Review of “America Alone” by Mark Steyn

Steyn, MarkAmerica Alone: The End of the World as we Know It (2006)
Category: Islam; Eurabia; humor; Rating: 3/5
Summary: The future belongs to Islam (M. Steyn)

It crept up on the West silently. Even as post-historical white Europeans were busy puffing on their weed, hugging trees and chanting Kumbaya in a happy circle, in the dark recesses of their post-industrial civilization – from Britain’s wrecked mill towns to the gray apartment blocks of Malmö, a dark force was bedding, breeding and brooding on history’s return to the mighty continent. They were the Muslims.

*ominous drumbeat*

Slow and surely, they used the lobbying methods of gay rights and feminist organizations to spread their baneful influence to the heights of political power. Sharia enforced at the point of a gun became the law of the land in the grim banlieues of Paris and the gray apartment blocks of Londonistan. They became centers of global jihadist networks that intertwined modern technology, ancient hatreds and Western moral relativism to strike severe blows at its quailing hosts, the apathetic, limp-wristed citizenries presided over by disconnected Eurocrats who were too terrified to do anything but appease. All heroic dissenters, like Mark Steyn, who tried to warn Europe of its mortal peril, were ungratefully cut off by political correctness laws – where the Islamists did not cut off their heads for real, that is.

Some Europeans realized what was happening. Some “reverted” to the Islamofascist wave of the future, making their peace with the new world. The enterprising and quick-witted emigrated to the US of A, one of the world’s few remaining citadels of freedom and prosperity. Most accepted their fate passively – aging, deprived of their pensions through state bankruptcies, forced to pay jizya to their new masters who cut their beards, took away their beer and covered up their women. Though a few bands of neo-Nazi “patriots” tried to stem the Islamic tide, they were outnumbered and crushed in the ensuing civil wars.

*soundtrack*

The world retreated into a new Dark Age of nuclear-armed tinpot dictatorships, transnational terrorists equipped with the latest technology, a totalitarian China, a re-primitivized Russia of nuclearized anarchy fought over by the Chinese Army, brutal Muslim warlords and the dispossessed remnants of its original denizens, and a civil war-torn Europe alternating between fascist black and Islamist green. The barbarian of chaos and destruction leaves only a single, tattered Stars and Stripes fluttering on the winds of time, for now America stands alone as the last bastion of enlightenment amidst the stifling darkness that threatens to engulf it too.

That is, more or less, the main thesis of Mark Steyn’s book and much of his other work. His major argument behind the Eurabia theory can be summed up by three points:

  • Loss of precious bodily fluidsEurope’s demographic decline. While Islam is confident and expanding, Europe is in a demographic death spiral. Most countries on the Mediterranean rim and central Europe have total fertility rates below 1.3 children per woman, the “lowest-low fertility from which no human society in history has ever recovered”. While Westerners worry about trees and overpopulation, Muslims are copulating, settling and opening up new fronts in the global jihad. Though it is true that Muslim fertility is also falling, demography is a game of last man standing: it will be of little consolation to dispossessed secular Europeans if fertility rates fall below replacement levels by 2100 in minaret-stacked Eurabia.
  • Stupid limp-wristed leftardsthe unsustainability of the social-democratic state. Though aging is not necessarily a death knell for a society (it increases savings, for instance), it is unworkable in a social-democratic society – “demography is an existential crisis for the developed world, because the twentieth-century social democratic state was built on a careless model that requires a constantly growing population to sustain it”. Hence, “Islam has youth and will, Europe has age and welfare”. This wil lead to fiscal bankruptcy and enervation. Even non-Muslim immigration is no solution because even discounting the morality of robbing the developing world of its doctors and engineers, why on Earth would young professionals in booming economies emigrate to graying, tax-burdened Europe when their own countries are becoming so much better?
  • Lolzcivilizational exhaustion. The last point is one in the style of “fall of the Roman Empire” / “decline of the West” / biological-spiritual / passionarity theories. As government annexes all the “responsibilities of adulthood” (health, childcare, elderly care), it has “effectively severed its citizens from humanity’s primal instincts, not least the survival instinct”. Meanwhile, the correlation of forces between the West and the rest is moving in unfavorable directions. Whereas once Europe exported people all over the world, it is now fast becoming a colony of Dar al-Islam. Terrorists talk by cell phone, plot murder on notebooks and travel by airplace. Starving countries have nukes. New enemies like al-Qarda are “transnational, globalized, locally franchised, extensively outsourced. He laments that though the US is a superpower, it is – and is perceived to be – too spiritually feeble to use its power – a benign hegemon, sugardaddy to limp-wristed European socialism and a global object of hatred despite its best efforts – be it for its moral decadence (Islamist complaint) or its consumerism and opposition to environmentalism (European complaint). Though the Islamists are far less advanced, in the words of Maulana Inyadulah, “Americans love Pepsi-Cola, we love death!” And Steyn believes such will will triumph over matter.

On the other hand, there are important caveats and rebuttals to add to each of these points, which Steyn either neglects or glosses over.

Is European Fertility doomed?

While south / central Europe’s demographic decline is real and will present a major challenge to the fiscal sustainability of its pension and social welfare systems in the decades to come (especially since the cheap energy that previously drove growth will be a thing of the past), it should be noted that in recent years there has been a generalized increase in fertility throughout Europe – compared to the figures he quotes to the latest data, there were increases in Canada (1.5 to 1.6), Europe (1.4 to 1.5), Russia (1.1 to 1.5), and the US remained at the same level (2.1); only Japan decreased (1.3 to 1.2). I doubt how we could claim that it is precisely 1.3 children that constitute the “lowest-low” level from which there is no recovery. Intuitively, society MUST recover because it is precisely the social milieu that has few children will become extinct; social conservatives will inherit the Earth (see the classic article The Return of Patriarchy).

