December 19, 2005


When self-immolation is a rational choice (Spengler, 12/20/05, Asia Times)

Apropos of Washington's triumphal response to the high voter turnout in last week's Iraqi elections, we should ask this simple question: why do political leaders believe that democracy fosters peace, despite innumerable examples to the contrary? [...]

Popular sovereignty in the Arab and Persian spheres favors the war party. The Iranian president grasps this elementary truth, which makes him a far more effective force in the Middle East than the Bush administration. As it is presently constituted, Iran has no future, and the Islamic world broadly faces a social crisis of lethal proportions (The demographics of radical Islam, August 23, 2005). Within the Islamic framework, war represents the sort of rational choice that popular majorities will embrace.

This is a very different argument from the "essentialist" claim that Islam, by virtue of the percept of jihad, must inevitably promote aggression. Without minimizing the dangers inherent in the notion of jihad, I believe the present war stems from the response of Islam to particular circumstances at a particular point in time.

Islam may harbor a predisposition towards conquest, but the closest parallels to Ahmadinejad's are to be found in Europe and the US. On December 6 (Iran's strength in weakness) I compared today's Iran to Adolf Hitler's Germany on the eve of World War II. Karl Marx observed that history tends to repeat itself, the first time as tragedy and the second time as farce - or Farsi, we might say in Ahmadinejad's case. But for Americans to promote the canard that democracy fosters peace must be the most extreme case of amnesia on record, for two democratically-elected governments fought the most destructive war in the history of the Western hemisphere.

The Confederate States of America arose through irreproachable democratic forms, with the overwhelming support of the populace of the southern states, who sent three-quarters of their military-age men to fight. [...]

Iranians elected Ahmadinejad and American Southerners elected Jefferson Davis for what might be termed rational reasons. The South was running out of land; Iran is running out of young people as well as oil (see Demographics of Iran's imperial design, September 13, 2005). Present-day Iran will cease to exist in a generation, as Ahmadinejad knows better than anyone. He has already proposed to relocate 30 million rural Iranians, half the country's population, as the majority of villages become unsustainable in the declining countryside.

The same aspirations put a field marshal's baton into the rucksack of Napoleon's soldiers, and made Hitler a hugely popular war leader until Stalingrad.

Not that we planned it this way, not that peoples and leaders are necessarily conscious of it as they make their democratic decisions, but part of the "genius" of our democratization project is that other states are becoming more peaceful precisely because they are demographically doomed, and most of them spiritually bankrupt. The idea that an Iran which faces a shortage of young people -- and therefore most Iranians face a shortage of those who will fund their dotage -- is an argument against Iran being willing to go to war, not in favor. Conflicts are declining as nations choose to die off quietly and as comfortably as possible.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 19, 2005 8:01 AM

Conflicts are costly gaining nothing but dead citizens and destroyed cities. In the past, it diverted attention from the poverty of the prople and the corruption of their leaders, but in today's world, that no longer works, not even in the Chinese boonies.

Posted by: erp at December 19, 2005 9:28 AM

Iran at the moment is the youngest country in the world, with 20% of the population aged 15-24 and 27% of the population 14 or younger. Spengler thinks that these young people will not have children, that's why he forecasts demographic collapse starting in 2050; but this is pure speculation -- if the next generation doesn't have children, they'll be the first Iranian generation to do so. We'll have to wait at least 50 years before the majority enters "dotage" and ceases to become interested in making war because of senescence.

Posted by: pj at December 19, 2005 10:44 AM

Actually there is a strong correlation between population pressures and major wars. Population booms preceded both the Napoleonic Wars and World Wars. Excess males put pressure on economic and social systems. Countries with a shortage of young males don't go to war, they simply can't sustain the subsequent carnage. Nations become like animals at drought stricken water holes, fighting over available resources. "Available" being defined as being accessible with current technology. Technical advances make resources more accessible and cheaper in real terms, and remove this cause of war.

