August 20, 2006


It's breeding obvious, mate: This is the text of his 2006 CD Kemp lecture at the Institute of Public Affairs in Melbourne last night (Mark Steyn, August 18, 2006, The Australian)

The question posed here tonight is very direct: “Does Western Civilization Have A Future?” One answer’s easy: if western civilization doesn’t have a past, it certainly won’t have a future. No society can survive when it consciously unmoors itself from its own inheritance. But let me answer it in a less philosophical way:

Much of western civilization does not have any future. That’s to say, we’re not just speaking philosophically, but literally. In a very short time, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and other countries we regard as part of the western tradition will cease to exist in any meaningful sense. They don’t have a future because they’ve given up breeding. Spain’s population is halving with every generation: Two grown-ups have a total of one baby. So there are half as many children as parents. And a quarter as many grandchildren as grandparents. And an eighth as many great-grandchildren as great-grandparents. And, after that there’s no point extrapolating, because you’re over the falls and it’s too late to start paddling back. I received a flurry of letters from furious Spaniards when the government decided to replace the words “father” and “mother” on its birth certificates with the less orientationally offensive terms “Progenitor A” and “Progenitor B”. This was part of the bureaucratic spring-cleaning of traditional language that always accompanies the arrival in law of “gay marriage”. But, with historically low numbers of progeny, the designations of the respective progenitors seem of marginal concern. They’d be better off trying to encourage the average young Spaniard to wander into a Barcelona singles bar and see if anyone wants to come back to his pad to play Progenitor A and Progenitor B. (“Well, okay, but only if I can be Progenitor A…”)

Seventeen European nations are now at what demographers call “lowest-low” fertility – 1.3 births per woman, the point at which you’re so far down the death spiral you can’t pull out. In theory, those countries will find their population halving every 35 years or so. In practice, it will be quicker than that, as the savvier youngsters figure there’s no point sticking around a country that’s turned into an undertaker’s waiting room. So large parts of the western world are literally dying – and, in Europe, the successor population to those aging French and Dutch and Belgians is already in place. Perhaps the differences will be minimal. In France, the Catholic churches will become mosques; in England, the village pubs will cease serving alcohol; in the Netherlands, the gay nightclubs will close up shop and relocate to San Francisco. But otherwise life will go on much as before. The new Europeans will be observant Muslims instead of post-Christian secularists but they will still be recognizably European: It will be like Cats after a cast change: same long-running show, new actors, but the plot, the music, the sets are all the same. The animating principles of advanced societies are so strong that they will thrive whoever’s at the switch.

But what if they don’t? In the 2005 rankings of Freedom House’s survey of personal liberty and democracy around the world, five of the eight countries with the lowest “freedom” score were Muslim. Of the 46 Muslim majority nations in the world, only three were free. Of the 16 nations in which Muslims form between 20 and 50 per cent of the population, only another three were ranked as free: Benin, Serbia and Montenegro, and Suriname. It will be interesting to follow France’s fortunes as a fourth member of that group.

If you think a nation is no more than a “great hotel” (as the Canadian novelist Yann Martel described his own country, approvingly), 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 there aren’t going to be many would-be immigrants out there in the years ahead – not for aging western societies in which an ever smaller pool of young people pay ever higher taxes to support ever swelling geriatric native populations. And, if you believe a nation is the collective, accumulated wisdom of a shared past, then a dependence on immigration alone for population replenishment will leave you lost and diminished. That’s why Peter Costello’s stirring call – a boy for you, a girl for me, and one for Australia – is, ultimately, a national security issue – and a more basic one than how much you spend on defence.

Americans take for granted all the “it’s about the future of all our children” hooey that would ring so hollow in a European election. In the 2005 German campaign, voters were offered what would be regarded in the US as a statistically improbable choice: a childless man (Herr Schroeder) vs a childless woman (Frau Merkel). Statist Europe signed on to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s alleged African proverb – “It takes a village to raise a child” – only to discover they got it backwards: on the Continent, the lack of children will raze the village. And most of the villagers still refuse to recognize the contradictions: You can’t breed at the lethargic rate of most Europeans and then bitch and whine about letting the Turks into the European Union. Demographically, they’re the kids you couldn’t be bothered having.