Furthermore, smaller cohorts tend to have better employment prospects (fewer new people chasing jobs) and can therefore marry earlier and have more children and the recent spurt in European fertility may be a symptom of this. On the other hand, special circumstances – the a) soaring tax requirements of an aging population accustomed to social democracy and b) the cessation of growth due to increasing global competition for depleting energy resources may well mean that Europe never will pull out of its demographic death spiral. Maybe.

Steyn gets Russia totally wrong

“’The sick man of Europe’, with falling life expectancy, riddled with HIV and tuberculosis and heart disease, its infrastructure crumbling, its borders unenforceable, and its wily kleptocracy draining its wealth Westward”. The population is supposed to fall to 130mn in 2015 and 50-60mn by 2100, driven by a death spiral of abortion, AIDS (0.25mn-0.75mn deaths per year to soon materialize) – leading to Islamification, wars with loose nukes, its “empty resource rich eastern hinterland” taken over by China, etc.

As I’ve pointed out in many previous articles (see Through the Looking Glass at Russia’s Demography), these are all either a) real factors, but whose significance is vastly overstated, or b) not significant at all.

Re-abortion. Doesn’t matter. What matters is the total fertility rate. Abortion was the predominant method of birth control in the Soviet Union and that didn’t prevent it from maintaining near-replacement level fertility levels. And in any case it is now falling in prevalence.

Re-population. Unrealistic. Linear extrapolation of current trends. Yadda yadda. See my predictions at Faces of the Future. Note that since as of 2009 the population was at 142mn, it will now have to drop by 12mn over the next 6 years to fulfill the 130mn people by 2015 forecast – patently risible considering that the population is now basically stable and that even during the worst years of the post-Soviet demographic crunch the decline never exceeded 1mn per year.

Re-AIDS apocalypse. Assumes the spread will follow a sexual, sub-Saharan pattern of transmission, whereas in reality a) it remains confined to the (small) injecting drug-user subpopulation and b) the number of pregnant HIV-positive women peaked in 2002 and has since plateaued. The multi-million death AIDS apocalypse has failed to materialize despite predictions it would be in full swing sometime by now.

Re-Islamification. Again unrealistic given that the two largest Muslim ethnic groups – the Tatars and Bashkirs – have TFR’s that are nearly equal to those of ethnic Russians, and even all the Caucasian Muslim population TFR’s have fallen below replacement levels (with the sole exception of Chechnya). The prospect of a Eurasian Caliphate remains a dream to Wahhabis and a nightmare to Steyn, nothing more or less.

Possibly his most stupid idea – proposing that Russia marries off its surplus women to China’s surplus men. Idiotic because Russia’s population imbalance only becomes statistically insignificant after 40! Speaking of which, he also prophesies China’s collapse because of the popular theory it will “get old before it gets rich”. China is quite capable of getting rich before getting old simply because of the sheer momentum of its economic convergence, as argued in this Goldman Sachs paper.

How many Muslim are there and how fast are they increasing?

Apart from positing low, continuing European fertility rates – which is entirely possible, but far from set in stone – the Eurabia Theory also relies on four other assumptions: a) there are hordes of Muslims in the EU, b) they have very high fertility rates, c) they will continue to have very high fertility rates and d) Europeans will not limit Muslim immigration.

First, there aren’t that many Muslims in the EU. Most estimates put them at around 15m-20mn of the EU’s 450mn+ population, including a maximum 6mn (10%) in France. So starting from such a low base you will need prodigious fertility rates AND immigration to make Europe morph into Eurabia any time soon. There is little evidence of either:

In Austria, for example, Muslim women had a total fertility rate… of 3.1 children per woman in 1981, well above the 1.7 average for the majority Roman Catholic women. By 2001, the rate for Catholics had fallen to 1.3, but the Muslim rate had fallen to 2.3—leaving a difference of just one child per woman between Muslims and non-Muslims.

…West Germany recruited a large number of workers from Turkey beginning in the 1960s, giving Germany one of Western Europe’s largest Muslim populations. In 1970, Turkish women living in West Germany had more than two more children than German women. By 1996, the difference between these two groups had fallen to one child.

Recent trends in the Netherlands tell a similar story [figure shows TFR for native Dutch women remaining at 1.5-1.7 during 1990, 1995, 2000, 2005; while falling substantially for Moroccon-born women (4.9, 3.4, 3.2, 2.9) and Turkish-born women (3.2, 2.5, 2.2, 1.9)].

Though Muslim birth rates are higher than indicated by their TFR because of their different age structure from indigenous populations (they are typically younger with more people in their reproductive ages), this will gradually wear off.

True, some Muslims may be uncounted. Steyn notes that in France “around 30% are said to be Muslim” amongst those under 20 years old [my emphasis - who says?], including 45% in the major cities. And it is certainly suspicious that amongst the continental West European nations it is those that have the densest Muslim concentrations also have particularly high fertility rates (e.g. France, the Netherlands). This is one of the more convincing point to be made in favor of Eurabia.

Are Muslims a monolithic bloc opposed to Western liberalism?

Steyn is not helpful by constantly expressing alarm how Mohammed is becoming the most popular name in several European cities: as the name of the Prophet, it is by far the most popular Muslim boy’s name, whereas there’s a thicker cluster of top names amongst Europeans. Which brings us to another point: Steyn’s proclivity towards Orientalizing the Muslims by treating them as a monolithic group opposed to the West. This is probably not justified:

Moreover, the myth of Eurabia implies the existence of a united Islam, a bloc capable of collective and potentially dangerous action. The truth is that there are no powerful Muslim political movements in Europe, either continentwide or at the national level, and the divisions that separate Muslims worldwide, most obviously between Sunnis and Shiites, are apparent in Europe as well. Each major nation in Europe has drawn Muslim immigrants from distinct regions of the Islamic world, often former colonies, with different traditions and outlooks. A British Muslim from Pakistan would struggle to communicate with a French Muslim from Algeria. A second-generation Muslim from Turkey living in Germany will have little in common with a newly arrived Moroccan across the border in Belgium. Sharp differences exist even within national frontiers. In Germany, more than one in 10 Muslims are Alawites, who aren’t even recognized as coreligionists by the more orthodox.

