The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues, and the Coming Dark Age, by Jamie Kirchick
Yale University Press, 288 pages

It is tempting, especially for those in thrall to notions of American exceptionalism, to regard the election of Donald Trump as a singular episode in the history of our times. It is more properly viewed as the traumatic continuation of a populist trend that has been detectable across the democratic world for some time. The rise of Trump exemplifies nothing so much as the crisis of liberalism roiling the West. With luck, it will prove the culmination of that crisis rather than its harbinger. For if it persists, it would herald the end of the liberal international order as we know it.

On this score, Europe’s predicament does not give reason for hope. A quarter-century after being formally established by the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, the European Union is in deep trouble. The economic and political institutions erected after World War II to foster European integration have yielded diminishing returns as the circle of nations in their orbit has grown.

In recent years, the disappointments of European federalism have eroded the credibility of its swollen political establishment and empowered rabble-rousers on both the far left and the far right (or some combination of both). In country after country, crises have converged. Separately and together, they portend a rising of the drawbridges not merely on Europe’s depressed periphery but also in the EU-15, the core nations of Western Europe. At stake is not merely the rickety “European model” of governance but the entire project since the fall of the Berlin Wall of a Europe “whole, free and at peace.”

Few have shed more light on this phenomenon than James Kirchick, an American journalist who has done yeoman’s work covering Europe from a variety of vantage points. In The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues, and the Coming Dark Age, he analyzes the forces that have put the continent on a razor’s edge, and what is at stake in putting it back on solid ground. Kirchick’s book is preceded in the declinist oeuvre by Walter Laqueur’s The Last Days of Europe (2007) and Christopher Caldwell’s Reflections on the Revolution in Europe (2009). In contrast to those earlier works, however, The End of Europe is not even remotely Euro-skeptic.

Kirchick makes clear that he regards last year’s British exit from the EU as an indefensible folly, as if it were merely a species of Little England xenophobia that impelled Brexit. It is true that British influence in European affairs has dwindled — an unalloyed catastrophe for those who, like this reviewer, hold liberal, Atlanticist principles. But it’s too much to say, as Kirchick does, that Britain thereby “demonstrated that it had learned the wrong lessons from its history.” One need not advocate splendid isolation from the continent to see that the British recoil was a valid response to the manifest failures of the EU.

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