One would assume a demographic disaster is the sort of thing that sneaks up on you because you’re having a grand old time: You stayed in university till you were 38, you took early retirement at 45, you had two months a year on the Cote d’Azur, you drank wine, you ate foie gras and truffles, you marched in the street for a 28-hour work week… It was all such great fun there was no time to have children. You thought the couple in the next street would, or the next town, or in all those bucolic villages you pass through on the way to your weekend home.

But the strange thing is that Europeans aren’t happy. The Germans are so slumped in despond that in 2005 the government began running a Teutonic feelgood marketing campaign in which old people are posed against pastoral vistas, fetching young gays mooch around the Holocaust memorial, Katarina Witt stands in front of some photogenic moppets, etc., and then they all point their fingers at the camera and shout “Du bist Deutschland!” – “You are Germany!” – which is meant somehow to pep up glum Hun couch potatoes. Can’t see it working myself. The European Union got rid of all the supposed obstacles to happiness – war, politics, the burden of work, insufficient leisure time, tiresome dependents – and yet their people are strikingly unhappy. Consider this poll taken in 2002 for the first anniversary of 9/11: 61 per cent of Americans said they were optimistic about the future, as opposed to 43 per cent of Canadians, 42 per cent of Britons, 29 per cent of the French, 23 per cent of Russians and 15 per cent of Germans. I wouldn’t reckon those numbers will get any cheerier over the years.

What’s the most laughable article published in a major American newspaper in the last decade? A good contender is a New York Times column by the august Princeton economist Paul Krugman. The headline was “French Family Values”, and the thesis is that, while parochial American conservatives drone on about “family values”, the Europeans live it, enacting policies that are more “family friendly”. On the Continent, claims Professor Krugman, “government regulations actually allow people to make a desirable tradeoff – to modestly lower income in return for more time with friends and family.”

How can an economist make that claim without noticing that the upshot of all these “family friendly” policies is that nobody has any families? Isn’t the first test of a pro-family regime its impact on families?

As for all that extra time, what happened? Europeans work fewer hours than Americans, they don’t have to pay for their own health care, they don’t go to church and they don’t contribute to other civic groups, they don’t marry and they don’t have kids to take to school and basketball and the county fair.

So what do they do with all the time?

Forget for the moment Europe’s lack of world-beating companies: They regard capitalism red in tooth and claw as an Anglo-American fetish, and they mostly despise it. And in fairness some of their quasi-state corporations are very pleasant: I’d much rather fly Air France than United or Continental. But what about the things Europeans supposedly value? With so much free time, where is the great European art? Assuredly Gershwin and Bernstein aren’t Bach and Mozart, but what have the Continentals got? Their pop culture is more American than it’s ever been. Fifty years ago, before European welfarism had them in its vise-like death grip, the French had better pop songs and the Italians made better movies. Where are Europe’s men of science? At American universities. Meanwhile, Continental governments pour fortunes into prestigious white elephants of Euro-identity, like the Airbus 380, the QE2 of the skies, capable of carrying 500, 800, a thousand passengers at a time, if only somebody somewhere would order the damn thing, which they might consider doing once all the airports have built new runways to handle it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it’s a swell idea. It’ll come in very useful for large-scale evacuation operations circa 2015.

“When life becomes an extended picnic, with nothing of importance to do,” writes Charles Murray in In Our Hands, “ideas of greatness become an irritant. Such is the nature of the Europe syndrome.” The Continent has embraced a spiritual death long before the demographic one. In those 17 Europeans countries which have fallen into “lowest-low fertility”, where are the children? In a way, you’re looking at them: the guy sipping espresso at a sidewalk café listening to his iPod. Free citizens of advanced western democracies are increasingly the world’s wrinkliest teenagers: the state makes the grown-up decisions and we spend our pocket money on our record collection. Hilaire Belloc, incidentally, foresaw this very clearly in his book The Servile State in 1912 – before teenagers or record collections had been invented. He understood that the long-term cost of a softened state is the infantilization of the population. The populations of wealthy democratic societies expect to be able to choose from dozens of breakfast cereals at the supermarket, thousands of movies at the video store, and millions of porn sites on the Internet, yet think it perfectly to demand that the state take care of their elderly parents and their young children while they’re working – to, in effect, surrender what most previous societies would have regarded as all the responsibilities of adulthood. It’s a curious inversion of citizenship to demand control over peripheral leisure activities but to contract out the big life-changing stuff to the government. And it’s hard to come up with a wake-up call for a society as dedicated as latterday Europe to the belief that life is about sleeping in.