In areas of personal morality, attitudes vary markedly, too. One recent Gallup poll found that more than 30 percent of French Muslims were ready to accept homosexuality, compared with zero in Britain. Almost half of French Muslims believed sex between unmarried people was morally acceptable, compared with 27 percent of German Muslims. [The relatively liberality of French Muslims is encouraging, considering that France is destined to become the most "Islamized" country in Western Europe] And violent zealotry is for the tiny minority: polls repeatedly reaffirm that Muslims overwhelmingly disapprove of terrorism. In some countries, the mood is broadly secular. “The majority of Muslims in France are, in fact, decoupled from their religion. They just blend into an amorphous mass of brown or black people,” says Ali Allawi, the former Iraqi defense minister and author of the The Crisis of Islamic Civilization. Jochen Hippler, a German political scientist at the University of Duisburg-Essen, says he has had young Turks come up to him to ask what Islam is all about. “They have lost any connection with the religion of their parents and grandparents,” he says. A recent government survey showed that 40 percent of Iranians living in Germany identified themselves as having no religion, as did 23 percent of North Africans. In the Netherlands, the proportion of Muslims who regularly attend the mosque—27 percent—is lower than the proportion of Protestants who go to church.

This is a very important point, btw. First, no country that I know of hosts a major Islamist party in Western Europe. Their influence is limited to marginal movements like “Respect” in Britain, which is in any case officially hardline-socialist. Though Steyn evidently considers their (relative) lack of education and unemployment a source of strength, this concept eludes the more logical mind.

Second, though it is true Muslims identify to a much greater with their religion than, say, Anglicans, their levels of “patriotism” are usually no lower than, and sometimes higher, than those of their countrymen.

What explains European Muslim terrorists?

Why do so many terrorists come from Muslim Europe? See the text quoted above. Their ethnic ties with their home countries were severed. Their young feel rejected by their host countries, deprived of opportunities by the prevalence of employment discrimination.

Unemployment among people of French origin is 9.2%. Among those of foreign origin, the figure is 14% – even after adjusting for educational qualifications.

Understandably, some may turn to radical Islam as a palliative to their despair, an object of belief in an atomized society, and their dream of redemption. Steyn adamantly refuses to consider things from the viewpoint of 20-something Parisian Muslims (apart from the advantages / free time offered by social welfare, which he hates): ebbing ethnic ties to Algeria / Morocco / etc; social anomie; disillusionment with French society – he is better educated than his immigrant parents, but is denied opportunities by employment discrimination / the anti-small business attitudes of the French elites; living in a cramped apartment in a rough suburb; watching co-religionists get threatened and blown up by Western bombs in far-away corners of the world for standing up for their dignity (as they perceive it); reading too much Koran mixed with those fools like Nietzsche, Baudrillard, etc (many terrorists are surprisingly well-educated); etc. Note also that many Europeans have rather low opinions of Muslims (and don’t forget that Europe is a continent infected with political correctness, so the true figures for Britain, France, etc, will like be higher):

So is it really surprising that sizable portions of European Muslims would be willing to voice support for terrorism against their host nation (around 15% in the case of Britain)? And is it really surprising that of those, a small fraction will be willing to go through with it? In any case this combination of social, economic and psychological factors explains Islamic terrorism far better than Steyn’s facile attribution of it to their backwardness and hatred of the West in his attempts to justify Western imperialism.

A Caveat

That said, I don’t want to give the impression that I’m a limp-wristed multiculti filled with idealistic admiration for the Muslim communities of Europe. Many of them are crime-ridden, the young are poorly-educated and don’t compensate with the discipline expected of them in traditional Muslim nations. And there are certainly (far too many) anecdotes of women getting terrorized and indigenous inhabitants getting roughed up in these neighborhoods. This is not as big a problem in the US, where a) there is no generous welfare system – so immigrants HAVE to assimilate, get a job, etc, and b) greater selectivity over whom to allow to emigrate to its shores. That said, there’s no need to replace the limp-wristed mutliculti leftard myths with bigoted ultra-right-wing myths.

What about the hordes of Muslim immigrants?

Furthermore, Muslim fertility is falling rapidly since many Islamic nations are currently undergoing a “demographic transition”. Here is a typical sample of TFR’s across the Islamic world: Indonesia (2.3), Pakistan (3.6), Bangladesh (2.8), Egypt (2.7), Iran (1.7), Turkey (2.2), Morocco (2.5), Algeria (1.8), Saudi Arabia (3.8), Tunisia (1.7). This is much reduced from prevailing rates two decades ago and not in fact much different from fertility rates in Europe during the 1950′s-1960′s miracle economy years. Indeed some countries in the Maghreb (the main source of immigrants to France) and Iran – that ultimate symbol of scary Islamist autocracy, already have below replacement level fertility.

This means that population pressure is gradually subsiding in the Muslim world – most importantly, in Turkey and North Africa – the closest regions to Europe. Their own economies, gradually shifting from the Malthusian / agricultural to the capital-accumulative / industrial, will be able to soak up increasing shares of indigenous labor. People only ever want to emigrate if their country is impoverished and unstable (as was Turkey, North Africa during the 1960′s – and when Europe needed labor for intensive industrial development); these conditions are fading away, and so are emigrants. Europe as a whole is moving in a conservative, anti-immigration direction.

Islam is weak and unsure

Contrary to Steyn’s assertions that Islam is a strong, expanding power, it is nothing of the sort. It is a set of cultural traditions that have been thrown into a profound existential crisis by contact with the West. Many Muslims are uneasy towards it; some managed to assimilate with it; a few have drawn on the wellspring of general ressentiment against the West, marrying one aspect of the West – its advanced technics, with an imagined Islamic past of unadulterated virtue and piety (e.g. bin Laden). Yet this is no panacea, as Iran perhaps proves. From Spengler’s Sex, Drugs and Islam (the Asia Times columnist Spengler, that is):

Until very recently, an oil-price windfall gave the Iranian state ample resources to pursue its agenda at home and abroad. How, then, should we explain an eruption of social pathologies in Iran such as drug addiction and prostitution, on a scale much worse than anything observed in the West? Contrary to conventional wisdom, it appears that Islamic theocracy promotes rather than represses social decay.

