Bookreview: Mark Steyn, America Alone – Regnery Publishing, Washington, 2005.
Another book by the wittiest as well as probably the most prolific commentator of quality in the world today is an Event. Mark Steyn’s brilliant tour de force, America Alone, deserves its position at the top of the best-seller lists.
But the book is an edgy combination of witty style and disturbing subject matter. Steyn sets off his pyrotechnics like the literary wizard he is, but the stylistic brilliance and jokes are in the service of a profoundly serious message: European civilization is dying.
“Whether we like what replaces it,” he writes, “depends on whether America can summon the will to change at least part of the emerging world. If not, then it’s also the end of the American moment, and the dawn of the new Dark Ages (if darkness can dawn): a planet on which much of the map is re-primitivised.”
Not just “much of the map,” perhaps. Steyn has been haunted by demographics since 9/11. “In 1970,” he writes, “the developed nations had twice as big a share of the global population as the Muslim world: 30% to 15%. By 2000 they were at parity. Each had about 20%.” In terms of world history, that’s a mighty quick change.
The birth rates of all European countries—except for their rapidly-growing immigrant populations—are now well below the minimum replacement level of 2.1 births per couple. Despite the Catholic Church’s traditional hostility to birth-control, Catholic countries like Spain and Italy have a fertility rate near the bottom of the list—1.15 and 1.23 respectively. The idea of large jolly Mediterranean families, as shown in the film “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” is an outdated myth. Greece has a fertility rate hovering below 1.3 births per couple. “Hollywood should be making ‘My Big Fat uptight Protestant Wedding,’ in which some sad Greek only child marries into a big heart-warming New Zealand family where the spouse actually has a sibling.”
Once-mighty Russia is withering away with a birth-rate of 1.14. There will shortly be 18 million fewer Russians than there were in 1992. Further, of course, the native European populations are rapidly ageing. Spain and Germany have 14% of their population under 18, Saudi Arabia has 39%. Japan is also beginning to empty, and its faltering economy shows it. By contrast, the birth-rate in Pakistan in 5.08 per couple and in Saudi Arabia 4.53. In both countries conversion from Islam to Christianity is punishable by death, as is homosexuality and, for females, adultery. This is the culture which Steyn fears is being exported to Europe and which threatens to displace Europe’s historic civilization.
Further, the question obtrudes itself: how can the shrinking workforces of Europe support their ageing pensioner populations? “Across the developed world, we’re at the beginning of the end of the social-democratic state.” The US is the only major Western nation whose fertility rate is above replacement level.
“September 11, 2001,” Steyn writes, “was not ‘the day everything changed,’ but the day that revealed how much had already changed.” The rapidly-growing Muslim populations in Western Europe are increasingly a voting bloc able to dictate to governments. Sharia Law is beginning to make its appearance in a number of Western countries, including Canada, and demands that it be introduced in Britain are becoming increasingly strident.
So far, this has not meant the re-introduction of punitive amputation and death by stoning in European jurisdictions, though these have been re-introduced recently either officially or semi-officially in some formerly moderate Muslim countries.
However, once the fundamentalist Muslim demographic and vote becomes big enough, as Steyn sees it, there is no particular reason why Sharia penal law should not be introduced in Europe along with other Muslim institutions. Already Dutch and English women in parts of Amsterdam and London have begun going about veiled for fear of the consequences if they do not.
Against this, he sees a feeble and appeasing Western political culture, with the nations of Europe “too mired in cultural relativism to know what’s at stake.” The words from Tennyson’s Morte d’Arthur linger in the mind: “The last dim weird battle of the West.”
Steyn argues that the European welfare cultures cannot match the single-minded passions of the Ayatollahs, and indeed much of what passion many of their influential cultural figures have is directed against America, whose military protection during the Cold War enabled them to create those lavish welfare states. He quotes the hatred of America spewed out by leading literary figures like Margaret Drabble and echoed by the likes of Harold Pinter. “A suicide bomber may be a weak weapon, but not against a suicide culture.”
“The fanatical Muslims despise America because it’s all lap-dancing and gay porn; the secular Europeans despise America because it’s all born-again Christians hung up on abortion; the anti-Semites despise America because it’s controlled by Jews. Too Jewish, too Christian, too godless, America is George Orwell’s Room 101: whatever your bugbear you will find it therein; whatever you’re against, America’s the prime example of it.”
Steyn sees America, with a few allies including Australia, as the only hope for the survival of Western and Christian civilization, and America itself as riddled with faint-heartedness: “We have been shirking too long, and that’s unworthy of a great civilization. To see off the New Dark Ages will be tough and demanding. The alternative will be worse.” Steyn’s prescriptions for actual policies can be criticised as vague, but he could reply that this is a wake-up call, and policies will follow a realistic appraisal of the situation.
Is Steyn too pessimistic? Possibly. A few selectively-targeted tax incentives by governments might turn Europe’s population decline around surprisingly quickly, if there is the political will to implement them. Steyn himself points out how wrong prophets of doom like Paul Ehrlich have been. But in the meantime this book is a profoundly important and compelling read.