Thursday, November 17, 2011
How Civilizations Die With David Goldman
The fundamental argument laid out here is that the Islamic world in particular is collapsing on contact with modernity. That this trend will likely continue and that the Islamic world itself will continue to decay.
I generally have to agree with that and recognize we have habitually given more credit there than they ever deserved. Their propensity for violence keeps them front and center while everyone else is getting on with things in a much better form.
One prediction that I would like to make however is that the present generation whose apparent birth rate appears so low is actually preparing for a much extended lifespan. They will also have the option to have children through an incubation system within about one generation. So while historical numbers suggest we are heading for a huge population decline, I expect it to stabilize and operate happily at sustaining or better with life expectancy over one hundred. Our ability to incubate will allow genetic preservation and population management.
This means that if you can maintain ones value to the community, you can anticipate living well past the century mark in your prime. Just about anyone in the Baby Boomer generation who has their health has a good chance and those who came later a much better chance.
So strangely we can discount the fear of low replacement rates. We can also discount the fear of too many incompetent elderly. Recall we are short steps away from easy body part replacement and eliminating senescence cells.
It now appears that much of the Islamic world is beginning to experiment with democracy. This will slowly but surely strip Islamicism of its power.
How Civilizations Die
Frontpage Interview’s guest today is David P. Goldman, the author of the new book, How Civilizations Die (and Why Islam is Dying, Too), which Regnery brought out this fall. After 9/11, Goldman began writing weekly essays at
Asia Times Online under the byline
“Spengler.” At the time he directed a research group at Credit Suisse, and
afterward ran fixed income research for Bank
of America. After joining the masthead of First Things magazine
early in 2009, he revealed his identity and devoted himself to writing, mainly
on politics and strategy, but also publishing essays on religion, classical
music, literature and mathematics. He left First Things early in 2011
to write his book.
FP: David P. Goldman, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Let’s begin with what inspired you to write this book.
Goldman: Thanks Jamie.
It was 9/11 and the aftermath. I’m an old Cold Warrior; I consulted for Norman A. Bailey, the head of planning at NSC in the first Reagan administration. We were playing a deadly global chess game with a fairly rational opponent; when the Russians knew they were beaten, they caved.
Radical Islam is a different animal. Never in history have so many people committed suicide in order to kill large numbers of innocent people. And not since classical antiquity have so many cultures willed themselves out of existence by failing to have children. Countries and individuals who habitually destroy themselves to inflict harm on others have no rational self-interest. You cannot negotiate with them. Our world has a different and terrible set of rules, and policy has to change appropriately.
FP: You refer to the failure to have children. For the first time in history, the birthrate in the West has fallen below replacement level. Explain this to us. Why is it happening? Expand on the consequences.
Goldman: That’s one of the few important developments in the world on which liberal and conservative scholars agree. People of faith have many children, and secular people have few or none. Liberal observers are terrified that “the religious will inherit the earth,” as the liberal sociologist Eric Kaufmann put it. America is the last big industrial country with a religious majority, and the only one with a birthrate above replacement. But that’s mainly due to evangelicals and Hispanic Catholics. Mainline Protestants, loosely-affiliated Catholics and secular Jews breed like Europeans. And people of faith in
Europe behave like religious
Americans. There just aren’t too many of them.
For the Europeans, this means eventual economic collapse. Take
dominates our financial headlines at the moment. By 2050, three-fifths of
Italians will be elderly dependents. We are struggling to reduce future
entitlement spending in the Italy ,
where the workforce is still growing. Add a zero to our problems to get an idea
of the size of US ’s.
It also means that it’s nonsense to talk about American decline. By mid-century
Italy Japan’s workforce will fall
by a third and Europe’s by a quarter. We’re
the only industrial country that will turn up for the rest of history.
FP: Muslim leaders have perpetually boasted that they would defeat the West by numbers, and we are definitely witnessing the alarming growth of Muslim populations in
Europe. Many Muslim
males come to the West with four wives and have like 30 kids with them. Yet you
are writing about a Muslim demographic winter. What are we missing? Has
Goldman: It’s true that the Muslim birthrate far exceeds the Western birthrate, but large parts of the Islamic world are catching up to the West’s demographic winter at startling speed. The Muslim world is passing from infancy to senility without going through adulthood. Muslim countries with a high literacy rate — Iran, Turkey, Algeria,
— have already fallen below
replacement fertility. Islam is a religion of traditional society, where
subsistence farmers have always had as many children as they could. The moment
Muslims leave the traditional world — especially when girls get a high school
education — their behavior changes radically. Most Iranians have six siblings,
but will have one or two children. Tunisia
Never has a national fertility rate dropped from 7 to 1.5 in a single generation. Turks whose cradle-tongue is Turkish also have a fertility rate of only 1.5 — the same as
while Kurds are having four to five children. That means the map of will be
redrawn a generation from now. In Judea and Turkey , Arabs had eight children a
generation ago. That’s fallen to three, the same as the Jewish fertility rate
in Samaria .