Therefore, the ongoing demographic transition (in which every nation, culture and religion will experience will experience and "birth dearth" and graying of the population) and continued technological advances will result in a very peaceful 21st century. For this reason alone, the collapse in everyone's birth rates (for example Iran has a birth rate as low as France)is a GOOD thing.

One possible exception is the gender imbalance in China caused by its draconian one baby policy and the traditional Chinese emphasis on having sons. This may produce the equivalent of an excess number of young males even as China's overall population begins to fall along with everyone else.

BTW did anyone notice the news item in the Sunday paper how Japan's population has now started to decline in real terms? Japan is the canary in the demographic coal mine. They will soon be joined by Russia (whose low birth rates are aggravated by premature deaths due to alcoholism and AIDS), then Europe, and then Islam. The only nation that is projected to show an increased population and and steady birth rates is the USA.

Posted by: bplus at December 19, 2005 10:57 AM

As a follow up, here is the article on Japan's collapsing birth rates:

The reasons for the fertility decline have to do with basic pocket book issues and family economics:

Explaining the decline, a Cabinet Office official said: "With the increase in freeters (job-hopping part-time workers) and NEETs [those not in education, employment or training], there's been a rise in the number of young people who can't afford to get married due to their unstable finances. More young married couples aren't having children because of the heavy burden of education costs."

So its economics, not immorality, that casues the birth dearth (unless you beleive that the desire for a decent middle class life style is somehow immoral).

Related articles can be found here:

Oddly enough, one of the articles makes it clear that declining birth rates can be reversed. This has been accomplished by of all people, the French:

Noting that countries such as France have managed to increase their birthrates, the white paper said their policies must be used as a guide and applied, where possible, in Japan. "Compared with nations that have recently boosted their birthrates, such as France and Sweden, we cannot say that our nation's policies are really sufficient," it said.

The same article reiterates the economic causes of the birth rate decline:

A survey in March found that 69.9 percent of women respondents felt that economic support, such as help with daycare or medical fees and cash allowances for each child, was crucial. "There are women close to me who work and have children, and I see how hard it is for them, how expensive daycare is," said Yumi Ota, a 38-year-old office worker.

Given these facts, perhaps we should stop denigrating the French and stop blaiming the birth rate decline on secular immorality.

Posted by: bplus at December 19, 2005 11:12 AM
Popular sovereignty in the Arab and Persian spheres favors the war party.

How do we know this? Relying on the word of the police states themselves, states that have a great incentive for us to believe that their peoples support their brinksmanship?

I think it's highly debatable, for example, that the Iranian people support wiping Israel off the map. Would the binLadinists win elections in Saudi? Perhaps, if the Shia up on the gulf oil regions were disenfranchised. Even then this would likely be a short term phenomenon, as the lunatics proved themselves incapable of gvt.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at December 19, 2005 11:13 AM


We're the other exception, which is why we're the enforcer state. Our higher birthrates are indeed morality driven and our remaining strongly religious makes us ever more dangerous to nations that have lost the will to live and the strength to fight.

Posted by: oj at December 19, 2005 11:20 AM

bplus (or should I just say daniel duffy?): It is true that France as a nation is seeing an increase in birth rates. But it is my understanding that this is a function of a demographic shift, as the Arab minority, which has a much higher birth rate than the native French, becomes more significant. It is not my impression that the native French population has reversed its population implosion to any significant degree.

Posted by: b at December 19, 2005 11:21 AM


Any attempt to break down French demographics by religion is complicated by the fact that the French census does not include religion as a category. Be that as it may, the bulk of the French birth rate increase does not appear to come from Muslim immigrants:


Some readers will suspect that immigration is the main factor, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. Net annual immigration is running at about 100,000, which if it continues for 45 years (and assuming the immigrants reproduce themselves) would only account for 4.5 million. Moreover, net immigration of 50,000 a year had already been allowed for in population forecasts, so the higher observed rate only accounts for about 2.25 million of the increase in the estimate. Incidentally, it is said that immigration from Britain is an important element in the increase. There has certainly been a stream of people moving from Britain to rural France, escaping high house prices, yobs, and the general deterioration of the physical and social environment. There is hardly a middle-class Englishman who doesn’t dream of boules, brie and baguettes in the sunshine. But most of the British migrants are retired or ‘downshifting’. The most interesting factor is the increase in the birth rate. The ‘indice conjoncturel de fécondité’, which seems to be equivalent to the Total Fertility Rate, has increased from 1.78 in 1998 to 1.92 in 2004. Higher birth rates among immigrants only account for a small part of this. The main factor seems to be that women who have postponed childbearing into their 30s are now ‘bearing fruit’.

