Steyn, Mark. America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It, Regnery, 2006. 224 pp.
[cross-posted at Albion's Seedlings]
Mark Steyn requires little or no introduction to blogosphere readers of the center-right. His impact as a commentator over the last few years is outsized if for no other reason than volume — he creates a constant stream of articles, columns, essays, books, TV and radio appearances. It’s a rare month when one of his wittier quotes doesn’t create a flurry of blog linking. He brings his sense of humour to the subject of national security and the culture wars, and from what little I’ve seen of his “live” performances on radio and TV, it’s clear that he can think effectively on his feet. Most of us enjoy seeing the “moonbats” of modern life get their comeuppance. Mark Steyn has become a dependable and unapologetic source for such bon mots and stinging sarcasm from the Right. A guilty pleasure.
What really sets him apart, however, from more staid and plodding media pundits, is his willingness to confront the bromides of political correctness directly, and bring real literary skills to bear on summarizing current events. The result has been a stream of compact and compelling 500 word columns for newspapers around the world … leavened occasionally with erudite magazine articles and obituaries on figures from the art world. It wouldn’t be a stretch to place Mark Steyn alongside Victor David Hanson as one of the leading columnists of our time, making the case vigourously for the legitimacy, survival, and prosperity of Western civilization.
With American Alone, Steyn breaks out of the short form and assembles the facts from the early years of the 21st century into a “big picture” argument … about the state of the world and the circumstances of America. Does he translate well to the bigger canvas?
As the title of his book suggests, Steyn feels that America is unique in a number of ways, and getting moreso all the time. In a nutshell, he feels that (1) demographic contraction, (2) economic stagnation, and (3) cultural pessimism have placed most of Europe and the G-8 into uncharted and dangerous territory. In the face of the retreat of both communism and liberal democracy, Islam has stepped forward to become the credo of choice for the disaffected … whether living in Karachi, or in relative subsidized comfort in London, Rotterdam, and Toronto. The West in general, and America in particular, have made no effort to address the central challenge of an unreformed Islam in the modern world — a Muslim challenge of rapidly expanding populations, corrupt rentier economies based on oil, and theologically-grounded will to power (Islamic Imperialism) that takes advantage of Western tolerance and lassitude. Political correctness has kept these issues from being acknowledged, let alone addressed. Steyn tries to bring that pattern to an end.
Now the concept of Anglosphere exceptionalism, raised by Jim Bennett’s 2004 book (The Anglosphere Challenge, drew its roots from Dark Age legal and cultural traditions of the AngloSaxons. Jim’s book outlined in considerable detail the exceptional nature of that culture in historical terms, its unique capacity to adapt to change across the last 1,000 years, and the impending challenge of the Technological Singularity for all cultures in the world. In many ways, the Bennett argument was a mature historical extrapolation from the exceptional nature of American society evident with the end of the Cold War. Suddenly, and dramatically, in 1989 America stood alone. How did it get that way? Bennett provided a credible historical explanation.
While Steyn’s perspective shares many similarities with Bennett’s, it brings the “exceptionalism” argument up to date for the 21st century.
Today, three-sevenths of the G-7 major economies are nations of British descent. Of the twenty economies with the highest GDP per capita, no fewer than eleven are current or former realms of Her Britannic Majesty. … Eliminate all territories with less than twenty million and the top four is an Anglosphere sweep: the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. The key regional players in almost every corner of the globe are British-derived – South Africa, India – and, even among the lesser players, as a general rule you’re better off for having been exposed to British rule than not: try doing business in Indonesia rather than Malaysia, or Haiti rather than St. Lucia. And of course the pre-eminent power of the age derives its political character from eighteenth-century British subjects who took English ideas a little further than the mother country was willing to go.[p.167]
As the title of his book suggests, Steyn feels that America is an outlier in the world, even from its Anglosphere brethren. And while he makes regular mention of the shared economic, social, and military features of the Anglosphere nations, Steyn clearly feels that America will bear the brunt of the burden and responsibility of turning back a geopolitically dominant Islam. Europe and Russia, he feels, are demographically and culturally moribund.