As the modern world forces its way into traditional Muslim societies
elsewhere, fertility continues to plunge. It tells us that Islam, as a
religion, crashes and burns when it encounters the modern world. That’s not
just a Muslim problem, I hasten to add. The same sudden collapse of fertility
afflicted ethnocentric branches of Christianity, for example, Catholicism in Israel . Quebec
FP: So how should the
deal with Muslim decline? U.S.
Goldman: With a hard hand, in the case of
. The foreign policy
establishment has always seen Iran
as a rational player. That was the view that Robert
Gates brought into the Bush administration, and the reason that the
Obama administration refused, disgracefully, to support the democracy movement
that erupted in Iran
in the summer of 2009. Iran
An individual, or a country, that knows it has no future has no rational self-interest. You can’t invert the population pyramid in a poor country within a single generation without economic collapse.
time is running out. Ahmadinejad is giving speeches calling the low birth rate
a “genocide against the Iranian nation,” and Iran ’s press is warning of a “tidal
wave of elderly.” That feeds the apocalyptic impulse of Iran ’s leaders.
There weren’t a lot of Communists in Iran Russia
outside the Politbureau, we discovered in 1989, and there may not be a lot of
Muslims in .
But the Russian danger peaked in the early 1980s when the Politbureau realized
that time was running out to make their move. Iran
Demographic decline tells the ayatollahs that their window of opportunity is closing. But there’s a big difference. Deterrence worked with a nuclear-armed
It won’t work with the apocalyptic Shi’ite leadership of Russia . As a
practical matter, we must stop Iran
from getting nuclear weapons, no matter how great the cost. Iran
FP: How do you see the “Arab Spring”?
Goldman: The outcome, I predict, will be
Somalia on the Nile.
It’s an understatement to say that the so-called Arab Spring has disappointed
its enthusiasts. We face the prospect of radical Islamic governments led by theMuslim
Brotherhood or similar entities in Libya,
Tunisia, Egypt and . Syria
I argued in February 2009 that the global rise in food prices triggered the demonstrations; it wasn’t simply that people were hungry, but that the old autocracies showed themselves unable to offer their people food security. Three generations of Egyptian dictators kept their people in backwardness. The result is catastrophic. Three-fifths of Egyptians are farmers, but the country still imports half its food. Nearly half of Egyptians are illiterate, a third of them marry cousins, and nine-tenths of Egyptian women undergo genital mutilation. It has a huge university system, but its graduates are unemployable.
is in a death spiral. With the collapse of tourism and other sources of
foreign exchange, cash reserves are down from six months’ import coverage to
just to two months. The military government is a kleptocracy of African
dimensions. We are less likely to see a stable but hostile Islamic government
than starvation and social breakdown. Syria seems condemned to a long-term
civil war with Turkey, Egypt Iran
supporting proxies. Saudi Arabia
FP: Your perspective on American efforts at nation-building in
Iraq, and elsewhere in the
Muslim world? If these efforts are quicksand, then what are the alternatives? Afghanistan
Goldman: I supported the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, but I shared Daniel Pipes’ view that we should have installed an amenable strongman and gotten our soldiers out of harm’s way. It is not within our power to stabilize societies that crash and burn on entry into the modern world. Americans often forget just how exceptional we are. Our founding premise is that God gave inalienable rights to every individual. The notion of a covenant in which every individual derives rights from God such that no earthly power can take them away begins at
Mount Sinai. In Islam, it is
absurd to suggest that God might limit his own power by a permanent grant of
rights to every individual. The arbitrary, capricious and absolutely transcendent
god of Islam would not condescend to a covenant with humankind. The
institutions of representative democracy are a hollow shell without its
Fostering stability is a failed policy. The alternative is to manage instability. By that I mean forcing the burden of uncertainty upon our opponents. We should deal with Muslim countries as a matter of national self-interest, rewarding friends and frightening or harming enemies. The Saudi regime is monstrous, but we have no reason to change it, although we need to discourage the Saudis in the harshest way from paying protection to terrorists.
In order to stop
nuclear program, we may have to decapitate the civilian and military leadership
and disrupt communications. That can be accomplished through aerial assault and
subversion rather than invasion, but will occasion great hardship and extensive
civilian casualties. We must do so nonetheless. Iran
Turkey has become a prospective enemy, and there are a number of things we might do, for example with the Kurds, to impose a high penalty for misbehavior. Covert action to support dissident movements, human rights initiatives, religious reforms, and so forth is an important component of managing instability, As a model, I would examine Dutch military and diplomatic efforts during the Thirty Years War of 1618-1648.
FP: A section of your book is entitled “Theopolitics.” What do you mean by this term?
