In 1683, a Turkish army reached the suburbs of Vienna. The outcome trembled in the balance until Jan Sobieski of Poland arrived with his army, threw back the Ottomans and finally freed western Europe from the threat of Muslim domination, thus completing the work begun by Charles Martel at Poitiers in 732. Or did he? Today, there are plenty of Europeans who would say: “Charles Martel, Jan Sobieski, you are needed at this hour.” There are widespread fears that Muslim immigrants, reinforced by political pressure and, ultimately, by terrorism, will succeed where Islamic armies failed and change irrevocably the character of European civilisation. I was in Vienna for a conference on post-Christian Europe and resurgent Islam. The history of all important cities is a duet for grandeur and original sin but, even by those standards, Vienna is a masterpiece of complexity and ambivalence. An imperial city which has diminished into the capital of a gem_tlich little republic, it was the nursery for so many of the glories of German culture – and for so much of the foulness of mid-20th century German history. So it was an appropriate setting for a pessimistic agenda. In contemporary Britain, there are many grounds for anxiety. Even so, we cannot rival the continental Europeans when it comes to pessimism. Our home-grown product is shallow and pallid in comparison to the length, depth and sophistication of its continental rival. This is hardly surprising. The pessimism of the European mainland is the product of shattered hopes and a failed century. The first half of the 20th century was the most disastrous epoch in history. The Channel spared us from the worst of the ravages and savageries, but those whose nations experienced them or inflicted them can be forgiven for their distrust of the human condition. After such knowledge, what forgiveness, especially as recent events have added fresh inspissation to the gloom. By 1990, it seemed as if whatever brute or blackguard made the world had decided to forgive mankind for the 20th century. The Cold War was won. George Bush celebrated a new world order. Francis Fukuyama announced the end of history. But history disagreed.