It will be Russia’s fate to have large chunks of its turf annexed by the Islamic world, and much of what’s left fall to the Chinese.[p. 31]
China will wait patiently to “solve” its own Muslim problem until the Muslim world has wounded the West as much as possible. Japan is spiraling into demographic and economic collapse even quicker than Europe.
The UN’s “common and universal values,” to Steyn’s mind, are in fact neither common nor universal. And that is the explanation for its ineffectiveness. In demography, economics, and capacity for self-defense, it is the US that is unparalleled across a world of both English and Roman law. Virtually all industrialized nations, including Russia and China, are now in demographic deficit. Amongst G-8 countries, only the US manages to reproduce successfully (defined as an average reproductive rate of 2.1 children per woman). For nations such as France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, their reproductive rates will reduce their populations by 30-50% during this century alone. In contrast, America will add 100 million citizens in the 21 century while Europe will lose 100 million. The implications for politics, culture, and social attitudes toward risk and self-preservation are immense.
Further, most of the industrialized nations are slowing their population declines by massive immigration. As Steyn outlines in considerable detail, those non-European immigrants are now spending very little time and effort trying to assimilate with the cultures of their host nations. The collapse of cultural self-confidence (outside the US) has left immigrants with nothing to aspire to. You can’t beat something with nothing. And into that vacuum comes Wahhabi-sponsored mosques, madrassas, and attitudes. To quote Steyn:
… In the unimprovable summation of James C. Bennett: “democracy, immigration, multiculturalism. Pick any two.[p. 202]
My own reading of Steyn’s newspaper columns has been sporadic, so I’m not in a position to know whether America Alone is a mere compendium of earlier work or an assembly of new information about the West’s retreat from production, reproduction, and self-confidence. Perhaps the detailed and specific recounting of Muslim immigration, conversion of the disaffected and elites, and intimidation of Western civil society will be old hat for regular Steyn readers but I found the material shocking and rather depressing when considered in toto. America Alone is hardly the “feel-good book of the year” despite Steyn’s amusing and catty verbal constructions. But it is a book worth reading.
Its broader argument stands on its own. Steyn’s triumvirate of demography, economics, and cultural self-confidence has considerable external support. The latter two topics have been covered in great detail on Chicagoboyz and Albion’s Seedlings. The Anglosphere discussion over the last two years in particular has focused on identifying a cause or set of causes for the prosperity and dominance of the common law countries. Civil society, the common law, an island economy and floating powerful military. Each made its contribution to the Anglosphere’s early adoption and execution of an Industrial Revolution. And that, in turn, created a style of economic growth and elaboration which was to maintain Anglosphere dominance in the global economy through the last several centuries.
People, Money, and Willpower
It’s interesting to note that demographic arguments themselves have a long history in the English-speaking world. It was a major theme in Ben Franklin‘s writing as he helped develop the literature of political economy in the 18th century. At the time, he felt that America’s further dominance and imminent success in any conflict with the British monarchy was merely a matter of babies and math. The English couldn’t kill Americans quickly and cheaply enough to beat the birth rate. Hmm. Where does that ring a bell? The impact of demography on Anglosphere expansion through 250 years was substantial … Whether as convicts, second sons, adventurers, or emigre PhDs, the option to make it big overseas was an escape hatch for the British nation that set the tone of the culture right through the Second World War and into the 60s. And it was the rural demographic explosion in America and the British colonies that fueled the armies of the American Civil War, the Boer War, and the First and Second World Wars.
As I’ve written before in book reviews for chicagoboyz (for example, Lewis’ Power of Productivity and Naim’s Illicit), the structure of the modern global economy is going to be part and parcel of how we solve the social and security issues facing liberal democracies in the 21st century. Steyn’s book can be profitably read alongside the more narrowly focused, and more academically disciplined, titles that usually appear on this blog.