Iran is dying. The collapse of Iran’s birth rate during the past 20 years is the fastest recorded in any country, ever. Demographers have sought in vain to explain Iran’s population implosion through family planning policies, or through social factors such as the rise of female literacy.  But quantifiable factors do not explain the sudden collapse of fertility. It seems that a spiritual decay has overcome Iran, despite best efforts of a totalitarian theocracy. Popular morale has deteriorated much faster than in the “decadent” West against which the Khomeini revolution was directed.

PS. Rather off-topic, but there’s also support for my thesis that Iran is going to unleash a spurt of aggressive rhetoric – and perhaps more – against the West within the decade, culminating in some kind of revolution or dying down of fervor, and rebuilding of bridges.

Their efforts to isolate Iran from the cultural degradation of the American “great Satan” have produced social pathologies worse than those in any Western country. With oil at barely one-fifth of its 2008 peak price, they will run out of money some time in late 2009 or early 2010. Game theory would predict that Iran’s leaders will gamble on a strategic long shot. That is not a comforting thought for Iran’s neighbors. [This explains the power shifts underway since the mid-2000's - and accelerated in 2009 - from the clerical oligarchy to the forces of the IRCG represented by Ahmadinejad].

… As in the decline of communism, what follows on the breakdown of a state ideology is likely to be nihilism. Iran is a dying country, and it is very difficult to have a rational dialogue with a nation all of whose available choices terminate in oblivion.

Back on topic. He rather overdoes Iran’s problems, of course. Though a TFR of 1.7 is low, it is relatively high compared to Europe and may furthermore be a temporary factor due to a) fertility postponement or b) over-saturation of the job market and housing problems (well-known as political / election problems in Iran). That said, this does illustrate the point. Nor is it limited to Iran. From Ed Luttwak’s classical The Middle of Nowhere:

Yet even the most thinly qualified of middle east experts must know that Islam, as with any other civilisation, comprehends the sum total of human life, and that unlike some others it promises superiority in all things for its believers, so that the scientific and technological and cultural backwardness of the lands of Islam generates a constantly renewed sense of humiliation and of civilisational defeat. That fully explains the ubiquity of Muslim violence…

… We devote far too much attention to the middle east, a mostly stagnant region where almost nothing is created in science or the arts—excluding Israel, per capita patent production of countries in the middle east is one fifth that of sub-Saharan Africa. The people of the middle east (only about five per cent of the world’s population) are remarkably unproductive, with a high proportion not in the labor force at all. Not many of us would care to work if we were citizens of Abu Dhabi, with lots of oil money for very few citizens. But Saudi Arabia’s 27m inhabitants also live largely off the oil revenues that trickle down to them, leaving most of the work to foreign technicians and laborers: even with high oil prices, Saudi Arabia’s annual per capita income, at $14,000, is only about half that of oil-free Israel.

Saudi Arabia has a good excuse, for it was a land of oasis hand-farmers and Bedouin pastoralists who cannot be expected to become captains of industry in a mere 50 years. Much more striking is the oil parasitism of once much more accomplished Iran. It exports only 2.5m barrels a day as compared to Saudi Arabia’s 8m, yet oil still accounts for 80 per cent of Iran’s exports because its agriculture and industry have become so unproductive.

The middle east was once the world’s most advanced region, but these days its biggest industries are extravagant consumption and the venting of resentment. According to the UN’s 2004 Arab human development report, the region boasts the second lowest adult literacy rate in the world (after sub-Saharan Africa) at just 63 per cent [another damning statistics from that report: more books are translated into Spanish every year than have been translated into Arabic - ever]. Its dependence on oil means that manufactured goods account for just 17 per cent of exports, compared to a global average of 78 per cent. Moreover, despite its oil wealth, the entire middle east generated under 4 per cent of global GDP in 2006—less than Germany.

So yeah. For all Ahmadinjad’s rather distasteful comments about Israel, etc, etc, neocons painting Iran as the next Nazi Germany are either very cynical or stark raving mad. And so is Steyn with his alarmism – in fact, he himself acknowledges this by quoting Mahathir Mohamad’s pessimistic remarks on Islam’s backwardness re-science and technology.

Why Muslims should fear Europeans

Europe is the original black continent. It may well become so again, and there’s little doubt who their first targets will be. Steyn criticizes Europeans for their limp-wristedness, but I doubt a generation or so of cheap energy-fueled prosperity and gay pride parades have extirpated their traditional “burn the neighboring village” proclivities. The fate of liberal democracy is uncertain in nations increasingly burdened by aging workforces, declining access to cheap energy, forced deindustrialization, etc – especially ones like Germany where it was imposed from outside.

And then there’s climate change. For all the mockery Steyn has for tree-hugging, he does not realize the central part the carrying capacity of the land – which depends on a myriad of factors like technology, energy availability, climate, sustainable practices, etc – has always played in human demography. Values are secondary. Antarctica will never support more people than the limp-wristed Netherlands, even if it’s exclusively populated by right-wing hardasses like Steyn himself. (Well, not unless it melts anyway, which Steyn is certainly indifferent to – so perhaps not the best example).

And unlike Europe, the Islamic world is very much beyond sustainability – which makes its population explosion a crippling burden, not a strength. Even today, the Middle East is the world’s only region that cannot provide for its own food subsistence; it imports billions of tons of “virtual water” from other countries to bridge the gap. Though countries like Saudi Arabia will manage to continue doing this thanks to their oil endowments, this is not the case for nations like Syria, Pakistan or Yemen (he latter is in a particularly bad bind – it has both rapidly falling water tables, plummeting agricultural production and population soaring even faster than in neighboring Saudi Arabia). Countries like these may sink into destitution, famine and extremism, spurring mass refugee movements. An increasingly conservative (or perhaps by then fascist) Europe may not let them in, or keep them in segregated ghettos. Though this will be an unjust (though no doubt justified by propaganda) arrangement, they will be powerless to do anything about it except isolated, futile acts of terrorism.

