"Like a fire bell in the night," wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1820, "this momentous question ... awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union."
Jefferson was writing of the sudden resurgence of the slavery issue in the debate on Missouri's entry into the Union, as foreshadowing a civil war.
And that massacre in Oslo, where a terrorist detonated a fertilizer bomb to decapitate the government and proceeded to a youth camp to kill 68 children of Norway's ruling elite, is a fire bell in the night for Europe. For Anders Behring Breivik is no Islamic terrorist.
He was born in Norway and chose as his targets not Muslims whose presence he detests, but the Labor Party leaders who let them into the country, and their children, the future leaders of that party.
Though Breivik is being called insane, that is the wrong word.
Breivik is evil -- a cold-blooded, calculating killer -- though a deluded man of some intelligence, who in his 1,500-page manifesto reveals a knowledge of the history, culture and politics of Europe.
He admits to his "atrocious" but "necessary" crimes, done, he says, to bring attention to his ideas and advance his cause: a Crusader's war between the real Europe and the "cultural Marxists" and Muslims they invited in to alter the ethnic character and swamp the culture of the Old Continent.
Specifically, Breivik wanted to kill three-time Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, the "mother of the nation," who spoke at the camp on Utoeya Island, but departed before he arrived.
Predictably, the European press is linking Breivik to parties of the populist right that have arisen to oppose multiculturalism and immigration from the Islamic world. Breivik had belonged to the Progress Party, but quit because he found it insufficiently militant.
His writings are now being mined for references to U.S. conservative critics of multiculturalism and open borders. Purpose: demonize the American right, just as the berserker's attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson was used to smear Sarah Palin and Timothy McVeigh's Oklahoma City bombing was used to savage Rush Limbaugh and conservative critics of Big Government.
Guilt by association, which the left condemned when they claimed to be its victims in the Truman-McCarthy era, has been used by the left since it sought to tie the assassination of JFK by a Marxist from the Fair Play for Cuba Committee to the political conservatism of the city of Dallas.
But Europe's left will encounter difficulty in equating criticism of multiculturalism with neo-Nazism. For Angela Merkel of Germany, Nicolas Sarkozy of France and David Cameron of Britain have all declared multiculturalism a failure. From votes in Switzerland to polls across the continent, Europeans want an end to the wearing of burqas and the building of prayer towers in mosques.
The flood of illegal aliens into the Canary Islands from Africa, into Italy from Libya and Tunisia, and into Greece from Turkey has mainstream parties echoing the right. The Schengen Agreement itself, which guarantees open borders within the European Union to all who enter the EU, is under attack.
None of this is to deny the presence of violent actors or neo-Nazis on the European right who bear watching. But, awful as this atrocity was, native born and homegrown terrorism is not the macro-threat to the continent.
That threat comes from a burgeoning Muslim presence in a Europe that has never known mass immigration, its failure to assimilate, its growing alienation, and its sometime sympathy for Islamic militants and terrorists.
Europe faces today an authentic and historic crisis.
With her native-born populations aging, shrinking and dying, Europe's nations have not discovered how to maintain their prosperity without immigrants. Yet the immigrants who have come -- from the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia -- have been slow to learn the language and have failed to attain the educational and occupational levels of Europeans. And the welfare states of Europe are breaking under the burden.
Norway, too, needs to wake up. From the first call for help, police needed 90 minutes to get out on the island in the Oslo lake to stop the massacre by the coward, who surrendered as soon as the men with guns arrived. Apparently, Breivik wanted to be around to deliver his declaration of European war in person. Yet, if convicted of the 76 murders, Breivik can, at most, get 21 years, the maximum sentence under Norwegian law.
Norway is a peaceful and progressive country, its leaders say.
Yet Norway sent troops to Afghanistan and has participated in the bombing of Libya, where civilians have been killed and Moammar Gadhafi has himself lost a son and three grandchildren to NATO bombs.
As for a climactic conflict between a once-Christian West and an Islamic world that is growing in numbers and advancing inexorably into Europe for the third time in 14 centuries, on this one, Breivik may be right.