As for the broader pattern of Western self-delusion and cultural exhaustion outlined by Steyn, it’d be hard to cite a better book on the subject than Arthur Herman’s The Idea of Decline in Western History that outlines both historical and cultural pessimism in the West since the mid-18th century (not co-incidentally a time of revolutions both political and technological). A firmly held view that the West is decadent and something better will show up to replace it did not begin with Islamism and it’s hardly likely to end there. While it’s understandable that communists and socialists through the 20th century felt this way, with the demise of communism, Islamism is the only hope for the disaffected who cannot or will not adopt the scary and often secular ways of the modern liberal democracies. Steyn’s comments on the symptoms of the “disease” (including the conversions to Islam by the high and mighty in British society and a longstanding love affair with Islam in the African American community) can be profitably matched with a deeper historical understanding of how the enemies of Anglosphere liberal democracy have always cast their complaints, and executed their plans for weakening society.
Most mainline Protestant churches are, to one degree or another, post-Christian. If they no longer seem disposed to converting the unbelieving to Christ, they can at least convert them to the boggiest of soft-left political cliches, on the grounds that if Jesus were alive today he’d most likely be a gay Anglican bishop in a committed relationship driving around in an environmentally friendly car with an “Arms are for Hugging” sticker on the way to an interfaith dialogue with a Wiccan and a couple of Wahhabi imams.[p.100]
And it’s worth noting that if, as Samuel Huntington posits in his book Who Are We?, in many ways American political culture is secularized Protestantism … where does that leave a post-Protestant political ethos? Perhaps something like this:
An army is only one weapon a civilization wields, and the weapon of last resort, too. But when you add up those elements of national power — military, judicial, diplomatic, economic, informational — it’s hard not to conclude that (as was said of the British after the fall of Singapore) at least four of those five guns are pointing in the wrong direction. The point of the media is to speak truth to (domestic) power, the point of transnationalism is to constrain American power, the point of law is to upgrade the defendant — and the upshot of economic power in a time of plenty is that every time you gas up you’re funding an enemy who’s flusher than he’s been since the fall of Constantinople. Meanwhile, we fight the symptoms — the terror plots — but not the cause: the ideology. The self-imposed constraints of this war — legalistic, multilateral, politically correct — are clearer every day. “Know your enemy,” they say. They know us very well. Do we know them at all?[p.166]
In more academic hands, America Alone would have been longer on statistics and historical references, and much shorter on wit and clarity. But in our current political environment, it’s hard to imagine an academic book, drawing on the same facts and arguments, climbing onto the bestsellers lists as quickly as this one. This will be the book that gets the arguments out in front of the general public in a palatable, even amusing, way. And because of the harmony of Steyn’s argument with the broader historical/technical discussions in the Anglosphere Challenge, Mark Steyn will be the leading proponent for American (and secondarily Anglosphere) exceptionalism over the next few years. Assuming his media output continues at the same prodigious rate, he’ll have a chance to repeat and refine the arguments made in America Alone for many more audiences. For this reason alone, the book deserves a look.
Those that love Steyn’s work will definitely want a copy. Those that prefer his writing in smaller chunks (or not at all) will struggle to make it through several hundred pages but, frankly, after stripping away the Baroque style, there’s still a powerful written argument for those interested in foreign policy, economics, and cultural survival.
Steyn’s Conclusions — 10 Ways to Create Conditions for reform of Islam
Simply as a matter of fact, every year more and more of the world lives under Islamic law: Pakistan adopted Islamic law in 1977, Iran in 1979, Sudan in 1984. In the sixties, Nigeria lived under the English common law; now, half of it’s in the grip of sharia, and the other half’s feeling the squeeze. Today, there are more Muslim nations, more radicalized Muslims within those nations, more and more Muslims within non-Muslim nations, and more and more Muslims represented in more and more influential transnational institutions. Will these Muslims live by the laws of Singapore or Denmark or New Zealand or by the laws of Islam? Or is their primary identity a new worldwide Islamic identity? To ask the question is, in large part, to answer it. … You can’t assimilate with a nullity, which is what the modern multicultural state boils down to. [p.202]
There are three possible resolutions to the present struggle: 1. Submit to Islam. 2. Destroy Islam 3. Reform Islam. [p.204]
Steyn strongly supports the latter but feels it lies only in the grasp of the West to support that reformation, not actually undertake it. His suggestions:
- Support women’s rights
- Roll back Wahhabi, Iranian, and other ideological exports that radicalize Muslims on every continent.
- Support economic and political liberty in the Muslim world.
