Mark Steyn, The New Criterion, January 2, 2006
Most people reading this have strong stomachs, so let me lay it out as baldly as I can: Much of what we loosely call the western world will not survive this century, and much of it will effectively disappear within our lifetimes, including many if not most western European countries. There’ll probably still be a geographical area on the map marked as Italy or the Netherlands — probably — just as in Istanbul there’s still a building called St. Sophia’s Cathedral. But it’s not a cathedral; it’s merely a designation for a piece of real estate. Likewise, Italy and the Netherlands will merely be designations for real estate. The challenge for those who reckon western civilization is on balance better than the alternatives is to figure out a way to save at least some parts of the west.
One obstacle to doing that is the fact that, in the typical election campaign in your advanced industrial democracy, the political platforms of at least one party in the United States and pretty much all parties in the rest of the west are largely about what one would call the secondary impulses of society — government health care, government day care (which Canada’s thinking of introducing), government paternity leave (which Britain’s just introduced). We’ve prioritized the secondary impulse over the primary ones: national defense, family, faith, and, most basic of all, reproductive activity — ”Go forth and multiply,” because if you don’t you won’t be able to afford all those secondary-impulse issues, like cradle-to-grave welfare. Americans sometimes don’t understand how far gone most of the rest of the developed world is down this path: In the Canadian and most Continental cabinets, the defense ministry is somewhere an ambitious politician passes through on his way up to important jobs like the health department. I don’t think Don Rumsfeld would regard it as a promotion if he were moved to Health & Human Services.
The design flaw of the secular social-democratic state is that it requires a religious-society birth rate to sustain it. Post-Christian hyper-rationalism is, in the objective sense, a lot less rational than Catholicism or Mormonism. Indeed, in its reliance on immigration to ensure its future, the European Union has adopted a twenty-first-century variation on the strategy of the Shakers, who were forbidden from reproducing and thus could only increase their numbers by conversion. The problem is that secondary — impulse societies mistake their weaknesses for strengths — or, at any rate, virtues — and that’s why they’re proving so feeble at dealing with a primal force like Islam.
That’s what the war’s about: our lack of civilizational confidence. As a famous Arnold Toynbee quote puts it: “Civilizations die from suicide, not murder” — as can be seen throughout much of “the western world” right now. The progressive agenda — lavish social welfare, abortion, secularism, multiculturalism — is collectively the real suicide bomb. Take multiculturalism: the great thing about multiculturalism is that it doesn’t involve knowing anything about other cultures — the capital of Bhutan, the principal exports of Malawi, who cares? All it requires is feeling good about other cultures. It’s fundamentally a fraud, and I would argue was subliminally accepted on that basis. Most adherents to the idea that all cultures are equal don’t want to live in anything but an advanced western society: Multiculturalism means your kid has to learn some wretched native dirge for the school holiday concert instead of getting to sing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or that your holistic masseuse uses techniques developed from Native American spirituality, but not that you or anyone you care about should have to live in an African or Native-American society. It’s a quintessential piece of progressive humbug.
For example, one day in 2004, a couple of Canadians returned home, to Lester B. Pearson International Airport in Toronto. They were the son and widow of a fellow called Ahmed Said Khadr, who back on the Pakistani-Afghan frontier was known as “al-Kanadi.” Why? Because he was the highest-ranking Canadian in al Qaeda — plenty of other Canucks in al Qaeda but he was the Numero Uno. In fact, one could argue that the Khadr family is Canada’s principal contribution to the war on terror. Granted they’re on the wrong side (if you’ll forgive me being judgmental) but no can argue that they aren’t in the thick of things. One of Mr. Khadr’s sons was captured in Afghanistan after killing a U.S. Special Forces medic. Another was captured and held at Guantanamo. A third blew himself up while killing a Canadian soldier in Kabul. Pa Khadr himself died in an al Qaeda shoot-out with Pakistani forces in early 2004. And they say we Canadians aren’t doing our bit in this war!
In the course of the fatal shoot-out of al-Kanadi, his youngest son was paralyzed. And, not unreasonably, Junior didn’t fancy a prison hospital in Peshawar. So Mrs. Khadr and her boy returned to Toronto so he could enjoy the benefits of Ontario government healthcare. “I’m Canadian, and I’m not begging for my rights,” declared the widow Khadr. “I’m demanding my rights.”