Quite simply I have a very pessimistic view of Muslim prospects for the next century. A religion that has been the least successful in reconciling itself to modernity. Polarized between spiritual anomie and sentimental rejection of the West. In perpetual conflict with all other civilizations. Some of its states have valuable resources, but not the modern weapons to defend them. Other states are well beyond the carrying capacity of their territories, and lack the resources to sustain this unsustainable state affairs far into a future of limits to growth. Most are ruled by cynical elites paying lip-service to the West, while crushing and buying off the extremist elements – who are themselves hopeless at changing anything for the better.

Concluding remarks

Despite my many disagreements with it, I ended up giving it a 3/5. First, it really is a very humorous and readable book – even if occasionally embarrassingly ignorant on certain matters. And his constant jokes re-France; social democracy; the virtues of asperity and manliness; etc, got tiring. I like guns and I do think many modern-day social systems are overgrown and that continental European countries throw up too many regulatory barriers for small businesses, but this does not mean that a robust system of preventative-focused public healthcare or time-limited unemployment benefits is a bad idea. He constantly quotes anecdotes about the ridiculous failings of the European welfare states, but you could easily find as many anecdotes about medical horror stories in the US (e.g. outrageous fines for minor procedures).

The other reason is that I agree with him that political correctness has gone too far in the West and ironically his book is a symptom of that – you can’t discuss “Eurabia” in a serious way at “respectable” venues, hence the proliferation of alarmist literature like this (yet which may contain kernels of truth) – which should be read with an open mind yet treated with a pinch of salt.

Comments

  1. I think that you are too generous and Steyn is barely worth arguing with, but still, good work, amazing research. I just wonder how you have the time to write such intelligent articles with so many sources.

    A few thoughts.

    1) Demographic projections are quite unpredictable. France and Russia at various times have both had the highest and lowest birthrates in history (in fact France would might have a larger population than Russia now has if it wasn’t for Napoleonic law, but then there is the question of France could support 1000,000,000 + people which shows that trends are not that significant). The AIDS thing demonstrates the flaw of trend analysis. I could say that 100% of the population will be wearing Emo clothes in the future using exponential trends.

    2) Whilst I am myself fairly socially conservative, I’d sadly have to say that my favourite country, Greece, does not make things look encouraging for social conservatism as the cure. There is little political correctness gone mad in Greece, yet it looks the most likely candidate for Eurabia given its Albanian population. Ireland has had the opposite movement to deep secularism and consumerism yet still has a high birth rate. Romania has the highest belief levels in the EU, yet has one of the lowest fertility rates. Sadly, from evidence here, it seems that de-evolution may be a factor. Many of the people with large families are not (shall we say) symbols of traditional values of thrift and religious devotion or even products of Steyn’s beloved free market (in fact Britain’s TFR might decline rapidly if benefits to single mothers were stopped).

    3) ‘You can’t discuss “Eurabia” in a serious way at “respectable” venues’. Does this mean the book or the theory? If the first, it may be because Steyn’s arguments are badly made. If the second, I am not so sure

    4) America is a young country; isn’t it a bit weird to compare it to,say, Russia? In 1914, the TFR for a Russian woman was 5 children.

    5) Interesting graph about anti-Muslim attitudes, especially as Britain and America are so low down.

    6) He tries to find a causal relationship between welfare and low birth rates, though he may have the argument the wrong way round. Maybe America spends a low amount because it has a young population (largely due to immigration).

    7) It was during ‘shock therapy’ that Eastern/ Central Europe went into demographic decline.

    8) You make a good point about conflict within Islam. Consider the Iran/ Iraq war between (to my knowledge) the two largest Shiite Islam countries. Consider also the conflict between Turks and Kurds.

    • Apparently writing an eight with a bracket causes a smily face with sunglases…

    • 2) I hardly think Ireland is secular – it’s even introduced a blasphemy law recently, well into the 21st century!

      It’s though that nations like Italy and Greece have low fertility rates precisely because of their combination of social conservatism AND educated women / industrial society. Quite simply if they decide to have many children it is socially expected they’ll give up on career and stay at home.

      There’s actually a positive correlation (in rich countries) between “consumerism” (good small & medium business atmosphere) and birth rates. Employers in Med countries do not want to hire women who will get pregnant and demand benefits.

      3) The theory. Though probably wrong on objective criteria, it is my impression that discussions on Islam are highly constricted in Europe on PC grounds.

      4) Can you please remind exactly what you have in mind here?

      6) Not really. Total fertility rates are independent of the population age structure, and they are significantly higher in the US (2.1) than in the EU (1.5).

      I don’t think immigration is a factor. What’s more important is that the US demographic fall in the 1970′s was smaller and recovered to replacement-level rates; the fall in Europe was larger and by and large, continued sliding down – especially in Germany and the Med.

      • Hi Anatoly

        My fourth point was that Steyn does not have a good knowledge of history, and certainly does not have a Popperian philosophical view: subsequently he often writes with a messianic tone about the future of the USA. Implying that America will continue to have a high birth rate is absurd because we don’t know which countries will expand or decline. In less than a century, Russia went from a TFR of 5 to 1.3 so guessing what America’s demographics (or Russia’s) will be like in a century is a fool’s game.

        As to the sixth point, I would disagree that immigration is not a factor in America. I’ve heard some estimates (or is it guesstimates?) that there are 20 million illegal Hispanic immigrants in America as well as 20 million legals.

        But anyway, I did acknowledge that America has a high birthrate, but tried to make the point that Steyn sees two things (the high birthrate and comparatively low social spending) and draws the conclusion that suits him. Yet it could be the opposite. An aging country will have to spend a far higher percentage of its GDP on social spending than a young country. Many conservatives are worried that when the baby boomers reach retirement, the American financial system may need to be restructured.