- Ensure that Muslim states that persecute non-Muslims are denied international legitimacy.
- Throttle international funding of Western mosques, madrassas, and think tanks.
- Develop a strategy for countering Islamism on the ideological front.
- Marginalize and euthanize September 10 transnational organizations.
- Cease bankrolling unreformable oil dictatorships.
- End the Iranian regime.
- Strike militarily when the opportunity presents itself.
Steyn makes his case with more flourishes than necessary, particularly for a chicagoboyz audience, but make it he does. And in adding the demographic angle, and its implications for economics and warfare, he brings the key elements of future American foreign policy into focus.
… why did Bosnia collapse into the worst slaughter in Europe since World War Two? In the thirty years before the meltdown, Bosnian Serbs had declined from 43 percent to 31 percent of the population, while Bosnian Muslims had increased from 26 percent to 44 percent. In a democratic age, you can’t buck demography — except through civil war. The Serbs figured that out — as other Continentals will in the years ahead: if you can’t outbreed the enemy, cull ‘em. The problem Europe faces is that Bosnia’s demographic profile is now the model for the entire continent.[P.5]
It is dreadful to think that “cull ‘em” will escape the confines of Rwanda, Darfur, and Cambodia and the clutches of the gulags of authoritarians, to take its place as a foreign policy tool, but a glance at Chechnya confirms that industralized nations have not escaped the logic of the Final Solution. The traditional Western allies will be much diminished in population and relative economic power in a generation or two … and all but gone by century’s end. We are in a period of dramatic demographic experimentation as a species, and we’ll just have to see how the combination of urbanization, affluence, and technology will ultimately influence reproductive rates.
Onward then to some illustrations of Steyn’s style and substance, and then to a more personal conclusion about how we might apply his arguments to America directly.
Quotes — Demography
By 2050, there will be 100 million more Americans, 100 million fewer Europeans. In 1970, there were 4.6 million Italians under five years old. By 2004, there were 2.6 million. And the fewer babies you have today, the fewer grown-ups are around to have babies in twenty years. What do you figure the 2020 numbers will look like? If you think that a nation is no more than a “great hotel” (as Canadian novelist Yann Martel approvingly described his own country), you can always slash rates and fill the empty rooms — for as long as there are any would-be lodgers left out there to move in. But if you believe a nation is the collective, accumulated wisdom of the past, then a dependence on immigration alone for population replenishment will leave you lost and diminished.[p.108]
You can’t help noticing that since abandoning its faith in the unseen world Europe seems also to have lost faith in the seen one. Consider this poll taken in 2002 for the first anniversary of September 11: 61 percent of Americans said they were optimistic about the future, as opposed to 43 percent of Canadians, 42 percent of Britons, 29 percent of the French, 23 percent of Russians, and 15 percent of Germans. I wouldn’t reckon those numbers will get any cheerier over the years.[p.110]
In the course of the twenty-first century, Germany’s population will fall by over 50 percent to some thirty-eight million or lower — killed not by disease or war but by the Eutopia to which the German people are wedded. And every time they’re asked to vote on the issue they decide that, like that Frenchman [who kept his mother's corpse for her pension cheques], they can live with the stench of death as long as the state benefits keep coming. The trouble with the social-democratic state is that, when government does too much, nobody else does much of anything.[p.126]
On the hit parade of nations with the unhealthiest demographic profile, the top five are all former provinces of European communism: Latvia, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Russia, and Ukraine. Of the top ten, nine are ex-Commie (the exception is Spain). Of the top twenty, sixteen are. Communism was so loathed by its subjects they gave up breeding. And every year we allowed the Warsaw Pact to remain in place we weakened further the viability of any post-Communist societies that might emerge from the rubble. “Stability” and “containment” pose the opposite challenge in the Muslim world. Those countries are mostly in the upper reaches of the fertility hit parade. Whatever they loathe about their regimes, they don’t loathe Islam: in many cases, the mosques provide the only political space in those lands. So they breed with gusto, and thus every year we remain committed to “stability” increases the Islamists’ principal advantage: it strengthens the religion — the vehicle for their political project — and multiplies the raw material.[p.134]
Quotes — Cultural Confidence
… Islam is the West’s fastest growing religion. There’s no market for a faith that has no faith in itself.[p.96]
