Victor Davis Hanson

VIENNA -- Walk the beautiful streets in Munich, Strasbourg and Vienna, and you can see why Europeans thought in the last decades that they had reached the end of history. There is not a soldier to be seen. Sidewalk cafes are jammed midweek with two-hour lunch-goers. Fashion, vacations and sex dominate the ads and billboards.

Bikers, electric commuter trains and tiny fuel-efficient cars zoom by in a green contrast to our gas-guzzling Tahoes and Yukons.

So naturally, there is a general sense of satisfied accomplishment among European social democrats. They believe that finally a quiet sameness across their continent has replaced two millennia of constant European warring and revolution. Now, everybody seems to get an apartment, small car, state job, good pension and peace -- and in exchange, all voice comfortable center-left consensus politics.

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But beneath the genteel European Union veneer, few remembered that human nature remains constant and gives not even nice Europeans a pass from its harsh laws.

So suddenly the Greek financial meltdown, and the staggering debts that must be repaid, have alternately enraged and terrified northern European creditors. Even the most vocal Europhiles are quietly rethinking the entire premise of a European Union that offers lavish benefits but no sound method of paying for them.

After all, it is one thing to redistribute income by taking from richer Germans and Austrians to give to poorer Germans and Austrians. But it is something else for all Germans and Austrians to extend their socialist charity to siesta-taking Greeks, Italians and Spaniards. For all the lofty rhetoric of the collective European Union, age-old culture, language and nationalism still trump the ideal of continental unity.

But bickering over a trillion dollars in bad southern European debt is not the EU's only problem. Why, for example, do Europe's cradle-to-grave entitlements so often end up encouraging declining populations, atheism and lower worker productivity that is readily apparent to the casual visitor?

Perhaps if everybody ends up about the same, regardless of effort or achievement, then life must be enjoyed mostly in the here and now. Why sacrifice for children, or put something aside for heirs, or worry over a judgment in the afterlife? The more the European Union talks about its global caring, the less likely its own citizens are to have children.


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.