Sunday, September 11, 2011

Cultural Suicide

The most important development of the twenty-first century is likely to be the great extinction of peoples and cultures. Like Greece and Rome, Europe has lost faith in itself; though incomparably richer than the peasants who built the Cathedrals, the denizens of what used to be Christendom spend only on themselves, with no thought for the morrow. They have failed to attend to the most elementary task of a successful civilization: raising children. In no European country is the birthrate at replacement level. As David P. Goldman, Spengler of Asia Times Online, tells it, not only is the old world dying, it has reached the demographic point of no return.

The title of Goldman's book is How Civilizations Die, but the addendum, And Why Islam is Dying Too, may be more important. For there is almost no awareness that the Muslim world is following in the footsteps of western civilization. Indeed, a popular narrative among those who seek to revive Europe has it that Muslims will soon rule the continent. But while European Christianity eventually lost the fight with modernity, Islam has fared worse.

Iran proves illustrative. "An educated twenty-five year old Iranian woman today probably grew up in a family of six or seven children, but will bear only one child." As of 2010, Iran's fertility rate stands at 1.7 children per woman. Decadence has enveloped the nation; drug use is rampant, and a sizable portion of the women work willingly as prostitutes. Paradoxically, this makes the Islamic world more dangerous, at least in the short term: "For in their despair, radical Muslims who can already taste the ruin of their culture believe that they have nothing to lose."

Of considerable interest was Goldman's account of the Thirty Years War, which ravaged Germany in the 17th Century. The German population declined "from 21 million to perhaps 13 million, mostly due to starvation." Ostensibly, the war was fought to decide whether the German people would become Protestant or remain Catholic. But there was considerably more afoot: Protestant armies were bankrolled by Cardinal Richelieu and Father Joseph du Tremblay, two French clergymen who had no trouble putting State ahead of Church. Their plan was to gain hegemony over Spain by bankrupting her. It worked. The senseless slaughter continued long past the point when battles decided anything—as in the American Civil War after Vicksburg. As Goldman tells it, nationalism was never fully subordinated by the Church; this failure, which first manifested itself under Richelieu, would haunt Europe until the middle of the twentieth-century.

Goldman finds two exceptions to the ennui that will lead so many nations to destruction in the coming century. The first, Israel, is well established; even secular Jews who live in Israel have children, and the ultra-Orthodox have large families—eight or nine children on average. His second example, America, is less convincing. True, religious Americans have proven less susceptible to the siren song of modernity. This has given the country a birthrate which remains at replacement level: 2.1 children per woman. Although he offers reasons for American demographic exceptionalism, I am forced to charge Spengler with too much optimism.

He is on firmer ground when he notes that: "America's demographic momentum offers a generation's grace period." Yet what evidence is there that we will do anything but fritter it away? For that is the approach America has taken with her debt problem, one that is not altogether different from its demographic dilemma. A nation does not run up too much debt for the same reason it raises children: it believes in its future. Presently, America lacks the political will to bequeath a worthy culture to its progeny. The demographic data tell a slightly different story—for now.


Julia said...
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John Ballantyne, Melbourne said...

Dear Mr Jackson,

I have read your excellent review of David Goldman's How Civilizations Die, and would be most grateful if you could give me permission to reprint your piece in a small, conservative Australian periodical that I edit, News Weekly.

Yours faithfully,

John Ballantyne,
Editor, News Weekly,
PO Box 251,
Vic. 3103,

My email and phone number may be found at News Weekly's website: