AMERICA ALONE, The End of the World as we Know It, by Mark Steyn, Regnery Publishing, Inc, an Eagle Publishing Company, Washington, DC, xxx & 224 pages, $27.95; © 2006 by Mark Steyn. ISBN-13 978-0-89526-078-9
Review by Del Meyer, MD
“When people see a strong horse and a weak horse,
by nature they will like the strong horse.” –Osama Bin Laden, Kandahar, November
“If we know anything, it is that weakness is
provocative.” –Donald Rumsfeld, Washington DC 1998.
Steyn begins: “Do you
worry? You look like you do. Worrying is the way the responsible citizen of an
advanced society demonstrates his virtue: he feels good about feeling bad.
But what to worry about? Iranian nukes? . . . worrying about nukes is so eighties.”
So what should we be cowering in terror over? Steyn feels the harrowing
nightmares of doom didn’t start with Chicken Little and won’t end with Al Gore.
So, should we forget about the end of the world and head for the hills? Steyn says:
Don’t head for the hills—they’re full of Islamist terrorist camps. He describes
a much bigger nutshell. The Western world will not survive the twenty-first century.
Many, if not most European countries will effectively disappear in our lifetime. Just
as in Istanbul there’s still a building known as St. Sophia’s Cathedral, but
it’s not a cathedral: It’s merely a designation for a piece of real estate.
Likewise, Italy and the Netherlands will merely be designations for real estate.
Forget the ecochondriacs’s obsessions with rising sea levels that might conceivably
hypothetically threaten the Maldive Islands circ 2500; contrary to Francis Fukuyama,
it’s not the end of history; it’s the end of the world as we know it. Whether we
like what replaces it depends on whether America can summon the will to shape at
least part of the emerging world. If not, then it’s the dawn of the new Dark Ages
(if darkness can dawn): A planet on which much of the map is re-primitized.
Before you think that Steyn is as nuts as the ecodoom set, he reminds us of
Chicken Little’s successors in this field:
None of these things occurred. But according to Steyn, here’s what did
happen between 1970 and 2000: in that period, the developed world declined from just
under 30 percent of the global population to just over 20 percent, and the Muslim
nations increased from about 15 percent to 20 percent. Is that fact less significant
than the fate of some tree or endangered sloth? In 1970, very few non-Muslims outside
the Indian subcontinent gave much though to Islam. Even the Palestinian situation was
seen within the framework of a more or less conventional ethnic nationalist problem.
Yet today it’s Islam a-go-go: almost every geopolitical crises takes place on what
Sam Huntington, in The Clash of Civilizations, calls “the boundary looping
across Eurasia and Africa that separates Muslims from non-Muslims.” That boundary
loops from Bali, to southern Thailand, to an obscure resource-rich Muslim republic in
the Russian Federation, to Madrid, and London before penetrating into the very heart
of the West in a little more than a generation.
September 11, 2001, was not “the day everything changed,” but the day
that revealed how much had already changed. That Tuesday morning the top of the
iceberg bobbed up and toppled the Twin Towers.
Steyn says that his book is about the seven-eighths of the iceberg below the
surface—the larger forces at play in the developed world that have left Europe too
enfeebled to resist its remorseless transformation into Eurabia and that call into
question the future of much of the rest of the world, including the United States,
Canada and beyond.
He cites three key factors:
Steyn starts with demography, because everything does. He wonders how many
pontificators on the Middle East peace process ever run this number: the median age
in the Gaza Strip is 15.8 years. Once you know that, all the rest is details. If you
were a “moderate Palestinian” leader, would you want to try to persuade a
nation—or pseudo-nation of unemployed poorly educated teenage boys raised in a
UN-supervised European-funded death cult to see sense? Any analysis of the
“Palestinian problem” that doesn’t take into account the most important
determinant on the ground is a waste of time.
In a similar fashion, the salient feature of Europe, Canada, Japan and
Russia is that they’re running out of babies. What’s happening in the developed
world is one of the fastest demographic evolutions in history. The heart warming
ethnic comedies, where a WASPy type dates a gal from a vast, loving, fecund
Mediterranean family, so abundantly endowed with sisters and cousins and uncles that
you can barely get in the room, are an inversion of the truth. Greece has a fertility
rate hovering just below 1.3 births per couple, which is what demographers call the
point of “lowest-low” fertility from which no human society has ever recovered.
And Greece’s fertility rate is the healthiest in Mediterranean Europe: Italy has a
fertility rate of 1.2, Spain, 1.1. Insofar as any citizens of the developed world
having “big” families these days, it’s the Anglo democracies: America’s
fertility rate is 2.1, New Zealand’s a little below. Hollywood should be making a
movie on a Sad Greek only child marrying into a big heartwarming New Zealand family
where the spouse actually has a sibling.