        • To be fair Russia’s falling TFR was quite predictable, not being a product of decline but of industrialization. That said you are of course right that projecting demography (or anything else) 100 years is a futile exercise.

  2. Another great review. You are making me quite embarrassed at how few books I’ve been making it through lately.

    Something that the Russophobes and Neo-Nazis fail to grasp a lot lately is that a large part of the Mediterranean/Eastern European demographic decline is due to internal EU migration. Lots of Czech and Polish youth have taken advantage of the mobility EU citizenship offered, and the recession is actually driving them back home. In the case of Russia, I think migration to Israel alone accounts for a sizable portion of the youth lost. I wonder if they’ll see the demographics in better shape at the next poll and suddenly think that Lithuanian women are suddenly having lots of 20- and 30-something children?!

    As for the Mediterranean, I admit to having little clue as to why Italy’s demographics are so dire – I thought their immigration rate was fairly high. And why is it that these right-wing nutjobs think that Europe is so different than the US demographically? We both rely largely on multicultural societies and lots of immigration of youth and labor to stay solvent (barely). The US just has white Mormons to skew the statistics, I guess.

    • Emigration may have been significant in the Baltics, but certainly not in Russia (its migration balance has been uninterruptedly positive since the 1970′s).

      Re-Italy. See my reply to Gregor.

      Re-US / Europe. The indigenous US population has systemically higher fertility than indigenous Europeans. Mormons can’t skew the statistics because although it does have high fertility rates, the state of Utah constitutes less than 1% of the US population.

  3. Very good review.

    The whole issue, which is confirmed by the election of Barack Obama last spring, relates to the way in which, with the exception of Australia, parts of the US, and presumably sub-Saharan Africa, the industrial economy gives little incentive to have children. Only in those regions is the land supply adequate to create housing space for families or to allow for economically viable agriculture where chidlren are not a libility. Elsewhere fertility rates have tended to be very low, especially as scarcity of resources leads either to demand for vast welfare or the requirement of very heavy savings, neither of which is compatible with a reasonable fertility rate.

    I especially appreciate your point about the way Muslim society has had great trouble coming to terms with modernity and that it is in great economic and ecological trouble. The same can be said for Australia, whihc is an immsely resource-rich but very infertile continent faced with severe environmental damage from global warming that is rapidly desertifying its relatively populated southern fringe.

    • Sub-Saharan Africa doesn’t have a proper industrial economy outside S. Africa, the demographic dynamics there are very much pre-industrial / Malthusian.

      I agree with you that in countries with wide open spaces (cheap land), fertility will be higher than in a more densely-populated / strained land, keeping all other things equal.

      Australia is in a better position. Though it certainly faces challenges, it has an advanced industrial economy and strong links with the Anglo-Saxon world.

  4. Gregor

    It should be no surprise that predominately Muslim nations have fought each other over the course of time. In some instances, the ethnic differences can be a factor for this. In others, the differences between Muslim denominations might be at play.

    Predominately Christian nations have fought each other, inclusive of nations with the same Christian denomination (be it RC, OC or Protestant).

    Offhand, the Hindus and Jews don’t seem to fit in the category of co-religionists actively warring with each other. This has to do with the number of predominately Jewish and Hindu nations out there. (Jews have fought each other fought on the side of different countries at war with each other.)

    On “Eurabia,” you might already know that the non-Arab Albanians are at about 75% with Muslim background, with the remainder roughly favoring the OC over the RC at a 2-1 ratio. On the non-Arab point, a good number of folks are of the incorrect impression that the Iranians are Arabs.

    The OC Albanians tend to be mostly concentrated in southern Albania. Whereas (for example) in Kosovo, Albanians of Muslim background are (offhand and without checking) in about a 9-1 ratio over RC Albanians.

    While against Kosovo’s independence and unlike others in that grouping, I don’t put much emphasis on the Muslim background of the Albanians. The more secular of nationalists can be more brutal than the more religious variant. There’re of course examples to the contrary.

    In overall terms, it seems that Russians aren’t as aversive to Islam as Christian peoples in the area of the Balkans. I think this has to do with the Russians having had more of a “dominating” (if you may) experience unlike the Balkan Christian experience under Turkish dominated rule.

  5. Russia’s major Muslim groups are so Russian as Russians themselves. Few years ago I met a half Tatar girl (her dad was actually Russian, not very Islamic of her mother) braging how Muslim she was with a glass of wine in her hand. The Tatars mix with the Russian and are only nominally Muslim, so thinking that Russia would be overrun by bin Ladin lookalikes is science fiction even if Tatar birth rates were 8 time higher than Russian.

    I would also say that British or French Muslims are in most cases so British and French now after two centuries of being dominated by these countries that their pressence does not herald the Caliphate.

    But the debate is between those who would imagine all Muslims as Usama bin Ladin supporters and those who deem it politically incorrect to say anything wrong about Islam. Both ways are wrong. Geert Wilders wishes to ban the Koran in the era of world wide web as a populist way to win votes and politically correct people would scream “racist” although there are Muslims of all races.

    This is not a constructive climate in which one can assess the pressence of Muslims among us and deal with it. It is also funny how Muslim countries cope with the expressions of Islam among them. They do not have our hijab dilemmas.

    http://www.alarabiya.net/articles/2009/07/16/78914.html

    • Excellent points. One thing I’d add, which I’d be glad if someone could confirm (or refute) – I think the idea that alcohol and Islam do not mix is a myth, one of those regrettable Wahhabi revisions. I mean the Islamic theologian Rumi was writing poems like Bring Wine back in the 13th C.

      @linked articled. Lol. A perfect illustration of the more Catholic than the Pope (or should I say more Muslim than the Prophet?) attitudes of some Muslims in the West.

      • Alcohol in fact is a word of Arabic origin as the Arabs were first to perform destilation. Also the presence in many Muslim countries of local spirits and drunk stories is very telling about their careless attitude towards alcohol.

