Saturday, November 04, 2006

AMERICA ALONE: THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT by Mark Steyn

Two things set Mark Steyn apart from dystopian naysayers like Paul Ehrlich and Al Gore. First, Steyn is an irrepressible bon vivant—an odd trait in a journalist touting “the end of the world as we know it.” Linguistically, no turn of phrase is too banal, risqué, or obscure to be included in Steyn’s repertoire of fin de siecle ripostes. If Western civilization is going down the tubes, Steyn will at least get in a few bon vins, bonbons, and bon mots before the Eiffel Tower becomes the world’s most prominent minaret.

Second, Steyn has a drawer-full of hard data at his disposal—not cherry-picked computer models whose calculations are amazingly dependent on the speculative formulas fed into them. On an LP sold contemporaneously with Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb, the late comedian Don Adams mimics an incompetent defense attorney who protests how easy it is for the prosecutor to accuse his client of murder. After all, “He’s got proof. All I have are trickery and deceit.” Ehrlich and Gore may have imaginary numbers up their sleeves, but like the comic’s legal adversary, Steyn has a briefcase of persuasive exhibits: moribund European birth rates, unsustainable social welfare systems, growing Muslim immigration, high Muslim birth rates, the murder of Theo van Gogh, deadly bombings in London and Madrid, the nightly torching of Renaults and Citroens by French “youths,” craven acts of multi-culti cowardice in the face of sharia demands, and a future-be-damned philosophy that coincides perfectly with plunging birth rates.

For Europe, Steyn notes, this is “The Gelded Age”—with Spanish women reproducing at a rate that will halve the nation’s population in a generation or so. Almost as dire, demographically, is the 1.3 births per woman ratio that prevails in Greece—a figure that belies the image of fecundity in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Indeed, it seems that uptight red-state Protestants are doing a better job of being fruitful than Italians who, if current trends continue, will live in a nation where 60 percent of them “have no brothers, no sisters, no cousins, no aunts, (and) no uncles.” Dinner tables filled with pasta and relatives will be replaced by pizza for one.

This population bust spells disaster for Ponzi-shaped welfare schemes that depend on young bodies to support generational transfers to oldsters who neglected the primary task of regeneration. Greece’s pension liabilities, for example, are projected to reach 25% of GDP by 2040. More immigration from people-rich Muslim nations is the clear “solution” to this demographic vacuum—a solution that’s already altered the habits of women in Amsterdam and London who “cover up” to avoid jeers in increasingly Muslim neighborhoods. Such examples show how, in Western Europe, assimilation has come to mean (as Kofi Annan implied when commenting on the Danish cartoon violence) a nation adjusting its ways to accommodate new arrivals.

Steyn’s term, “Eurabia,” suggests the future he foresees for a continent flirting with a “demographic death spiral” and brooding in the lounge of that “old ennui.” Rotterdam, where the Muslim population is 40%, may presage the shape of things by 2050—or sooner if “white-flight” out of “Eutopia” accelerates. In such an environment, “Pre-modern Islam beats post-modern Christianity.” Put more dramatically, it’s unlikely that “Pornistan” will peacefully co-exist with “the Islamic Republic of Holland.” And in the struggle between those two, the strong horse doesn’t belong to those who take pride in the fact that they aren’t prepared to die for anything.

To fend off charges of Islamophobia, Steyn issues periodic caveats that acknowledge what “of course” everyone knows—that most Muslims aren’t Wahhabists, that many have assimilated to Western ways, and that not every baby named Mohammad (the most popular boy’s name in Belgium) is destined to strap explosives to his chest and blow up a Brussels bus. Still, the author makes a convincing case that neither demographics nor cultural clout favor the continued existence of Europe as we know it. In the meantime, Western women in the EU are producing an average of 1.4 children while the Muslim EU rate is 3.5. At least one North African tyrant is on record predicting that the “Muslims of Europe will turn it into a Muslim continent within a few decades.” The official number of Muslims now living in Europe is 20 million. Colonel Gaddafi’s figure is 50 million. If Muammar isn’t right today, he soon will be.

Unlike native Europeans, the birth rate in the United States is still at replacement level, 2.1—1.85 among whites. And while the nation has its immigration issues, those problems don’t involve large percentages of Muslims or the gradual introduction of sharia. Still, many Europhiles find the continent’s dance-macabre enchanting. And, like elites on the other side of the pond, these blue-state sophisticates despise their “self-righteous, gun-totin’, military-lovin’, sister-marryin’, abortion-hatin’, gay-loathin’, non-passport ownin’” redneck cousins. Steyn observes, however, that these pejoratives can be translated more positively as “culturally confident, self-reliant, patriotic, procreative, [and] religious.” And judging from census figures, such traits are more productive of a viable culture than the infantilizing statism to which Europeans have become addicted. “Over there” servile selfishness has spawned a continent of non-spawners.