Steyn says this isn’t a projection—it’s actually happening now. But if
you do extrapolate, here goes: by 2050, 60 percent of Italians will have no brothers,
no sisters, no cousins, no aunts, and no uncles. The big Italian family with papa
pouring vino and mama spooning out pasta on an endless table will be gone, no more,
dead as the dinosaurs.
Experts talk about root causes. But demography is the most basic root of
all. Many of the developed world’s citizens gave no conscious thought to Islam
before September 11. Now when we watch the evening news, there are many trouble spots
around the world. As a general rule it’s easy to make an educated guess at one of
the participants: Muslims vs Jews in “Palestine,” Muslims vs Hindus in Kashmir,
Muslims vs Christians in Africa, Muslims vs Buddhists in Thailand, Muslims vs
Russians in the Caucasus, Muslims vs backpacking tourists in Bali, Muslims vs Danish
cartoonists in Scandinavia. The environmentalist may claim to think globally but act
locally; these guys live it. They open up a new front some where on the planet with
nary a thought.
Why? Because they’ve got the manpower. Because in the seventies and
eighties, Muslims had children (those self-detonating Islamists in London and Gaza
are literal baby boomers) while Westerners took all those silly doomsday tomes about
“overpopulation” seriously. We still do. In 2005, Jared Diamond published a
bestselling book called Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. A
timely subject, so Steyn bought a copy. It’s all about Easter Island going belly up
because they chopped down all their trees. The author sees his curious choices of
“societies” collapsing because they chopped down their trees.
Steyn surmises: Poor old Diamond can’t see the forest because of his
obsession with the trees. Russia’s collapsing and it’s nothing to do with
deforestation. It’s not the tree, it’s the family tree. It’s the babes in the
wood. A people that won’t multiply can’t go forth or go anywhere. Those who do
will shape the age we live in. Because, when history comes a-calling, it starts with
the most basic question of all:
Welfare and Warfare
In this section, Steyn gives us valuable insight into our welfare system.
Demographic decline and the unsustainabilty of the social-democratic state are
closely related. In America, politicians upset about the federal deficit like to
complain that we’re piling up debts our children and grandchildren will have to pay
off. But in Europe the unaffordable entitlements are in even worse shape: there are
no kids or grandkids to stick it to.
Steyn gives several examples of populations peaks and valleys without any
harm. In the post-Gold Rush Yukon, one minute the saloons are bustling and the
garters of the hoochie-koochie dancers are stuffed with dollar bills; the next
they’re all shuttered up and everyone’s skedaddled out on the last south-bound
dogsled. But the territory isn’t stuck trying to figure who’s going to pay for
the hoochie-koochie gals’ retirement complex. Unlike the emptying saloons of White
Horse and Dawson City, 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.
Steyn formulates it like this:
By “Will” Steyn means the metaphorical spine of a culture. Africa has
plenty of young people, but it’s riddled with AIDS and, for the most part, Africans
don’t think of themselves as Africans; as seen in Rwanda, their primary identity is
tribal, and most tribes have no global ambitions. Islam, however, has serious global
ambitions, and it forms the primal, core identity of most of its adherents in the
Middle East, South Asia, and elsewhere. Islam has youth and will. Europe has age and
Steyn feels we are witnessing the end of the late twentieth-century’s
progressive welfare democracy. Its fiscal bankruptcy is merely a symptom of a more
fundamental bankruptcy: Its insufficiency as an animating principle for society. For
states in demographic decline with ever more lavish social programs, the question is
a simple one: Can they get real? Can they grow up before they grow old? If not, then
they’ll end their days in societies dominated by people with a very different
Fighting Vainly the Old Ennui
Steyn then proceeds into the third factor—the enervated state of the
Western world, the sense of Civilizational ennui, of nations too mired in cultural
relativism to understand what’s at stake. To Americans, it doesn’t always seem
obvious that there’s any connection between the “war on terror” and the
so-called “pocketbook issues” of domestic politics. But there is a correlation
between the structural weaknesses of the social-democratic state and the rise of a
globalized Islam. The state has gradually annexed all the responsibilities of
adulthood—health care, child care, care of the elderly—to the point where it’s
effectively severed its citizens from humanity’s primal instincts, not least the
survival instinct. These programs corrode the citizen’s sense of self-reliance to a
potentially fatal degree. Big government is a national security threat: it increases
your vulnerability to threats like Islamism, and makes it less likely you’ll be
able to summon the will to rebuff it. We should have learned that lesson on September
11, 2001, when big government flopped big-time and the only good news of the day came
from the ad hoc citizen militia of Flight 93.