Goldman: Actually, that was my original working title for the book, but my publishers wisely observed that it would be relegated to the “Religion” section. Our political science is rooted in Thomas Hobbes’ materialism, and assumes that actors on the political stage follow their rational self-interest, defined as self-preservation. We can gussy up Hobbes with game theory, but it makes no difference. We live in a world in which most of the industrial nations find themselves in a demographic death spiral, a Great Extinction of the nations unlike anything we have seen since the 7th century. Most of the nations of the world would rather die out than adapt to modernity; they are not much different from the neolithic Amazon tribes who succumb to alcoholism. Why do some nations find the spiritual resources to embrace life, while others chant, “We love death”? What is the rational self-interest of a nation that has chosen to become extinct? And how will nations on the way to extinction respond to their predicament? These are the great questions of our time, and materialist political science does not have the tools to answer them. Franz Rosenzweig’s sociology of religion, for example, provides a better framework for understanding these problems than the political rationalism of Leo Strauss.
FP: What is the role of
in all of this? Turkey
Goldman: There were great hopes in the last Bush administration that
Turkey would provide a
model for moderate Islamist democracy, and the Obama administration has tried
to make Turkey a partner in Middle East diplomacy. This was a profound error. is one
of the tragedies of our time. Kemal Ataturk
brought Turkey into the modern world, but his reforms only took root with the
Europeanized elite in metropolitan Turkey . His brand of modernizing,
secular nationalism was spiritually hollow, and the European side of Turkish
society suffered from the same infertility that plagued Turkey Europe
itself. Recep Tayyip
Erdogan is the standard-bearer for Muslim Anatolia against the secular
metropole, and his ambitions to recreate ’s dominant role in the
Muslim world have been discussed exhaustively. But insufficient attention has
been given to Turkey ’s
inherent weakness and instability. Kurdish-speakers, now a fifth of the
population, have three times as many children as native Turkish-speakers, which
means that half of Turkey ’s
military-age population will be Kurdish a generation from now. Erdogan is in a
panic over this. In a recent speech he warned that on its present trajectory
the Turkish nation would come to an end in 2038. Why that year, I do not know,
but it’s as good a guess as any. As with Turkey Iran,
grandiose pronouncements and reckless behavior reflect an apocalyptic sense
that time is running out. In the long term, Turkey is not a viable ally,
because it is not a viable country. In the short term, Turkey has become another problem
to be contained. Turkey
FP: How do you see
strategic position in the context of the Arab Spring and Obama’s abandoning —
and bullying — of ? Israel
Goldman: The Obama administration’s attempt to force
into a peace settlement is deluded, obviously so in recent months. Any possible
deal with the Palestinians would build on Israel Israel’s
peace treaty with Egypt,
which now is in doubt, and the whole idea of a comprehensive peace in the
region is ruled out by the chaos in . For reasons Obama himself
has emphasized, he identifies with Islam in a way no previous president could
have imagined, and tried to force Syria into an agreement on
Palestinian terms. This is all sewage under the bridge. It is true that Israel is more
isolated than before, but that is a mixed curse. Civil war in Israel Syria and economic chaos in will
degrade the capacity of both countries to make war. Egypt Syria’s
troubles make Hezbollah’s position more difficult, but Hamas will acquire arms
more easily in .
Israel has greater risk of rocket attacks, but less risk from conventional
opponents. It is also important to note that the “demographic time bomb”
argument has quietly disappeared, now that the data clearly show that the Jewish
birth rate in Gaza
is equal to the Arab birth rate. The great risk to Israel ’s
security has little to do with the Arab Spring. It comes from Israel , which set out to acquire
nuclear weapons years ago. Iran
FP: Overall, how do you think the
can best survive the
threats and upheavals it faces on the horizon? United States
Goldman: The United States must act like a superpower, rather than an NGO with a humanitarian agenda. That means standing by friends like
Israel, preempting real threats like Iran, and punishing wayward allies like .
We’ve been talking about a lot of unpleasant things, but it’s important
to remember that two-thirds of the world population lives in countries where
things are getting better–China, Turkey East Asia, India, South America.
Tens of millions of people each year move from rural poverty to urban
prosperity. In the great scheme of things the Muslim world is of minor
importance to America, and its disintegration will make that plain over
time. Far more important are our relationships with India
And these depend on the perception that China is the undisputed world
hyperpower, such that it is pointless to test our patience. That means more
military spending, not less, but also less dissipation of our resources on
well-meaning but futile exercises in nation-building. China will be
more willing to accommodate American security requirements, for example in
Pakistan, if it perceives that American strength is past all possible challenge
for the foreseeable future. America
Americans have not begun to absorb how much the world has changed. We are likely to have humanitarian disasters on a gigantic scale in
Egypt and elsewhere, about which we can do no
more than we could in Somalia
administration. We like to think of ourselves like the Lone Ranger,
fixing everybody’s troubles. There will be occasions when our national security
interests require us to stir up troubles rather than mitigate them. I wrote
“How Civilizations Die” to harden American hearts, to horrify readers in order
to inoculate them against the horrors to come. Clinton
FP: David P. Goldman, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.