Unfortunately, Steyn laments, the United States hasn’t exported self-reliance and limited government half as well as Terminator movies and Madonna concerts. If it had, some viable national partners would be standing alongside it. Instead, America subsidized social irresponsibility after World War II by taking upon itself more than the lion’s share of Western Europe’s defense. Simultaneously, America lessened its political influence by puffing up international institutions like the United Nations. This diplomatic courtesy didn’t win America the support of nations to whom it graciously ceded bits and chunks of power. It’s now time, Steyn avers, for the U.S. to speak with a voice commensurate with its strength and to tout its best cultural ideals. If it doesn’t, the only thing the rest of the world will associate with America will be cheeseburgers, tawdry films, and weak knees.

Steyn also devotes attention to two other major nations, Japan and Russia. The former is entering a period of population decline but doesn’t face the identity crisis that arises with mass immigration. Russia, by contrast, appears to be a basket case—with a per woman birth rate of 1.2, a male life span of 59 years, and an abortion rate of 70%. That’s a demographic trifecta whose winners will be the new Islamic countries on Russia’s southern border and (in the Siberian East) China. While China has its own demographic challenges, with 19% more boys than girls, that nation still numbers well over a billion and might provide a pool of frustrated males to rectify the Y-chromosome dearth in (what is now) Russia. The bottom line for Russia is this: “the world’s largest country is dying, and the question is how violent its death throes will be.”

The title of Steyn’s final chapter, The Falling Camel, refers to the weakness that, in an Arab proverb, “attracts many knives.” This maxim is cited to deplore the multicultural rituals regularly performed by Western leaders after terrorist attacks. Instead of these craven antics, what is needed in our civilizational war is “more will.” And the key to victory in that struggle is reforming Islam. This objective, Steyn concedes, is ultimately up to Muslims. America can, however, facilitate change by supporting free Islamic societies, by transforming the energy industry and defunding oil dictatorships, by ending the Iranian regime, and by “strik[ing] militarily when the opportunity presents itself.”

At least two things are unclear about this multi-pronged strategy. First, where will the resolve come from to accomplish these daunting tasks? Second, why should growing, confident Muslim cultures alter their ways based on advice, threats, and bombs from foreigners who aren’t even keen on reproduction? With respect to American fortitude, the most plausible motivator that Steyn notes involves falling European camels. If the knives that appear during their descent don’t open eyes and stiffen backbones, nothing will.

So much for Mr. Bon Vivant.

3 comments:

Jason Bo Green said...

Interesting review - I'm waiting for my copy, and also a copy for a friend for Christmas, and I'm eager to read it.

I generally agree with Mr. Steyn, but I think he's a bit off. Why focus on transforming countries in the Middle East (which I am not certain is possible to do) when we could far more easily focus on transforming Europe? He seems obsessed with letting Europe fall - it seems a worthwhile cause to try and save it (weaning it off America's defence budget for starters).

I strongly opposed Iraq, not far any "all wars are evil" belief but because I felt we needed to focus relentlessly on Bin Laden's capture and trial and (public) execution (not to mention getting around one of these days to maybe attempting to rebuild the World Trade Centre.

One of the most difficult things for me to live with each day is knowing that Bin Laden escaped. We allowed him to go free, and the West, especially North America, is more deeply and all the more permanently scarred because of it. If there's an elephant in anyone's room today, it's that: You can kill 3000 Americans, and get away with having your bank account frozen.

I'm more for keeping the US strong and bolstering the strength and courage and optimism of its allies than I am for reforming our enemies.

Thanks for your review.

RKirk said...

Jason,
I agree that Europe should be weaned off America's defense budget, but I very much doubt, at this point, such action would alter Europe's more profound spirtual ennui. Those folks aren't even coming close to reproducing their populations. Also, it's almost humorous to think of Europe being "saved" by "withdrawing" military support. If Europe is "saved" it will only be because of the "falling camels" mentioned at the end of my review.

As far as Bin Laden goes, I know of no evidence that we "let Bin Laden get away" or that the (2003) War in Iraq diverted substantial sttention away from that task. Richard Miniter's book, DISINFORMATION, if I recall correctly, addresses this and other "media myths" about the war on terror.

I think your comment about a frozen bank account being the only response to 9/11 is simply incorrect. Afghanistan was a response to 9/11--as was the invasion of Iraq. Thousands of Al-Qaida terrorists have been killed in Iraq, even if Saddam wasn't directly involved in 9/11. (On that question, Miniter's book is again instructive.)

It seems to me that your next to last paragraph is in severe tension with your comment about retribution and Al-Qaida. Also, I don't know how American strength can be taken seriously if the nation is unwilling to project military power abroad. Fortress America, as 9/11 demonstrates, is an illusion. And if terrorism is linked closely to certain foreign regimes (Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran) the willingness to project power abroad is essential.

In any case, thanks for your comments and enjoy the book!

Trebics said...

Thanks for an excellent review. I can't understand why such an erudite observer as Mr. Steyn neglects to mention the simplest and undoubtedly effective remedy: the recriminalization of all forms of abortions for any reason. In the case of Russia, two children are murdered for every one allowed to live. The elimination of this Herodian evil would instantly raise the birthrate to above 2.1, reversing the population decline - as it is evident, that the russian population has not given up sex, only reproduction. It would have another beneficial effect as well: a society with lots of young ones is always optimistic, as it is the nature of youth not to worry.