socialism (aka the welfare state).
Either one alone sucks much of the life out of society. Together they are likely to be lethal.
Even if one holds that religion is false, only a dogmatic and irrational secularist can deny that it was religion in the Western world that provided the impetus or backdrop for nearly all the uniquely great art, literature, economic and even scientific advances of the West. Even the irreligious were forced to deal with religious themes -- if only in expressing rebellion against them.
Dennis Prager is a SRN radio show host, contributing columnist for Townhall.com and author of his newest book, “The Ten Commandments: Still the Best Moral Code.”