Crime, alienation, and the welfare state in Western Europe

About a year ago, I read Walter Laqueur’s The Last Days of Europe: Epitaph for a Continent. Among his references were two articles that I finally read today.

“Continent of Broken Windows” by Gerard Alexander discussed the rising rate of crime in Europe over the last half of the 20th century and into the 21st, catching or passing US rates in some categories. Writing in the fall of 2005 after the riots in Paris, Alexander noted:

Data from some European cities make the change even more dramatic. Robbery and burglary rates in British cities like Nottingham and Manchester exceed New York City’s. In 2004, charming Copenhagen reported five times New York’s theft rate, two and a half times its auto thefts, and over four times its burglaries. Moreover, some European cities suffer certain crimes that Americans don’t know at all. As the New York Times understatedly observed, the French government was slow to respond to the recent riots “in part because the initial nights of unrest did not seem particularly unusual in a country where an average of more than 80 cars a day were set on fire this year even before” the riots began.

Alexander believes that the extensive European welfares states deserve some of the blame as they strangle the economy, although some countries that have reduced their welfare states also have high crime. In contrast to the blame placed on immigrants from Eastern Europe and Africa, Alexander writes, “the ‘new’ crime started so long ago and is so widespread that it’s clear Europe has also generated a homegrown class of people who see other members of their own societies as marks.” He hopes that, in contrast to “decades of excuse-making, the bigotry of low expectations, and the brushing aside of those who wanted to enforce minimal standards of social comportment, especially on immigrants and their children,” Europeans will see the importance of reviving “civic values.”

Theodore Dalrymple’s 2002 article “The Barbarians at the Gates of Paris” focuses on Eastern European and African immigrants and their descendants living in France. He tells of police unwilling to make arrests, judges unwilling to mete out sensible punishments, a French state and culture torn between promoting multiculturalism and secular French identity, and young Frenchmen of African origin that both hate France and expect the benefits of the welfare state. It’s a fascinating read, and I found it interesting that he does not blame Islamism or French chauvinism (as many have) so much as the patronizing and ultimately debilitating hand of the huge French welfare state that unintentionally foments hatred of France.

I know that these articles aren’t the final word on contemporary European society but they’re helping me to piece things together a bit more. I just started reading Philip Jenkins’ God’s Continent about contemporary Europe’s religious landscape and I hope that I will have more to share.



  1. Interesting. I had no idea that certain crime rates are so much higher around Europe, nor that the rise began long before the immigration issues came to the fore. I’d heard about bike theft in the Netherlands, but didn’t know that car burning was so common in France.

  2. It was surprising for me, too. I don’t know if the crime rate has continued to be high since these articles were written.

  3. Hi Scott, I just found your blog by googling around for some history on Willow Creek/South Barrington/racial history of the suburbs. I live in the Chicago suburbs and it looks like I have a lot of the same interests you do. Looking forward to reading more of your blog!

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