According to a RAND study,the French reversal of their birth rate decline is the result of aggressive pro-natalist policies aimed at the native French:


In contrast, France, which was the first European nation to experience a decline in its fertility rate and which has had an aggressive set of pronatalist policies in place for many decades, now has the second-highest fertility rate in Europe (behind Ireland). The fertility rate in France has not declined as much as that in other countries, and it actually increased between 1993 and 2002 ... For example, France in recent decades has employed a suite of policies intended to achieve two goals: reconciling family life with work and reversing declining fertility. To accomplish the first goal, for example, France instituted generous child-care subsidies. To accomplish the second, families have been rewarded for having at least three children.

Since the RAND study, France's birth rates has surpassed Ireland's to make France the most fertile country in Europe. So in conclusion:

A. Low birth rates result from economic factors, not immorality.

B. High birth rates are not the results of high religious belief (the birth rates of the Iranian theocracy are collapsing, while the pro-natalist policies of secular France have turned the tide)

Posted by: bplus at December 19, 2005 12:05 PM

I find it odd OJ that you (an avowed anti-Darwinist) use a Darwinist metric - high birth rates - and Darwinist rhetoric - "lost the will to live and the strength to fight" - to pass judgement on Europeans.

Are you sure you aren't a closet Darwinist?

Posted by: bplus at December 19, 2005 12:10 PM

daniel: As usual, you have lots of links that don't address the issue at hand. Nothing has been said about immigration--we've been talking about birth rates. So your first link is completely off topic. As for the RAND study, it doesn't answer the question either, and I realize that the reason may be because France doesn't keep track of ethnic statistics that enable an easy analysis. If you have relevant links, I'd be interested in seeing them. If not, I have better things to do than get into the usual tar-baby type conversation with you.

Posted by: b at December 19, 2005 12:25 PM

Maybe the president of Iran is just bats**t crazy? So rationality may not enter into it.

I really don't care. If he chooses war, then defeat he shall have. Just like Hitler and Jeff Davis.

Posted by: Bob at December 19, 2005 12:29 PM

b, the Muslim minority ARE the immigrants in question - the vast majority having arrived in France within the last generation. To try to differentiate between the two is highly disengenuous.

Where I come from we don't call them "tar babies", we call them "facts".

Posted by: bplus at December 19, 2005 1:14 PM

daniel: Typically, your alleged response to my comment is incomprehensible. Just answer this question: What is the birthrate of the Arab population of France, and what is the birthrate of the native French population? Unless you do so, we're done. Everything I see on google indicates that the former has a vastly higher birthrate--as high as 3x higher. Simple algebra will therefore show that the native population of France reproduces as feebly as most of the rest of Europe.

Posted by: b at December 19, 2005 1:25 PM


No, not closet at all. I am a Darwinist. Darwinism though requires intelligent decision making in reality--note that it's just Adam Smith misapplied. Secular peoples have just decided to die off.

Posted by: oj at December 19, 2005 2:54 PM


If they secularize they'll stop.

Posted by: oj at December 19, 2005 3:05 PM

The CSA's a pretty bad example.

The conflict existed before its' formation and would have occurred whatever form of government the South opted for.

Posted by: Ali Choudhury at December 19, 2005 3:47 PM

The idea that an Iran which faces a shoretage of young people and therefore most Iranians face a shortage of those who will fund their dotage, is an argument against Iran being willing to go to war, not in favor.

Not if they decide to go for it NOW, before the "Correlation of Demographic Forces" put them at too much of a disadvantage. "God Wills It!"

Posted by: Ken at December 21, 2005 4:15 PM