Two forces are facing off on the European continent: on the one side, the modern social-democratic state that the American left thinks should be our model; on the other, the resurgent Islam that the American Left insists is just a scam cooked up by Karl Rove. We now have an excellent opportunity to test both propositions. How bad is it going to get in Europe? As bad as it can get — as in societal collapse, fascistic revivalism, and then the long Eurabian night, not over the entire Continent but over significant parts of it. And those countries that manage to escape the darkness will do so only after violent convulsions of their own.[p.104]
When France began contemplating its headscarf ban in schools, it dispatched government ministers to seek the advice of Egyptian imams, implicitly accepting the view of Islamic scholars that the Fifth Republic is now an outlying province of the Dar al-Islam. As the Zionist Entity can testify, that’s not a club you necessarily want to be signed up for (though it helps explain why the Quai d’Orsay can live with Iran becoming the second Muslim nuclear power. As things stand, France is on course to be the third.[p.121]
In City Journal, Theodore Dalrymple concluded a piece on British suicide bombers with this grim summation of the new Europe: “The sweet dream of universal cultural compatibility has been replaced by the nightmare of permanent conflict.[p.126]
In the United States, psephologists speculate on the impact of Ralph Nader’s 2 or 3 percent in swing states. Think about an election in which 20 percent of the voters are a self-segregating Muslim bloc. If Washington had a hard time getting any useful contribution to the war from Europe in 2001 and 2003, you do the math ten or fifteen years hence. If there is a ten or fifteen years hence. The U.S. Government’s National Intelligence Council is predicting the EU will collapse by 2020. I think that’s a rather cautious estimate myself.[p.107]
… “common values” and “universal values” are not all that common and universal, and the willingness to defend those values is even rarer. They’ve been sustained over the long haul by a very small group of countries. In the years ahead, America has to take the American moment seriously — in part, to ensure that the allies of tomorrow don’t make the mistakes Western Europe did. That means at the very minimum something beyond cheeseburger imperialism. In the end, the world can do without American rap and American cheeseburgers. American ideas on individual liberty, federalism, capitalism, and freedom of speech would be far more helpful.[p.175]
Multiculturalism was conceived by the Western elites not to celebrate all cultures but to deny their own: it is, thus, the real suicide bomb.[p.194]
… Unlike Conrad’s lone bomber, this enemy is able to hide in plain sight — a pest in a street full of pests, in an America where half the political establishment wants to upgrade enemies into defendants with their day in court and full legal rights, in a Europe paralyzed by fear of its own immigrant populations, in a Western world whose media dignify our killers as “militants,” “activists,” and “insurgents.” “Why do they hate us?” was never the right question. “Why do they despise us?” is a better one.[p.197]
If one has to choose, on balance Islam’s loathing of other cultures seems psychologically less damaging than the Western elites’ loathing of their own.[p.201]
Quotes — Islam
But the mosque is a meetinghouse, and throughout the West what it meets to discuss is, even when not explicitly jihadist, always political.[p.100]
Writing about the collapse of nations such as Somalia, the Atlantic Monthly’s Robert D. Kaplan referred to the “citizens” of such “states” as “re-primitivized man.” When lifelong Torontonians are hot for decapitation, when Yorkshiremen born and bred into fish n’ chips and cricket and lousy English pop music self-detonate on the London Tube, it would seem that the phenomenon of “re-primitivized man” is being successfully exported around the planet.[p.137]
Islamism is a twenty-first century political project driven by seventh-century ideology. That’s a potent combination of ancient and modern. In Europe and North America, incendiary imams — uneducated and knowing barely a word of the language spoken by the society in which they live — have nevertheless done a grand job at re-primitivizing second- and third- generation Western Muslims. Not all of them, of course, but how many does it have to be to become a problem?[p.138]
There are three strategies Islam deploys against a dying West: first, demography; second, conversion; and third, the murky “intertwining” of modern technology and ancient hatreds.[p.138]
As mentioned earlier, of all the books I’ve read in the last two years since the release of Jim Bennett’s Anglosphere Challenge, America Alone seems to extend the Anglosphere argument in the most pragmatic way. Steyn has unfortunately all but written off the Anglosphere per se when he measures it by his three key criteria … as his title powerfully suggests, his sights are fixed on America — alone.
