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In a speech last week at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Pope Francis denounced a materialistic Europe that had grown indifferent to human dignity and to the “transcendent dimension.” The first Latin American pontiff went on to compare Europe to a “haggard” grandmother.

For at least a century, elegists have been singing from a song sheet entitled “The Decline of Europe.” It became especially commonplace after World War I to invoke biological metaphors while describing the continent. Most famously, in his “The Decline of the West,” conservative German writer Oswald Spengler summed up a general pessimism that Europe’s civilization was mortal, even terminally ill.

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