Reversing the Course

Book Pick: Samuel Gregg’s Becoming Europe is a sobering look at the U.S.’ moral and economic decline.


Economic Decline, Culture and How America Can Avoid a European Future [Hardcover]

By Samuel Gregg

Encounter Books, 2013

384 pages, $25.00

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Samuel Gregg, director of research at the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Mich., has written a very timely book, given the concerning state of our economy and, more importantly, our ever-declining moral life.

Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture and How America Can Avoid a European Future is a sobering, many-faceted but not fatalistic look at our present and possible futures.

Becoming Europe opens with an account of the human slaughter and economic disaster of the First World War, which, as they say, “changed everything.” In particular, it opened the way for the Second World War, in part through the economic collapse of a defeated Germany during the Weimar Republic. The desperate situation in which a bankrupt Germany found itself eventually offered an opening for the hate-filled demagoguery of Adolph Hitler, the Third Reich and the Second World War.

Gregg then explains how, following World War II, a recovering Western Europe grappled with varied economic and cultural influences, ranging from Christian Democratic (largely Catholic) economists and statesmen from the right side of the spectrum to socialist and communist-leaning influences on the left. Both sides vied to establish their own versions of a just society in governmental forms during the '50s and '60s, up to the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellites by 1989.

Much of the rest of the book describes in sorry detail what Europe is today: the crush of enormous debt, government consuming close to 50% of the economy, high taxation and high numbers of public workers being supported by an ever-dwindling class of private-sector employees.

How can the U.S. sidestep a similar fate? You will have to read Gregg’s book to get the details, but the solution is not only economic, but spiritual.

Gregg prefaces his book with a quotation from the man who arguably best understood the United States in its early decades and many of whose observations still hold true. In his Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote: “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but, rather, in her ability to repair her faults.”

Well, the jury is still out. Gregg, although a staunch Catholic, does not fully play the Catholic card in choosing that Tocqueville quote, but I will. Tocqueville also wrote:

The men of our days are naturally little disposed to believe; but as soon as they have any religion, they immediately find in themselves a latent instinct that urges them unconsciously towards Catholicism. Many of the doctrines and practices of the Roman Catholic Church astonish them, but they feel a secret admiration for its discipline, and its great unity attracts them. If Catholicism could at length withdraw itself from the political animosities to which it has given rise, I have hardly any doubt but that the same spirit of the age, which appears to be so opposed to it, would become so favorable as to admit of its great and sudden advancement.

If we do not want to become like current-day Europe, we need to chart a different course. Perhaps only an unadulterated and evangelizing Catholicism may over time help our country survive in recognizable form and reinvigorate us to in turn re-evangelize with gratitude what is left of Europe, the incubator of our culture.

Father C. John McCloskey is a Church historian and research fellow

at the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington.