BOOK REVIEW: 'How Civilizations Die': Forget About Exploding Populations: The Worldwide Decline in Birthrates Leads to the Decline of Nations

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: 'How Civilizations Die': Forget About Exploding Populations: The Worldwide Decline in Birthrates Leads to the Decline of Nations
Most people have read something somewhere -- or more likely heard it on TV --  about the declining populations of European countries, with each year seeing fewer young people in the workforce to sustain the welfare state safety net of health care and pensions that keep the retirees of Germany, France, Great Britain and the Scandinavian countries so prosperous.

Thanks to continuing declining birthrates, much of Europe is on a path of willed self-extinction, says David P. Goldman in "How Civilizations Die (And Why Islam Is Dying Too)" (Regnery, 331 pages, notes, index $27.95). Not only that, but Muslim countries -- contrary to popular belief -- are experiencing similar declines in birthrates, he says, with educated Iranian women, for instance, who grew up with five or six siblings giving birth to one or two children.


Goldman, author of the widely read "Spengler" column in Asia Times Online and a contributor to other sites, writes that the story the mainstream media isn't covering is that birthrates in Muslim nations are declining faster than anywhere else — at a rate never before documented. He says that Europe, even in its decline, may have the resources to support an aging population, if at a terrible economic and cultural cost. But in the impoverished Islamic world, an aging population means a civilization on the brink of total collapse— something Islamic terrorists know and fear.
David P. Goldman
David P. Goldman

Muslim decline poses new threats to America, he writes, "challenges we cannot even understand, much less face effectively, without a wholly new kind of political analysis that explains how desperate peoples and nations behave."

Goldman borrowed his pseudonym from Oswald Spengler (1880-1936), a German historian and philosopher who is best known for his 1918 book "The Decline of the West" (Der Untergang des Abendlandes), which posits a cyclical theory on the rise and decline of civilizations. The Nazis initially approved of Spengler's German hegemony in Europe, but he was ostracized after Hitler came to power in 1933 for his pessimism about Germany and Europe's future and his refusal to support Nazi ideas of racial superiority.

Goldman reveals:

> How extinctions of peoples, cultures, and civilizations are not unthinkable—but certain

> How for the first time in world history, the birthrate in the West has fallen below replacement level

> Why birthrates in the Muslim world are falling even faster

> Why the “Arab Spring” is the precursor of much more violent change in the Islamic world

> Why looming demographic collapse may encourage Islamic terrorists to “go for broke”

> How the United States can survive the coming world turmoil
  Goldman writes that the Judeo-Christian ethic of the United States is its best defense against decline, as well as high birthrates among many American minorities. While mainline Protestant denominations -- Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists, Congregationalists -- began a decline in membership and birthrates in 1960s, he writes, Evangelicals and Mormons are thriving. He doesn't mention it specifically, but Mormons tend to have large families, as do Evangelicals. American Presbyterians he says (on Page 219) "have on average 1.3 children --- the same as Episcopalians, and only slightly more than Reform Jews."

Goldman writes as a conservative of the old school, not as a neoconservative, whatever that is. He discusses the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) in Europe and how it forced the English Pilgrims -- who had fled their native country for Holland -- to leave  Holland for Massachusetts in 1620 to avoid being absorbed or destroyed as Catholics and Protestants fought each other to the death in what British historian Mark Mazower called the "Dark Continent" in his 1999 book of the same name. Goldman writes (Page 208): "Even if the Spanish did not come [to reassert their claim on Holland], the Separatists [Pilgrims]  faced absorption into either the Dutch or English official church. And if the Spanish came, they would be the first to burn."

American exceptionalism -- often derided by those on the Left -- began with the Pilgrims and continues today with the dissenters from the declining traditional religions -- the Evangelicals, he says. "Identification with ancient Israel was not a Pilgrim quirk," Goldman says (Page 209). "It was the sine qua non of the radical Protestantism that rejected the failing regime of Church and Empire....The New England settlers saw themselves as an elect saved by grace from the perdition of the Old World. A red thread leads from John Winthrop's 'bond of marriage' between God and the Pilgrims and Abraham Lincoln's characterization of Americans as an "almost chosen people.'"


A stimulating mix of history, demographics, religion, economics, sociology and just about everything else, "Why Civilizations Die" will be controversial and troubling to many readers, but, like Oswald Spengler's "The Decline of the West", it will be an accessible and important scholarly and polemic work. And, if I hadn't read Goldman's book, I might not have known that one of my favorite authors, Christopher Hitchens,  has a younger brother, Peter Hitchens, 59, a British conservative who says (Page 247) that democracy following the "Arab Spring" -- if it ever comes to pass -- might not be such a good thing.  Hitchens notes that spreading democracy across Muslim world -- as so many enlightened people say they wish to do -- would certainly increase the number. Yet the enthusiasts for planting democracy all over the planet [neoconservatives like Bush and Cheney?] also tend to be the people who dislike Islamic republics and warn endlessly about their likely use as bases for terror."

About the Author:

David P. Goldman headed global bond research for Bank of America as well as other Wall Street research groups. He was elected to Institutional Investor’s All-America Fixed-Income Research Team. A former Forbescolumnist and editor at First Things and a frequent television commenter on politics and the economy, he draws a million readers a month for his “Spengler” column at Asia Times Online. Trained in music theory as well as economics, he has written extensively on music, mathematics, religion, and the cultural heritage of the West. He lives in New York City with his family.

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