As they always say, treason’s hard to prove in court, but given the circumstances of Mr. Khadr’s death it seems clear that not only was he providing “aid and comfort to the Queen’s enemies” but that he was, in fact, the Queen’s enemy. The Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, the Royal 22nd Regiment, and other Canucks have been participating in Afghanistan, on one side of the conflict, and the Khadr family had been over there participating on the other side. Nonetheless, the Prime Minister of Canada thought Boy Khadr’s claims on the public health system was an excellent opportunity to demonstrate his own deep personal commitment to “diversity.” Asked about the Khadrs’ return to Toronto, he said, “I believe that once you are a Canadian citizen, you have the right to your own views and to disagree.”
So the jihadists are for the most part doing no more than giving us a prod in the rear as we sleepwalk to the cliff. When I say “sleepwalk,” it’s not because we’re a blasé culture. On the contrary, one of the clearest signs of our decline is the way we expend so much energy worrying about the wrong things. If you’ve read Jared Diamond’s bestselling book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, you’ll know it goes into a lot of detail about Easter Island going belly up because they chopped down all their trees. Apparently that’s why they’re not a G8 member or on the UN Security Council. Same with the Greenlanders and the Mayans and Diamond’s other curious choices of “societies.” Indeed, as the author sees it, pretty much every society collapses because it chops down its trees.
Poor old Diamond can’t see the forest because of his obsession with the trees. (Russia’s collapsing even as it’s undergoing reforestation.) One way “societies choose to fail or succeed” is by choosing what to worry about. The western world has delivered more wealth and more comfort to more of its citizens than any other civilization in history, and in return we’ve developed a great cult of worrying. You know the classics of the genre: In 1968, in his bestselling book The Population Bomb, the eminent scientist Paul Ehrlich declared: “In the 1970s the world will undergo famines — hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death.” In 1972, in their landmark study The Limits to Growth, the Club of Rome announced that the world would run out of gold by 1981, of mercury by 1985, tin by 1987, zinc by 1990, petroleum by 1992, and copper, lead, and gas by 1993.
None of these things happened. In fact, quite the opposite is happening. We’re pretty much awash in resources, but we’re running out of people — the one truly indispensable resource, without which none of the others matter. Russia’s the most obvious example: it’s the largest country on earth, it’s full of natural resources, and yet it’s dying — its population is falling calamitously.
The default mode of our elites is that anything that happens — from terrorism to tsunamis — can be understood only as deriving from the perniciousness of western civilization. As Jean-François Revel wrote, “Clearly, a civilization that feels guilty for everything it is and does will lack the energy and conviction to defend itself.”
Well, here’s my prediction for 2032: unless we change our ways the world faces a future . . . where the environment will look pretty darn good. If you’re a tree or a rock, you’ll be living in clover. It’s the Italians and the Swedes who’ll be facing extinction and the loss of their natural habitat.
There will be no environmental doomsday. Oil, carbon dioxide emissions, deforestation: none of these things is worth worrying about. What’s worrying is that we spend so much time worrying about things that aren’t worth worrying about that we don’t worry about the things we should be worrying about. For thirty years, we’ve had endless wake-up calls for things that aren’t worth waking up for. But for the very real, remorseless shifts in our society — the ones truly jeopardizing our future — we’re sound asleep. The world is changing dramatically right now and hysterical experts twitter about a hypothetical decrease in the Antarctic krill that might conceivably possibly happen so far down the road there’s unlikely to be any Italian or Japanese enviro-worriers left alive to be devastated by it.
Scroll way down to the bottom of the Hot One Hundred top breeders and you’ll eventually find the United States, hovering just at replacement rate with 2.07 births per woman. Ireland is 1.87, New Zealand 1.79, Australia 1.76. But Canada’s fertility rate is down to 1.5, well below replacement rate; Germany and Austria are at 1.3, the brink of the death spiral; Russia and Italy are at 1.2; Spain 1.1, about half replacement rate. That’s to say, Spain’s population is halving every generation. By 2050, Italy’s population will have fallen by 22 percent, Bulgaria’s by 36 percent, Estonia’s by 52 percent. In America, demographic trends suggest that the blue states ought to apply for honorary membership of the EU: in the 2004 election, John Kerry won the sixteen with the lowest birth rates; George W. Bush took twenty-five of the twenty-six states with the highest. By 2050, there will be 100 million fewer Europeans, 100 million more Americans — and mostly red-state Americans.