His prescription for supporting the reform of Islam, however, has little or nothing to do with saving Europe, Japan, and Russia from the demographic and economic stagnation that he predicts. And, indeed, little enough to encourage reproduction in America (which currently manages to “break even”) or to further encourage economic productivity in the US.
That’s been my basic rule of thumb since September 11: anything that shifts power from the individual judgment of free citizens to government is a bad thing, not just for the war on terror but for the national character in a more general sense. [p.187]
The threat to US power comes not principally from Chinese innovation or Indian engineering graduates but from America’s own cultural indolence, just as the sack of Rome was a symptom of the fall of the empire rather than the cause. [p. 207]
Such comments hardly give us a roadmap for America’s future. More like a list of things to generally avoid. Yet we do have a significant brief aside by Steyn:
… The United States has a strain of evangelical Protestantism strong enough to grow in the years ahead. Unfortunately, there is no such surging evangelicalism in Europe.[p.101]
And so we might ask, “Who, within America, has sufficient fecundity, wealth, organzation, self-regard and will to prosper independent of the broader infertile trends of secular American society?” And even more significantly, who would have the ability to deploy serious warmaking capacity independent of American civil authority, should it become incapacitated or merely paralysed with indecision? Steyn again:
Islamists are foolish to assume that freelance nukes go one way. If a dirty bomb with unclear fingerprints goes off in London or Delhi, it’s not necessary to wait for the government to respond. As in Ulster, there’ll always be groups who think the state power is too pussy to hit back. So unlisted numbers will be dialed hither and yon, arrangements will be made, and bombs will go off in Islamabad and Riyadh and Cairo. There will be plenty of non-state actors on the non-Islamic side. In the end the victims of the Islamist contagion will include many, many Muslims. But surely we don’t need to wait for Iranian nukes, do we? The Bali bombs and Madrid bombs and London bombs have already lit up the sky: they make unavoidable the truth that Islamism is a classic “armed doctrine”; it exists to destroy. One day it will, on an epic scale.[p.152]
If we take Steyn seriously, then, America Alone really depends more specifically on Americans Alone. And of the various groups within American society that still value children, material prosperity, proselytization and rigourous self-defense, the only substantial one that comes to mind is the Mormons.
It is all the more interesting then to see Mitt Romney beginning his run for the Republican nomination as presidential candidate in 2008. In the outlines of the secular response to his candidacy, we’ll find echoes of Steyn’s European/G-8 critique. And from the standpoint of broader religious, political, and military allegiances with evangelical and charismatic Christians, there will be thorough-going examination of what the Mormons actually believe (covered in some detail by Richard John Neuhaus in Is Mormonism Christian? A Respected Advocate for Interreligious Cooperation Responds).
In centuries past, the Anglosphere has prevailed with a harsh, and often oblivious, self-confidence. Visitors to England have been remarking on the arrogance of the people there for hundreds of years. As Steyn notes:
A suicide bomber may be a weak weapon, but not against a suicide culture.[p. 210]
So what will be the roots of American resolution, if it does indeed stand Alone in the 21st century? Mark Steyn at least provides us with a substantial discussion of where we won’t find them.
Table of Contents
Part 1: The Gelded Age
c.1 The Coming of Age: Births vs. Dearths 1
c.2 Going… Going… Gone: Demography vs. Delusion 23
c.3 Men are from Venus: Primary impulses vs. Secondary impulses 41
Part 2: Arabian Night
c.4 Flying the Coop: Big Mo vs. Big Mac 59
c.5 The Anything They’ll Believe In: Church vs. State 81
c.6 The four Horsemen of the Eupocalypse: Eutopia vs. Eurabia 103
Part 3: The New Dark Ages … And How to Lighten Up
c.7 The State-of-the-Art Primitive: the known unknowns vs the knowingly unknowing 131
c.8 The Unipole Apart: America vs. Everyone else 153
c.9 The Importance of Being Exceptional: Citizens vs. Dependents 177
c.10 The Falling Camel: Last Legs 193