Too little, too late for Russia (DAVID WALL, 8/21/06, The Japan Times)

In his recent State of the Union speech, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the "most important [matter] for our country is the demographic problem." He said Russia's population is declining by 700,000 a year -- this from a base of 143 million. Russian demographic experts suggest that the decline is actually now running at 900,000 a year and from a lower base, maybe lower than 140 million. [...]

Social, political and economic conditions in Russia today imply that policies to slow the male death rate are not likely to succeed; nor are they designed to improve the quality of life for those who do survive. Alcoholism and drug abuse, along with the attendant problems of malnutrition and HIV infection (more than 2 million men are now HIV positive), are getting worse despite Draconian attempts to deal with them.

Women show little sign of wanting more babies amid the cash incentives that Putin is proposing. The allowances are too small to have any impact on the quality of housing, education and health care. As a result, Russian women are emigrating in growing numbers.

Another aspect of the population problem is location. Anyone who can move is moving to Moscow and other cities in European Russia. They want to escape the harsh climate and poor living conditions of Siberia, the Far East and the Caucasus.

The move west -- something like 20 to 25 percent of the population have moved out of Siberia and the Far East in the last 10 years (including around half a million Jews who migrated to Israel) -- is a major problem for the development of Russia, as Putin has recognized.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 20, 2006 8:46 PM

Too much of this demographic analysis popular on with Mr. Steyn (and this site) stikes me as way too linear in its thinking. It may well be that several European nations have 1.3 replacement rates, but that doesn't mean that every couple is having 1.3 children. For every family with no kids, another has 2 or 3 (2.6 to be exact). It seems to me that, in a generation, all of the children of those couples having 2.6 will be having 2.6 or so of their own. Raising the birth rate. This would appear to me to be a similar phenomenon to the differing rates in various states of the US.

Posted by: Brandon at August 20, 2006 10:03 PM

In America it's the Christians who have higher birth rates.

Posted by: oj at August 20, 2006 10:13 PM

C.S. Lewis nailed the culture of death quite ably in That Hideous Strength. It is all part of the universal demonic conspiracy.

The ironic thing is that all the "brights" were not so bright as to have foreseen this result. To the very end, the fools supposed that the success of the West had been in spite of and not because of its spiritual heritage.

Posted by: Lou Gots at August 20, 2006 10:16 PM


Yes, if everything stayed as-is, then something like that probably would happen. Maybe not a bottoming of the fertility decline, followed by an increase, but at least a dramatic slowing of the rate of fertility decline, with a smaller population base.

However, there are at least two factors, both covered by Steyn, that might change the dynamic considerably.

First, in populations with access to birth control, optimistic people tend to have more children than do fatalistic people. But, optimistic people also tend to be more ambitious and entrepreneurial than the average person. Those are exactly the kind of people who will be heading for Continental Europe's exits over the next twenty years.
So, it seems likely that not only will Europe be losing a generation of their hardest workers and brightest minds, they'll also be losing those most likely to reproduce.

Second, the effects of having a large minority population of mostly-unassimilated and high-fertility Muslims are a bit of a wildcard.
One possible outcome is that by the time native Euros again have a fertility rate sufficient for population growth, they'll barely be a majority in their own nations, or even be at parity with the Muslim community. By that time, some Euro nations will have changed in every way but their names.
As has been explored many times in this forum, that dynamic was the main reason that Israel has decided to withdraw from Gaza and the West Bank - the Palestinian Arabs have a much higher rate of population growth than do Israeli Jews.

Posted by: Abner Hathaway at August 21, 2006 8:32 AM