As fertility shrivels, societies get older — and Japan and much of Europe are set to get older than any functioning societies have ever been. And we know what comes after old age. These countries are going out of business — unless they can find the will to change their ways. Is that likely? I don’t think so. If you look at European election results — most recently in Germany — it’s hard not to conclude that, while voters are unhappy with their political establishments, they’re unhappy mainly because they resent being asked to reconsider their government benefits and, no matter how unaffordable they may be a generation down the road, they have no intention of seriously reconsidering them. The Scottish executive recently backed down from a proposal to raise the retirement age of Scottish public workers. It’s presently sixty, which is nice but unaffordable. But the reaction of the average Scots worker is that that’s somebody else’s problem. The average German worker now puts in 22 percent fewer hours per year than his American counterpart, and no politician who wishes to remain electorally viable will propose closing the gap in any meaningful way.
Can these trends continue for another thirty years without having consequences? Europe by the end of this century will be a continent after the neutron bomb: the grand buildings will still be standing but the people who built them will be gone. We are living through a remarkable period: the self-extinction of the races who, for good or ill, shaped the modern world.
To avoid collapse, European nations will need to take in immigrants at a rate no stable society has ever attempted. The CIA is predicting the EU will collapse by 2020. Given that the CIA’s got pretty much everything wrong for half a century, that would suggest the EU is a shoo-in to be the colossus of the new millennium. But even a flop spook is right twice a generation. If anything, the date of EU collapse is rather a cautious estimate. It seems more likely that within the next couple of European election cycles, the internal contradictions of the EU will manifest themselves in the usual way, and that by 2010 we’ll be watching burning buildings, street riots, and assassinations on American network news every night. Even if they avoid that, the idea of a childless Europe ever rivaling America militarily or economically is laughable. Sometime this century there will be 500 million Americans, and what’s left in Europe will either be very old or very Muslim. Japan faces the same problem: its population is already in absolute decline, the first gentle slope of a death spiral it will be unlikely ever to climb out of. Will Japan be an economic powerhouse if it’s populated by Koreans and Filipinos? Very possibly. Will Germany if it’s populated by Algerians? That’s a trickier proposition.
Best-case scenario? The Continent winds up as Vienna with Swedish tax rates.
Worst-case scenario: Sharia, circa 2040; semi-Sharia, a lot sooner — and we’re already seeing a drift in that direction.
What will London — or Paris, or Amsterdam — be like in the mid-Thirties? If European politicians make no serious attempt this decade to wean the populace off their unsustainable thirty-five-hour weeks, retirement at sixty, etc., then to keep the present level of pensions and health benefits the EU will need to import so many workers from North Africa and the Middle East that it will be well on its way to majority Muslim by 2035. As things stand, Muslims are already the primary source of population growth in English cities. Can a society become increasingly Islamic in its demographic character without becoming increasingly Islamic in its political character?
Just before the 2004 election, that eminent political analyst Cameron Diaz appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show to explain what was at stake:
“Women have so much to lose. I mean, we could lose the right to our bodies . . . . If you think that rape should be legal, then don’t vote. But if you think that you have a right to your body,” she advised Oprah’s viewers, “then you should vote.”
Poor Cameron. A couple of weeks later, the scary people won. She lost all rights to her body. Unlike Alec Baldwin, she couldn’t even move to France. Her body was grounded in Terminal D.
But, after framing the 2004 Presidential election as a referendum on the right to rape, Miss Diaz might be interested to know that men enjoy that right under many Islamic legal codes around the world. In his book The Empty Cradle, Philip Longman asks: “So where will the children of the future come from? Increasingly they will come from people who are at odds with the modern world. Such a trend, if sustained, could drive human culture off its current market-driven, individualistic, modernist course, gradually creating an anti-market culture dominated by fundamentalism — a new Dark Ages.”
Bottom line for Cameron Diaz: There are worse things than John Ashcroft out there.