There were two forces at play in the late twentieth century: In the eastern
bloc, the collapse of Communism; in the West, the collapse of confidence. The
collapse of Communism is seen by Americans—or at least non-Democratic-voting
Americans—as “winning” the Cold War. But the French and the Belgians and the
Germans and the Canadians don’t. Very few British do. These are all formal NATO
allies—they were technically on the winning side against a horrible tyranny few
would wish to live under themselves. There was no sense on the Continent that our Big
Idea had beaten their Big Idea. With the best will in the world, it’s hard to
credit the citizens of France or Italy as having made any serious contribution to the
defeat of Communism. Au contraire, millions of them voted for it, year in, year out.
The enemies we face in the future will look a lot like Al Qaeda:
transnational, globalized, locally franchised, extensively outsource—but tied
together through a powerful identity that leaps frontiers and continents. They
won’t be nation states and they’ll have no interest in becoming nation states
though they might use the husks thereof, as they did in Afghanistan and then in
Somalia. September 10 institutions like the UN and the EU will be unlikely to provide
When Osama bin Laden made his observation about people being attracted to
the strong horse rather than the weak horse, it was partly a perception issue. You
can be, technically, the strong horse—plenty of tanks and bombs and nukes and
whatnot—but if you’re seen as too feeble ever to deploy them, you’ll be kitted
out for the weak-horse suit. He wasn’t thinking of Europe, whose reabsorption
within the caliphate Islamists see as all but complete. Rather, he was considering
America is the most benign hegemon in history: it’s the world’s first
non-imperial superpower and, at the dawn of the American moment, it chose to set
itself up as a kind of geopolitical sugar daddy. By picking up the tab for Europe’s
defense, it hoped to prevent those countries lapsing into traditional power
rivalries. Nice idea. But it also absolved them of the traditional responsibilities
of nationhood, turning the alliance into a dysfunctional sitcom family, with one
grown-up presiding over a brood of whiny teenagers. American’s preference for
diluting its power within the UN and other organs of an embryo world government has
not won it friends. All dominant powers are hated—Britain was, and Rome—but
they’re usually hated for the right reasons. America is hated for every reason. The
fanatical Muslims despise America because it’s all lap-dancing and gay porn; the
secular Europeans despise American 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 is the
prime example of it.
If Washington were a conventional great power, the intellectual class would
be arguing that the United States is a threat to France or India or Gabon or some
such. But because it’s so obviously not that kind of power the world has had to
concoct a thesis that the hyperpower is a threat not merely to this or that
rinky-dink nation state but to the entire planet, if not the entire galaxy. “We
are,” warns Al Gore portentously, “altering the balance of energy between our
planet and the rest of the universe.” Steyn lists a number of so called alleged
strains on the earth in ways that genocidal conquerors like Hitler and Stalin could
only have dreamed of. The construct of this fantasy is very revealing about how
unthreatening America is.
Consider those nations who regard themselves well-disposed toward America
and share the view that Islamism represents a critical global security threat, yet
have concluded that the United States lacks the will to get the job done. You hear
such worries routinely expressed by the political class in India, Singapore and other
emerging nations. The British historian Niall Ferguson talks about “the clay feet
of the colossus.” Admiral Yamamoto’s “sleeping giant” has become hard to
rouse. In Vietnam, it took 50,000 deaths to drive the giant away; maybe in the Middle
East, it will only take 5,000. And maybe in the next war the giant will give up after
500, or 50, or not bother at all. America has the advantage of the most powerful army
on the face of the planet, but she doesn’t have the stomach for war, so it’s no
advantage at all. The minute you send it anywhere hysterical congressmen are
shrieking that we need an “exit strategy”? The corpulent snorer in the La-Z-Boy
recliner may have a beautifully waxed Ferrari in the garage, but hates having to take
it out on the potholed roads. Still, it looks mighty nice parked in the driveway when
he washes it.
So why is a book concerning America’s future so relevant and timely for
physicians and Health Care? Steyn writes about the future of healthcare as part of
all government entitlements. He puts government healthcare into a perspective that
few who are still pushing for making it an entitlement understand. He has given up on
Europe, calling it Eurabia. He predicts their cradle-to-grave welfare system will
totally collapse before 2050, when there won’t be enough children to pay for the
beneficiaries. Then all healthcare, social security, childcare and government
programs will simply disappear; those that believed in entitlements will wonder why
they are without benefits.
Suffused with Steyn’s trademark wit and piercing insights, America
Alone calls on us to summon the will to fight this great struggle for Western
civilization. He provides an enlightening basis on just how bad things are currently
and how they likely will get worse. We should take his insight seriously so as to
ensure that our children and grandchildren will live in the bright light of freedom
our forefathers fought so hard to win. Let’s not turn our backs on our heritage.
There is a message on how detrimental state healthcare is for our
future. He places it in context that even the most arched advocate of government
medicine should be able to understand. It is critical for the leaders of our
physicians’ professional organizations (who are supporting single payer
initiatives) to understand. This book has important messages for all physicians,
nurses and health administrators. It is urgent, not only for our patients, but for
all Americans to comprehend.