        However I think the Koran forbids drinking of wine. Wine is one of the pleassures promissed to believers in heaven together with sexy women and honey. So what Rumi may be writing about is the spiritual, rather than the actual wine. But Rumi and his group were very eclectic. His order was more inclusive, somewhat akin to the Free Masons of today and included Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians. But at this time Islam was still being formed and was very heterodox.

        The more influential among the radical Muslims of today is this man and Rumis contemporary.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ibn_Taymiyyah

  6. PS first point should have been ‘Russia and France have both had the highest and lowest birthrates in Europe at various points in history’.

    ‘Predominately Christian nations have fought each other, inclusive of nations with the same Christian denomination (be it RC, OC or Protestant).’

    Good point. When Britain was Protestant, the French and Spaniards (who competed for Atlantic hegemony) generally liked seeing each other get owned by their enemy in faith. Usually the balance of power is what is important. Oddly, I read the biography of a British Catholic who claimed (rather questionably) that his ancestors wanted Napoleon to win to bring Catholicism to Britain. Dunno if they saw many of Goya’s etchings. Anyway, that is why I am sceptical when people write about religion as a major political factor. Even talking of Islam in Europe, the Muslims might never have taken Constantinople were it not for their Hungarian allies and the Ottoman Empire certainly wouldn’t have lasted as long as it did were it not for the Western fears of Russian hegemony in the East.

    Sadly, of course, it is also the case with the Orthodox. It seems that there is the Byzantinist Greek/ Serbian/ Russian axis and the ‘new Europe’ axis of Romania/ Georgia/ Bulgaria.

    ‘On “Eurabia,” you might already know that the non-Arab Albanians are at about 75% with Muslim background, with the remainder roughly favoring the OC over the RC at a 2-1 ratio’

    My spiritual father was in Athens recently and said he was pleased that the alter boys in the church were Albanians. However, I do not know what the Greek Albanian statistics are concerning their faith. Still, as Stas Mishin says, the Saudis have a pernicious influence on international Islam.

    ‘The more secular of nationalists can be more brutal than the more religious variant.’

    True, but it seems that Islam is very strongly defined by being monotheistic even more than following the law. I’ve heard that alcohol and drugs are commonly consumed in many Islamic theocracies (one Saudi Prince died of liver cirrhosis, which isn’t bad for a Wahibbi Sharia fanatic; the late unlamented Ataturk who promoted Sunni Islam as the Turkish religion also died from drinking too much ouzo). Therefore the KLA can be puritanically Islamic and traffic drugs/ women whilst demolishing ‘polytheistic’ Christian churches.

    ‘In overall terms, it seems that Russians aren’t as aversive to Islam as Christian peoples in the area of the Balkans’.

    Perhaps it is also because for the Russians there is no monolithic concept of Islam. Even in tiny Chechnya it varies from Suffi to Wahhibi. I heard once that a disproportionate number of non-Russian Soviets fought in Afghanistan. And akin to the point above, the second Chechen war was largely a civil war. Whilst I think both Chechen wars were wrong, I also think many in the West were foolish to sentimentalise the Chechens and could also have found some features to respect in Putin’s handling of post-war Chechnya. It is undoubtedly a brutal place. I can see that another human rights journalist who worked in Chechnya has been shot dead, and as always the Brit media is eager to imply that Bad Vlad may be the prime suspect.

    ‘But the debate is between those who would imagine all Muslims as Usama bin Ladin supporters and those who deem it politically incorrect to say anything wrong about Islam…This is not a constructive climate in which one can assess the pressence of Muslims among us and deal with it. It is also funny how Muslim countries cope with the expressions of Islam among them. They do not have our hijab dilemmas.’

    Personally, I think there is something extremely sinister about the strange neo-liberal treatment of Muslims. It is politically incorrect to criticise Islam (except for atheists) and Geert Wilders is banned from Britain. Yet if you do not take it on trust from the British government that the 7/7 bombings were the work of wild Saracens, you are a tin-foil-hatted-loon.

    I think they partially like the McCarthyist idea. We Brit Russophiles may not cut it in ‘red under the bed’ surrogates, even if Putin is as bad as Stalin. Yet the Muslims can be accused of dual loyalty.

    • The KLA are most of all secular in my view. They attacked not only Christian Serbs but non-Albanian Muslims as well. There were communities of Turks, and Islamicised Slavs and Roma. Serbian churches were destroyed because they were symbols of Serbian right to the land. They of course cooperate with Muslims elsewhere but that is only out of convenience.

      Ataturk promoted Turkishness. It is mostly symbolised in the red cresent moon flag everywhere (in the woods for example) and everything Turkisised. I found out about the extreme case of it from one Turkish guy who proudly said that Father Christmass (St. Nicholas of Myra) was Turkish. When I countered by saying that he was Greek, he got angry. Attaturk was aware of Sunni Islam being an intricate part of Turkishness but he abolished the Caliphate, changed the script from Arabic (the language of Islam) to Latin (the language of the West) and banned the Dervish orders.

      Its the same thing with the Saudis. I know of Saudi students in London who did their BA 8 years because the first four they have gone wild. And the women? Once outside of Saudi Arabia, non of them wears a hijab. For the Saudis Wahhabism was a propaganda tool when they lived as nomadic raiders in Najd and fought the Ottomans for control of the Holy Cities. They saw themselves as Prophet Muhammad’s umma fighting the kaffirun. In fact Muhammad ibn Saud and Muhammad Abd-al-Wahhab were two Muhammads who were the sword and the Word of the early Saudi state. But now that they have oil and prosperity it is more of a burden than help, so they export it, together with their spoiled children.

      I could talk about Muslims for hours.

      Anyway I think Wilders has all the right to say what he wishes and come to Britain. I found his repulse on Heathrow worrying and frankly counterproductive given that his ideas can be easily disarmed in a debate.

      1) Mein Kamf is banned in the Czech Republic yet few clicks will give me a full Czech translation of it in pdf.

      2) Israel is the first line of defence? Oh please.

