I recently had a conversation with an Austrian friend, a highly regarded financial journalist. I was shocked when he mentioned that there was a high probability of a civil war in Europe within the foreseeable future. When I moved to the United States more than a quarter-century ago, in part with the intention of leaving behind high taxes and an overbearing regulatory environment, I had some notion that Austrians in particular and Europeans in general might someday rebel against those policies. But as the years passed, I increasingly abandoned that hope. There did not seem to be any limits to what tax and regulatory burdens people were willing to bear. That did not mean that people were not angry, but the anger did not result in a rebellion in the voting booth or otherwise.
So what has changed? My friend pointed to an increasing loss of authority by the individual European states, especially on the issue of border control, one of the state's essential functions. With the advent of the European Union, more functions of the nation states were transferred to Brussels. It is not always clear to the man on the street, and sometimes even to the ruling elites, who is responsible for what.
For example, while the confusing economic framework of EU regulations has facilitated the mind-boggling growth of debt, nobody really knows who is liable for the debt in the event of a complete or partial default. A relatively small increase in interest rates would render keeping up with the interest payments nearly impossible. After 2008, with the Lehman Brothers collapse and the ensuing worldwide economic crisis, Europeans, especially small investors, became nervous about the future of their savings, particularly retirement savings.
Unlike the somewhat esoteric threat of the debt situation, open borders represent a more immediate threat to economic, financial, and political stability. As recent events in Cologne and other European cities show--and they are only the tip of the iceberg--Europeans no longer feel safe in their daily routines. Officials tell the population that the recent terror attacks in Paris and Brussels are the acts of a handful of deranged individuals, but it is more difficult to explain easily that the sexual molestation of thousands of European women and the massive thefts of wallets, purses, and cellphones are just the aberrant behavior of a few. Initial attempts by the police and the media to keep those criminal acts secret have hardly helped the perception that Europe's leadership has lost control and is not offering transparency.
One very tangible result of the fear these recent migrants have raised in European populations in their path is the rapid increase in weapon purchases. The German news magazine Focus Online, citing government data, reports that in Austria at the end of October, gun stores had already sold 70,000 more weapons than in the previous year. For a country with 8.5 million inhabitants and about 900,000 legal weapons in the hands of its citizens, this is a significant increase. Gun stores also report that large numbers of women are among the purchasers. Campaign organizers of one Austrian political party handed out pepper spray during one of their rallies.
In Germany, where gun laws are much stricter, sales of pepper spray surged 600 percent, according to Focus. Similar increases can be seen in the purchases of items from taser guns to crossbows. Also, the demand for German shepherd guard dogs has soared, reports the Siiddeutsche Zeitung.
Another sign of the increasing fear among the population is the rapid growth in civil defense associations (Burgerwehr). These associations range from the sort of neighborhood watch groups found in the United States to biker gangs that have now decided to add "service to their communities" to their portfolio of activities. What is telling is that in both Austria and Germany, the police are openly cooperating with some of these civil defense associations. Similar associations exist in Italy, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and Finland.
The European people are concerned. They are starting to ignore the hollow-sounding assurances from their national governments that there is really nothing to be worried about, and increasingly are taking matters into their own hands. The success in recent German regional elections of the Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD), an anti-immigration party that unites conservatives, libertarians, nationalists, and some members of the bourgeoisie, demonstrates the frustration of a populace that historically has been loath to vote for any but the four major parties. Imagine...