Book Review: Christopher Caldwell's Reflections on the Revolution in Europe

Christopher Caldwell on the parody news show, The Colbert Report

TVR Books | Cristina Rotaru | September 2011

Foreigners at Home

Today, the question of Islam in Europe has again become as current as it was more than a thousand years ago, when General Tariq ibn-Ziyad and his Moors brought most of Iberia under Islamic rule, thus starting what would become one of the most enduring clashes of cultures in history. It has endured regimes and ideologies, puzzling theorists and practitioners alike, all the while fluctuating between overly-heartfelt hospitality and hostile, indignant rage.

Context creates content, and it is precisely in times in which political shifts are starting to alter the map of Europe, with even the most left-wing states like Sweden and Norway witnessing increasingly violent reactions towards Muslim immigration, that an alternative, a slower kind of revolution becomes plausible – one that might lie closer to the heart of the European belief system, and whose repercussions remain unclear.

Senior editor of The Weekly Standard and regular columnist for the Financial Times, American writer Christopher Caldwell has become the long sought-after outside critic of European policy, a role that no insider has yet been able to fill. Over the last few decades, he has offered measured accounts of the real implications of immigration, and has become, in the words of The Guardian’s Martin Woollacott, "one of the most urbane and interesting voices" in today’s journalism.

His tone is loud, his arguments caustic and hard to ignore. In his latest book Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Can Europe be the same with different people in it?, Caldwell meticulously deconstructs the European obsession with immigration and the defensiveness with which it still tries to justify years of ongoing frustration of being bound to late-century political correctness.

The title is a reference to Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, (1790) one of the most notorious attacks on the abstract foundations of the then bourgeois movement that would come to shape political thought for centuries.

"Immigration is about conflict in the best of circumstances," Caldwell argued in a talk at the London School of Economics in May 2009, stressing that the extent to which it has, and still continues in Europe had been underestimated by even the most knowledgeable of experts.

Why, then, hasn’t it developed into an American-style melting pot? The complexity of European immigration and integration, he says, cannot be explained without several often overlooked factors. In contrast to the U.S., Europe contains more differentiated ethnic groups and a far more powerful history of conflicting ideals resolved, a consensus not easily replaced.

As with Samuel Huntington’s controversial statement that "Islam has bloody borders," Christopher Caldwell’s more reasoned assessment is still a definitive one.

"Europe can and will not stay the same with different people in it," Caldwell writes, "and most likely it will be we Europeans who succumb to the immigrants’ needs rather than they to ours."

Growing incoming populations have already reshaped the face of the Old Continent, Caldwell points out, encouraged by local elites for short-term profit. These myopic views have failed to anticipate the long-term consequences of mass immigration. In doing so, the people of Europe have continued to turn a blind eye towards the instability set in motion by an all-inclusive social integration.  Too often, the newcomers "retain the habits and cultures of southern villages, clans, marketplaces, and mosques."

Even so, Caldwell’s main focus gravitates toward Europe’s weakness, not Islam’s strength. Immigrants have filled the gap that Europe’s aging population could not, providing salutary and by comparison reasonably priced goods and services in exchange of a new home.

And their home it has become, says Caldwell. As immigrants continue to be naturalized, and their willingness to offer cheap labor grows dim, what right do Europeans have not to acknowledge their guests as equal citizens? How entitled is Europe to claim that its visitors have overstayed their welcome?

"The Labour Party has a new ideology. It does not any longer profess to believe in the equality of man," wrote The Times recently.  "It does not even believe in the equality of British citizens. It believes in the equality of white British citizens."

Christopher Caldwell’s book is not one of love, in which he assumes that the peoples of Europe will soon join paths and learn how to co-exist; nor is it one of doom, predicting an inherent collision between civilizations.

It is the proof of a collective historical memory that holds Europe’s ties with the Muslim world in suspended animation and, a thousand years after the last Moor of Granada glanced upon his Caliphate one final time and sighed, it is becoming more and more apparent that the trauma of enduring conflict between East and West is far from over.


Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Can Europe be the same with different  people in it?

by Christopher Caldwell

Allen Lane Paperback (2009)

available at

Shakespeare & Company Booksellers

1., Sterngasse 2, (01) 535 5053  

Other articles from this issue

  • Remembering the Wall

    The fiftieth anniversary of the first bricks that divided Berlin: The memory of a painful generation of fear and separation
    News | Izvor Moralic
  • Greece: Returning to Ourselves

    After so much mismanagement, the country needs to return to its traditions, and to community solutions
    Opinion | Ambassador Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos
  • Of Images and Reality

    Austrian photography rediscovered as an art form, from 1861 to 1945 at the Albertina
    On The Town | Cristina Rotaru
  • Biking in the City

    A campaign targeting cyclists and insuring your wheels in Keys to the City
    Services | Vienna Review
  • All articles from this issue

    the vienna review September 2011