      I think that the whole promotion of multiculturalism and good relations with the Arab-Islamic world is economic. The Muslims provide cheap labour and oil to run our economies and therefore any criticism of this relationship is seen as dangerous. Now that the criticism is no longer to be silenced, they allow atheists to do so. After all the Muslims were expected to be secular and assimilated within a decade but the opposite happened. They let the former cheerleaders of multiculturalism to voice their disaproval on a plan gone wrong. Its similar to Ed Lucas and the failure of the neo-liberal experiment in Russia. They just won’t admit their mistake, it must be the other mans lack of wit that caused it.

      The more serious (or populist) critics are silenced because the passions would then become uncontrolable to our spineless elites. They love the easy-living, gray mass without ideas.

  7. AK, I have the feeling that you will find Peter Turchin’s ideas very interesting. In any event, I found his “War and Peace and War” to be a quick and fascinating read. Perhaps you will find it too basic since he meant it for a popular audience (no math in it), but he has several other much more technical works. And I suspect that “War and Peace and War” is a much more solid work than the book you just reviewed. Besides Rome, France and other empires, it also has interesting stuff about the crucial role of the Cossacks on the formation of the Russian Empire.

    Personally, I don’t share Turchin’s faith that history is so quantifiable that you can end up predicting much of the future, but I think you are more amenable to that idea. (For me the key issue is the quality and completeness of the data. NOW data is much better, but the data from several centuries ago is much much spottier and unreliable.) Despite those caveats, I still find him interesting and I think you and Turchin share a lost of interests.

    Somewhere on the net you can find in Russian a long interview from one of his trips to Russia. Unfortunately it is my desktop PC that has the link and I cannot find it from this laptop. (BTW, Turchin is a US citizen, but born in Russia. His father, also an academic, was kicked out of the USSR for dissident activities.)

    Here is a blurb on “War and Peace and War”:

    “Like Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel, Peter Turchin in War and Peace and War uses his expertise in evolutionary biology to make a highly original argument about the rise and fall of empires. Turchin argues that the key to the formation of an empire is a society’s capacity for collective action. He demonstrates that high levels of cooperation are found where people have to band together to fight off a common enemy, and that this kind of cooperation led to the formation of the Roman and Russian empires, and the United States. But as empires grow, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, conflict replaces cooperation, and dissolution inevitably follows. Eloquently argued and rich with historical examples, War and Peace and War offers a bold new theory about the course of world history.”

    • OK, OK, I’ll get this book from the library. You’ve convinced me by your repeated recommendations. ;) I’m interested in civilizational histories and cliodynamics, so this should be right up my alley.

  8. Following up on a point made by Leos, Albanian Catholics at large are among the most gung ho of pro-Kosovo independence enthusiasts. Among Albanians, there’s a consensus of an Albanian identity uniting them in a manner that seems to exclude a great religious rivalry. The inner Albanian squabbles seem to be more along the lines of factions which aren’t primarily based on different religious denominations. As a comparative example, what comes to mind is how traditional American organized crime conflicts have periodically involved factions of one multi-ethhnic/religious group against another multi-ethnic/religious group.

    On the not so religious/religious nationalism:

    The person credited with founding modern day Pakistan was known for not being religious. Pakistan was essentially created on the basis that an independent India (whose concept at one time included the territory of what’s now Pakistan) needed to be partly severed with a predominately Muslim inhabited state.

    Among Jews, some of Israel’s greatest supporters are the not as religious Jews, as well as those identifying themselves as Jewish and atheist.

    Bosnian Muslim nationalist propaganda to the West has stressed the not so religious manner of many Bosnian Muslims.

    Having said all this, as 911 and some others such acts reveal, a comparatively small core of religious extremists can have a great impact.

  9. It’s funny (to me at least) that Mark Steyn writes his book just before America “alone” elects Barack Hussein Obama while Europe and especially Russia show varying signs of waking up to their demographic problems. Population growth is a secondary concern compared to population composition.I think the Russians and certainly some of the Europeans now get it about the USA: a declining country has elected a precocious juvenile…a pop star,if you will, as President.The last six months have only confirmed his complete incompetence.As to the Balkan Moslems,without the American military to come to the rescue in the future,I think the “Balkan Caliphate” is off the table.Funny Steyn never saw the American hand in that.Nor does he seem to get that contemporary American military,economic and cultural dominance only weakened Europe and Russia.In a nutshell,America openly encouraged the “Islamization” (open immigration,admission of Turkey,war on Serbia,etc.) that Steyn claims America alone was standing up against.Finally,if history teaches anything,it teaches that predicting the disappearance of Russia is common and always wrong.

  10. The Paddy Ashdown/Bill Kristol argument of opposing the Serbs in a Western attempt to reach out to world Islam has to rank as one of the more idiotic of post-Cold War geopolitical thinking.

    Predominately Muslim or otherwise, many countries don’t think in such a Crusades like way.

    How many predominately Muslim countries recognize the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which challenges the Greek Orthodox Chrsitian position on Cyprus?

    At last notice (should check further update), EU enthusiasm for Kosovo’s independence is greater than what’s evident among nations comprising the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

    The especially pro-Israeli Kristol is ironic. When compared to bashing Serbia, the so-called “Muslim street” would be more impressed if there were a harder line taken towards Israel. I’m not saying that should be done. Rather, I make this observation to indicate the selectively inconsistent manner of some of the “strategery” (care of a Saturday Night Live skit, involving the GWB Jr.) out there.

  11. AK, since you are into both history and futurology, perhaps you will find the following interesting (even if unconvincing.) I don’t know what to think about it, but thanks to a Marginal Revolution post I went on to read a short article and then saw a brief video clip on Paul Romer intriguing thoughts.

    Here is the link of the article:

    http://blog.longnow.org/2009/05/20/paul-romer-a-theory-of-history-with-an-application/

    And here is a Paul Romer video clip:

  12. Interesting review. I have my fair share of disagreements with Steyn (I’ve read the book as well) but I do think he gets the danger that Islam poses to us absolutely correct.

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